FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Minnesota entered the final round of the Big Ten Conference Championship with a lot at stake. The Gophers likely needed a win on the very demanding Pete Dye Course at the French Lick Resort to find a spot in postseason play.
A victory would give Minnesota the Big Ten’s automatic qualifying spot into NCAA regional play beginning May 15-17. The Gophers had not played in the postseason since 2009.
It was something that was very much on the mind of third-year head coach John Carlson and his seniors.
“The seniors really knew what was going on, and I wanted this for the seniors. They stuck through coaching changes and now with me the last few years,” Carlson said.
In order to get that win they would have to hold off Illinois, which was making a run at winning its sixth consecutive conference title.
Illinois, ranked No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, made a run on the front nine, closing the gap to three shots at the turn. The Illini then pulled even with Gophers midway through the back nine. But, Illinois’ lone birdie on the final four holes was not enough as the Gophers were able to pull away and win by four shots.
Minnesota finished with a 35-over 1,186 total to Illinois’ 1,190. Iowa, which posted the best score in the final round, placed third at 1,194.
“If you look back at the way we finished the rounds, it wasn’t very strong,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “Like today, we gave away four or five shots on the last three holes. You have to finish in these tournaments, and we talk about that.”
Minnesota did finish, largely due to the effort of senior Jon Trasamar. With birdies on the final two holes, Trasamar would help secure the Gophers’ first conference title since 2007 and eighth overall in program history.
“I was really starting to swing well towards the end of the round and it was pretty cool to end a round like that,” Trasamar said.
“It was so much fun to see Jon cap it off,” Carlson said.
Trasamar knew how close his team had come in the past. Finishing second last year and seeing his team be ineligible for the postseason due to the team’s head-to-head won-loss record being below .500.
“The entire spring we were playing so well and we knew we were playing well. We just were not moving up in the rankings and I know we were not playing the toughest schedule in the world, but coming off the last few years being below .500 we had to make sure we took care of that,” Trasamar said.
The Gophers had finished no worse than fourth in four starts entering the Big Ten Championship. And with a victory today have now won three tournaments in last five starts.
“Minnesota played great,” Small said. “We were playing from the sides of the fairways and they were playing from the middle of the fairway and that is a tough fight.”
A big reason for the Gophers success this year is due to the play of freshman Jose Mendez. Mendez, a freshman from San Jose, Costa Rica, finished with a share of the individual title with Illinois’ Charlie Danielson. Both finished at 1-over 289, five shots clear of Northwestern’s Jack Perry and Trasamar.
Mendez has now won three of his last four starts.
“I am nervous right now, I just can’t handle it, but it feels awesome,” Mendez said. “It’s really awesome to help the team get to regionals.”
To come out on top after 72 holes in very tough conditions, on a tough golf course, with everything on the line it is something to remember for Carlson.
“For our players to be able to realize the dream of playing in the regionals and the memories of winning the Big Ten Championship is something they will never forget.”