Men’s Golf: Northwestern to put winter practice to the test at Big Ten Match Play

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Men’s Golf

It might not be the greatest golf weather down in Florida this weekend, but the Wildcats will commence their season in the Sunshine State anyway.

Northwestern will compete at the Big Ten Match Play Championship on Sunday and Monday in Palm Coast, Florida, opening the spring portion of its slate among the whole lot of its conference foes. Despite the southern location, temperatures on Sunday are expected to be in the 40s and Monday’s forecast is only marginally better.

The Wildcats have never used the weather as an excuse, though. In fact, NU thrives on being immersed in a cold winter climate.

“This is something Pat (Goss) has really developed as part of our program, we kind of pride ourselves on it. We’re really a developmental program, we work hard in the winter,” coach David Inglis said. “We come up with a plan for each guy to improve every area of their games, whether it be short game, putting, swing, fitness. These guys have really done a good job. They’ve all shown improvement and developed new skills.”

All 14 Big Ten teams will be present at the event, which will move courses from previous years. However, the match play format ensures the Cats won’t have to face down every conference foe. Instead, NU, slated as the No. 5 seed, will face off in a first-round match against 12th-seeded Indiana on Sunday. If the Cats win, they will move on to the quarterfinals and keep on going in the winners’ bracket as long as they are victorious. If they lose before the finals, they will be put in some sort of losers’ or consolation bracket.

The format has generally allowed teams to bring six players to rotate among the five-man match play groups. That number will be upped to eight this year, something that isn’t entirely useful to NU, a squad that only contains seven active players.

Inglis iterated that it would take a couple of practice rounds to figure out the starting five for the Indiana match.

Of course some of the choices are obvious, with Dylan Wu being No. 1 in that category. The freshman acclimated quickly to the collegiate level in the fall, finishing first or second among his teammates in all four events, including an overall victory against a strong field at the Gifford Intercollegiate.

Wu said he’s excited for the match play format, with its lack of emphasis on a score and the fact that good play doesn’t necessarily mean a successful result. The freshman also used his winter to train extensively.

“What I improved on, and it’s something Pat (Goss) and Coach Inglis preaches, it’s just working on your fundamentals in the winter time,” Wu said. “One thing I really like about practicing indoors, is that you’re not really focusing on where the ball is going or the end result, I think it’s easier to make changes that way, which benefits you more in the future.”

Others who seem poised to crack the five against the Hoosiers are junior Josh Jamieson, after his promising fall, and senior Bennett Lavin, who brought a steady presence in the middle of the lineup.

Senior Matthew Negri and freshman Charles Wang were in NU’s No . 4 and 5 spots to end the fall, but their starting against Indiana is not guaranteed.

A left-handed hitter, Lavin took a bold step late last fall in switching to a right-handed stroke with the putter. That change remains in place, and the veteran has as much belief in his play as ever.

“I’m feeling really good about my game,” Lavin said. “I personally feel my game is in better shape than in past years and I think other guys are feeling the same way.”

The match play is mostly a warm-up event for the Cats, as the results have little impact on the season rankings. However, NU did win the event three consecutive times from 2010-2012.

Overall for the Cats, it’s the perfect icebreaker for the spring.

“It’s great to play match play, you have pressure on every hole, you’re up against your conference rivals,” Inglis said. “It’s really a fun event.”

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