It certainly doesn't feel like the start of our season with the temperatures hovering below normal each day but we head to Bradenton, Fla., for the first start of our spring, the Big Ten Match Play, today. Practice has gone well for the last three weeks of the spring semester, with our team working hard at Braemar Golf Dome, Golden Valley Chip and Putt, U of M Recreational dome and inside our Bierman Building offices at the indoor putting room. School is also in full swing with the first round of exams coming up for our team here in the next few weeks.
Our practices have become more intense over my four years coaching at the U. Competition is closer in the wedge games, putting drills and full swing testing. As I told 200-plus parents and junior golfers this Saturday at Bunker Hills during the Minnesota Junior PGA recruiting seminar, if you don't enjoy competing with yourself in the same putting drill for 2-3 hours, college golf at Minnesota is not for you. I truly feel like we are ahead of last year at this same time with tighter dispersion in wedge shots and more holed putts each day in practice.
Concession Golf Club was designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin seven years ago. The name was derived from their epic Ryder Cup match, in which Jack conceded the final five foot putt for the match halve in front of Tony's home country. They designed a beast close to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It will play host to the 2015 NCAA Championship at 7,400-plus yards from the tips with a course slope of 155. We will play the golf course from 7100 yards this Friday and Saturday, February 14-15.
Freshman Jose Mendez was the fall stroke average leader (73.35).
Driving is the key element that will be tested on every hole this week. An errant tee shot will assuredly lead to a hole concession for all players. The green complexes are undulated and stimp at 13 for the championship. Needless to say, all facets of each player's game will be tested and the best team has always been victorious in the three years in play at Concession. Don't forget to watch the tape-delayed coverage of the event in March on the Big Ten Network, with Big Ten studio analyst Rick Pizzo and former Northwestern Wildcats golfer Erik Ciotti adding the color commentary each day.
Selection of the traveling team is tricky this time of the year. We haven't qualified outdoors in over three months and not every player on the roster competed over the winter break. I employ a team depth chart that has nine weighted categories to provide the fairest evaluation system possible. Evaluation of our spring semester drills and results from the fall play the two biggest roles in determining the six-player roster that will compete in the event.
Each match will pit five players from two universities against each other with the team that wins the most matches advancing on to the next round. If a tie occurs, the team having won the most holes in the match will advance. We arrive at the tournament as the No. 7 seed and will play 10th-seeded Penn State in Round 1. In the winners bracket awaits Purdue. This would be the second time we have faced Purdue in the quarterfinals in the last three years, with the Gophers winning the first matchup. Additional evaluation will be done at Concession during the practice round day to finalize our tournament team. Jose Mendez (freshman), Tyler Lowenstein (junior), Jon DuToit (sophomore), Alex Gaugert (senior), Jon Trasamar (senior), Matt Rachey (freshman) and Grady Meyer (freshman) will be vying for those six team spots.
The Big Ten Match Play is one of the most exciting events of our year and will give us the competition we need heading into the Del Walker Intercollegiate at Long Beach State, the first week of March. Follow the live scoring on the ajga.org and golfstat.com during those events. Keep your eye out for the ALL NEW men's golf donor program, which will be unveiled to your emails on March 1, 2014.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!