As the rain slowed on the 14th hole at the Virtues Golf Club on Tuesday, Michigan men’s golf coach Zach Barlow found himself in an unusual — though enviable — position.
“We’re standing on the 14th tee and I got four guys tied for the lead,” Barlow said. “It was kind of tough from a coaching standpoint, but it was fun to sit back and watch how they handled being in that situation down the stretch.”
Ultimately, two Wolverines — redshirt junior Ben Hoagland and junior Yuqi Liu — tied for first place alongside Ohio golfer Will Kates at nine under par. It was the first individual win for both Hoagland and Liu. As a team, Michigan paced the 17-team field throughout the two-day tournament for its second team win on the season as junior Hunter Thomson tied for fourth place and senior Will Anderson finished eighth to give the Wolverines four finishes in the top 10.
Hoagland and Liu credited team focus for their individual success.
“The whole goal today was just to make sure the team finished well,” Hoagland said.
Hoagland, who shot 68 and 73 on the first day of the tournament, used the team mentality to fuel his performance on the second day in particular.
“I didn’t play it how I wanted to in the second round,” Hoagland said. “My thought process was that that wasn’t who I was, and I didn’t want to let the team down.”
The 10th and 11th holes of the third round were a turning point for Hoagland, who shot eight under par on the day. After chipping in for eagle on 10 and making a long putt for birdie on 11, he used the momentum to springboard his future success.
“I chipped in for eagle on 10 … Just completely flipped the momentum,” Hoagland said. “I made a long putt on 11, too, and then all of a sudden it was one of those cliche blackout moments … and I just kept going.”
Hoagland wasn’t the only one hitting his stride. Barlow described the stretch from the 10th to 14th hole Tuesday as the team “catching fire.”
“We didn’t have a great front nine,” Barlow said. “We sputtered a bit, we couldn’t get anything going and then it was like once hole 10 hit, we had a stretch as a team that you don’t see often.”
Part of Michigan’s success stemmed from having a good game plan for the course at Virtues Golf Club.
“Coach Barlow and (director of player performance Matt Hoffman) were talking (this past week) about how this golf course can really bait you into being more aggressive than you need,” Hoagland said. “So we were a little bit more conservative off the tee and just trusted our wedges a lot of the time.”
Michigan’s strategy was particularly important on day two. Unexpected rain hit Virtues Golf Club early in the round, soaking the grounds and the golfers caught without rain gear.
As a result, some teams struggled in round three. The Wolverines, however, saw it as an opportunity to lean on the confidence they had gained through the first two rounds on Monday.
In fact, confidence was the word of the day, emphasized by coach and players alike.
“I just want their confidence to grow,” Barlow said. “We showed a lot of maturity, showed a lot of competitive fire, showed a lot of grit. … (This week) will be a big week for us to build on and to keep stacking these types of tournaments together.”
Michigan’s commanding victory will certainly help its self-assurance. After all, it’s not every day your teammates are your sole competition for first place.