Men’s Golf: Wildcats unsure entering NCAA Regionals

Kevin Casey, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s fitting that in a spring marked by uncertainty, even Northwestern’s star pupil isn’t sure what the squad’s immediate future holds.

“I honestly don’t know,” senior Jack Perry said. “My freshman year was really good, and my sophomore year we should’ve made it out (of Regionals). This year, I don’t know.”

But that doesn’t mean the Wildcats have accepted that their season will end in the coming days.

NCAA Regionals are here, with NU traveling to the Briggs Ranch Golf Club to take part in the 54-hole San Antonio Regional from Thursday to Saturday. The Cats enter the 13-team tournament as the No. 10 seed, a difficult position considering only the top five finishers in the region will advance to NCAA Championships.

Then again, location matters, and in that department the arrow has swung in the Cats’ favor.

“As far as the Regionals goes, we’ve been given a good opportunity,” coach Pat Goss said. “There isn’t near the regionalization we had to battle through at LSU last year, and there’s no home team.”

This seeding is also hardly unfamiliar terrain. NU actually was a No. 9 or No. 10 every year from 2009-2012, and the team advanced to NCAA Championships twice in that span.

Resiliency has been a hallmark of this program, but this season has been NU’s grand exam in fortitude.

First the Cats lost freshman Matt Fitzpatrick. Then the spring brought poor play from multiple positions and had lineups shifting more than tectonic plates. And when a repeatable starting five finally took form, Perry’s play declined.

It’s almost as if something will always go wrong and throw the Cats off the winning scent. And the team has played with that sense of impending doom clouding their thoughts throughout the spring season.

Regionals can expose those timid cracks, tightening the pressure on the weak until calamity is inevitable. That’s why the Cats plan to use Regionals as a chance to attack this glaring issue of fear. Otherwise, they stand little chance.

“It’s crucial for our team to employ a fearless mindset and put everything on the line,” Perry said. “We’ve kind of struggled at times to do that this year, we get scared of results, scared of the finish. But it’s time for us to put our heads down and play without fear.”

This detour also means taking more risks. Perry, sophomore Andrew Whalen and junior Matthew Negri remain in the lineup, but the other two spots will be different from Big Ten Championships. The replacements will be sophomore Josh Jamieson, who hasn’t played competitively since March, and senior John Callahan, a player with one start the entire season.

Jamieson has been inconsistent in his two years at NU, but his good golf has been scorching, as evidenced by his second-day 64 at the Gifford Collegiate in the fall. Callahan produced a lot of rough golf as a starter but won the Windon Memorial Classic as an individual in the fall of 2012.

These guys might be boom or bust this week, and in a tournament where finishing around their ranking is unproductive, the Cats are justified in taking this leap of faith.

At the very least, Jamieson is overflowing with determination and confidence.

“I have a lot of hunger to play well after a a few poor performances,” the sophomore said. “I can offer something many guys can’t in that increased desire. I’ve played pretty well since I’ve been out, and I’ve gotten my game back to where I want it to be.”

At this point it’s pretty useless to offer up a blueprint for how this lineup can crack the top five. Every draft should include a strong performance from Perry, a unanimous All-Big Ten First Teamer who climbed out of his mini-slump with a third place showing at Big Ten Championships. After that the situation gets muddled.

Clearly, though, it’s the mentality the Cats choose to employ once they are on the course that will go a long way in deciding their fate.

“The reason we have had such success from the 9 and 10-seed is that we had kids that thought they were better than that and played with nothing to lose,” Goss said. “It really comes down to how much this group of players believes in themselves. For someone who’s really competitive and believes, it’s the most fun event of the year.”

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