It’s easy to find positives in victory.
It’s sometimes reasonable to find them in defeat.
But finding positives after finishing last in an 18-team tournament is a bit more challenging.
Over spring break, the Michigan men’s golf team had to wrestle with this conundrum.
Playing in the Puerto Rico Classic in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, the Wolverines faced some of the country’s toughest golf competition.
With 10 of the top 25 teams in the nation participating, the Wolverines failed to keep pace and took a disappointing last-place finish back to Ann Arbor.
Senior Brandon Duff was one of the few Wolverines who finished strong, leading the team with a 54-hole score of 219 for a 35th-place finish.
Despite Duff’s individual efforts, he and his teammates had higher expectations.
“We were a little disappointed,” Duff said. “We went in hoping to finish a bit higher than we did obviously. It was just a tough tournament for us.”
The Wolverines were not the only Big Ten team to struggle with early-season rust. No. 9 Minnesota could muster up only a 17th-place finish – one place ahead of the Wolverines.
“It’s tough for Midwestern teams,” Duff said. “Because of the weather, we don’t get a chance to play year-round like some of the Southern teams do that were down there. It’s just hard to tell where a team is really at this early on.”
The Wolverines may be one of many teams not entirely sure where they are right now, but they certainly know where it is they want to go.
“We would like to make it to the regional,” Duff said. “That’s something we haven’t done in a while. But in order to do that, we’re going to have to play well and give ourselves a chance to win in the Big Ten Tournament.”
If the Wolverines are to succeed, Duff said they must play better as a team.
As a senior leader, one of his roles is to remind his teammates to stay focused.
“I just try to remind them that we need to think about the team,” Duff said. “Not to take big risks out there and just realize that every single shot counts for us.”
There is no doubt Duff’s perspective and encouragement helped the Wolverines put a tough tournament behind them. But it’s not an experience he wants his teammates to completely forget either.
“I think the tournament was a good experience too,” Duff said. “We ended up getting a lot of practice in down there on a tight course, and we played against some really good teams.”
Duff has also found it important to refresh his team’s memory of their previous success.
Just this past fall, this same group of golfers won the Wolverine Intercollegiate tournament on its home course.
“We just need to remember that tournament and, hopefully, build some momentum off of it,” Duff said.
The Wolverines may be off to a difficult start, but not one that will keep them down.
And with aspirations for the season still high as ever, the Wolverines may have found the silver lining to their last-place finish – perspective.