Q&A with Angus Flanagan and Justin Smith

Gophers’ golf coach Justin Smith and top player Angus Flanagan weigh in on the Gophers’ seven upcoming tournaments.

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Courtney Deutz

Sophomore Angus Flanagan plays during the Gopher Invitational on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018.

Matthew Kennedy

The Minnesota Gophers men’s golf team returns five of its top scorers and eight letterwinners from the 2019 fall season – the last time the team competed in NCAA play. More than a year removed from their last official season, Angus Flanagan and Justin Smith are more than ready to get back to business and recently discussed their familiarity and experience, or lack thereof, playing at each of the courses on the schedule.

Here are their thoughts on each course they’ll play on this season’s schedule.

Feb. 5-6: Big Ten Match Play at Hammock Beach Resort (Palm Coast, Florida)

Flanagan: It gets pretty windy down there in Palm Coast. Last year it was pretty brutal the first two days having a wind that caused three or four putts. It can get really cold since it is right on the ocean of North Florida. We obviously didn’t have COVID testing last year so it will definitely be a different experience.

Smith: Familiarity is a big and important thing. Ultimately one of my goals is to build a schedule that brings more familiarity at all times. Hammock, luckily, is very familiar, yet later in our schedule we have to find some new golf courses that suit our team’s strengths. All the teams competing at Hammock are close with the course so it comes down to who is playing sharp to start off the year. The golf course in general, there’s not many secrets to it. If the weather is great you see a lot of birdies and if it isn’t then you don’t see any because it is right on the coast and the mixture of winds and cooler temps are hard to prepare for. The great thing about our team though is that we have an abundance of players that have been competing in those tough elements down south during COVID-19 so I think as a whole our team will be well prepared.

March 8-9: Spartan Collegiate at Sea Island Resort (Sea Island, Georgia)

Flanagan: I’ve never played Sea Island. There’s a course just north of it called Ocean Forest where the Jones Cup is. I played that last year and it’s very different to what I think Sea Island is. Sea Island is a Georgia-South Carolina coastal course which is built on a marsh with some greens built right on the marsh, so it goes from straight greens to marshland. I love playing those kinds of courses. It’s a great challenge.

Smith: I don’t know a ton about Sea Island yet … At the core of our schedule, we want to play in championship courses that are going to test our guys. There are two courses in the Sea Island Resort, Seaside and Plantation. Seaside is the one that hosts PGA tour events and it is the facility we are going to and playing at. We always motivate our guys to not fluke their game around and be sharp on all areas and we test that by playing on PGA tour courses. Driving the golf ball on professional courses like Seaside is so imperative. Making great decisions coming into the green complexes and getting your ball in the right spots is also crucial. Normally, the greens are pristine, not too unforgiving, so you can build confidence by nailing a ton of puts. This tournament will be a ball striking test no doubt.

March 25-27: The Goodwin at Stanford Golf Course (Palo Alto, California)

Flanagan: I played The Goodwin my freshman year. Stanford, during that time, was re-doing their course, so we golfed at TPC-Harding Park. It was the site of the 2020 PGA Championship, the one that Collin Morikawa won. I’ve only heard good things about that golf course and I have a buddy that actually played at Stanford and he says that place is really pure. It’ll be fun to go out there and see some familiar faces with a talented field as well. Stanford gets a lot of schools to play at The Goodwin from the west coast that are quite good. Stanford on its own has a tremendous team with Karl Vilips and Michael Thorbjornsen, two freshmen that are already ranked like top-50 in the world.

Smith: Stanford has hosted NCAA regionals in the past and it is another championship course, which is a common theme in our schedule. The course is good enough to even host the NCAA Finals, since it presents such a great challenge. Team building is important when focusing on these kinds of courses since we have to spread our wings a little bit playing against a non-Big Ten focused field. We are very familiar with this course and it’ll suit us well since we know it like the back of our hands. So, all we have to do on our end is execute.

April 3-4: Hoosier Invitational at Phau Golf Course (Bloomington, Indiana)

Smith: This tournament is where our schedule jumpstarts a big part of our schedule. Phau is almost a brand new golf course. It’s a place that, after talking to Indiana’s head coach, they can host any event in the world there, even PGA major championships. We’ve got the best player in the Big Ten, we’ve got a sophomore coming off of a second team All-Big Ten [season], and most of our players are returning. Our team is ready for a course like this and once again it’ll be a challenge for them to develop into the next level of player that they want to be after playing in the Maroon and Gold. This event will bring a strong Big Ten field and a lot of local Division I teams around Indiana.

April 10-11: Boilermaker Invitational at Kampen Golf Course (West Lafayette, Indiana)

Flanagan: A lot of the guys loved it when they went down at one point to play some Indiana courses on the campuses of Bloomington and Purdue. In courses like Kampen, you have to be a ball-striker to get around it easily, and that’s what I pride myself in. I like playing tee-to-green, and in those situations I can compete with anyone. For example, at the 2019 Big Ten Championships at Philly Cricket, you have to be good off the tee, good into greens and good on the greens. I love being mentally tough on those courses.

Smith: I played a regional at Kampen my senior year in college. It’s a course filled with fescue and heather grass and is pretty open. At this time of the year, it can get windy or cold, which means it can be an unbelievable test. Very similar situation with the Hoosier Invitational with a lot of midwestern, Big Ten schools with a few teams from down south or out east. This course, when I scheduled it, I knew it would favor our team’s playstyle for long drives instead of playing a short and rinky-dink approach. Our team is primed to hit long drives and hitting mid-irons really well, and a shorter course that goes driver then wedges don’t really suit us.

April 17-18: Git R Done Husker Invitational at Firethorn Golf Course (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Smith: I’ve never been to Firethorn, some of our players have. This is a brand new event for us since it is taking the place of the Hawkeye Invitational, a tournament where we have regularly never performed our best at. Iowa sets their field and course up for us that made me think it was the right time for a change. I think Firethorn is something that models the Kampen Golf Course look, which is similar to Wynnsong Farms in Minnesota. Out of all courses, this is the one I know the least about, but as soon as we get close to playing in Nebraska as a team we will have a better grasp of it.

April 30-May 2: Big Ten Championships at Crooked Stick Golf Course (Carmel, Indiana)

Flanagan: My story about first playing at Crooked Stick was pretty interesting. I wasn’t, at first, supposed to be playing in the Western Amateur, the tournament where Crooked Stick was hosting. I was supposed to be returning home after the 3M Open. But, unfortunately due to COVID-19, I could not go back. Crooked Stick was a course that had held some PGA events and even some majors … Playing there, you have a lot of instances of hitting long-mid irons into greens that are par-4s and par-5s, which plays into my game well. After arriving in Carmel, I really saw how unbelievable the course was. The greens are firm and fast which benefits my style of putting … Immediately after the 3M Open tournament, I felt way more comfortable and played some of the best golf I’ve ever played. The reason for that was because I had much more confidence. It was a blessing in disguise that I played in the 3M Open at TPC-Twin Cities before Crooked Stick because playing in an amateur tournament right after a professional one, I had the clear mindset of: “I deserve to be here.”

Smith: If anyone’s got the best opportunity to go into Crooked Stick and win it’s definitely Angus, considering his success there this past summer. The spring does bring colder weather and less forgiving conditions than playing in late July. On courses like this, you have to be firing on all cylinders as a golfer and if any part of your game is off, you will get exposed. It’ll be the culmination of what we set our sites on, and that is any year of winning a Big Ten championship. Crooked Stick is a long course and the hole locations are brutal where you can’t get away with anything, if you are a tad off you are a lot off. It really separates the men from the boys.