Competition...we prepare our team in the first month of the spring semester through a variety of drills, TrackMan combines, "Tour Van" club fitting at 2nd Swing Golf, technical swing changes and match play situations in practice. But the reality is we can never perfectly simulate the feeling of being on the first tee box in the Big Ten Match Play, one of the country's finest college golf tournaments.
I am writing this on our flight back from Hammock Beach Resort, site of the 2015 Big Ten Match Play. I always leave this event with thoughts of how fortunate we are to represent the state of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota in such a unique college golf event. Spending three days with players we have recruited in high school and competed against in other Big Ten Championship events, along with spending time with coaches that I have the utmost respect for in our business, makes this as memorable an event as any. Four matches in two days--actually 34 hours--is a fast and furious pace, even for our well-conditioned athletes. Match play is also the most exciting form of competitive golf you can play. Matches turn so quickly, emotions seem to run higher than normal and knowing that it is you against one player is the purest form of sport. This event did not disappoint.
Jon DuToit won two matches at the Big Ten Match Play.
Not only did we make our trip to Florida with the youngest team in the conference, you could also make the case that we have the most inexperienced team in Big Ten competitions. Seven Gophers, including four first-timers to the Big Ten Match Play, would contribute to our lineup that saw five players compete each round with the goal of moving on in the championship bracket. Riley Johnson (freshman), Runar Arnorsson (freshman), Charlie Duensing (freshman), William Leaf (sophomore playing his first year for the Gophers), Jose Mendez (sophomore), Jon DuToit (junior) and Tyler Lowenstein (senior captain) would all see playing time this week.
I don't want to get too far ahead though without adding that we may have one of the most talented teams in the conference, regardless of age, school year or experience. Lowenstein had played 66 rounds, DuToit 44 rounds and Jose Mendez hadn't missed any tournaments since arriving on campus in September of 2013. These three players also made up 60 percent of our defending Big Ten Stroke Play Championship team from only nine months previous.
- Beating a team, Penn State, which had one of its finest fall seasons in many years, was certainly a great way to start. Jose Mendez finished his match under par and Charlie Duensing recorded a victory in his first start for the Gophers.
- In Match No. 2, it was a matchup vs. Iowa, who is led by my former assistant coach, Tyler Stith. William Leaf notched a quick victory in his first start as a Gopher and Jon DuToit provided another dramatic moment in our match play history by making birdie in the dark to earn a halve in his match against the 2014 Illinois State Amateur champion, Raymond Knoll.
- In our closest match over the two days, Runar Arnorsson played great in winning his match and our All-American, Jose Mendez, closed his opponent out by amassing three birdies in his final seven holes.
- We beat the No. 2 seed, Ohio State University. All five players played solid golf as we again finished in the dark with wins by Jose Mendez, Jon DuToit and William Leaf.
You can watch the entire replay for the first time on the Big Ten Network on March 15 at 1:30 pm CST. If you miss it the first time, it will be re-aired multiple times on BTN.
We already depart tomorrow to compete in the Puerto Rico Classic at the River Course at Rio Mar. We will travel six players with five players competing in the team event and the other player competing in the individual competition at the Ocean Course. The six players making the trip to beautiful Puerto Rico will be: Jose Mendez, Runar Arnorsson, Jon DuToit, William Leaf, Charlie Duensing and Riley Johnson. All rounds of coverage will feature live scoring at BirdieFire.com. The first round of play starts Sunday at 6:00 am CST. Rounds 2 and 3 will be played at the same times on Monday and Tuesday. The Puerto Rico Classic is an elite collegiate event with one of the strongest fields we face all year. Participating teams are: Alabama, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina-Greensboro, Tulsa, East Tennessee State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Minnesota.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: 2015 GOPHER INVITATIONAL
Please stay tuned for all the information you will need to volunteer at the 2015 Gopher Invitational at Windsong Farm Golf Club, September 13-14. Volunteer opportunities will include ball spotting, walking live scorers, hole scorers, refreshments duties, parking patrol, pace of play timing and scoring tent/scoreboard operations, just to name a few. In 2014, we had a record 131 volunteers during the two-day event and because of this, college coaches and players are all talking about the Gopher Invitational becoming one of the premier stroke play events offered in NCAA Golf. I will keep you updated on a new website devoted to the Gopher Invitational in future blogs. Don't miss the chance to see 15 of the top teams (Minnesota, Kent State, Pepperdine, New Mexico, Oklahoma, St. John's (Minn.), Charlotte, East Tennessee State, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State, Michigan, SMU, Baylor, California) in the nation compete at one of Minnesota's finest golf courses.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!