Men’s Golf: Wildcats confident going into Big Ten Championships


Daily file photo by Josh Walfish

Senior Jack Perry leads Northwestern into the Big Ten Championships in French Lick, Ind. Pete Dye Course, where the event will take place, is notoriously difficult and should pose a challenge to the No. 50 Wildcats.

Kevin Casey, Assistant Sports Editor

If there’s any positive Northwestern can take to Big Ten Championships, it’s that this team routs last season’s squad in terms of experience at the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind.

“That course is a tricky place, and we brought both Andrew Whalen and Josh Jamieson as freshmen, and it was also Matthew Negri’s first Big Tens as well,” coach Pat Goss said. “This year, we’re bringing four guys who’ve played this event before. And we have the best game plan we’ve ever had with how to deal with the course.”

Other than that, not much points to a Big Ten title. The Wildcats have not sniffed a victory this spring, and NU’s ranking has slipped to No. 50 after beginning the spring at No. 37. 

Accompanying this struggle, last year’s squad was the top-ranked team in the tournament yet only managed to place sixth. For this installment, NU finds itself behind No. 9 Illinois, No. 35 Iowa and No. 43 Purdue, meaning this squad has to significantly outperform its ranking in order to win.

Coming in under the radar does have its benefits, though. And Goss has put his faith in the same starting five as last event, a first this spring.

“It’s our best lineup for sure,” Goss said. “We’ve seen a lot of good progress, and we’re starting to play our best golf at this time.”

That last statement may seem silly based on a cursory review of recent results, but the Cats have improved in spots where signs of life were vital. While the top two of Jack Perry and Whalen have been relatively consistent, the normally unreliable back end of the lineup has come significantly closer to providing the necessary cushion.

Redshirt sophomore Scott Smith has solidified himself at No. 4 with back-to-back top-35 finishes. Following a slump early in the spring, junior Matthew Negri has once again made his name at No. 3 with top-30s in his past two events.

This week, though, is a brutal exam. The event, played over 72 holes from Friday to Sunday, offers a host course esteemed in its brutality.

No Cats player conquered par here in 2013, and Negri admitted the course is visually intimidating and that there are certain holes that require a mindset of accepting bogeys as good scores. 

But the junior also said the key is understanding the course is not as difficult as its reputation suggests.

“The teams that have won here in the past have made a lot more birdies on the easier holes,” Negri said. “It’s easy to say the course is really hard and there are no birdies out there, but you just have to pick the right holes you can go after.”

The Dye track is known for the defense the elements offer. Rain is not uncommon and neither is cold weather. But wind is the greatest nuisance, with the exposed nature of the layout making it so even little gusts have an adverse effect.

Goss said the team has hoarded much of its recent practice time at the Glen Club, rather than its norm of rotating between courses, in order to simulate the windy conditions he expects at French Lick.

The spring has not been kind to the Cats to this point, but with NCAA regionals around the corner, the urgency is certainly up.

The odds aren’t in favor of the Cats this weekend, but the team, at the very least, appears to be confident at the right time.

“We’re all playing really good golf and it’s exciting,” Whalen said. “We’re looking at this how we would look at regionals. If we can all play four solid rounds and beat Illinois, who is playing really well right now, we can get the job done at regionals like we can at Big Tens.”

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