For a day, the Michigan men’s golf team looked like it could hang with the nation’s cream of the crop. Well actually, a half a day.
After the first round, Michigan was just six shots behind No. 8 Baylor — the eventual-champion — with Carlson and Mueller shooting a 67 (-4) and 69 (-2), respectively.
From there, the Wolverines didn’t fare as well. In their last match of the fall season, Michigan finished fifth out of 13 schools at the Royal Oaks course, a familiar location for experienced seniors Kyle Mueller and Ian Kim, as well as junior Nick Carlson, and it clearly showed in the tournament.
“This tournament was really unusual because all five of the players played in one group together,” said Michigan coach Chris Whitten. “We’ve never done that since I’ve been head coach here. That team dynamic this week of seeing your teammates do well and having the momentum [spread] through the group was a big deal.”
Indeed, it was a big deal. No one shot green numbers in the first round, as freshman Charlie Pilon and Kim both produced an even 71 for the first round.
Michigan’s top-three standing in the tournament was short-lived, though. On the second round of day one, birdies were hard to come by and more bogeys creeped their way onto the scoreboard. Baylor, No. 15 Kent State and No. 17 Arkansas began to show their true colors as well, with all three schools shooting tremendous second-round scores.
“In the second round, it’s not that we did anything a lot worse,” Whitten said. “We just didn’t make as many birdies. Sometimes, that’s just the difference of (getting) a few feet closer on your approach shots and then just getting a couple more putts to go.”
Heavy wind — a golfer’s worst enemy — dominated the course on the second day, and it showed especially in round 3 scores.
“It was funny because (in) some other tournaments, our worst round a lot of times was our first round,” Whitten said. “Today, I would say the course played totally different. I mean, it was so windy that you almost had to play the wind on a five-foot putt or a four-foot putt.”
Contrary from the usual, the Wolverines played the par-3 holes as good as anyone but finished dead last in average scores for par-5 holes.
Individually, Michigan’s top tandem of Carlson and Mueller continued their success, finishing third and 12th, respectively. But the Wolverines still couldn’t make up for the loss of freshman Henry Spring, who is currently back in his home country playing for a potential spot in the Masters and the Open Championship.
“This is kind of a cool story actually,” Whitten said. “He’s qualified for the Asia Pacific Amateur, which is a really big tournament in New Zealand, his home country. So he’s in New Zealand right now about to play that and the winner of that tournament gets an exemption in the British Open and the Masters.”
For the rest of the team, however, there is a long three-month break before their next tournament in February, which kicks off the spring season. During this break, the Wolverines will have five days of strength and conditioning on top of swing practice, continuing their hunt to break into the nation’s top-25 come February.
As Whitten said: “We’ll be ready. For sure.”