Men’s Golf: Wildcats struggle to sixth-place finish at Big Ten Championships

Kevin Casey, Reporter

It was a new year, and it seemed that Northwestern was primed for its first Big Ten title since 2006, but the reign of the Fighting Illini continued.

On Sunday, Illinois closed out its fifth consecutive victory at the Big Ten Championships. The team started the final round 7 shots clear of its nearest competitor and upped that margin to 9 by the finish, ensuring little drama late in the tournament.

Surprisingly, NU was nowhere near the top of the leader board during the final 18 holes. The Wildcats came in riding a wave of momentum from a 12-shot victory and entered as the tournament’s top seed, but things veered off course in French Lick, Ind.

In a field where no one was ranked higher than them, the Cats finished in sixth place, a full 37 shots behind Illinois.

Coach Pat Goss did not hide his feelings about the outcome.

“It was a very disappointing tournament for us,” Goss said. “We were playing well and came in prepared, but we didn’t do a great job of grinding it out in tough conditions on a tough course. And that really hurt us.”

The poor finish was perplexing, considering the Cats’ promising start to the event. In the first 18 holes, NU put together a solid performance, ending the round in fourth place with 54 holes to go.

From there the team faded out of contention, tapering off into sixth position.

Considering the Cats were in 10th place after 18 holes and fought their way to a third place finish by the end of last year’s event, such a backward move this time around was quite unexpected.

“We played a solid first round, and historically, if we were going to struggle (in this tournament), it was going to be in the first round,” Goss said. “Playing so poorly in the afternoon in the second day was really our downfall, and that caught me by surprise. I thought we were going to be OK once we got through that first round.”

Not all went awry on the Pete Dye layout. Junior Jack Perry scraped together three rounds of 73 and a final-round 75 to finish in seventh place by himself — not exactly the 8-shot victory he posted in his previous event,  but the Big Ten Championships were not at home and had a much stronger field. Despite his third consecutive top-10 finish, Perry was not fully satisfied with his performance.

“I was a little discouraged by the way I played,” Perry said. “I went into the tournament with a pretty aggressive attitude, especially coming off my play at our last tournament. But I played a little too tentatively (at French Lick). I was too in awe of the course.”

Problems surfaced elsewhere. Senior Nick Losole said a solid performance in French Lick could net him a top-10 at the very least. He was well on his way to doing that before a crushing birdie-free 78 dashed those hopes in the final round.

“Nothing really went my way on Sunday,” Losole said. “You just keep fighting in the hopes that something breaks your way at some point. I fought hard, but unfortunately, before anything good could happen, I ran out of holes.”

Rounds like that were not limited to Losole. The other three starters all had one score in the 80s.

Goss said teams can get away with no more than one player performing poorly at a time. In French Lick, the Cats consistently had two players putting up big numbers, the death knell to their chances.

Calamity certainly followed the Cats to Indiana, but Goss stressed the tournament was just one event out of many to come.

“We still have a good team. We can really go make some progress and have success at NCAAs,” Goss said. “We’ve done a lot of good all year. If we play well at Regionals, make it to Nationals and play well there, this tournament won’t have meant a thing to us.”