All season, the Wildcats have geared their lineup decisions toward the Big Ten Championships. With one tournament to go before the large conference bash, the team finds itself relying more on its younger players.
Northwestern will compete in its final regular season event on Monday and Tuesday at the 54-hole Silverado Showdown in Napa, California on a course that’s also home to the 2014 PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open. The Cats enter the event as the No. 12 team in the country, far ahead of any other luminaries in the field, including No. 32 Oregon, No. 39 Colorado and No. 48 GRU Augusta.
As much as NU is dialed into this West Coast affair, however, the team has consistently shuffled the back of its lineup in order to ensure six competition-ready players for Big Tens, which uses a six-count-four format.
The Cats will use the same lineup as last week, once again excluding junior Kaitlin Park from the team competition. However, Park will still play in the tournament as an individual.
That means even more opportunities for freshman Sarah Cho and sophomore Kacie Komoto. Coach Emily Fletcher sees great benefit in giving her most inexperienced members key playing chances ahead of the conference tournament.
“It’ll help us going into Big Tens. We need to see some real production out of our youngsters,” Fletcher said. “We need to get everybody firing on all cylinders here because it will take a collaborative effort.”
The tournament comes after NU suffered a difficult 11th-place showing last week at the Bryan National Collegiate, an event the Cats entered as the highest ranked squad.
This week the Cats are once again the highest ranked team in the field. The California course has a comfortable layout, one that Fletcher said has a familiar Midwest feel, with its turf and tree-lined structure.
The course also appears pretty forgiving, something that could aid a squad that has been beaten up playing consecutive events on treacherous layouts in difficult conditions.
“It’s not an overly demanding course driving wise, and it’s a place where our shots will be a little more receptive into the greens,” Fletcher said. “It’ll be key for us to get good birdie opportunities from good wedge and iron play.”
One of the most important components for the Cats going forward could be the play of Suchaya Tangkamolprasert. The junior thrived in the fall with two top-10 finishes, but has had a tougher spring, with no top-20s in four events.
An uptick in her performance could mean big rewards for the Cats. Luckily for the team, Tangkamolprasert feels good about her play.
“My game is a work in progress,” she said. “But this week the weather is nice and the golf course is in good shape and in Saturday’s practice round and the few days of practice back home, I got my confidence back and I’m ready to shoot some low numbers.”
Star freshman Hannah Kim put together an unusual T-57 in North Carolina following five consecutive top-15 finishes that included two runner-ups.
Of its youth brigade, the Cats may be most anxious to see Kim return to form, as she had previously posted the team’s best score in every spring event.
The freshman has a blueprint to rise back to the top.
“I made some poor iron choices, just not thinking diligently and just trying to rush into what I was doing,” Kim said. “What I’m trying to do is focus, go through my routine and not rush, just take it easy and not pressure myself too much.”
And a good performance in California could do wonders for the Cats’ goal heading into the postseason.
“We’re kind of shaken in our confidence right now,” Kim said. “But after this week, I think we’ll be able to be a stronger team for Big Ten Championships.”
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