The Big Ten Match Play..."One of the events I remember from my years in college golf." "Concession Golf Club is the hardest track I have ever played." "Erik van Rooyen beats Luke Guthrie on the final hole to secure the team victory for Minnesota." Those are just some of the quotes and commentary that have come from seeing the Big Ten put together the finest conference match play tournament in college golf. With the NCAA Championship moving to match play to determine the national champion, our conference has taken the right steps in preparing our players for the biggest stage in college golf.
We arrived at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., on Wednesday. Being last to arrive at the airport, first to arrive at the course at 6:30 a.m. the following day helped set the stage in the minds of our players that Gopher Golf was here to take the necessary steps to be ready to compete against the best teams in the Big Ten. Concession Golf Club is known around the country for having one of the highest course ratings (76.2). It boasts extremely undulated putting surfaces, tight fairways in spots guarded on both sides by well-placed bunkering and water hazards. Not to mention the visually intimidating tee shots that test a player's ability to pick the correct club from a wide variety of tee boxes. All of these course attributes make our event special and will draw TV viewers from all over the country on March 15 at 4:30 pm CST to watch the debut of the 2014 Big Ten Match Play on the Big Ten Network.
Day 1 kicked off with our first round matchup against the 10th-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions. Senior Jon Trasamar (Blue Earth, Minn.) got the action started in a big way with his convincing 7&5 victory that included a bogey-free round! Not to be outdone, the No. 1 freshman in the Big Ten, Jose Mendez (San Jose, Costa Rica), finished JD Dornes off with a 30-foot uphill putt from the fringe on his 13th hole of the day to notch a 6&5 win for our team. With five players competing for each team, the goal is to win at least three points to move on to the next round.
2013 Minnesota State Open champion and sophomore Jon DuToit (Chaska, Minn.) was able to win a hard-fought match, 3&1, only six days after coming back from an illness. His stamina was tested but he withstood that test with his patented straight driving of the golf ball and accurate iron shots. Our other victor from the morning match was our longest player on the team, senior Alex Gaugert (Lake Geneva, Wis.). The lone defeat came from junior Tyler Lowenstein (Plymouth, Minn.), who was beaten by a hot putter in Xander MacDonald-Smith. The first round victory set up a rematch from the 2012 Big Ten Match Play against Purdue University, when we were able to win the tiebreak to gain an entry in the championship match.
Purdue is a very different team this year with a new coach, Rob Bradley, and multiple new additions to their team. The Boilermakers drive it very long and straight, which proved to be too much for our team as they wore us down for a 4.5-0.5 match total. The difference on paper was big but those in attendance saw a determined Minnesota team battle back from a large front nine deficit to square up the match with four holes to play. With four matches hanging in the balance at 1 up, 1 down and two tied, it was anyone's game. Jose was beaten on the final hole by three-time All-Big Ten and two-time All-American Adam Schenk with a 9-foot putt. Jon DuToit would lose two of his final four holes, and Jon Trasamar was unable to find a hot putter in the last four holes.
The one bright spot at the end of the round was Matt Rachey (Waconia, Minn.). One of our four current freshmen, Matt battled hard all day in the fifth spot to secure a half point. Although the drama of this match and the 36 holes of walking wore our team down after Day 1, I was thrilled knowing that we will never quit. The will and determination instilled in our players matches any other team and this attitude proved vital heading into another long day on Saturday, Feb. 15.
You can cut the tension on Day 2 of the Big Ten Match Play. Teams filled with veterans and underclassmen all got a taste of the competition on Day 1, which always leads to spirited matches. Day 2 certainly did not disappoint for Gopher Golf. We found ourselves matched up against Illinois. The No. 6 team in the nation was upset in the afternoon quarterfinal match by an upstart Michigan Wolverines squad. I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Sorry you have to play Illinois after their first loss in the Big Ten Match Play in two years." Unfazed as we walked the final nine holes with them tied at the 2013 Big Ten Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana, our team was ready for the challenge.
The match of the day was certainly Jon DuToit vs. Thomas Detry, the No. 17-ranked amateur in the world from Belgium. The first 17 holes couldn't decide the match so the next 10 minutes was epic. DuToit, with 7-iron in hand from 172 yards, would hit the shot of the tournament. The high fade to a back right pin landed 3 feet short, lipped out and rolled 4 feet beyond the pin. He would make the putt sending the crowd into a frenzy that the upset had happened. We beat Illinois, who had beaten us by 50 shots in the fall season at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate. The resiliency, work ethic and maturity had shown through in our latest battle, which will certainly set the stage for a rematch in the 2014 Big Ten Championship.
The match versus Illinois certainly will lift our national ranking but business was still not completed for the day. The Indiana Hoosiers, fresh off a big win against The Ohio StateJ, were ready for us on the 10th tee at 1:45 pm. The wind had subsided and Matt Rachey led us off. Tyler Lowenstein, Jon Trasamar, Jose Mendez and Alex Gaugert would round out the lineup, with DuToit finished for the weekend. Whether four rounds of golf under our belt was the key or not, the start in our final match proved to be key in winning the fifth-place match for our squad. Gaugert played tough to secure his second win in his three-year career at the Big Ten Match Play. Trasamar ended his career at the Big Ten Match Play with a stellar 9-5 record helping on Day 2 with a convincing 3&2 win that found him under par the entire round.
I would like to say this match had no drama, but it wouldn't be the Big Ten Match Play if it didn't. Rachey unfortunately lost four of his final five holes to lose 1 up to a freshman standout, Will Seger. Lowenstein was in cruise control but lost his final four holes to lose 1 up. Our golf team exemplifies pride though. Mendez couldn't get much going through eight holes in his match against two- time All-American David Mills. Over the final 11 holes, Jose would play the inspired golf that has helped him earn the "Athlete of the Year" award in 2013 for the entire country of Costa Rica. He squared the match up with a birdie on the 17th hole, followed by a halve on the 18th to propel our Gophers into a tiebreak win to finish the competition.
The fifth-place finish, going 3-1 in our matches, certainly doesn't tell the entire story of where we have come from in the last three years. I strongly feel like we have one of the top three teams in the league and will now contend against any field we face at any tournament the remainder of the year. With another strong freshman class arriving on campus in September of 2014, you should all look to get more involved in our program in the future. If you would like to see all individual match scores from the 2014 Big Ten Match play, read the gophersports.com recaps from Friday and Saturday.
Follow us on golfstat.com March 3-4 at the Del Walker Classic played at Virginia CC, close to the campus of Long Beach State University. Qualifying will be held this weekend at Desert Mountain Golf Club to determine the five players who will represent the Maroon and Gold against the majority of the PAC-12 Conference in early March. I will be updating the blog after the Del Walker so stay on the inside of Gopher Golf by checking our web page each time you have a free minute. Until then, safe travels to golf destinations!
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!