The first full month of the 2014-15 golf season has already elapsed. Having lost two seniors who made a tremendous impact on our victorious Big Ten Championship team last year, I knew the fall could produce inconsistent results. Rolling into our fifth event of the fall, my premonitions were accurate as we have endured a few "bumps in the road" already. Having said this, my new assistant, Justin Smith, and I have enjoyed these 10 guys as much as any team in my coaching career at the U.
I wake up every morning wanting to get to practice knowing our group is so eager to get better. The strides freshmen Charlie Duensing and Riley Johnson have made in 45 days on campus is mind blowing. These young guys listen, concentrate, ask great questions and implement the on-course strategies our coaching staff directs. The trick is to ask each of our eight freshmen and sophomores to be patient, as it is a process. Drills are being completed after our designated practice time, players want to stay late in preparation for qualifying and tournament play, conversations surrounding golf swing are at a high level and the camaraderie within our team is the culture I envisioned starting five years ago. Finally, our traveling squad has been interchangeable thus far and although it creates a few more unpredictable variables, we loved every minute of our trips to Chicago, Cal and Albuquerque.
The Windon Memorial in Chicago was played at Evanston GC, which is one of the original Donald Ross designs. Coach Smith finally got to see firsthand our young phenom, Jose Mendez, in action after hearing from me just how talented he is. Jose held the lead wire-to-wire only to lose on the final three holes after a blazing round of 63 (-7) by Colton Staggs of Tulsa University. This was another example of the consistent play Jose has brought since stepping foot in Minnesota. Everyone asks me, "How good is Jose?" This is a fair question knowing the golf knowledge of our fan base in Minnesota and the number of All-Americans Gopher Golf has produced throughout the years. I tell each and every person, he has NO weaknesses in his game. He doesn't have bad days scoring on the course because he is one of the finest putters in the country. When reading putts for Jose as a coaching staff, the pressure is on us. He doesn't miss the chosen line. Jose drives it very straight, can work the ball either direction at will with any club in his bag and has a champion's mentality.
What is a champion's mentality in golf? Many of us had the good fortune of watching Tiger Woods in his prime birdie the last hole seemingly every round. Jose has birdied his last hole in 43 percent of his rounds as a Gopher! His playing competitors admire his game and personality, coaches speak highly of his character, he is a joy to coach and everyone who has been fortunate enough to get to know him within Gopher Athletics raves about his smile, humor and ambition. Next year's Gopher Invitational at Windsong Farm GC September 13-14 will be the next time you can watch him compete in person in Minnesota but in the meantime, check out our calendar on Gophersports.com to see if you might be close to us during the year. It is well worth your time as a fan of golf!
Jose Mendez has a champion's mentality.
Coming off a disappointing 13th-place team finish in Chicago, we turned around three days later heading to the home course of the Lobos at the University of New Mexico. Thick rough, 7,700 yards and windy conditions were ordered up by the Golf Gods during tournament week. We amassed 20-plus double and triple bogies during the three rounds of the tournament, which proved to be our undoing. Driving the golf ball consistently has continued to be our issue throughout the fall with most of the players. Driving the ball well again and leading our team for the ninth consecutive tournament dating back to 2013 was our sophomore All-American, Mendez. His 16th-place finish led our team followed by Jon DuToit, Runar Arnorsson, Daniel Luftspring and Tyler Lowenstein.
Most of our lineup decisions have been influenced by team qualifiers. Qualifying...recruits ask how we do it, parents wonder whether their son make the next trip and our coaching staff gets the opportunity to evaluate each player's "State of the Game" multiple weeks each year in pressure-packed situations that will determine who is afforded the opportunity to travel to destinations like Sonoma, Calif.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Phoenix, Ariz., and Naples, Fla., just to name a few. I always attempt to stage our qualifying on golf courses similar to the upcoming tournament venue. Qualifying for the Alister MacKenzie was set at Southview CC, home of the Tapemark Charity Pro Am, and Edina CC. With Jose Mendez and Jon DuToit exempt based on picks that I reserve, Runar Arnorsson was able to take home the win at the qualifier, followed by freshman Riley Johnson and sophomore Matt Rachey. All qualifying scores can be found on our men's golf home page on GopherSports.com.
Jose Mendez, Jon DuToit, Runar Arnorsson (freshman from Iceland), Riley Johnson (making his first collegiate start as a member of the Gophers) and Matt Rachey competed for the team in the Alister Mackenzie Invitational at the Meadow Club in Fairfax, Calif. Going a day early, our coaching staff treated the team members to a round of golf at the historic Sonoma GC, which sits amongst the vineyards in the Napa Wine Region. Whether it's Los Angeles CC, Sonoma GC or Calusa Pines GC, our players know wearing the Maroon and Gold is a privilege and will be one of the best rides of their lives. Check Gophersports.com for the results from the California event!
Whether you're playing golf in Minnesota still or have left to play golf in the Southern half of the United States already, always remember...Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!