Jose Mendez has a champion's mentality.
It's almost that time again when we will have 750 Gopher student athletes strolling the halls of the Bierman Building, freshmen wandering nervously around campus trying to find their next class and Gopher Golf will be back for another season as defending Big Ten Champions. This title carries an added pressure to build off of a tremendous 2013-14 season, but also it allows our players to feel an even bigger sense of pride when they strap the Maroon and Gold golf bag on their backs each round.
A new season brings new faces and in this blog I want to introduce the 10 players that will be teeing it up at Windsong Farm Golf Club on Sept. 7-8 in the Gopher Invitational. With the new season, we say farewell to three great seniors: Jon Trasamar, Alex Gaugert and Genki Hirayama. In contrast to the previous season, our 2014-15 squad is young with one senior and one junior returning. Here is the breakdown of this year's roster:
· Tyler Lowenstein- Ty is a senior from Wayzata High School in Minnesota that has been a steady contributor to the recent success of Gopher Golf. Ty is extremely creative (instrumental in design of the School of Engineering's Holiday Light Show), likes to work his golf ball from right to left on the course and will be relied upon for leadership this year.
Tyler Lowenstein is the only senior on the 2014-15 roster.
· Jon DuToit- Dutes is a junior from Chaska High School in Minnesota and comes in having played all but two events in the previous season as a starter. Jon loves to tinker with the technology in equipment (2nd Swing's prodigy), has gained 30 yards on his tee ball in two years and recently competed in the US Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club.
· Jose Mendez- Jose hails from San Jose, Costa Rica, and will be starting his sophomore season for the Gophers. A loyal Titleist player, Jose loves futbol and is the defending Big Ten Individual champion.
· Grady Meyer-In his sophomore season after graduating from Fargo Shanley High School in North Dakota, Grady keeps things light in practice. He may be seen dancing, talking, eating large amounts of candy but always working to improve the mechanics of his swing. He will tell you that he can guard anyone on the basketball court and may make himself eligible in three years for the NFL draft as a lockdown cornerback.
· Matt Rachey- Matt is also in his second year coming out of Waconia High School in Minnesota. Rach is like having another coach in the huddle. His determination and class is contagious as he was named Louis Lick "Hardest Worker" in 2013-14. Posture adjustments and a switch in irons have him poised to vie for the top spot in the lineup this year.
· Daniel Luftspring-Oh Canada! Dan is a sophomore coming from the Core Academy in Orlando, Fla. Not far from the accolades of a Rhodes Scholar, Dan loves to hypothesize and ask questions about anything. These qualities of a master debater also have allowed him to make big strides since he first step foot on campus. Only a couple of strokes kept him out of the lineup through qualifying last year and should prove as motivation for the upcoming season.
· William Leaf-Will transferred back to his home state from SIU-Edwardsville this season after graduating from Winona High School. Competitive, skilled, motivated and hungry are all adjectives that sum up Mr. Leaf. There won't be much of a transition period for Will as he has already had success at the Division I level. I will never shy away from expectations as I strongly believe all elite athletes expect to win and Will can be great.
To be a freshman in college again...
· Riley Johnson-Another North Dakota Boy...A Packer from West Fargo HS, Riley compiled one of the greatest high school records since Andy Doeden, David Schultz and Tom Hoge. As a two-time North Dakota State Individual champion, he has more passion for the game than most. Riley will be the second sibling in the Johnson family to be a Gopher as his brother Payton currently is enrolled at the U.
· Runar Arnorsson-As a top player in Iceland for the last six years, Runar makes his trip across the pond to America as a 22-year-old freshman. His mature game, having been tested in many international competitions, should make him a starter immediately in the Big Ten.
· Charlie Duensing-By way of Sandy, Utah, Charlie has spent many summers in Minnesota, as his grandparents live in Detroit Lakes. As one of Ping's top junior players, the transition to college golf and academics will be seamless for Charlie. Competitive and passionate are two words that best sum up Charlie Duensing.
