Golf: NU shows improvement, sets sights high for season

Danny Daly

Just after making the turn during the final round of the Windon Memorial Classic on Monday, the Wildcats found themselves tied for the lead. Northwestern was putting together the best round of the day, shooting 6-under until that point to make up eight strokes on second-round leader Illinois.

The Illini were able to hold off the Cats in the end, winning by six shots at 16-over. NU’s second place showing was three spots better than at last year’s Windon and its third top-two finish since 2008.

Only this year, the Cats are not content to settle for second.

“We’re disappointed,” sophomore Sam Chien said. “We know the course so well, and we had such a big advantage.”

Still, the performance was good enough to help the Cats crack the top 20 of the latest Golfstat rankings. NU finished higher than No. 16 Tennessee, which won its first event this season, and No. 18 Michigan, which NU also bested at last spring’s Big Ten Championships.

Senior David Lipsky fired a 67 on Monday, matching the lowest score of his career and catapulting him into a tie for third individually at 3-over, two places higher than Chien.

The Cats managed to contend even with sophomore Eric Chun, arguably the team’s best player, contributing to the team score in just one of the three rounds. Junior Josh Dupont finished 14th in his first tournament of the season, and senior Jonathan Bowers joined him in the top 30. Entering as an individual, junior Ravi Patel tied Dupont at 8-over.

“Our depth is obviously good,” coach Pat Goss said. “Some of these guys are going to have to step up into consistently All-American quality roles. There are a few guys who’ve flirted with that.”

Chien is one of the players who will give NU a chance to climb even higher in the rankings. After playing just three events all of last year, Chien opened the season by earning medalist honors at the Navy Golf Classic, a tournament the Cats won.

“(I put in) a lot of work on my swing last year, and now I’m seeing results,” he said.

Goss has been impressed by Chien’s improved ball striking and said that Chien is also steadily gaining confidence with each tournament.

For some of NU’s players to reach elite status, closing out rounds will be key. Lipsky was leading the tournament at 1-under through his first 15 holes in round one, then ended with three bogeys and a double bogey. He also dropped two shots late in his round on Monday. Chien finished his second round with two bogeys and carded squares on holes 16 and 18 in his third round.

Part of the struggles were due to the difficulty of the closing stretch – 16 was a 250-yard par 3, while 17 and 18 were both par-4s that measured longer than 450 yards. But there is also room for improvement mentally.

“It’s just attitude-based, taking accountability for the fact that your bad rounds ultimately define you,” Goss said. “Anyone can play good when things are going their way, but to be a great player you’ve got to be able to go out there on a day when everything is working against you, when the conditions are toughest, and salvage a round.”

Once the Cats start to overcome adversity from a bad round on a more consistent basis, they will have a better chance of meeting their high goals.

“Their expectations are higher, and they expect to be successful,” Goss said. “They really see themselves as being a team that can play with (teams like) Oklahoma State and Arizona State and Florida. It’s a matter of making sure they’re working hard and taking advantage of their opportunities when they have them.”

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