Men’s Golf: Following changes, Northwestern looking to make some noise


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Bennett Lavin blasts one out from the fairway bunker. The senior was a steady No. 3 in the lineup during the fall season.

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Spring Sports Guide

A lot has appeared to change in the past year for the Wildcats, but really, everything has stayed virtually the same.

In September, Pat Goss moved out of his 18-year role as head coach to take a higher position in the program, naming four-year assistant David Inglis to his old position.

A changing of the guard for Northwestern? Not really.

“To be honest, it’s not really much of a difference,” Inglis said. “Pat is still here everyday at practice. I really think the transition couldn’t have been smoother. ”

The continuity has been apparent to his players as well.

“In our everyday practice and preparation, nothing has changed,” senior Bennett Lavin said. “Inglis always took a responsibility in helping us prepare for tournaments.”

The Cats had also appeared to suffer a major blow with the graduation of star Jack Perry. Perry was a super-reliable No. 1 for NU and often the main reason for stopping the team from falling off a cliff in its performance.

The recruiting process handled that loss, though.

Freshman Dylan Wu came right in and took on the Perry role. After a T29 in his opening start, a solid but unspectacular performance Wu chalked up to mental errors, the freshman bolted off a T7, a team-leading T23 and an impressive victory against a strong field.

Wu, who has Big Ten Freshman of the Year and All-American dreams for himself in the spring, gave his fall season a satisfactory grade, with one admission of delightful surprise.

“I have high expectations for myself,” Wu said. “But winning a tournament in my fourth or fifth start, I never expected that would happen.”

Not everything is as it once was, though. Junior Andrew Whalen, who emerged as the team’s No. 2 in a desperate time of need last spring, mysteriously disappeared from the lineup in the fall.

He won’t be among the starting five in the spring either, as Inglis noted that the rising golfer is redshirting for academic reasons.

“This time last year, we started talking to Andrew, and he had gotten a little behind in terms of being on track for graduation,” Inglis said. “From that standpoint, we liked the way he was improving his golf and we liked the way his game was trending, but we just felt like he would be a better player in years four and five, than in three and four.”

Yet again, though, NU has seemingly plugged the hole. Junior Josh Jamieson, mired by inconsistency in the past, has proven a worthwhile No. 2 with three individual top-25s and three top-two finishes on the team in four fall events. He also beat former World No. 1 Luke Donald 2 & 1 in the team’s annual Alumni Match, which isn’t too shabby.

But returning to last year’s norm isn’t beneficial in every way. NU produced a ghastly fade at season’s end in 2014. First the Cats posted an average fourth-place finish at Big Ten Championships and followed that up at NCAA Regionals by finishing 19 strokes back in last place.

Late season struggles, more at Big Tens than Regionals, have been a major issue for the Cats in past years.

A contributing factor might have been the lacking performance from the lower part of NU’s lineup in past years.

The Nos. 3-5 were at times quite unreliable, especially come postseason time, in previous seasons. And on this point, the Cats have also remained nearly the same, in a bad way.

The backend of the lineup was shuffled throughout the fall, with all seven active team members making appearances, but multiple players appearing to lose spots due to poor play.

Only Wu, Jamieson and Lavin were in all four fall starting lineups. That is progress in itself, though, as Lavin has discovered a newfound consistency, finishing third on the team in every fall event.

NU has completed one spring tournament, the Big Ten Match Play Championship. The Cats finished a respectable fifth, but the event merely served as a warm up to the stroke play portion.

The changes have been smoothed down, but now the Cats’ challenge is to rise up, rather than waste away in the season’s closing tournaments.

NU is currently pegged at 59th in the rankings and has closing woes, but the new coach sees the potential.

“If we can keep improving, there’s no reason we can’t compete for a Big Ten Championship and make it to nationals,” Inglis said. “And if we really play our best, we could be in contention for a spot in the top-eight at NCAAs. I think we can surprise some people and play a lot better than our ranking would suggest.”

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Twitter: @KevinCasey19