Tiebreakers went both ways for Northwestern, as the Wildcats placed fifth in the Big Ten Match Play Championship in Palm Coast, Florida on Monday.
Coach David Inglis had iterated prior to the tournament that it should serve as a nice warm-up for the spring stroke-play season.
On that point, he was correct.
“It’s nice to play four really tight matches like that, where it comes down to the end,” Inglis said. “I was really pleased to see how my guys played under pressure on the last few holes.”
NU’s fifth-place showing exactly corresponded with its No. 5 seed, but the Cats did win three of their four matches.
The team was victorious in its opening-round match against Indiana, completing a tight 3-1-1 victory only after a serious fight to the finish. NU actually appeared on the verge of an upset loss until freshman Charles Wang, two-down with three to go, won the last three holes of his match.
Senior Bennett Lavin, also two-down with three to play, captured two holes on the way to a halve.
The Cats’ escape act continued in the quarterfinals against fourth-seeded Maryland. In the second match of five, senior Matthew Negri stepped to the 17th tee 2-down and promptly birdied his last two holes for what he believed was a crucial halve.
“It was definitely a good feeling afterward because at the time I thought if I halved the match, we would advance to the next round,” Negri said.
Alas, NU lost the match to the Terrapins 2-2-1 on a second tiebreaker. Moving into the consolation bracket, the Cats proceeded to defeat Minnesota 3-2 and Purdue 2-2-1 on a tiebreaker.
The latter came via a stellar par and 18th hole victory from Lavin to secure the halve for a team win.
Lavin’s game wasn’t always clicking throughout the week, but that play on pressure holes sufficed.
“My game was pretty spotty,” Lavin said. “Overall I’m pleased, though. I hit some big shots when I needed to, holed some big putts. That’s just as important going forward.”
As Inglis noted, this was a nice way to see how his players performed under pressure. In addition, it allowed the coach to see his entire roster’s progress.
Each team was allowed to bring down eight players to the event, with five of them making up a team in each match.
NU only has seven active golfers, and Inglis took them all down. He tinkered with the lineups, never using the same quintet in any of the four matches.
And he let his top two golfers sit on the bench for the final match against Purdue, but not as a punishment.
“The thinking behind that lineup was that we wanted to give Dylan (Wu) and Josh (Jamieson) a little bit of a break,” Inglis said. “We knew they were playing next week, we needed to check in on the rest of the lineup.”
Inglis did like some of what he saw from the rest.
Wang shot 6-under in 13 holes in windy conditions against Purdue to win 7 & 5. Freshman Sam Triplett and senior Scott Smith each had 1-up victories against Minnesota.
Negri, who shifted in and out of the lineup in the fall, had the key halve, obliterated his second opponent 7 & 5 and only lost to his third because he played 15 holes in a stunning 4-under.
The stroke play regular season begins next week at the Jones Sport Intercollegiate, but Negri isn’t convinced he has found his way back among the starting five.
“It’s tough because a lot of guys on the team are playing well,” Negri said. “I feel like my game is close to being good, it’s just whether or not I let things to fall in place.”
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