The Scarlet Course has a way of steering players off their games, with 7,455 yards in course length and a proclivity for poor weather.
However, for the Wildcats this weekend the results were not consistently mediocre, but rather confusing instead.
Northwestern bared down at the Kepler Intercollegiate in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday and Sunday, finishing tied for eighth in a 15-team field that boasted six top-50 squads — including No. 47 NU.
The Cats never strayed far from that middle position over the tournament’s 54 holes. The team was in 10th place after the first round and moved up to a tie for seventh over the next 18 holes before dropping down one spot on Sunday. NU got as high as fifth in the final round but couldn’t hold that position.
It was the Cats’ second consecutive eighth-place showing, and coach Pat Goss felt the week was productive even if the overall performance was nothing to sniff at.
“We didn’t really show anything this week, but we learned a few things and have some lessons we can take to our last regular season event before Big Tens,” Goss said. “This was an opportunity to play a really hard course in difficult windy conditions, just great preparation as we head toward Big Ten Championships.”
While the team’s place on the leaderboard has fluctuated wildly event to event, player performance has remained relatively predictable: In the average event, Jack Perry, the highly consistent senior, will produce great play and post a top-10 finish; sophomore Andrew Whalen will rise to the occasion as the impromptu No. 2 and put together three solid scores; and the rest of the lineup will show flashes but ultimately disappoint in their play.
The Scarlet Course ripped that narrative to shreds. Perry opened a 77 and barely recovered in the next two rounds, adding a pair of 74s to his total to finish in a tie for 30th — his worst showing since the first event of the season.
Whalen continued his fine form and even stepped it up a notch, with a 71-69 start that he attributed to a few more putts dropping, pacing him to a tie for second with 18 holes to go. The sophomore has shot over 73 in only eight spring rounds, but a windy Sunday blew his final-round score up to a 78.
Conditions left Whalen in 13th place, the top spot on the team. However, there was an obvious culprit to Whalen’s Sunday score.
“The conditions were really tough, but I didn’t really hit the ball much different than the first two rounds,” Whalen said. “I just really struggled on the greens, it really hurt me.”
The Nos. 3-5 section of the lineup that had struggled to find form made strides this week. Matthew Negri, who was taken out of the starting lineup for The Goodwin two weeks ago, pieced together two 73s on the first day, and even his final-round 78 kept him ahead of Perry and in a tie for 28th.
And the junior felt this showing was not an isolated incident but rather a sign of things to come.
“For the most part I hit the ball a lot better than I did leading up to the last couple of weeks,” Negri said. “My game overall is heading in the right direction.”
There was also a shakeup in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots, with redshirt sophomore Scott Smith and senior John Callahan replacing junior Bennett Lavin and sophomore Josh Jamieson. Smith finished a single stroke behind Perry, in a tie for 34th, while Callahan produced one birdie in 54 holes and tied for 66th.
After a steady fall season, the starting five has been moved around in these last two events. That may mean a lack of continuity, but as the team hits the stretch run, good play takes precedence over a static line-up.
“Our big goal this time of year is to figure out what player is on most current form and get them in the lineup and get them playing,” Goss said. “That will continue to be the goal.”