Big Ten trying to muscle way back to prominence on links
STILLWATER, Okla. – The last time a Big Ten Conference program won an NCAA men’s golf title was in 2002. Played at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course, the Minnesota Gophers edged second-place Georgia Tech by four shots.
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But other than the Gophers, only two other schools have claimed titles since 1945. Ohio State won a title in 1979; Purdue won the team title the same year a young Jack Nicklaus was medalist. The Buckeyes were also team champions as World War II was coming to a close in 1945.
There have been plenty of individual accolades. Last season, Illinois’ Scott Langley claimed individual honors. Northwestern’s Luke Donald (1999) and Ohio State’s Nicklaus (1961) are a few of the past winners representing the Big Ten.
In other words, the Big Ten hasn’t exactly dominated collegiate golf since WWII.
After two days of the 2011 NCAA Championships, however, a pair of Big Ten schools are trying to make the final eight and qualify for Match Play.
Illinois has been to the NCAA finals 18 times, but only four times have they finished among the top 10 – and all four times were prior to 1951. But 36 holes into this week’s tournament the Illini find themselves at 2-over-par and in third place.
Luke Guthrie shot 69 and Chris DeForest and Mason Jacobs each shot par to help give Illinois a 1-under 287. If you told head coach Mike Small that 2010 NCAA medalist Scott Langley would shoot 86 on Day 2 and his team would be in the top five, he wouldn’t have believed you.
“We’re in the middle of this thing,” Small said after Tuesday’s round. “To be in it to the end, we have to come out and get on them early and keep it going because this course can grab you. This course is just full of adversity, but I like the way the guys handled the adversity.”
“That was an example of a true team atmosphere,” Small added Wednesday. “We took care of business. Every day is it’s own day and every shot’s its own shot. You can’t look back; you can’t look forward. That’s the approach we need to have tomorrow.”
Ohio State, coached by former Oklahoma State assistant Donnie Darr, did not qualify for the finals in 2010 after appearing in 2009 for the first time since 1998. Darr is trying to bring a program with 46 NCAA finals appearances back to prominence.
The tradition is not lost on three Buckeye seniors and a squad with three Ohio natives.
Ohio State started their round in third but an 11-over 299 dropped them into a tie for eighth with Texas A&M.
Columbus native Bo Haig opened the tournament with a 71. He grinded his way to a 75 in Round 2.
Michael Cress and Alex Redfield, both Ohioans, shot 75 on Wednesday.
In order to make the final eight all of them know it will take a better round on Day 3.
“We played the hard holes really well today,” said Darr. “All in all, we played pretty well. You can’t lose focus an any shot and we let a couple get away. That can happen out here, though. Hopefully we can forget about the bad shots and put some together [Thursday].
“The biggest thing I’ve had to do is change their perception of what success is. At times, they’ve lacked some confidence to finish and that might have shown a bit today.”
“I didn’t look at any scores [Thursday],” said Haig. “The first two days of this thing you can’t do that, just take it one shot at a time. This course forces you to take your time, to really focus on every shot. I think this course is similar to [Scarlet] so it prepared us. [Karsten] probably punishes you a little more for bad shots. You have to understand that over the course of 54 holes you are going to hit some bad shots and have to do your best to get out of dodge.”
Haig expects to have some fun on Day 3.
“This is what you play for,” said Haig. “It’s definitely going to be a blast.”
With all the negative news coming out of Columbus this week, having a chance to play for a national championship wouldn’t hurt Buckeye fans.
“We made an agreement after [Monday night]. We talked a little bit and we said we’re not going to talk about it anymore,” said Darr. “We’re just going to worry about what we can control.”
Michigan, a finals qualifier 20 times, is the only Big Ten school to make the final eight since match play was included. The Wolverines, Iowa and Northwestern are also in Stillwater but have much work to do on Thursday if they are to continue.
Iowa, at 20-over is 11 shots behind sixth-place Oklahoma State and just eight behind eighth-place Augusta State.
Wolverine Lion Kim has been steady, shooting rounds of 72 and 70 for a 2-under total. After opening with a 307, Michigan rebounded with a 292 on Wednesday and is three shots back of the Hawkeyes.
“We had five Big Ten teams and Kent State is also here and that shows the quality of players and coaches in the Midwest,” said Darr. “It would be nice to push two or three into that final eight [Thursday].”
Michigan was the first team outside the Ivy League to win a title, winning back-to-back trophies in 1934 and ’35. From 1897 to 1933 either Yale, Harvard, Princeton or Dartmouth was NCAA champion.