The Michigan men’s golf team commenced the spring season with the Big Ten Match Play Championship this past weekend, where it finished seventh by defeating Purdue on Saturday evening.
The two-day, double-elimination tournament began well for the Wolverines, as they defeated Minnesota, 3-2. Senior Miguel Echavarria iced the win by sinking his final putt, setting up a match against first-seeded Illinois.
The eventual champion, Illinois, proved to be much tougher competition as it cruised to a 4.5-.5 victory. Only senior Matt Alessi was able to score for Michigan, tallying just half a point.
The Wolverines began the second day in the consolation bracket. The competition did not ease up, as Michigan was matched up with second-seeded Northwestern. The Wildcats prevailed 3.5-1.5, with freshman Chris O’Neill providing the lone victory.
In the seventh-place match, the Wolverines needed to rally late to overcome sixth-seeded Purdue. Every match was in doubt coming into the final three holes, but Michigan pulled it out 3-1-1. O’Neill, Echavarria and Alessi were victorious in their matches.
“Obviously, we want to come out better than .500,” said Michigan head coach Chris Whitten. “But we were happy to win our final match and go home with some momentum.”
Most tournaments are played by total strokes and by rounds, but match play offers a different challenge. Each match is a one-on-one, best-of-18-hole, match, which changed how the Wolverines prepared for the tournament.
“The guys (approached) the golf course differently,” Whitten said. “They’re playing their opponent just as much as they’re playing the course, and that’s different for us.”
The different rules of match play also allowed Michigan to bring six players for five spots. Having the extra player allowed for switching up the lineup so the same five players didn’t have to play every match. Alessi was one of two Michigan golfers who competed in all four matches, and he shined in each one.
“(Alessi) has made some pretty big improvements from the fall with winter practice, and it showed up nicely this weekend,” Whitten said.
This tournament was the first one for the Wolverines since the fall season, and so a little rust was to be expected. While a victory would have been nice to get, Whitten knows that, early on, the competition and experience is more important than victories.
“We need to improve our putting and our shots from around the green,” Whitten said. “But, it gave us a good picture of where we need to go for the rest of the spring.”
There is no Big Ten schedule for the golf teams, but they play in national tournaments against schools around the country. When it comes to the Big Ten Championships, Michigan may not be familiar with their opponents but this tournament allowed the team to see how it matches up against its Big Ten foes.
“We saw the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Big Ten and we were not able to beat them this time,” Whitten said. “We see where we need to go and what we are capable of doing.”