In a weekend dominated by Southeastern Conference opponents, the Michigan men’s golf team could not quite keep up.

Sunday, the team travelled to Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, to compete in the annual Puerto Rico Classic for the 14th straight year. All-Big Ten golfers Chris O’Neill — who finished seven shots over par — and Kyle Mueller (plus-9) both struggled, which made it difficult for the Wolverines to climb the leaderboard. O’Neill, a senior, had his fourth — and last — chance to tee off at the Puerto Rico Classic. It was an outing to forget.  

With the dryer and faster grass that the Michigan team is used to practicing and competing on in the Midwest, it struggled to settle in when it encountered the unfamiliar conditions. Teams with stronger performances, such as champion Alabama (minus-25) and runner-up Clemson (minus-16) are used to the warmer and more tropical climate. This gave them a heavy upper hand over the Midwestern teams, who are still practicing in a below-freezing environment.

Michigan coach Chris Whitten was disappointed, but he understood the team’s challenge getting acclimated to the atypical Rio Grande course.

“Adjusting to the conditions of the course was tough”, Whitten said. “It played very wet and very slow. Most places we play at are the opposite. Making adjustments on the fly is what we need to be able to do.”

Whitten emphasized that in-game adjustments are going to be key to the Wolverine’s success, especially on courses where they are less confident.       

The team’s best performance came from freshman Nick Carlson – who finished the three days with a cumulative score of plus-6 – and so the Wolverines fell behind quickly and failed to adjust, finishing with a final team score of plus-29.

Despite struggling this weekend, Whitten and Carlson both remained poised and are maintaining ambitious goals.

“Our guys compete to win every tournament”, Whitten said. “If we play the way we are capable of playing, we can make it back to the postseason and have a chance at the Big Ten (Championships).”

Whitten remains firmly convinced of his team’s ability, but he recognizes that the team has a long road ahead to optimize its potential. He and his athletes know that making on-the-fly adjustments is not easy, noting that the team has to work hard for their opportunities.

Carlson echoed this when speaking about his goals. While he generally emphasized team-oriented goals, he also added that each shot is an opportunity.

“We have to make every move count,” Carlson said.   

With the Desert Mountain Intercollegiate tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., coming up on March 5, the Wolverines will have to adjust to yet another unfamiliar climate. They are looking to start an upward trend as the Big Ten Championships in April grow nearer.  

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