Men’s Golf: Northwestern relying on top guns to lead

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Daily file photo by Susan Du

After winning three straight Big Ten Match Play Championships from 2010 to 2012, the Wildcats lost to Michigan State in the opener of this year’s edition.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern’s spring campaign normally begins with a win.

The Wildcats had won 13 straight matches at the Big Ten Match Play Championships from 2009 to 2012, but in the first match of the 2013 tournament, the three-time defending champions lost to Michigan State 4-1. NU rebounded to take fifth place with wins over Michigan and Indiana, but the event did not set the tone for the rest of the spring.

NU will only contest four events this spring after a successful fall season. The Cats finished in the top half of the field in four of their five fall events, including a win in the Inverness Intercollegiate to open the season. The team followed up that win with a second-place finish the following week at its own tournament, the Windon Memorial.

The Cats are led by senior Nick Losole and junior Jack Perry, who have combined for nine top-20 finishes, including five in the top 10. Perry has an individual win to his credit this season with a victory in a two-person tiebreaker at the Inverness Intercollegiate in September. Losole made late charges to finish third at Inverness and second at the Fighting Illini Invitational.

NU’s stroke-play schedule began last week in Puerto Rico with a sixth place finish out of 15 teams. The Cats struggled mightily in the first round with Losole’s one-under 71 and Perry’s 72, the only players at even-par or better. The other three players combined to shoot 16 over par, but luckily for NU, only two of those scores counted and it sat in 11th place 18 strokes off the pace at 9 over.

Coach Pat Goss challenged his team on Twitter to score at least 20 birdies in the second round and the Cats responded.

NU carded exactly 20 birdies as the team shot a season-best seven under-par to make a charge up the leaderboard to seventh place. The difference was four of NU’s five golfers went under-par in round two including a 69 from sophomore Matthew Negri. In the final round, Negri one-upped himself with a 68 and Perry shot a 71 to help the Cats into sixth place. Losole really struggled in the final round in Puerto Rico, shooting a 75 to fall from a tie for ninth into a tie for 24th.

The final three tournaments prior to the Big Ten Championships on April 26 to 28 will be important for determining the final two or three golfers in the starting lineup. Losole, Perry and sophomore Bennett Lavin are the only three golfers to play in all six stroke play events so far for the Cats. Negri should be in the lineup in Fresno after his performance in Puerto Rico, but the final spot will be tightly contested between the two freshmen.

Josh Jamieson and Andrew Whalen both have been the final starter this year.

Jamieson was the fifth man in Puerto Rico, finishing 31st, and halved both matches at the Big Ten Match Play Championships, but Whalen finished third at Inverness and went 1-1-0 at the Big Ten Match Play Championships.

Whalen’s average score is about a shot better than Jamieson’s, but Jamieson has more rounds of par or better this season.

The Cats next hit the links on March 4 and 5 at the Fresno State Lexus Classic in Fresno, Calif. NU returns to California at the end of the month for the U.S. Intercollegiate hosted by Stanford before finishing the regular season at home on April 15 and 16 with the Kemper Sports Intercollegiate.