It was this time last year when Northwestern dialed up its play and blasted its way to the most accomplished season in program history.
The follow-up campaign has been about building on those successes and, at this point, the Wildcats are in line to do just that. The Big Ten Championships have finally arrived, and NU couldn’t be more ready for the event to arrive: The team will tee off in Friday’s opening round following nine days of rest.
More importantly, the Cats arrive in French Lick, Ind., coming off two of their best performances of the season, an 11-stroke victory at the 18-hole Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic and a near takedown of No. 1 USC in a third-place finish at the Silverado Showdown. No. 19 NU is the highest-ranked team in the field, with Michigan State coming in second at No. 25.
And let’s not forget NU is a defending champion this week, courtesy of the first Big Ten title in school history being won last year.
Needless to say, coach Emily Fletcher is confident in her team.
“I feel ready good about this group,” Fletcher said. “They’ve worked hard this spring, they’ve been focused, and we’ve gotten some shots of confidence that we needed.”
The tournament, played over 54 holes from Friday through Sunday, offers a six-count-four format, which means each squad is afforded six starters rather than the usual five.
NU has used the same starting lineup for much of the season season due to the continued contributions of five particular members. Senior Devon Brown has not made a return to the starting lineup.
A sixth spot, though, means she will play this weekend, and she plans to do something with it.
“I love coming down here and playing in the postseason,” Brown said. “I’m ready to compete and it being my senior year, I want to leave a big impact.”
The other starters remain entrenched and often close in score, with just five shots separating them all at the Silverado Showdown.
Freshman Kacie Komoto voiced her satisfaction with this top-to-bottom strength but mentioned the team could serve to have one high finisher as well.
The impetus there would seem to fall on stars Kaitlin Park and Hana Lee. But for Park, the beauty of this particular team is that the best performances aren’t restricted to the top of the lineup.
“Anyone on our team can put out a low score,” the sophomore said. “We can all put out low scores and produce another school record.”
Going low is relative. The team will move from the Donald Ross Course at the French Lick Resort to the Pete Dye layout, hardly a reprieve. At the men’s side of Big Ten Championships last year, only one player broke par on the Dye track.
The course is a links-style layout highly exposed to the elements. The greens are littered with slopes and undulations. The key for the Cats is to not let the diabolical Dye mess with their heads.
“The determining factor will be our patience, because the golf course can be challenging at times,” Fletcher said. “We just have to play smart and not get greedy and cost ourselves a couple of shots at times. Sometimes pitching to 10 feet is the best you can do and you have to accept that.”
The signs are all there for an NU triumph, but golf rarely pays much heed to that sort of thing.
Whatever the case, winning is on the players’ minds. Brown’s seventh-place individual showing at Big Ten Championships last year played a large role in the team’s victory. She envisions a similar result this week.
“We’re more prepared than last year, we’re sitting well, and all the girls are pretty confident at this point,” Brown said. “Winning another Big Ten title is what I’m coming down here to do. It would be great note to end my four years on.”
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