While the players have been busy working hard on their games this summer, our coaching staff has been carrying the heavy load of tournament preparation for the 2014 Gopher Invitational. Months of planning, scheduling the teams' arrival and course setup has been made slightly easier this year thanks to the help of newly appointed Co-Tournament Director, Keith Rachey. Keith is the father of Matt Rachey and has completely transformed our donor support for the event. His detail and creativity will be seen for many years to come as we continue to improve the college golf tournament environment with exciting changes being implemented.
Come watch or volunteer at the Gopher Invitational at Windsong Farm GC Sept. 7-8. We will play 36 holes on Sunday starting at 8:05 am continuing all day. Tee times on Monday are set between 7:30-9:30 am, depending on Day 1 scoring. It is free to spectators and if you choose to volunteer, our Gopher Invitational tournament committee will provide each volunteer with a free golf shirt and golf hat, in addition to lifelong memories of seeing future PGA Tour stars compete in college. Email Jo Rider, Administrative Specialist to Gopher Golf, at email@example.com if you would like to volunteer.
In closing, I always end my blogs with "Fairways, Fairways, Fairways" and the story behind this goes deep into my values in recruiting, competing and player development. College golf has changed in the last 20 years. Golf courses on campus are not being used for tournament competition nearly as often and they have been replaced in the rotation by modern and historic venues demanding accuracy off the tee. I only recruit players with total confidence with the driver and demand that our current players find the short grass more regularly. In tracking our fairways hit, along with GIR from the fairway vs. the rough, using Birdie Fire Statistical Software, it is staggering how much we have improved in this category as a team. Thus, I will continue to preach this with Gopher Golf and clearly we are on our way to more Big Ten Championships.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!
Big Ten Champs...
Why not us? This was not a theme I used with my guys prior to embarking on the first round of the Big Ten Championships at the Dye Course at French Lick Resort, but I was certainly thinking it. The rankings were certainly not accurately measuring the 53 wins and 4 losses we had amassed in our six spring collegiate tournaments. I know how dangerous confidence can be in the game of golf. So before the start of the first round in Indiana, we talked about what we learned from winning three times in the 2013-14 season and playing the tournament for the teammate sitting next to you. All coaches have these types of speeches planned for certain times of the year, but our positive tone at all times with our players allows them to play freely and it is what Coach Stith and I witnessed in Round 1.
Let the drama begin...The Dye Course measures 8,108 yards from the back tees at a par of 72. No, we did not play this monster from those tees, but we did play each day of the tournament from 7,300 yards, which is tough enough on a course that boasts the second highest USGA rating of 81.0. For example, Hazeltine National GC, which is well known to be the toughest golf course in Minnesota from the back tees, has a course rating of just over 77.0. We maneuvered the deep fairway bunkers and 26-yard wide fairways with ease on Day 1 through 16 holes, finding ourselves eight shots clear of second-place Purdue University.
Not fazed by his first Big Ten Championships start, Jose Mendez closed his day with a solid par at the last for a 3-under total of 69. This would stand as the lowest single round shot at the 2014 Championships. I did say we played well through 16 holes above, as we unfortunately couldn't withstand the increasing wind and brutal par-4 17th, as we gave eight shots back to the field in those last two holes to find our team in the lead by two after Round 1. Jon DuToit and Jon Trasamar, both Minnesota high school products, each shot very good opening rounds to offset tough first rounds by senior Alex Gaugert and junior Tyler Lowenstein.
We all love 36-hole days...16 miles of walking in two rounds and winds that peaked at 22 MPH were two of the factors that contributed to higher second round scores for the field, along with a few more gray hairs for Ole Head Coach. Don't tell my wife about gray hairs as she still thinks I am the same strapping young man she married almost 10 years ago! Aside from the weather and tricky pin positions, we shot 300 in the second round with scores of 74 (Mendez), 75(DuToit), 75(Gaugert) and 76(Trasamar).
I thought mornings were supposed to be calm...25-35 MPH sustained winds greeted all players on "Moving Day" from the first tee until the final putt on hole 18. Our team is mentally strong, proven champions and always ready for the challenge of increased pressure that comes with being in contention at a major! Our third round was magic. Now usually when I use a strong word like that it means we shot career low rounds individually or as a team, but this is not the case. +13 was the number of the day for Gopher Golf. Some may say, "How can you feel good about that score?" Well, that was the best score of the day by two shots and moved our team clear of second place heading into the final round by seven shots over No. 9 ranked Illinois and No. 37 ranked Purdue.
