Big Ten Championships on the horizon

Adam Fink

Despite finishing last among Big Ten teams at the Lady Boilermaker Invitational on Sunday, Minnesota’s women’s golf coach Katie Weiss isn’t sure where her squad stacks up compared to the rest of the conference.

She will know for sure this weekend.

The Gophers compete in the Big Ten Championships beginning Friday, where Minnesota’s finish will likely determine whether this season is considered a step in the right direction or another setback since the program was saved from elimination two years ago.

After finishing last among the eight other Big Ten schools participating and 11th overall last weekend, Weiss said the tough weather conditions – namely winds of more than 30 miles per hour – were trying. But the team’s positive attitude in Indiana made it difficult to accurately gauge her team.

“I am not really sure we got a clear estimate of where we are at,” Weiss said. “We hung in there. We weren’t giving up.”

Many of the Gophers’ scores echo this work ethic.

In each of the first two rounds of the Lady Boilermaker Invitational, Minnesota had three golfers post scores of 82 or better on the par-72 course. But in the third round, only Terra Petsinger accomplished that feat.

“Surprisingly, I felt like we made progress although our scores didn’t reflect that,” Weiss said. “They gave 100 percent the entire time.”

Last week, the Gophers spent five days working on their short game and didn’t hit long drives until traveling to Indiana.

They will also spend today working on the short game before leaving Wednesday for Columbus, Ohio, – site of the Big Ten Championships and defending champion Buckeyes.

Sarah Butler noticed a difference in the team’s short game and said it will help the Gophers improve their scores when their season culminates this weekend.

“We’ve been working pretty hard on in,” Butler said. “There were definitely improvements, but it was only a week.”

The Gophers said they believe these improvements, along with a positive attitude and anticipated better weather conditions will lead them to a solid finish.

“Generally, we have probably underperformed,” freshman Sophie Stubbs said. “We know we should do better.”

Two years ago, Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten Championships, which is the team’s biggest planned event each year.

Last year, the Gophers finished ninth. But last year’s finish is somewhat misleading. Minnesota finished the four rounds with a score of 1238.

In comparison, third-place Northwestern put up a three-day score of 1230. A difference of only eight strokes separated Minnesota from an accomplishment nearly not thought of.

Weiss said the Gophers would like a top-six finish this year but she prefers to see her top-five golfers play to their abilities. While that isn’t a quantitative factor, Minnesota’s second-year coach believes it is measurable.

“I am not sure what I use to judge that,” Weiss said. “My goal is for everyone to play well and go from there.”

Butler said she has a similar assessment but wants to see a difference in the standings.

“You always hope to see improvement,” Butler said. “It’s about taking baby steps.”

Butler has kinks in swing

It was at the Indiana Invitational earlier this month when Butler first started feeling her swing wasn’t quite the same as earlier in the spring.

Butler still finished the tournament as the Gophers’ best finisher – her third consecutive competition accomplishing this feat.

But at the Lady Boilermaker Invitational her scores suffered. She finished 37-strokes-above-par.

“It was off,” Butler said. “It just seemed like every weakness I had was magnified (last weekend). I just got to keep working on it.”

Weiss also noticed her emerging star’s swing wasn’t the same and plans to work out the kinks this week.

“It is fixable,” Weiss said. “She will work through it.”