While temperatures dipped below zero in the Twin Cities this weekend, the men's golf team got to enjoy some warm weather in Palm Coast, Florida, opening their spring season with the Big Ten Match Play Championship.
The event consisted of four rounds with six players competing individually against a member of the opposing team in each one. On Friday, Minnesota dropped its first two matches, falling to Maryland 4-2 and then to Indiana 3-2-1. The Gophers got their first victory of the spring against Michigan on Saturday, winning the tie-breaker in a 3-3 match. They concluded the weekend with a 4-1-1 defeat against Iowa.
"For the most part, just about all of our student-athletes probably aren't going to be in mid-season form at this point," said associate head coach Justin Smith. "It really is a great barometer to see where everyone's at. Obviously, our team results weren't what we wanted, but we had some incredible individual performances."
Among those performances were sophomores Evan Long, who went 3-0-1, and Angus Flanagan, who went 3-1. Flanagan said after the tournament that match play has always been a strength of his.
"When I play stroke play, I play match play against the score card," Flanagan said. "I've always been a better match player than stroke player. It's just a way of me figuring out how to be better at stroke play."
In the first round, Minnesota played Maryland close. Ultimately, the match came down to the final holes. Maryland redshirt junior Evan Santa defeated junior Noah Rasinski after Rasinski bogeyed his last hole. Minnesota's two victories came from Flanagan and Long.
"Those guys are certainly on a good direction," Smith said. "[Flanagan] played against number ones the whole week. For him to have such impressive victories is a testament to where he's gotten his game coming back from break and Evan for sure, too. I told [Long], 'You were undefeated this week.' It's something to be very proud of."
Flanagan and Long also won both of their matches in the second round against Indiana while freshman Lincoln Johnson halved his match with Indiana freshman Mitch Davis.
On Saturday, Flanagan, Long and Johnson carried the Gophers once again, winning their matches against Michigan. With Minnesota's other three competitors all losing, the match ended in a 3-3 tie, but the Gophers won the tiebreaker for their only team victory of the tournament.
Minnesota was close for much of the final round against Iowa, but the Hawkeyes pulled away late. Rasinski defeated Iowa freshman Gonzalo Leal Montero, and Long trailed Iowa senior Aaron DeNucci by five strokes with seven holes to play, but came back to tie the match with a birdie on the final hole.
"I was fortunate enough to get a [putt] to go in on ten," Long said. "That was a momentum-changer for me. Match play is all about momentum. You make one putt, it could really go three or four holes. I think that was a really good example of what momentum can do."
Minnesota will have a long break before their next tournament, meaning they will have plenty of time to practice in their new facility on St. Paul Campus. When they hit the links again, it will be for the Schenkel Invitation at Forest Heights Country Club in Statesboro, Georgia on Mar. 15.