With temperatures dropping and leaves changing colors, the fall season has officially come to an end for Minnesota's men's and women's golf teams. Both traveled to warmer climates and played their final rounds until February on Tuesday.
The men finished ninth place in the in the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate. Shortly before the tournament began, the venue was changed from Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas to Maridoe Golf Club in Carrollton, Texas. The tough course paired with a lack of preparation led to many high scores across the board.
"We didn't really know the golf course," said associate head coach Justin Smith. "It's a very, very difficult golf course. The reality is we weren't very good and we paid the price for it [on Monday]."
On the first day of the tournament, on which two rounds were scheduled, the Gophers didn't play well, sitting in 14th place.
Fortunately for the Gophers, play was suspended due to darkness after 32 holes, giving Minnesota time to rest and recover. They came out Tuesday looking like a completely different team.
"[Tuesday] we were pretty darn good," Smith said, "We talked about [Monday] night to make sure that when we got on the plane to come home that we felt a lot better about our round [Tuesday] than our rounds [Monday]. I think we definitely do."
The Gophers shot a third-round score of 288 (+8), the second best score of any team on Tuesday, helping to boost them into ninth place. It marks the third time this season the Gophers have posted a third-round score of at least seven strokes better than either of their previous two.
"I feel like we get to a place where we just go out and enjoy it," said sophomore Angus Flanagan. "The first two rounds we just tensed up and didn't play our best golf. Every time in the third round we play our best golf, I feel like."
Flanagan led Minnesota in scoring for the third time in four tournaments, shooting an 11-over, 221, tying him for 29th place overall. A third round 70 (even par) helped him climb the leaderboard after finishing Monday tied for 56th.
The only other Minnesota golfer to shoot an even par round was senior Peter Jones, who also did so on Monday. Jones' performance was emblematic of the team's as a whole. He struggled mightily on Monday, shooting 86 (+16) but was able to bounce back over the next two rounds to finish with a 235 (+25), fourth on the team behind Flanagan, Noah Rasinski and Lincoln Johnson.
Women's team concludes in 13th place
For the women's team sophomore core, consistency was not a problem at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. Grace Kellar, Kate Lillie and Joanne Free all shot 219 (+3) over the three-day tournament, leading the team in scoring in a three-way tie for 36th individually.
"All the sophomores that have been in the line-up this fall have definitely seen some progress in their games," said head coach Michele Redman. "[Free] shooting a 69 and [Lillie] shooting her first round under par, those things don't just happen, you have to work to get them to that point."
Minnesota moved up three spots on Tuesday to finish 13th in the 17 team field. With their play on day three, the sophomores showed a glimpse of what is to come in the program's future.
For Lillie, the result was the best of her college career, and the first time since the 2017 Minnesota Invitational that she finished a tournament less than 10 over par.
"This tournament I stroke my irons a whole lot better than I have previously," Lillie said. "This course played pretty well to my game, I never missed a fairway, from there I was able to chose my targets and get it close."
Kellar's success was no surprise, as she's lead the team in scoring every tournament so far this season. She credits the hard work she put in over the summer to her consistently excellent play this fall.
"This summer I worked really hard so I could help the team," Kellar said. "I'm happy that I was able to shoot these scores throughout the season."
As for Free, her third round 69 (-3) was a career best. It trails only Kellar's 68 in the second round of this year's Minnesota Invitational as the best 18-hole score from a Gopher this year.
"The fact that [Free] was able to shoot 69 was really great." Lillie said, "It's one of those breakthrough scores that once you get a taste of getting past just one or two-under, you can really start to make some scores happen."
Looking forward to the spring, Redman said the team is really close to a breakthrough, but they must tighten up a few areas of their game.
"We're very close," Redman said. "We just have to continue to practice our putting. We're not making anything outside of six, seven, eight feet."