Feb. 23, 2007
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's men's golf team, presently ranked anywhere from 25th to 30th in three different national polls, is ready to begin its spring season. The Wildcats open with arguably one of the toughest regular-season tournaments in recent memory, the Puerto Rico Classic (preview follows at the end of this story).
NUsports.com sat down with 11th-year head coach Pat Goss to get his thought on the 2006-07 season:
NUsports.com: On your goals for the 2007 spring season ...
Goss: "Our goals will stay the same as they always are: win the Big Ten Championship, qualify for NCAA Regionals and have an opportunity to win the NCAA Championship on the final day. We have a good enough team to achieve those goals. We can compete with the top teams."
NUsports.com: On the fall season ...
Goss: "Overall it was a disappointing fall season. We are a better team than that. One of the biggest problems was the injury to Kyle Moore. He is going to make a big difference in the spring. Having Kyle healthy, practiced, and back in action is going to completely change the dynamics of our team. Unfortunately the summer injury really set him back this fall. Other than that, we had our seniors David Merkow and Chris Wilson play not as well as I think they will (this spring). It's the same thing with Dan Doyle. He played a good tournament at the end of the fall, but his game was a little blah. The real bright spot was the play of the freshman Jonathan Bowers."
NUsports.com: On what you stress in the winter practice session ...
Goss: "The work we do in January is very valuable. I tell the players all the time, `I look forward to the work we do in January more than any other time of the year.' For me, it's hard. As a program, we pride ourselves on developing players more than other schools do, but it's hard when you compete as much as we do. January is the only time where you can really focus on development. We have the right facilities and right structure to make the most of that time, and our history shows that we have been successful at developing players. A lot of northern schools see January as a time to hit balls twice a week and just keep their hands on their clubs, but for me this is the most important practice we do all year."
On what he expects out of seniors David Merkow and Chris Wilson ...
Goss: "I think they will both have excellent spring campaigns. They are both accomplished college players who have achieved a lot but still have higher goals. They both have the goal of pursuing professional golf after school. They are very enthusiastic and determined."
On strengths of the team ...
Goss: "Our biggest strength going into the spring, especially with Jonathan Bowers having played excellent in the fall, is that we have five players who have played great college tournaments. We have some strong depth and will be able to lean on different players as needed. Kyle Moore has won a major amateur tournament as well as a college tournament. David Merkow is an accomplished player and the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. Chris Wilson has tremendous amateur results and won the Big Ten Championship. Dan Doyle has had some really strong top-5 and top-10 finishes in strong fields. Jonathan Bowers played great in some tough fields, so we are bringing five guys to the table that have shown they can carry us if need be. We have a strong, competitive team. On paper we return four of the five players from a pretty good team last year, and have a freshman who can compete."
On the makeup of his team ...
Goss: "We have a nice balance of players. Jonathan Bowers is a real grinder, and so is Dan Doyle. Chris Wilson fits in the middle, and both David Merkow and Kyle Moore can go real low when they get it going."
On how this team matches up to last year's Big Ten Championship squad ...
Goss: "I think it is really the opposite scenario. Last year, what happened the previous collegiate season had a large influence on what happened. In 2004-05 we played well in the spring but did not get an NCAA bid, and that was something the players carried with them. The extremely successful summer they had then carried over and we had a great fall season. This year there wasn't that excitement of the summer before to spurn us on this fall, and if anything we came back limping a little with Kyle's injury. I have told the guys, `College golf is ultimately a spring game.' If we were going to have a rough season, the fall was the time to do it."
On who he expects to improve in the spring ...
Goss: "I expect a mix of Chris (Wilson), David (Merkow), and Dan (Doyle) to show some great improvement. Overall, David had an OK fall, but he is much better than that. He is someone who is on the cusp of really doing something spectacular. He has a lot of talent. Chris Wilson had a very blah fall for him. He is a much better player than that. If you look at how he played last spring after winter training I believe you will see the same kind of improvement. Finally, I think this fall gave Dan Doyle a lot of confidence. I am hoping that that confidence, combined with our winter work, will translate into even more success this spring."
On the spring schedule ...
