Thayer breaks through at the Big Ten championship

Bernard Schwartz

The only tournament action Chris Thayer saw as a freshman was as a gallery member for the Northwestern men’s golf team.

At last year’s Big Ten championships, Thayer watched his teammates win their first conference title in more than 50 years. The 1997 Virginia state champion watched as NU set a tournament record to beat Minnesota on its home course.

But Thayer — now, a sophomore — wasn’t a spectator this year.

In just his third college tournament, Thayer took seventh place at this weekend’s Big Ten championships in West Lafayette, Ind. His 2-under par 70 Sunday was the best final round by any golfer in the field.

“I can’t say enough about Chris Thayer,” said senior Josh Habig, who finished tied for third behind teammates Luke Donald and runner-up Jess Daley. “To do what he did on such a tough day was very impressive.”

Thayer’s final round vaulted him out of a tie for 15th and into the top 10. It was Thayer’s best finish of the year, considerably better than his 42nd at the Spartan Invitational or his 71st at the Kepler Intercollegiate.

Coach Pat Goss said he has been expecting a breakout performance from his sophomore — the only underclassman in the current starting roster.

“He’s gotten so much better,” Goss said before the Big Tens. “In the winter I saw him grow a lot and I wanted to give him a chance. I think he’s earned it.”

After this weekend, Thayer’s chance may have turned into a permanent position in the Wildcats’ lineup.

For Thayer, competing — and not watching — made NU’s repeat especially rewarding.

“Obviously, this year, it meant a lot more,” Thayer said.

SOME PLAQUE WITH THAT: The awards ceremony following the Big Tens was a sea of purple as three different NU golfers — Donald, Daley and Habig, along with coach Goss — were all called to the podium at least once for individual honors.

Donald, Daley and Habig, who finished 1-2-3, were all named to the all-championship team. Donald and Daley were both named All-Big Ten. And Donald was called to the podium two more times as the Big Ten Player of the Year and the Les Bolstad award winner for the lowest stroke average on the season.

At one point, Donald had to shove a bag of peanut M&Ms into his pocket and swallow a mouthful of candy before walking up to the podium once again and posing for another picture.

“It was kind of weird going back and forth picking up those trophies,” Donald said. “It was like a clean sweep for me. I was really happy.”

NU was especially happy when Goss accepted his third Big Ten Coach of the Year award. He previously won in 1997 and ’99.

“Coach was joking around before he received the award, saying ‘Here’s the trophy for the coach with the best players in the Big Ten,'” Donald said. “But I don’t think that’s true. It was nice to see him get paid back for all the work he does to make us better.”

DYE-MOND IN THE ROUGH: The galleries were small this weekend on Purdue’s Kampen Course, but a notable name in the golf world showed up to watch Sunday’s final round.

Famed course architect Pete Dye, who designed the Kampen, was walking the fairways early Sunday, observing how golfers did on one of his more sadistic layouts. Dye, an Indiana native, was called up to the stage during the awards ceremony but was nowhere to be found.

When Dye failed to heed the call, a spectator yelled out, “He must have seen too many birdies, gotten upset and gone home.”