There are eight golfers on the Michigan men’s golf team, but just five spots were available for the Gopher Invitational. So before traveling to Minnesota, Michigan coach Chris Whitten held qualifying matches to determine who would compete in the weekend tournament.

The Gopher Invitational was the first event of the season for the Wolverines, and for those who competed, it was the first chance to maintain their spot in the lineup. In a sport where an outcome can be uncertain and frustrating, the top five golfers had to be precise and consistent.

Sophomore Kyle Mueller, freshman Nick Carlson, junior Tom Swanson, senior Chris O’Neill and junior Reed Hrynewich made the cut from the qualifiers for their right to play three rounds at the Windsong Farm Golf Club. Their next round of competition was against 15 other teams, which included No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 21 Baylor and a field of 76 other golfers in a crowded invitational, which ran from Sunday through Monday afternoon.

The five combined for a score of 895, good for an 11th-place tie in the tournament.

Michigan ended the first two rounds on Sunday near the bottom of the team standings. With a combined score of 604, the Wolverines finished 13th out of 16 teams. Weather and darkness delayed and postponed play for parts of Sunday, hindering golfers from posting their best scores. The standing was no disappointment, though, as Michigan was within five strokes of five teams ahead of it. Swanson and O’Neill both tied for 16th place individually, poised to lead the Wolverines out of the bottom of the standings toward a higher finish.

“(After the first round), we got back to playing normal golf,” Whitten said. “The first round was the atypical round. I don’t know if there’s really a good explanation other than being in the wrong spot, and the wind blowing really hard. But it played the same for everybody.”

Four of the five golfers made improvements from their first rounds to their second time on the course. Hyrnewich had the highest score, but also the biggest difference in score between the first two rounds, shooting eight strokes better in his later round on Sunday. Carlson, making his collegiate debut, also made significant headway, shooting a 75 after posting an 81 in his first round as a Michigan golfer. At the end of the first round, he racked up nine strokes on the 18th hole, but made a quick turnaround to make his weekend memorable.

“He ran into some really bad luck and compounded that with a bad shot or two (on the 18th hole),” Whitten said. “But he got right back to playing steady golf for us for the rest of the way. … He started his college career on one of the tougher courses we’ll play, and he handled it great.”

The Wolverines entered Monday’s final round with momentum and a familiarity of the course. Those two factors contributed to their success, as Michigan vied to make its way up the standings. The Wolverines only climbed one spot, finishing 12th, held back by a first round that prevented them from placing in the top 10. Michigan shot significantly better in the last two rounds, but the effort wasn’t enough to overshadow the first round.

“After being behind by so much after the first round,” Whitten said, “the guys had to dig deep a little bit, toughen up and play better golf after that.”

Swanson shot a stroke lower compared to his last outing on Sunday, earning an even-par 71. Swanson — the only Wolverine to post a score that wasn’t over par — finished a team and career-high tie for sixth place. Mueller and Carlson both shot three strokes better, each posting 72 on the scorecard. Hrynewich remained steady with a 77, and O’Neill dropped two strokes to finish the weekend with a 76.

Without an abnormal first round, Michigan would have had a more impressive outing. But the challenge was another sort of qualifying round after the one the Wolverines had before the tournament. The lineup may change as the season matures, but for those who competed at the Gopher Invitational, the experience already gives them a leg up on the rest. 

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