Spartan travel takes Cats to last regular-season meet

Bernard Schwartz

The Northwestern men’s golf team lost its van driver Thursday when coach Pat Goss called senior Danny Riskam to tell him he wouldn’t be along for the ride.

Goss wasn’t able to drive his team to East Lansing, Mich. for this weekend’s Bruce Fossom Spartan Invitational. He was in New York, celebrating the birthday of Eric Gleacher, ’62 NU graduate and patron saint of Wildcats golf.

A large donation from Gleacher funded the Cats’ state-of-the-art indoor practice facility located within Patten Gym.

“If I gave Pat six bucks he wouldn’t come to my birthday, ” Riskam said. “But when someone gives 6 million bucks, you go to his party.”

So assistant coach Kevin Lynch replaced Goss on the four-hour drive to Michigan State. The nation’s most prestigious tournaments may be down south or out west and a plane ride away, but the Cats need their van for one last preview before the conference tournament.

“It’s not the safest mode of travel,” Riskam said. “I think it’s from the 1940s, and I’m not sure it has brakes. I’m just hoping we make it there in one piece.”

Like the Kepler Invitational two weeks ago — which NU captured behind No. 9 Jess Daley’s first college win — the Spartan is a Big Ten tournament. Nine of 11 conference teams are competing in this weekend’s field of 18.

The No. 8 Cats are the defending Big Ten champions and the highest-ranked team in the conference.

And the Cats head into the Spartan knowing only one tune-up remains before they once again attempt to prove they’re the best.

“This is the part of the year when the pressure starts to mount,” Riskam said. “We have the attitude that we’re the best in the conference, that we’re the favorite, but we still have to play really well or we’re not going to be the favorite anymore.”

NU remains the favorite in the Spartan because of No. 1 Luke Donald and Daley, who haven’t placed out of the top 10 in a tournament all spring. The Cats’ weakness all season has been the inconsistent play of their bottom three, which includes Riskam and senior Josh Habig.

But with Riskam taking fifth at the Kepler — his best finish at NU — the Cats are becoming more complete as a team and less dependent on Donald and Daley.

The fifth spot in the lineup and the final seat on the team van have rotated. This weekend sophomore Chris Thayer snatched the last spot by winning a qualifying tournament. Thayer played in only one tournament at NU, the Kepler, where he struggled.

“He was probably very nervous at Ohio State,” Riskam said. “I know I was terrified at my first college tournament. He’ll play better; you can’t put a price on experience.”

At the Spartan, NU resumes its rivalry with Minnesota, which beat the Cats at the ’98 Windon Memorial but lost at Big Tens last year.

“We hate Minnesota,” Riskam said. “It’s like Florida-Florida State only not on such a grand scale. We’re always locking horns with them.”

But Minnesota is not the only team NU must beat if it wants to win the Spartan and retain the winning attitude it has had all year over its conference opponents.

“It’s important to play well in the district,” Habig said. “We need confidence heading into into Big Tens, and now is the time.”