Men’s Golf: Chien takes silver, Northwestern third at Big Ten Championships

Kevin Casey

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This spring has been a kind one for Northwestern on the fairways, and with another nice finish at the Big Ten Championships, the team heads into the postseason on a strong note.

The Wildcats followed their runner-up finish last season at the conference tournament with a third-place showing this past weekend, beating No. 26 Iowa and No. 49 Purdue in the process.

But it was far from an easy venture for NU. With a team score of 311 over the first 18 holes, the Wildcats were stuck in 10th place heading into the second round.

The team responded by shooting up to sixth place with a second-round 296, a score only topped by Illinois, the eventual winner. A third-round 288 allowed the Wildcats to climb to fourth, and a final-round 291 constituted NU’s final charge into third place as it passed seven teams over the final 54 holes.

Coach Pat Goss was happy to see his team perform well, but lamented the sluggish start.

“We played the way we should’ve been over the last three rounds,” Goss said. “The first round was discouraging and it also cost us a chance to win the championship.”

Nonetheless, Goss found some positives to take from the week, especially the play of Sam Chien.

The senior was high on the leaderboard over the first three rounds, and with a final-round 69, Chien put a stamp on his performance, moving into second place with a one-under-par 287 for the tournament and earning the Big Ten silver medal.

Goss was impressed by his senior and proud to see the tremendous progress he has made in his career.

“To play as well as Sam did, you can’t do that by accident, you can’t fluke it over 72 holes, you have to be able to play every facet of the game and do it well,” Goss said. “He’s a much different player from when he came here three and half years ago, and I was happy for him to see him put it together in such a manner.”

Chien was confident in his game the whole week, and it showed in French Lick, Ind.

“I was playing well before this week, at the final round at the Kepler Intercollegiate,” Chien said. “So I kind of knew that I was going to play well this week. The key was just to stay patient.”

Eric Chun needed some of that patience after middling opening rounds of 78 and 77, a disappointment he put on all aspects of his game.

“The first day was a very difficult day and my short game wasn’t very good,” the senior said. “I missed a lot of greens and I couldn’t get many up and down, which didn’t help either.”

Chun fired back with matching 71s over the final two rounds and finished tied for 10th, his fifth top-10 finish in five spring events. He said he has been very pleased to see his game develop with such consistency.

“I learned from my freshman year that my good game was good enough to win the Big Ten, but then my bad golf wasn’t good enough,” Chun said. “So, it’s encouraging to see that I’ve improved on that, but at the same time, I feel like I can still get better.”

The Cats have momentum and hope to bring it into the postseason. Selections for the regionals portion of the NCAA Championships will not be announced until May 7, and NU will likely get a spot. The team will rest up before starting its preparations for the final stretch.

“The team needs some time now to recover,” Goss said. “We’ll continue to practice, but this will be a light week and a recovery week and then we’ll really get back at it at that last week and a half in order to be ready to go.”