Goss: "It is a really good schedule. Similar to last year, we took a couple of trips earlier this month as preparation trips. We played an alumni match and had a dual match against Northern Illinois. Now get a chance to test ourselves right away on our Puerto Rico trip, with Oklahoma State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Florida all there to name a few. We will get a good read initially of where we are. Then we will go to Florida State, which is another tournament we played last year. It will be nice to go back there; it was a tough tournament to play for the first time last year. We bring back four guys with experience there, so I feel we should be able to compete.
In April we have a solid schedule lined up. We are going to go to a tournament we did not play in last year, the NIT in Tucson. We played there a few years ago. It is played on the site of the PGA Tour event in Tucson and some of the better national teams will be there. It allows us to play in some nice weather also, but you have to make a lot of birdies to compete. We need more experience and practice in an environment like that. After that we come back and finish in the Midwest. We will play at Purdue again, and that will be a better field this year because they host the NCAA Championships in 2008, so a lot of teams are looking to make a trip to the Midwest and get experience on that course. We will finish our regular season at Ohio State, which I am excited about. Ohio State is also an important trip because Big Tens are played there this year. They recently made some changes to the golf course and this will be our first look at them. It's also exciting because we are going to go play in Columbus at the Big Ten Championships this year with three players from the Columbus area in our lineup. To those kids it would mean a lot to go back to Columbus and claim another Big Ten Championship."
On the Big Ten this year ...
Goss: "The Big Ten is very good this year. I have been really impressed with the progression of the conference in my 11-year tenure at Northwestern. There were a lot of older coaches when I started out, and now it has kind of come full circle. There are a lot of young coaches who are working hard to improve their programs. The more the Big Ten can succeed overall, the better it is for all of us. There are a lot of coaches who have embraced that and are working hard to increase our recognition. If you look at the fall results, Purdue has a very good team. Minnesota always has a very good team and returns a bunch of good players. Wisconsin has a transfer from Kentucky, and they were going to have a solid team without him. With him they are as good as anyone in the Big Ten. Illinois and Michigan State both have solid teams. Michigan State has a pair of excellent players at the top of their lineup in Ryan Brehm and Matt Harmon. Indiana returns almost every player from a successful team last year and has some promising young players as well. Right there you have six teams that can compete at the highest level. I was surprised; I thought the Big Ten would have a little more success this fall. We have a lot of teams ranked in the top 40 or 50, and I think you are going to see those teams improve on those rankings in the spring."
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'Cats Face Nation's Top Teams at Puerto Rico Classic
Beginning Sunday, Feb. 25, in Rio Mar, P.R., Northwestern will compete in one of the strongest regular-season collegiate golf tournaments in recent memory. As Ryan Herrington of Golf World writes, "If ESPN covered college golf the way it does college football, the talking heads would be calling next week's Puerto Rico Classic the tournament of the century, a colossal showdown of the best teams in the game that will separate."
It's hard to argue with Herrington's remarks as the nation's top five teams, according to a pair of coaches' polls, will be part of the 18-team field, along with the Wildcats, who are ranked 25th (GCAA/Bridgestone Coaches' poll), 26th (Golf World/Nike Golf Coaches poll) and 30th (Golfweek/Sagarin index).
The top five teams are Florida, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Alabama and Georgia. Clemson, ranked 10th in one poll, also will be at the Puerto Rico Classic.
The 'Cats will be joined by fellow Big Ten teams Illinois (No. 67 Golfweek/Sagarin), Michigan (No. 81), Minnesota (No. 28) and Purdue (No. 43), the host institution for this annual event.
In addition to the six top-10 teams, No. 14 East Tennessee State, No. 16 Georgia Tech, No. 27 Texas and No. 20 Duke are in the field.
This year's edition of the Puerto Rico Classic is being played on the River Course at Rio Mar Golf Club, a par-72 layout that measures 6,945 yards. On the same course last year, Merkow tallied a top-10 finish as the 'Cats placed 13th.
The 54-hole tournament starts with 18 holes on Sunday beginning at 6 a.m. CT. Round two is scheduled for Monday and the final round on Tuesday.
Live scoring for the Puerto Rico Classic can be found at http://purduesports.cstv.com/sports/m-golf/spec-rel/07-puerto-rico-live-scoring.html
Chris Wilson (left) with Pat Goss (center) and David Merkow (right).