Men’s golf: Cats look to be ‘least worst’ at NCAA champs

Jonah Rosenblum

Rather than compare this year’s squad to his teams that finished in the top ten of the NCAA Championships in 1999 and 2000, Northwestern coach Pat Goss compared this edition of the Wildcats to the first NU team he ever coached, a team that qualified for the NCAA Championships in 1997.

“We had two good seniors and a very good junior who had played in an NCAA Championships and had a very good run in an NCAA Regional,” Goss said. “That team in 1997 was a relatively unheralded team that was seeded in the bottom half of the championship and came out and played the final round with a very good chance to win.”

It seems like that’s a formula that works for Goss and the Cats. Once again, NU is riding high on the spectacular play of two seniors and a junior, in this case, the recent clutch play of seniors David Lipsky and Josh Dupont, as well as junior Eric Chun. Similar to that 1997 squad, this Cats team flies into the NCAA Championships a little under the radar, ranked 28th out of the 30 teams in the championship field.

“We played a couple of terrible tournaments that really hurt our ranking,” Goss said. “We’re a much better team than our No. 28 seeding.”

In fact, the Cats have put up higher scores than 15 of their 29 NCAA Championships competitors in tournaments throughout the season, and as a result, Lipsky has little doubt that his team can play with the higher-ranked teams in the tournament.

NU will need to finish in the top eight after 54 holes of stroke play in order to keep its season alive. If they do finish in the top eight, the Cats will head into match play with a chance to win the national championship.

“Our team knows, we’re good enough to compete with any team out there and definitely to make the elite eight and make it to match play.” Lipsky said. “Everything that we have worked towards in the winter and the spring is really paying off right now.”

Lipsky has been in this situation before, as have Dupont and Chun. They were all part of the team’s NCAA Championships run in 2009.

The trio’s experience will be particularly helpful as the team heads to the always difficult Karsten Creek course in Stillwater, Okla., where all three players competed in an NCAA Regional competition. When the Cats were there in 2009, they advanced despite a 50-over score.

“It’s going to be tough, there’s no doubt about it,” Lipsky said. “It’s not who’s going to shoot the lowest. It’s who’s going to play the least worst. So, it’s all about damage control.”

Goss said his team is conditioned to take on difficult courses like that at Karsten Creek.

“Historically, this style of golf course has been big for us,” Goss said. “We play in tough conditions so we learn to play hard courses solidly.”

If the Cats can advance, they will be back in their comfort zone. NU has thrived in match play over the past couple of years, winning the past two Big Ten Match Play Championships.

Chun has been particularly lethal in match play. According to Goss, Chun posted, “welcome to the funeral,” on his Facebook page the night before the Big Ten Match Play Championships his freshman year. He did not disappoint then, and he hasn’t since, going 10-0-1 in that tournament over the course of his collegiate career.

“These last two years, Eric has proven to be quite a fighter,” Goss said. “I can always depend on Eric when he gets off to a slow start to fight all day. He’s never going to give away shots. He’s not going to give away a round. He sticks with it to the very end, and that’s a great attitude in match play.”

First, however, NU has to make it to match play, and in order to do that, Goss is counting on his team to get off to a better start than it did in the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Colorado Regional, when the Cats were forced to rally late from early deficits.

“We need to come out and play with the same sense of urgency that we’ve been able to build throughout the Big Ten Championships and the Regional from the first shot,” Goss said. “If you look at those last few tournaments, we have been slow to get going and then we really played great and we’ve really ranged for the finish line.”

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