Feb. 23, 2006
For the Northwestern men's golf team, the adage, "A year older, a year better" is certainly holding true.
The Wildcats return their entire roster from last year's team that finished third at the Big Ten Championships and did nothing but impress in the fall portion of their schedule. For those who followed individual Northwestern team members compete over the summer in amateur play, the fall success comes as no surprise.
"We have a great opportunity to be an elite team in college golf this year with the quality of the players we have returning," says head coach Pat Goss. "We have experienced players who have continually improved and worked extremely hard."
Northwestern team members created quite a buzz this summer. Senior Dillon Dougherty's performance headlined individual amateur competition. Dougherty became just the second NU golfer in history to reach the U.S. Amateur finals. He was 3 up after 18 holes of the 36-hole championship match, but Edoardo Molinari made seven birdies over the next 15 holes to defeat Dougherty, 4&3.
By virtue of his finish, Dougherty earned an invitation to the prestigious 70th Masters Tournament to be held April 3-9 in Augusta, Ga. Charles `Chick' Evans was the first NU golfer to reach the U.S. Amateur final. Evans won the first of his two amateur titles in 1916.
Dougherty, however, was not the top NU finisher in his U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier. That honor went to Chris Wilson who fired back-to-back rounds of 66 to win the qualifier and Dougherty finished as runner-up. Wilson also won the 99th Ohio Amateur, joining the likes of PGA Tour legend Arnold Palmer and former British Open winner Ben Curtis as a champion of the event.
Kyle Moore joined the list of stellar summer performances by taking home medalist honors at the 49th Annual Eastern Amateur Golf Tournament. Moore fired a 72-hole total of 13-under par 267 to set a tournament record. The previous record of 268 was initially set in 1975 by Curtis Strange, a 17-time winner on the PGA Tour, and tied by Duke's Ryan Blaum in 2004.
"Last summer was a historic summer for Northwestern golf and provided a great impetus to our successful fall. The summer play of Dillon Dougherty, Chris Wilson and Kyle Moore was evidence of how much our players are improving and the potential of this group of players," says head coach Pat Goss.
To say NU players translated their summer success into a solid fall would be an understatement. The cooler fall temperatures could not slow the Wildcats as they averaged a blistering 289.0 strokes per round as a team. In recent history, the lowest complete season average is 288.8 held by the 1998-99 squad that won the Big Ten Championship, finished second at the NCAA Central Regionals and claimed third at the NCAA Championship.
"This fall we showed signs of what we can achieve this year, but we did not play our best golf," says Goss. "I have never coached a team that had the opportunity to be stronger in the three, four and five spots than this team. Each of these players has had such great individual successes in college and amateur golf. If we have five players putting it together at the same time, I know we can compete with and beat any team in the country. However, to do that we need to continue to improve and become more consistent."
In five fall events, Northwestern won once and finished second on two occasions. For the second consecutive year and third time in four seasons, the Wildcats won a tournament that they hosted. The win came at the Second Annual Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge held in the fall in Glenview, Ill.
Northwestern outplayed several highly ranked teams in the event including Minnesota, UCLA and Arizona State. NU set a single-round tournament record with a team score of 277 (-11) in the second round of the CordeValle Collegiate, the team's final event of the fall. The Wildcats finished second to host UCLA.
Northwestern's performance has not gone unrecognized by the national rankings. Entering the spring season, the Wildcats, at No. 13, are the highest ranked Big Ten team in Golf World's Coaches' Poll and NU (No. 13) trails only Minnesota (No. 12) among Big Ten teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. The Wildcats finished with a better score than Minnesota in the two tournaments in which both teams participated in the fall.
The Wildcats are led by Dougherty who is riding his wave of summer momentum to new heights. He was fourth on the team in scoring last season (75.48) and had only one round in the 60's. This season he already has three rounds in the 60's heading into the spring and has shaved more than three strokes off his scoring average (72.33), good for second on the team. The only senior to play in every fall event, Dougherty's top finish was fourth at both the William Tucker Invitational and CordeValle Collegiate.
After leading the team with four top-10 showings and finishing second on the team in scoring last season, junior David Merkow led the 'Cats in the fall with an average score of 72.0. He had a team-best 10 rounds of par or better. Merkow had more to celebrate than the team title at the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge. Trailing by two strokes heading into the final round of the Challenge, Merkow closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory and his first collegiate individual title.
The Wildcats have had at least one individual champion 12 of the last 14 seasons dating to 1992-93. Northwestern has claimed 22 individual titles with Goss at the helm and another seven while he held an assistant position.
Sophomore Dan Doyle is another golfer playing consistently better golf this season. Doyle may have given fans a preview of what was to come in his last tournament as a freshman when he finished 13th at the Big Ten Championships. He had two top-10 finishes this fall after failing to get one last year and is third on the team in scoring with an average of 73.33. One of his top 10's came at the Coca-Cola Duke Classic where he finished a team-best sixth. Doyle's closing round 66 was the lowest for a Wildcat in 31 months and tied for 11th-best all-time.
Not to be outdone, sophomore Kyle Moore needed only 21 days to go lower than Doyle. At the CordeValle Collegiate, Moore helped propel NU to its team-record score by making eight birdies and a lone bogey en route to a tournament-record 65 in the second round. The round of 65 is tied for sixth-lowest in NU history. Moore played in four of five events in the fall including once as an individual. He was third in scoring last season.
Chris Wilson, a junior, was the team's leading scorer last season with an average of 74.10. Wilson was a deceiving fourth on the team in scoring during the fall. That fact just speaks to the depth of this season's squad as Wilson actually trimmed his scoring average to 73.60 during the fall and had six rounds of par or better, tying for second on the team with Dougherty.
Senior Bryson Young played in two fall events. He has lowered his scoring average to 75.17 from 77.55 last season.
The Wildcats face one of the nation's toughest schedules year-in and year-out, and this season is no different. The seven-tournament spring slate, with the exception of a possible NCAA berth, takes the team to six states and Puerto Rico while facing top competition. The schedule comes to a close with the Big Ten Championships at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill. Northwestern will play as host for the first time since 1956. The Wildcats are looking for their first Big Ten title since they won three in a row from 1999-2001.
With the success of the fall season and NU's proven ability to compete with the top teams in the country, the Wildcats are primed to contend for the Big Ten title and to make a run in the NCAA Championships.
"Our goals are simple--win the Big Ten Championship and play golf on the final day of the NCAA Championship with a chance to win," says Goss. "These are attainable goals if we continue to improve. We really have the opportunity to be a special team. I am always anxious to start competing again."
Senior Dillon Dougherty, a U.S. Amateur finalist, led the 'Cats with two top-10 finishes in the fall.