Late run lifts Cats to 4th in Prestige

David Sterrett

Winter may be approaching in Chicago, but the Northwestern men’s golf team heated up at The Prestige in Palm Desert, Calif., on Monday and Tuesday.

After a disappointing first round left the Wildcats in 13th place, they charged back in the final two rounds to finish fourth with a score of 12-under 852.

The Cats won the Prestige in 2000.

“It took us a little time to get warmed up in this tournament,” senior Chris Thayer said. “We usually do not do great in the first round, but we turn it up in the second and third rounds.”

NU started off slowly on the Firecliff course at Desert Willow Golf Resort with an opening-round 4-over 292.

The team failed to take advantage of perfect course conditions as they fell 14 shots behind Kansas and tournament co-host California-Davis.

Despite the team’s poor first round, junior Scott Harrington avoided mistakes en route to a 1-under 71.

“We really dug ourselves into a hole in the first round,” sophomore Tom Johnson said. “We know we can do better, we just need to go out and do it.”

Johnson and his teammates learned from their first-round mistakes, rebounding with a 7-under 281, a round that started Monday afternoon and concluded on Tuesday morning.

The Cats moved up the leaderboard from 13th place to ninth as three golfers had rounds below par. Thayer and sophomore T.C. Ford both shot 3-under 69; Johnson led the team with a round of 68.

NU’s impressive second-round transformation could be attributed to the use of golf carts, which helped speed up the pace of play. In addition, adapting to the 90-degree heat may have been a factor in the team’s improvement.

“The heat was really a presence,” Ford said. “In addition, I think the carts changed the rhythm of the tournament, and I know it really helped me get into a groove.”

No matter what the reason was, the Cats continued to gain momentum as the tournament progressed. Their 9-under 279 was the low score of the final round.

Ford fired his second consecutive 69, and Harrington recovered from a mediocre second round to match that score. Both Ford and Harrington finished tied for 23rd at 1-under 215.

Consistent play helped Johnson shoot a final-round 69 and capture seventh place individually with a 7-under 209.

“We putted a lot better, and we started to make our birdie putts,” NU coach Pat Goss said. “We minimized our mistakes, and we played more relaxed.”

But the NU comeback fell short, as the team finished eight shots behind Washington. Dustin Bray of North Carolina and Washington’s Brock Mackenzie both shot 13-under 203 to earn top individual honors.

Although the Cats failed to defend their title at the 20-team tournament, the final-round improvement showed promise for the spring season.

“I was really pleased with our last two rounds,” Goss said. “We showed what we are capable of shooting, and this was just a glimmer of what we can accomplish.”

The fall season has been a learning experience for NU, which has to adapt to the absence of a star presence. NU has lost two All-Americans in the past two years with the graduation of Jess Daley in 2000 and Luke Donald in 2001.

In order to win their fourth straight Big Ten title, the Cats will need to rely on a balanced attack.

According to Goss, each golfer needs to step up because the team cannot rely on one player to carry the way.

“This team is as good as any team I have ever coached since I have been here,” Goss said. “We have five very solid players. We just need to continue to improve.”