The Michigan men’s golf team sent a clear message to the rest of the Big Ten this weekend.
In the first-ever Big Ten Match Play Championship, the Wolverines’ first tournament of the spring season, Michigan fell to No. 11 Indiana in the finals, 3.5-2.5, after defeating No. 7 Illinois in the semifinals by the same score. The Hoosiers and Fighting Illini were the only ranked teams in the tournament at The Heron Bay Golf Club in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
All eleven teams in the Big Ten participated in the event. Before this weekend, the Wolverines had not finished second or better in a Big Ten Championship meet since 1980.
Michigan’s two matches Saturday came down to the final holes against a pair of top-15 teams.
In match play, scoring is decided per hole. A golfer earns one point if he beats his counterpart and half a point if a golfer halves his match. Each team can earn six points, one for each of the six individual matches.
Freshman Matt Thompson won all three of his matches on the weekend and received All-Tournament honors.
“I think we’re all happy with how we did,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t come out with the victory, but it was a good way to start the spring.”
Michigan coach Andrew Sapp believes the success this weekend will help build the team’s confidence for the rest of the spring season, even with the loss to the Hoosiers.
“We didn’t give it to (Indiana),” Sapp said. “They just kind of took it. We’re pleased with the way the guys played. We’re sad that we didn’t take home the big crystal trophy and win this championship, but there are a lot of positive things that we can draw from this week.”
The Big Ten is the first conference to implement the same match-play format as the NCAA Golf Championship. In match play, all six golfers for each team have a greater impact on the outcome of the match because the results of each individual count. Typically, in stroke play, just the top-four scores count.
The match-play format helped Michigan this weekend, because the Wolverines’ back-end players outplayed their opponents’ back-end players throughout the tournament.
Thompson, Michigan’s No. 5 player, and junior Ross Millman, Michigan’s No. 6 player, both beat their competition against Illinois. The play of the duo ultimately carried Michigan past the Fighting Illini and into the finals.
The Wolverines began the weekend by overpowering Iowa 4-2 in the quarterfinals, and Thompson and Millman each won against Iowa.
“We have probably the best (No.) 5 and (No. 6) players in the conference,” Sapp said. “So I think from that standpoint, our depth hopefully is going to be the thing that helps us. For those two guys to really kick us off with wins kind of helps ease the pressure on some of the guys that are teeing off behind them.”
In May’s Big Ten Championships, the Wolverines will play a stroke-play format, just as they have every year since 1980.
This weekend, the No. 1 through No. 4 players had a combined 3-5-4 record in the three matches, which would need to improve in order for the Wolverines to finish in the top two in May.