Even better than the movement in the team race was the comment by one volunteer at the event to me just after play finished. A gentleman from Paoli, Indiana, who paid $100 to volunteer for the event, and worked in cold, windy conditions sought me out to tell me the University of Minnesota was "by a landslide" the most appreciative team at the tournament toward the 100-plus volunteers. I was overwhelmed with joy knowing our young players are growing into superb young men that represent the University of Minnesota and all the golfers in Minnesota in the best way possible.
Heading into the final round of the Big Ten Championships, I needed a little advice on how to deal with my own nerves as a coach. I am so fortunate to be surrounded at Gopher Athletics by some of the finest coaches in the world. I called Brad Frost, the finest women's hockey coach in the nation and one of my closest friends, the night before the round. He has a clear mission and vision with his team that I have been able to understand for the better part of four years now. "Controlling what you can control," "doing the little things well" and a few other coaching points were discussed on Saturday. Thank you, Brad, for that support!
Big Ten Championships...final round...Jose Mendez vs. Charlie Danielson...Minnesota vs. Illinois...This has become a rivalry that started at the Big Ten Match Play and will continue for many years as I have the utmost respect for Coach Small and the Illini! Illinois would start out on fire with five team birdies in the first three holes, while we matched that with only three birdies of our own. The back-and-forth body blows continued for the next nine holes only to see our seven-shot lead evaporate into an all-square match starting the 16th hole. Jose Mendez had also given up his lead to a hot putter in Charlie Danielson. Charlie is from Osceola, Wisconsin, and is one of the strongest sophomores in the nation. Hole 16 is a mere 191 yards with a green bordered by water on the right and a huge pot bunker on the left. The wind was freshening with the Iowa Hawkeyes in the clubhouse with the round of the day, 4-under par 284.
Solid shots by both teams sent the match to the 17th,
where the Illini found trouble with a bogey and a double bogey. In contrast,
Gopher Golf drew on experience with the lead throughout the year by carding a
bogey and a birdie, along with three pars by Jon DuToit, Tyler Lowenstein and
Jose Mendez. That lone birdie at the 17th was that of senior captain Jon
Trasamar. He buried a 10-footer after one of his finest iron shots of the week
from 175 yards (8 iron). This set the stage for one of the finest moments of
the year in Gopher Golf...
Trasamar drained a 45-yard putt.
After laying up on the 615-yard, par-5 18th hole, Trasamar would catch his wedge shot slightly heavy, leaving it 45 feet below the hole. With the hole location in the back right of this 59-yard long green, Coach Stith and Trasamar used "Aim Point" to read the putt. If you have not tried Aim Point, it is one of the new techniques we have taught our guys this year to revolutionize their green reading. Trasamar holed the putt with a fist pump and with the crowd on the hill going crazy, the Big Ten Championship was coming home to Minnesota! Because I had previously mentioned college golf is mostly a team environment, this did overshadow the individual duel between the "Costa Rican Athlete of the Year" and one of the three amazing Danielson siblings from Osceola.
The last player to win an individual Big Ten Championship is my good friend Matt Anderson. Matt now works at Dick's Sporting Goods in Bloomington, along with serving as assistant golf coach at Edina HS. He also still sports one of the best wedge games in Minnesota!
Jose and Charlie shared medalist honors.
Jose and Charlie were playing hole 18. After both laying up to 69 and 92 yards respectively, an uncharacteristic poor shot from Charlie resulted in the greenside bunker. Jose hit a smart shot to 25 feet below the hole. Charlie could only muster a bogey 6 after his approach shot, which set the stage for Jose to win it outright. After hitting a solid putt missing on the right, he would bury it from 4 feet to earn a share of the Big Ten Individual title. Because of tight travel windows, no playoff is held for the individual titles in our conference.
