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Wolverines squander opportunity to improve postseason résumé

By Danny Vargovick, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 6, 2014

The Aggie Invitational in Bryan, Texas was the Michigan men’s golf team’s second-to-last opportunity to make its case for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. But the Wolverines were unable to overcome a slow start, tying for ninth place in the field of 12 teams and putting their postseason aspirations in jeopardy.

“We were disappointed,” said Michigan coach Chris Whitten. “The course was really challenging, but we were hoping to finish higher.”

The Aggie Invitational featured possibly the best competition the Wolverines will face all year. Whitten said the team’s goal wasn’t necessarily to win the whole tournament, but to finish in the top four or five to help its rankings.

The men’s golf NCAA Tournament selection process is similar to that of men’s basketball. A team with an RPI in the mid-to-low 60s is usually on the bubble. Currently, Michigan is in the mid-70s, and the Aggie Invitational didn’t help.

There was a 30-minute rain delay Sunday, but Whitten didn’t use the weather as an excuse for the poor play. For all teams, scores were worse than they were a year ago at the tournament, but the ninth-place finish still hurt Michigan.

Junior Noori Hyun paced the Wolverines with a 226, finishing tied for 19th at the tournament. Sophomore Chris O’Neill finished just one stroke behind his teammate with a score of 227, good for a 21st-place tie.

“We’re just trying to limit mistakes, really,” Whitten said. “When we run into trouble, we need to learn how to turn a double bogey into a bogey.”

That’s exactly what Hyun did this weekend. He didn’t record a single birdie Sunday, yet he still managed to score a four over par by limiting mistakes and playing consistent golf.

“Noori was really steady for the whole week, as he has been for the whole spring,” Whitten said. “Just kind of grinding out his scores.”

On a course as tough as Texas A&M’s, a team can be very successful by having a par mentality. A score of even par would have finished third individually in the tournament.

O’Neill was on both sides of par. He turned in a score of 12 over par Saturday, but then jumped more than 20 spots with a round of one under par Sunday to finish 11 over par overall.

“It was a good finish to the tournament, but I started out pretty rough,” O’Neill said. “I figured out what I was doing after the first nine holes.”

O’Neill is part of the youth movement in Michigan golf. There were two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior in the lineup this weekend. Freshman Tom Swanson finished tied for 48th with a score of 237 across 54 holes. Sophomore Brett McIntosh finished tied for 56th with a 241 mark, and freshman Reed Hrynewich finished 63rd with a 244.

In spite of an otherwise disappointing weekend, Whitten has been pleased with his underclassmen’s development.

“Looking at our returning players’ averages from last year, everyone has improved by over two shots,” Whitten said. “The freshmen are getting better every event.”

But the Wolverines don’t have much more time to improve. They have one final tournament, next weekend’s NYX Hoosier Invitational, before the Big Ten Championships, which start May 2.

Michigan’s tough weekend could pay dividends later. The course was set up to be challenging. Between the weather and the hole location, par was better than many anticipated.

“Sometimes courses are set up that way, and you have to have a different attitude, mentality and strategy,” Whitten said. “I know the Big Ten Championship will be very similar, so this was good preparation for us, even though we wish we had scored better.”