Tournament changes may help squad

Scott Duncan

Twenty-over, 12-over, 9-over, 17-over and 9-over.

Those were the Wildcats’ first-round scores in their first five spring tournaments.

Fortunately for the Cats, the first round in the Big Ten championships won’t count.

It is likely the Cats will have to win the conference tournament, which starts Friday in Madison, Wis., if they want to advance to the NCAA Regional championships. And the new rule might help them.

On the first day of the tournament, the teams play the typical 36 holes, but this year’s first round is a practice round, a change to the tournament schedule that coach Pat Goss didn’t originally support.

“I voted against it,” Goss said. “But in hindsight it was probably the best thing that could happen to us.”

The 18-hole warmup will give NU time to get rid of any anxiousness and jitters before starting the conference tournament in the second round Friday.

This change is particularly welcoming for the Cats, which have three players, sophomore Chris Wilson and freshmen Dan Doyle and Kyle Moore, playing in their first conference tournament.

Goss said although the Big Ten tournament can be stressful for the younger players, the event has a unique and special quality for the first-timers.

“There is better fan support, more family support,” Goss said. “And when you win a Big Ten championship, more than any regular season tournament, you take it with you your whole life.”

As the Cats begin the postseason, they seem to have snapped out of their spring skid.

Last week at the Bruce Fossum/Taylormade Invitational, NU finished fifth, its first top-10 finish of the spring. In the Fossum Invitational, sophomore David Merkow also got his first top-10 of the spring, finishing in a tie for fifth place with a 2-under 214.

Doyle and junior Dillon Dougherty also had their best finishes of the spring, as Doyle finished 27th and Dougherty 29th. Wilson continued his consistent spring with a 10th-place finish.

“You want to peak at the so-called majors,” Wilson said. “And the Big Tens are certainly a major.”

Goss said the most important thing that came out of his team’s performance at the Fossum was the confidence that it can compete with any team in the conference.

Michigan State, which is seeded first in the Big Ten, beat out fifth-seeded NU by only three strokes on the Spartans’ home course in the Fossum Invitational.

“This is probably one of the most wide open Big Tens since I’ve been coaching here,” Goss said. “Six or seven teams can win it and we’re definitely one of them.”

Reach Scott Duncan at [email protected]

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Tournament changes may help squad