We did it! The Big Ten title is for everyone in the State of Minnesota, families of our players, alumni of our great program and donors. It's a great memory for all players/coaches on the victorious 2014 team. You can watch the tape delayed drama of our win at the Big Ten Championships on Big Ten Network at 6 p.m. on May 17.
We are now off to one of the six NCAA Regional sites at Lonnie Poole GC in Raleigh, North Carolina, next week. Follow the live scoring on Golfstat.com Thursday, May 15-Saturday, May 17. Five teams advance to the NCAA Finals at Prarie Dunes Country Club in Hutchison, Kansas, which starts Thursday, May 22. Four team wins in our 2013-14 season, three individual titles by Jose Mendez and recently receiving the Norman Borlaug Academic Award at the Golden Goldys for the team with the best academic performance in Gopher Athletics in the previous year, are all proud moments in my third year as head coach. This ride in our championship portion of our season has only begun though.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!
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!
I have been fortunate to take many golf trips, whether with friends or during competition, in my 25 years of playing golf...starting at the age of 9 for everyone counting. But I hold one golf trip above them all! A friend of mine, Joe Winkels from Wayzata Country Club, and I toured some of the most historic clubs in America while there. Riviera CC, Bel Air CC (current head golf professional is Dave Podas who was the head golf professional at Minneapolis GC until 2007), Valencia CC and Trump National GC made up our trip and certainly surpassed our expectations.
I only mention this trip as our golf team is embarked on another fine trip, including a round of golf at the other historic golf club in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Country Club-North Course. Rated as the No. 41 golf course in America by Golf Digest, this George Thomas par 70 design was certainly on my bucket list of golf courses yet to play in the US Top 100. Many say it is as private as Cypress Point GC and Pine Valley, only finishing a close second in exclusivity to the home of the Masters, Augusta National.
Los Angeles Country Club certainly grabs your attention immediately as the flowers surrounding the clubhouse are something out of a fairy tale, 350 trees have been removed from the recent remodel by 2016 Olympics Course designer, Gil Hanse, and there is a stunning view of the Beverly Hills Hilton from the first tee.
Coach Stith and I both played that day in a grouping with Kurt Schuette, who is the director of golf at USC and a close friend of mine. He was our historian for the round as we had an amazing day with Matt Rachey, freshman golfer, also in our pairing. Birdies are tough to come by at LACC as it plays to a par 70 at nearly 7,400 yards from the tips. The 2017 Walker Cup will be played on these grounds, which certainly caught the attention of my players knowing the US Amateur that year will also be played in Los Angeles at Rivera CC and Bel Air CC. I know this day will rate very highly in the memories of our players as they look back at their amazing college golf experiences.
California rates very highly in the minds of one of our players, Jon Trasamar. I wouldn't be shocked if he moves immediately after he receives his graduate degree in May. We drove by the Oscars festivities, took in Rodeo and Sunset Drive before setting our sights on the main reason we were in California--the Del Walker Classic at Virginia CC, hosted by Long Beach State University. Virginia CC is famous among PGA Tour conversations as it is host to one of the top 100 golf instructors in the country, Jamie Mulligan. Jamie teaches John Cook, Paul Goydos, John Merrick, John Mallinger and Patrick Cantlay and many others that are making a significant impact in the professional golf world. Virginia CC was founded in 1909 and it plays to a par 70 at a yardage of 6,560 yards.
Eleven teams from six different conferences came to Long Beach looking for a win. The field was comprised of: Minnesota, Wichita State, Grand Canyon, Colorado State, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Santa Barbara, Arizona, Cal State Northridge, Kansas State, Denver and Long Beach State. After torrential rain fall that was apparently the largest storm that had hit the area in three years, the golf course would play very long throughout the week.
Round 1 started off with our team on fire. Making the turn at 8 under, led by Alex Gaugert and Jon Trasamar, our team vaulted to the lead against this very strong field. The inward nine holes play at a par 34 with no par 5s. We struggled to finish off our rounds as a team with the exception of Jon Trasamar, who carded a 4-under-par 66 in his first round. Other scores would see Alex Gaugert with 69, Jose Mendez at 72, Matt Rachey carding 73 and rounding out with a 4-over round of 74 by Jon DuToit. Even par (280) had our team in fourth place following the morning round.
