Cats finish 7th in Big Ten

Laurel Jorgensen

The Northwestern men’s golf team sure isn’t used to this.

After a rough weekend at the Big Ten championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., the team failed to earn an appearance in the NCAA regional tournament for the first time since 1996.

And it’s not a feeling they like.

“We needed to turn it around (at the tournament) and play really well and we didn’t,” junior Dillon Dougherty said. “It’s kind of frustrating to have a year end the way it did, with two poor performances.”

To qualify for regionals, the team needed to pull off a victory at Big Tens, but their seventh-place finish didn’t cut it.

“We know that we could beat all those teams,” senior T.C. Ford said. “Hopefully the younger guys will realize what a disappointment it is and use that as motivation for next year.”

The Cats were trying to rebound after the Fossum-TaylorMade Invitational the previous weekend, where they beat only one Big Ten team.

NU placed fourth at Big Tens the past two years and won the tourney the three years prior to that.

Last weekend, Ohio State took the Big Ten title, led by Kevin Hall’s 11-stroke individual win. Illinois finished second, five strokes behind the Buckeyes, and Minnesota placed third.

While NU won’t be making a regional appearance, senior Tom Johnson learned Monday night that he qualified for the May 20-22 tournament individually — something he thought unlikely after his 28th place finish at Big Tens.

“I thought (my college golf career) was over for sure,” said Johnson, who also received second team All-Big Ten honors. “(Qualifying) is definitely a good thing, but I’m still very dissatisfied with our performance at Big Tens.”

Johnson’s score was the second-best for NU behind Dougherty’s tenth-place finish.

Dougherty, who brought in rounds of 73, 69 and 72, completed the weekend 13th on the list for All-Big Ten honors, missing the recognition by one spot. Dougherty said he was aware how close he was to receiving the honor during his Sunday round.

On his last three holes, he needed to make two birdies to earn the honor. But when he ended up bogeying one hole and parring the others, he knew he was out of contention.

His teammate Casey Strunk said Dougherty was “shafted.”

“He played so well at the tournament,” Ford said. “You’d think a 10th-place finish in Big Tens would keep you there, but somehow it didn’t. He deserved it.”

Ford played solidly Saturday, recording rounds of 72 and 70, which put him in a tie for eighth place after the first day of competition. But he struggled with his short game Sunday, shooting a 78, and wound up in 33rd.

Ford said the highlight of his second round was when he holed out from 125 yards after three-putting the previous hole.

“I decided to aim at the pin and I hit it perfect, and it bounced once and went in,” Ford said. “I was so pumped after that.”

Other scores for NU came from senior Casey Strunk, who placed 43rd after shooting a third-round 70, and freshman Dave Merkow, who placed 47th.

Ford said the team fought to find some kind of momentum in the tournament but “never got anything going.”

“Everybody just kind of played steadily OK,” Johnson said. “Well, not even really OK — just steadily lousy.”