This blog is going to cover a great deal of information "inside" the Gopher Men's Golf program over the last month. This may not be true for many of you, but our team's winter has flown by despite the unseasonal winter that we all experienced in Minnesota. I get asked all the time about the weather and how our team can prepare for tournament action, despite the roadblocks that we may face. It's actually a very easy answer...recruit players that have tireless work ethics and play with a "chip on our shoulder." This "chip on our shoulder" will certainly allow us to keep our eyes on the one prize that we work so hard all year for...a Big Ten Championship!
In chronicling the past month, I have to start by thanking Tom Lehman for setting up our spring break training trip to Arizona. Raven at Verrado, Desert Mountain, DC Ranch, Greyhawk-Raptor and Phoenix CC served as perfect venues to prepare us for our third event of the spring at Oregon. We sat in the outfield to watch the spring training game with the Giants playing the Padres, watched Alex Gaugert bowl over a 200 game for the third consecutive year and enjoyed the perfect weather in March in Arizona.
To the players, maybe the other highlight of the trip came when Jose Mendez beat me by two shots over the course of four rounds, which allowed all team members to grow their facial hair as long as they wanted for one full month. This was a tough loss for me, not because I couldn't beat Jose, but I have a very strict team rule disallowing facial hair while a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota.
The Duck Invitational was Jose Mendez's first collegiate win.
I think the extra facial hair helped in chilly Eugene, Ore., at the Duck Invitational. Playing at Emerald Valley Golf Club against some of the top Pac-12 teams, our team showed the improvement that we are seeing weekly within the program. Jose Mendez shined this week! He won his first individual title as a Gopher at 3 under on a very difficult driving golf course. This was the first individual title for our program since 2006-07, when PGA Tour member Clayton Rask was victorious. Keep in mind, Jose is only a freshman! Our team showed its toughness coming down the stretch to edge the home team, the 40th-ranked University of Oregon, only to lose to eventual champion No. 6 Oregon State University. Jon Trasamar notched his second top 20 in the spring, which proved to carry his confidence over into the following event at the University of Iowa.
You never know what the weather will bring you in Iowa City in April. This year was no different as the first day of 36-hole competition was perfect at 70 degrees. Then the skies opened up for the final round and I have never been so wet on a golf course as I was on this day. Our guys would agree! Iowa, Iowa State and our team were certainly the best golf programs at the Hawkeye and all locked in an intense battle with nine holes to play. The Hawkeyes were leading by three over us and we had built a 14-shot lead on the Cyclones. The pouring rain, missed short putts and our worst nine holes as a team of the year would follow. Leading by 3 individually through 45 holes, Jose Mendez would play the final nine holes 6 over to finish third. Matt Rachey played his final five holes in 5 over to shoot 74 in the final round. Jon Trasamar, Jon DuToit and Alex Gaugert all played solid in the final nine holes but couldn't find the elusive birdies amongst the standing water on the greens and in the bunkers. Nevertheless, we finished third and many teaching lessons came out of this weekend for a few of our younger players. The commitment and dedication that our squad shows in practice and competition certainly allows us to build off of each of these experiences.
Off to Happy Valley we went four days after the Hawkeye. The Rutherford Intercollegiate dates back to 1975 and the tournament kicked off at the same time medal play was introduced to college golf. The Penn State Blue Course is also the site of the Minnesota Gophers winning the 2002 Big Ten Golf Championship. Great tradition, fond memories and a course that appears to be very similar in layout to Bunker Hills and various other courses in the Twin Cities, proved to be just what we needed after the disappointment in Iowa City.
Alex Gaugert started us off on the right foot on Day 1 with scores of 71 and 69 for a share of fourth place. Sounds like a broken record but we were once again led by the one of the finest college freshmen in the country, Jose Mendez. Jose opened with a 3-under-par 68, only to follow that up by a flawless round of golf in the afternoon. His 65 was not only one shot off the competitive course record by Robert Rohanna of Penn State, but it also featured a hole out from 101 yards on the very difficult par-5 12th hole. This was his lowest collegiate round to date and his three-shot lead after Day 1 helped our team out to a convincing nine-shot lead over Rutgers University heading into the final round.
It was a fun week for our coaching staff to meet the coaches and compete against the newest members of our Big Ten Conference, Maryland and Rutgers, who will join in the summer. The final round started slightly later with a frost delay, which seemed to throw our preparation timeline off, as we played the first nine holes 9 over. The team competition was now very tight with Rutgers, Penn State and UConn, all within 10 shots of the lead.
Our team is tough to crack though. Senior leadership, freshman confidence and a sophomore who has won a Minnesota State Open title is a great recipe to close out tournaments. The Rutherford was no different as we played the final nine holes on a windy afternoon 3 over to secure a 12-shot victory for our program and FANS! Jon Trasamar really carried the load the final day for our team going out first on the day. His even-par round of 71 was one of the best scores of day. Alex Gaugert battled hard all day to finish with 75 and his fourth top 10 of the year. We all knew Jose Mendez was good coming in from Costa Rica as a 17-year-old freshman, but the year he is putting together will rank as one of the top performances in Gopher history. Jose won his second individual title by three strokes with a three-day total of 207, 6 under par. He also carries a 70.25 scoring average this spring season through five events that has helped him to a year-long scoring average of 72.05. As a team, everyone helped in this win as we used scores from all five players.
TEAM is something that isn't always seen as synonymous with golf, as most view our sport as strictly individual. College golf is very different though. The exhilaration of winning a TEAM title is unlike any feeling you get from an individual title. The NCAA Championship plays match play in the final three rounds to determine the National TEAM Champion. Finally, you should all be very proud to know that our TEAM has formed a very tight-knit bond with each other and our coaching staff that will last for many years beyond college. We are having a special year and the tradition of Gopher Golf means so much to all nine TEAM members, coaching staff and administration. Most of you won't be able to travel to watch us compete in the Big Ten Championship May 2-4 at the French Lick Resort-Dye Course in French Lick, Ind., but know that all five players and two coaches will be giving everything we've got, both mentally and physically, to bring home a championship that all of Minnesota can be proud of!
Follow the scores from the Big Ten Championship live on Golfstat.com May 2-4.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!