Men’s Golf: Wildcats commence spring season without Fitzpatrick

Kevin Casey, Reporter

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When Northwestern travels later this week to Bradenton, Fla. for the Big Ten Match Play Championship, the team’s opening match of the spring, it will do so with all of the squad’s members. Well, with one notable exception.

If you missed the fall action and were looking forward to seeing Matt Fitzpatrick don a Northwestern uniform, you’re out of luck. The star freshman and the top-ranked amateur in the world announced last month that he was withdrawing from NU after one quarter at the school.

The decision came as quite a shock to coach Pat Goss, who said he received nothing but positive feedback from Fitzpatrick and his family. But during his winter break back home, the 19-year-old apparently became convinced that devoting his full effort to an amateur golfing career was the path to take. Fitzpatrick produced one victory and two top-tens in his short college career.

Now, the Cats must move on.

That will be the plan for Goss and company at the Concession Golf Club on Friday and Saturday, and this event is a good starting point. The Big Ten Match Play Championship has been quite kind to NU in the tournament’s short five-year history, with the squad compiling a 16-2 record in that span and racking up first place trophies in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The Cats actually held a 13-match winning streak in the tournament before it was snapped when Michigan State took them down in the quarterfinals of last year’s iteration.

Regardless, NU is familiar with winning in this event, and the squad is in decent position to do so again. Coming off a fall in which they won twice in five tournaments and were once in prime position to finish second in a star-studded field before collapsing to fifth, NU is the 37th-ranked team in the country, per Golfstat.com.

As seeding is determined by these rankings, the Cats were able to obtain the No. 3 spot in this match play tournament. That gives the squad a first-round bye before it must face the winner of Indiana-Wisconsin in the quarterfinal. Because of this, NU is forced to win one fewer match and can avoid powerhouse Illinois until the finals.

Of course the No. 3 ranking may be a bit inflated by Fitzpatrick’s fall presence, but the Cats are hardly left with a weak cast of characters.

Jack Perry, who earned All-America status in the 2012-13 season, once again headlines the squad. The senior is coming off a highly productive fall, one which garnered him a victory and four top-tens in five events. He led the team with a 71.56 scoring average.

Juniors Matthew Negri and Bennett Lavin and sophomore Josh Jamieson played in every event. Their play was mixed, but each came away with some promising results.

With Fitzpatrick gone, though, the Cats will have to change their five-man lineup for the first time all season. NU can activate six players for the event but can only use five in each match.

Sophomore Andrew Whalen, who was a part of the Cats’ line-up for much of last spring, is the favorite to be that fifth man. That leaves senior John Callahan and redshirt sophomore Scott Smith fighting for that last coveted spot.

If the Cats happen to lose their opening quarterfinal match, they will be pushed into a loser’s bracket and forced to fight for fifth place.

History, for the most part, says that won’t be the case. The squad is down one big name. This event will be the first indication of how it will deal with this abrupt change.

E-mail: kevincasey2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KevinCasey19

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