Spring Sports Guide: Men’s Golf: Northwestern hopes steady lineup will compensate for loss of star

Kevin Casey, Reporter

There’s no way around it: One roster change has drastically altered Northwestern’s complexion for the spring season.

World amateur No. 1  Matt Fitzpatrick  withdrew from the University after just one quarter of studies. Last year’s U.S. Amateur champion, Fitzpatrick joined the Wildcat program with an unprecedented amount of hype. The freshman posted a victory and another top-three in five fall events.

Equipped with the No. 37 national ranking and one of the country’s best one-two punches, NU looked to be on the path toward a sensational spring. That avalanche of momentum stalled with Fitzpatrick’s departure.

But the Cats can’t live in a world of what could have been. Coach Pat Goss is marching on, and a hefty stable of talent remains alongside him.

And he remains hopeful of his squad, too, even if one glaring issue festers.

“Our good this spring is going to be really good,” Goss said. “We have five good players. All have done exceptional things throughout their careers. We’re just going to have to manage our poor rounds. My only concern with losing Matt is how we manage our bad days and maintain our consistency level through whole tournaments.”

That concern manifested itself in the team’s second event of the spring, the Puerto Rico Classic, where the Cats finished 13th in the 15-team field. The result was largely due to the play of Matthew Negri, Josh Jamieson and Bennett Lavin. The trio all placed outside the top 60, combining for four rounds of 76 or above.

That was a bad sign for a team that, in Fitzpatrick’s absence, needs all five starters to play well. The four that occupy the Nos. 2-5 spots have all shown flashes in their careers. Negri, a junior, procured the third-highest scoring average on the squad last spring and this fall. Fellow junior Lavin admirably anchored down the No. 3 spot in the fall of 2012. The sophomore Jamieson has made strides, and his classmate Andrew Whalen has looked like the team’s second-best player in two spring events.

But it’s unclear who will nail down which spot, and the Cats are currently without a reliable No. 2 like departed senior Nicholas Losole.

Not only will NU need these four to play consistently well, Goss believes one player also needs to step forward and produce a surprising spring. Whalen may be the man for the job.

“It was an interesting fall for Andrew,” Goss said. “I kept seeing him improve and improve, and his skill set has improved dramatically. He just wasn’t putting scores together last fall. But he’s a very skilled player, he’s had some good college finishes, he’s not scared and he hits it far. So he could really be important for our success this spring.”

NU does boast one sure element. Senior Jack Perry remains as reliable as ever, leading the team in scoring average this fall and posting its best total in Puerto Rico.

Perry was an All-American last year and won the Les Bolstad Award for lowest scoring average in the Big Ten.

Unsurprisingly, his teammates don’t expect a dip in his play.

“Jack has been the best player on our team for a while,” Negri said. “He’s always been able to get around the course and put together some good rounds even if he hasn’t been hitting it well. He will continue to do that this spring, lead our team and play good golf like he always has.”

As for the players behind those top five, two veterans are lurking. Senior John Callahan won the Windon Memorial Classic as an individual in fall 2012, and sophomore Scott Smith captured a victory in his lone match at the Big Ten Match Play.

That means none of the current starters can afford to play poorly.

“No one can rest on their laurels because we’ve still got two other guys on the team that are certainly good enough to take the place of anyone if they’re playing badly,” Jamieson said. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure on us to go out there and play really well.”

The Cats have promise but are a bit of a scattered puzzle at the moment. But clarity may emerge at some point for the squad. Whatever the case, following a year in which the team failed to qualify for NCAA Championships, Goss is expecting a lot from his players.

“Even with losing Fitzpatrick, we should win a Big Ten Championship and should be able to make it to the NCAA Championships,” Goss said. “I’m already doing my prep work to be ready to make sure that when we make the match play, we’re ready to go.”

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