The second round again started off well for each of the players and would end even better with a team score of 4-under-par 276. Jon DuToit chipped in for birdie on his 34th hole of the day to lead our team in the afternoon session with 68. Alex Gaugert played steadily in round 2 to shoot 69. Jose Mendez, the team's scoring average leader as a freshman, posted his lowest score of the year with 69. Jon Trasamar (70) would finish the 36-hole day in a tie for fifth place. We wouldn't be sleeping on the lead but certainly within striking distance at five shots back of first-place Cal State Fullerton. Fullerton is currently ranked 45th in the nation highlighted by a fall season that saw them lose to only four opponents total over the course of four events, while notching three team victories.
I preach that we need to walk the course with confidence, play to our strengths and know our tendencies each time we meet as a team. Virginia CC was a course where players have to stick to their game plan, as laying up is essential in spots. The final round was filled with dramatics that included untimely double bogeys and plenty of eagles and birdies. I was closely following our scoring on Golfstat.com the entire day. This also caused me to have a slight headache after the first 10 holes knowing that we were not scoring up to our full potential.
Standing on the 12th tee of the tournament, senior captain Jon Trasamar was 1 under for the week and needed a strong finish to secure his second top-five finish of the 2013-14 season. He would draw from his experience winning the 2013 Pine to Palm Championship at Detroit CC with an eagle on No. 12, followed by a birdie on No. 14 to help set the stage for another big comeback for our team. Jose Mendez birdied four of his final seven holes, capped off by a wedge shot to 9 feet and burying his putt like the true champion he already is at the tender age of 18.
Look for a feature on Jose Mendez in the next issue of Ski-U-Mah Magazine.
One of our most consistent players in his first two years at college has been Jon DuToit. Jon is a MN High School Class AAA Champion, MN State Open Champion and a caddy in the summer at Hazeltine National Golf Club. He has worked with Mike Barge for many years honing his golf swing and that work paid off in the final round as he made three birdies in his closing stretch of five holes for a final round 72. Alex Gaugert, senior from Lake Geneva, Wis., played very solid golf all week finishing with 69-69-69 to secure a tie for fifth place in the event. Although Matt Rachey had his score count in only one round, his scores of 73-73-74 certainly proved he belongs on the biggest stage in college golf.
The dramatics finally ended at 3 p.m. with our team securing a one-shot victory over the University of Arizona. This victory is significant for all Northern teams as it is one of the only team wins by any major conference, Northern school in the first half of the spring semester. I am proud of our team for their resiliency, patience and determination in practice and certainly in our eight events this year.
Two victories in eight events marks the first time since the 2006-07 season that Gopher Golf has won twice in a season. We will look for our third victory March 24-25 when we travel to the Duck Classic at Emerald Valley GC in Eugene, Ore. Only three tournaments remaining until the Big Ten Championship in the first week of May, so now is the time for Gopher golf to firmly supplant ourselves on the National stage in college golf. Come along for the ride!
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!
Congratulations to Grady Meyer, who was named the McNamara Academic Center's Student-Athlete of the Month! Here is what the golf team's academic counselor, Chelsie Schafer, had to say about Grady:
"Grady Meyer is an excellent choice for Student-Athlete of the Month. Grady earned a 4.0 his first semester as a Gopher and appears to be on track to work at that level again this spring based on feedback from his instructors. I couldn't be more excited for his academic success. He is an excellent example of an all-around student-athlete and a pleasure to work with. I am confident he will submit an outstanding application to transfer into the Carlson School of Management."
Minnesota Golf Fans!
Offering a slight break from the unseasonable winter Minnesotans have been experiencing this year, we took full advantage of a new rule instituted by the NCAA Division I Golf Committee this past year. All college golf teams are able to practice out of state as long as no class days are missed. This meant a late February trip to Desert Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., for our team. I constantly joke with a close friend of mine, Brad Frost, who is the head coach of the women's hockey program at the University of Minnesota, that we should compare pictures of both of our teams' trips this time of the year. So he sends pictures of an ice rink in Duluth, Minn., while I reciprocate with a team photo standing on the 18th green of the Cochise Course, home of the 2014 Charles Schwab Championship on the Champions Tour. I know I will repeat this many times in my blogs BUT it is a great time to be a college golfer!
