Men’s Golf: Northwestern gunning for Illinois in final event before break

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

For the first time this season, Northwestern will have the same starting five for consecutive events, and the course this week will be of the same short, tight variety that proved fruitful for the Wildcats in a third-place finish at the Jones Invitational.

The forecast also calls for bad weather, which is a boon for an NU program that prides itself on performing under adverse conditions.

So the team is in pretty good spirits as they head off to the Louisiana Classics, which begins on Monday.

“I think everyone is feeling better about their games,” coach David Inglis said. “There were so many good things we did in California, a lot of birdies. And everyone contributed to the team score.”

A third place showing could actually register as a disappointment this week, considering the upbeat attitude and the field that awaits at Oakbourne Country Club.

Fourteen teams will be on hand for the event, and only two rank ahead of the No. 58 Cats. Those squads would be No. 52 Southeastern Louisiana and No. 1 Illinois.

Inglis said that the Fighting Illini will be a big focus for NU in Lafayette, Louisiana. Not only is Illinois the nation’s top program, but the team also represents a Cats rival, along with the main target NU has to shoot for if it has any dreams of a Big Ten title.

One key will be for the Cats to start out fast over the first 18 holes, as a team of Illinois’ caliber is extremely difficult to catch from behind.

NU also had major struggles in that department earlier in the season, with poor first rounds in two of its first three events.

“I’m not exactly sure what caused the fall problems, but at Valencia we got off to a good start,” senior Bennett Lavin said.

Lavin is the roster’s key pivot point, as the solid No. 3 whose downfall could mean the demise of the team’s shot at Illinois.

That doesn’t appear likely to happen, as Lavin said he feels confident about his game, especially the ball-striking and short game components.

Putting is where Lavin still feels he can improve. The lefty senior switched to right-handed putting 16 months ago, a big change that could have caused major growing pains.

Despite his current flatstick woes, that transformation has been a resounding success.

“(During this process), I just put my full faith in Pat (Goss) because he’s an incredible teacher,” Lavin said in February. “He’s really helped me through this process of how I started out with my setups and grip for a month, not even hitting a putt to progressively hitting short putts, long putts. And now I work on normal stuff that anyone else would.”

Aside from Lavin, if NU wants to challenge Illinois, it will need to see more of the sharp play it got from the back end of the lineup at the Jones, and get its 1-2 punch revving into full gear.

Junior Josh Jamieson did his job last week, but star freshman Dylan Wu faltered to 27th place, only fourth-best on the team.

Wu chalked up his less-than-stellar play last week to letting some shots get away, including back-to-back double bogeys in the first round, and felt he gave away those strokes because he lost his composure.

The team as a whole suffered from that in a way as well, with too many high scores marring a barrage of birdies and eagles.

Wu admitted the results in California were a setback, but he is ready to return to his top dog role.

“All offseason I think my game was progressing well and I didn’t play to my potential at the Jones,” Wu said. “I’m still motivated though to work on those things, I want to incorporate them this week and I’m still confident I can play well.”

Patience will be at a premium for NU this week, with Inglis saying that inaccurate drives on a few holes could leave players totally blocked out.

Fatigue would seem like a potential issue, with this being the third tournament in three weeks. But the Cats aren’t biting.

NU only had one practice between the Jones and traveling to Louisiana. And with a 24-day break following this event, the Cats want to make sure they are relaxed and ready to go in this pivotal moment in the spring season.

“We did a lot of recovery work with the trainers, so they should all be fit and ready to go,” Inglis said. “We just really wanted to manage our rest between two events. This is really the last push in the Winter Quarter.”

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