Two of Michigan”s finest golfers during the 1999-2000 season, recent graduates Michael Harris and Mike Affeldt took a break from their post-college lives to attend last weekend”s El Diablo Intercollegiate Tournament in Citrus Springs, Fla. They could not have been too impressed with what they saw as Michigan finished 20th of 24 teams.

Bolstered by Harris and Affeldt, the Wolverines qualified for the NCAA Central Regional Championships a season ago. If they don”t improve on last weekend”s outcome, they will not return to the regional tournament this season.

“This was a disappointment,” Michigan coach Jim Carras said. “We now have an uphill battle if we want to go to the regional championships in Stillwater, Okla.”

In order to qualify for the regional tournament, Michigan needs to finish the regular season among the top six teams in district IV. Going into El Diablo, the Wolverines held the sixth spot in the district, but when the new rankings come out they will probably slip to at least eighth. Every tournament, beginning with this weekend”s Tanglewood Intercollegiate in Pottsboro, Tex., is crucial towards making the regionals.

“We need to be more consistent,” Carras said. “I”ve never seen us missing so many three- and four-foot putts. We are better than that.”

One major disadvantage facing the Wolverines every season is that Ann Arbor weather does not enable them to practice outside a great deal. The driving range is very little help as far as pitching, putting and chipping are concerned. Even though Michigan headed down to Savannah, Ga. for spring break, it has gotten limited practice time compared with southern schools.

“If we get the opportunities to practice, we won”t have as many setbacks,” Carras said. “It seemed like the fairways had a toxic chemical because our golfers didn”t want to hit there.”

The one bright spot this weekend was the play of junior Andy Matthews, who finished 13th in a field of about 120 golfers. Also, Michigan faced uncontrollable factors such as weather and travel schedules. But Carras knows that adversity is part of the sport.

“There is no question that the key to golf is mental toughness,” Carras said. “You have to be resilient and accept failing as a challenge, not as a defeat. I am not down and I hope non of these guys are.”

Improvements need to be made starting this weekend.

“I”m still expecting us to make the regional,” Carras said. “We can”t afford to have another tournament like we just had.”

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