The Northwestern Wildcats appeared to be in a slump. After having played in just one tournament since early March, and carding a 12th-place one stroke over par in that event, things were looking a little bleak. Then came the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The ‘Cats shone, shooting under par all three rounds, and saved their best for last. On the final day, the team shot seven under par to seal a mark of 14-under for the tournament. The Wildcats, who currently sit at 31st in the country, finished in a tie for fourth with the sixth-ranked Auburn Tigers. The top three of the tournament was seventh-ranked Florida State, who ran away from the field by shooting an obscene 41 under par, 21st-ranked Virginia, who finished at 27-under, and 40th-ranked Arkansas, who closed the weekend at 24-under after a final round of 11-under.
The lynchpin to this stellar performance was grad student David Nyfjäll, who finished tied for third overall with a -9 run at the tournament. Nyfjäll was actually tied for the lead heading into the final day, but finished the third round just one stroke over par and had to settle for the top three finish. However, both players who finished ahead of him are ranked in the top 20 nationally. The keys for Nyfjäll were eagles (he had a pair) and finishing on Par Fives, where he shot six-under for the tournament.
There were other Northwestern stars as well. Cameron Adam shot four-under on the last day to move up to a tie for 13th and crushed Par Fives as well, shooting five-under on those for the tournament. Daniel Svärd also had a good tournament, bouncing back from a rough first round to finish in a six-way tie for 32nd. Svärd tied for best overall in the tournament at eight-under for all Par Fives, using the long game well when the short game (he was seven-over on Par Threes) wasn’t working.
When looking at all those stats, it’s easy to see why Northwestern finished second overall as a team with Par Five outcomes, finishing 24 strokes under par in those situations. It also came second in the field for eagles, with three during the tournament. Additionally, ‘Ctats were fifth in Par Four outcomes, shooting four over par throughout the event.
However, no team was challenging Florida State. The Seminoles shot 20 under par in the first round and never shot worse than 10 under par throughout the tournament. The team crushed any and all situations, finishing six under on Par Threes (first by 15 strokes), 13-under on Par Fours (first by six strokes), and 22-under on Par Fives (fourth). Cole Anderson led the charge, finishing in a tie for first thanks to three rounds at 68 strokes or under, with a 68 marking three under par.
The things the ‘Cats need to work on are pretty clear. Every team except for Florida State struggled on Par Threes, but Northwestern definitely could have performed better. The key was pars — the Wildcats finished eighth out of 15 teams in total pars, some of which they could have used to edge past Auburn and seal sole possession of third. If there is going to be someone to lead the team in this are, it could be James Imai. Imai finished last on the team and in a tie for 49th, but finished in a tie for second in pars with 40. If Imai can figure out how to get more birdies (he had just five over the event), he could be a player to watch in the future.
Overall, it was an excellent tournament for Northwestern and showed how high this team could potentially go. A tie for third in a tournament with six top 40 teams is nothing to sneeze at, and the last day showed that the Wildcats have an extra gear when they need it. With just one tournament left until the Big Ten Championships begin, the ‘Cats need to start getting into playoff mode now. They’ll have a chance to show off what that looks like in the Fighting Illini Spring Collegiate, held in Champaign, Illinois, on April 22 and 23. After that, they’ll participate in the Big Ten Tournament from April 28 to April 30. If the Wildcats are able to properly use these April events as tune-ups, they’ll be able to make a lot of noise at the end of the month.