The Michigan men’s golf team dug a hole it couldn’t get out of in this week’s Mobile Bay Intercollegiate Tournament. A lack of fine-tuning sank the Wolverines as they made their season debut against teams whose seasons were already in swing.
Michigan finished last out of 15 teams at 43 over par and a distant 10 strokes away from the next-closest group, 14th-place South Alabama “B” squad. Big Ten opponents Illinois and Indiana took first and second, respectively.
Many of Michigan’s strokes came from troubles on the green, something the Wolverines will have to improve. Compared to the competition, the Wolverines took more than 25 extra putts to finish their rounds. Polishing the short game could prevent pitfalls like Sunday’s start.
“We’ve got to get sharper and we’ll do that with more competitions,” Michigan coach Zach Barlow said. “I think (the tournament) sent a message to everybody that we have to get better, and we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Wolverines took their first step in that journey by flipping the script in round three. Improvements to weather, focus and technique helped them shave 15 strokes off their opening performance.
Junior Ben Dunne played a significant role in the turnaround, improving his short game and finishing a dozen strokes below his first card. Senior Charlie Pilon made a similar effort in round two as he dropped 12 as well. Those rallies came after fixing early errors, but they paled in comparison to the efforts of junior Patrick Sullivan, who cut six strokes to go five under on Tuesday. Sullivan put himself in good positions by hitting the green 17 times that day.
Overall, the tournament raises questions about how Michigan would have fared with more reps this season. The comebacks prove that the more the Wolverines played, the more they shook loose almost a year’s worth of rust.
Freshmen Will Anderson and Jack O’Donnell, though, had to overcome more than rust as they teed off their college careers; they had to get used to the college game. Anderson stayed fairly consistent with two rounds of 77 and another at 75, while O’Donnell led his team with 11 birdies.
“I know they probably would’ve done better than me as a freshman,” Sullivan said. “It was good to get that round under their belt and I think they’re going to be ready to go for the rest of the spring.”
Those debuts included significant hurdles as bad weather in round two posed challenges for every golfer. The freshmen also struggled on long holes compared to other schools, something more practice might have changed.
Yet, those shortcomings weren’t exclusive to the new members. Michigan’s performance on par fives in general was concerning, a part of that coming from issues in wedges.
“We were not sharp from 120 yards and in,” Barlow said. “Course management, if we were trying to reach the green in two, was not very good — and that’s putting it lightly.”
While it took more strokes than the Wolverines would have liked, they got the ball on the green for the first time since March. Michigan missed out on the Big Ten match play championship earlier this month because of the 14-day athletics pause.
In Mobile Bay, the Wolverines made the important step of getting back on the golf course, a much-needed measuring stick. Rough performances were all but guaranteed to start the season, but the rust they knocked off revealed bare metal to build from.
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