Golf can't find stroke in Puerto Rico

For The Daily
Published February 19, 2013

A trip down to the Puerto Rico Classic in the middle of February wasn’t the quasi-spring break the Michigan men’s golf team was hoping for.

Instead, Michigan was muscled into last place with a team score of 42 over par by a field that proved the freshman-laden Wolverines still have much work to do. The team sifted through the rubble on Tuesday, searching for bright spots amid a performance that left every Michigan golfer outside the top half of the field.

“I thought a couple of the guys were in pretty solid control of their game,” said coach Chris Whitten. “The biggest thing is that guys can come back and practice based on what’s happening in tournament play. We all work on our fundamentals all the time, but what we really need to practice are the mistakes we make under pressure.”

The Wolverines certainly have their work cut out for them. Michigan sent seniors Matt Alessi and Miguel Echavarria, as well as freshmen Chris O’Neill, Brett McIntosh and Andrew Yeager, on the trip.

McIntosh continued an impressive freshman campaign, finishing tied for 39th, but every other player’s scores came as a bit of a disappointment.

“Brett posted a very solid finish and knows that he had a lot of opportunities to even shoot lower,” Whitten said.

McIntosh said he kept his confidence up — even after a few double-bogey missteps — by remembering that he’d been shooting well all weekend and knowing that he needed a clear mind to continue playing well.

It all came together for McIntosh on the 15th hole — his last of the shotgun-style tournament — when he made a 25-foot shot for an eagle and par on the day.

Despite the poor performance on the team leaderboard, the Wolverines feel like they have the ability to post better scores, and a respectable first round seems to be indicative of that. Michigan was flirting with a par performance before a series of stumbles on the last two holes dropped it to 12th out of the 15 teams. The first day left the team frustrated but excited for the next round and a chance to improve its position.

“I think we got it out of our system. … we could move up a lot,” O’Neill said after the first round. “We’re so close to really clicking.”

Instead, day two sank the Wolverines for good. The team posted a 313 for the round, which, at 25 over par, was almost enough to guarantee it last place.

One area Michigan could look to for encouragement after the tournament was the more-impressive third round. McIntosh and O’Neill shot par for their best scores of the tournament, and the team posted a relatively successful seven over par.

In the end, however, the southern schools proved far superior to the competition from the Big Ten. No. 5 Alabama won the tournament with a score of 33 under par and Northwestern was the only Big Ten school not to finish in the bottom three.

“We come (to the Puerto Rico Classic) because the field is really, really strong every year,” Whitten said, “I think the guys know that there’s work to be done. This is a really competitive field we just played, but it’s not at all where we wanted to finish.”

Michigan’s next tournament is the Colleton River Collegiate in South Carolina on March 6, which gives the team a few weeks that Whitten noted are crucial. When spring break rolls around and most of campus empties, the team will be on the range trying to make sure it doesn’t replicate what happened on the ocean course this weekend.