Men’s Golf: Northwestern finishes season with a whimper at NCAA Regionals

Kevin Casey, Assistant Sports Editor

The season is over for the Wildcats, and it wasn’t much of a final performance.

Northwestern placed last in the NCAA San Antonio Regional on Saturday, failing to beat or even tie any of the other 12 teams in action at the Briggs Ranch Golf Club.

Needing to place in the top five to advance to NCAA Championships, the Cats fell 47 shots short of a final-spot playoff and an astounding 19 shots behind the 12th-place team.

For a squad with identity issues this spring, it wasn’t tough to imagine the season closing this weekend. NU, after all, was only the tournament’s No. 10 seed.

But this type of performance? Straight out of left field.

“It was by far the worst regional tournament we’ve ever played,” coach Pat Goss said. “And it was just as we seemed to be making progress in the spring. It was disappointing not to finish and have a chance to advance.”

OK, maybe there was one sign that this performance could be on hand. Goss decided to rearrange the lineup from Big Ten Championships, moving redshirt sophomore Scott Smith and junior Bennett Lavin to the bench and promoting sophomore Josh Jamieson and senior John Callahan to the starting brigade.

It was a move designed for a top-five-or-bust effort.

“We felt the lineup we played at Big Tens would be tough to advance with,” Goss said. “We decided to roll the dice a little bit and see if we could put some players in in John and Josh who were both more high risk in that their poor golf wasn’t as good but their good golf showed a lot of upside.”

Of course that meant the bottom would fall out if these inserts pulled out their bad golf, and that’s exactly what happened. The duo combined for three rounds in the 80s and zero scores below 78, with Jamieson placing 73rd and Callahan 75th out of 75 competitors.

That only explains part of the issue though. Placing last is a collaborative effort, and the other three members of the team obliged.

Junior Matthew Negri, who previously had solidified consistent No. 3 play, opened in 80 and ended in 81, cracking out a tie for 70th. Senior Jack Perry started strong with a 70 but faded to a tie for 35th.

Andrew Whalen had the most promising performance going at 1-under through 34 holes. But over the final 20, the sophomore dropped 10 strokes to pair and plummeted to a tie for 52nd.

Whalen attributed the stunning turn to a poor adjustment to more difficult conditions.

“The first two days, the conditions weren’t great, but they were better than the last day,” Whalen said. “On that last day, the wind picked up. The conditions became a little more difficult, and I didn’t hit the ball as well as I did the first two days. I just couldn’t get anything going.”

The whole team underperformed regardless of conditions. NU was in 11th place after the first day and dropped into 13th over the next 18 holes, a place they only further solidified at the end.

“We just could never really get anything going,” Callahan said. “And at a tournament like that with such a specific goal, if you don’t get any momentum going, it’s really tough to get back up.”

Goss made no excuses in the aftermath, pointing to his team’s inability to execute the simple things, like making straightforward up-and-down shots and avoiding three-putts.

This weekend caps off a hectic five months kicked off by Matt Fitzpatrick’s departure. Whalen performed well in the spring after struggles in the fall. Perry’s success continued, and he leaves with one of the most decorated careers in school history.

But otherwise, the team never seemed to adapt following Fitzpatrick’s program-altering decision.

“We never rebounded from an adverse position,” Goss said. “We challenged the team in January that we needed somebody to step forward and take a role that was left vacant. Andrew Whalen took a big step forward. But other than that, we didn’t have a player come forward and elevate their game.”

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