Gaugert led the way at the team qualifier.
Our qualifying tournament started out with a bang! Alex Gaugert, a senior and two-year letter winner, shot 64(-8) from 7,100 yards at the Cochise Course while playing in the same threesome as Jon DuToit and Jon Trasamar. Their 72s were solid but overshadowed by his two eagles and a lion's share of birdies en route to the lowest tournament or qualifying round registered since my arrival as coach on campus. All other scores for Day 1 of the Del Walker Classic qualifying can be found here on our GopherSports.com page. The guys practiced at the back range and short game facility the entire rest of Day 1 at the Outlaw Course at Desert Mountain.
The final round of every qualifier gives our coaching staff a glimpse into the mindset of certain players and provides equivalence to a pressure-packed tournament round. The Outlaw Course is a links golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus that sits off property from the other five Desert Mountain golf courses. The challenge of tight fairways, deep greenside bunkering, firm putting surfaces and windy conditions remain trademarks of this golf course. We did not find the golf course to be as easy as PGA Tour member Steve Marino found it on his way to a course record 12-under-par 59 back in 2011. Leading the way was senior captain Jon Trasamar with an even-par round of 72. Other final round scores were as follows: Rachey (74), Mendez (75), Gaugert (75), DuToit (77), Lowenstein (79) and Meyer (84). I want to personally thank two tremendous supporters of our program for making this experience possible. Fritz Corrigan of Minikahda Club and Cal Simmons of Interlachen Country Club are also both members at Desert Mountain, where they showed us an unbelievable time on the golf course and at the practice facilities. Without generous donors and friends of Gopher Golf, our program would not be able to continue to make strides back to the elite in the Big Ten and nationally.
It was a pleasure to have Grady Meyer, a freshman from Fargo Shanley High School, compete on his second trip since joining the team for the 2013-14 season. He exemplifies sportsmanship and outstanding character, which will help him have a big impact on our team in his final 3 1/2 years of college golf. Coming off a career low round of 66 (-6) at Lakewood Ranch GC in Bradenton, Fla., while practicing with Daniel Luftspring, our freshman from Toronto, Canada, Grady continued his hard work in Arizona. Striving for a more neutral grip, balanced setup and square club face that allow him to control the head in his golf swing, Grady has made as big of strides on the golf course as any player this year. Look for Grady to push his teammates with the endless amount of talent he has in the game of golf.
Back to four days of practice in Minnesota using our TrackMan launch monitor and loft/lie adjustments at 2nd Swing Minneapolis before heading to Long Beach, Calif., for the Del Walker Collegiate. The Del Walker is one of the longest running college golf tournaments in the country, contested at Virginia Country Club. In an attempt to always show my players a truly unique experience, we will be spending the day prior to the practice round playing at the Los Angeles Country Club, with the longtime director of golf, Kurt Schuette, at USC. Kurt has played a huge role in mentoring me with my first collegiate coaching job and all seven travelers are looking forward to the opportunity to play one of the top 10 golf courses in the United States! Keep your computers logged on to Golfstat.com on Monday and Tuesday, March 3-4, for tee times and complete live scoring of the 12-team Del Walker Classic.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!
What's In the Bag---Tyler Lowenstein (Jr./ Wayzata, Minn.)
Driver: Taylor Made RBZ Stage 2 10.5 degree
3-wood: Taylor Made Rocket Ballz 14.5 degrees bent to 15.5 degrees
Hybrid: Taylor Made Rescue 19 degree
Hybrid: Taylor Made Rescue 24 degree
Irons (4 to pitching wedge): Nike Pro Combo, Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X-100
Wedges: Titleist Vokey 53 and 60
Putter: Bettinardi BB1 35 inches
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Shoe: Nike TW
Golf Glove: Nike Premium
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!
Freshman Jose Mendez was the fall stroke average leader (73.35).