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Golf: ‘Cats struggle with inconsistent play in openers, but show promise for the future

While neither team lit the world on fire, both showed the ability to contend throughout the year.

Northwestern Athletics

Both golf teams opened their 2023-24 campaigns earlier this week, and as one would expect, both squads had things to clean up. However, there was also a lot of promise shown, especially in the odd-numbered rounds. If both teams are able to reach a consistent level of play, they should be tough outs all year long.

Men’s Golf

The men's team opened the season in Independence, Minnesota as part of the 14-team Gopher Invitational. The Wildcats finished in a tie for fifth after a spectacular first two rounds followed by a return to the middle of the pack over the final round. By the end of the invitational, the ‘Cats finished with a 3-over 855, just 10 strokes behind the victorious UNC-Wilmington team.

Northwestern opened the tournament with a 1-over 285 as a team on their first official day of competition. Led by junior Cameron Adam, who shot a 1-under 70, and sophomore Daniel Svärd, who shot an even-par 71, the Wildcats were just one stroke behind eventual winner UNC Wilmington and second-place finisher Kent State.

The second day was even better for the Wildcats. Svärd shot a 3-under 68 and three other Wildcats (Adam, graduate student James Imai and sophomore Ethan Tseng) all shot 70s. The total round score of a 6-under 278 was tied for the second-best round of any team all tournament, and it brought the ‘Cats into a tie with UNC-Wilmington heading into the final day of the invitational.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their podium-level play ran out in the third round. After shooting 5-under as a team through the first two rounds, the ‘Cats were only able to produce an 8-over-par round of 292. Not a single Wildcat broke par, and the best individual score for the third round was a 2-over 73. However, Northwestern was still able to earn a tie for fifth despite the rough round, mainly thanks to the buffer the team had built up over the first two rounds.

In terms of individual play, the Wildcats put three players in the top 20. Svärd, the defending Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and Adam both finished tied for 15th thanks to shooting an even-par 213 for the tournament. Tseng finished in a tie for 18th thanks to his 1-over 214, while Imai finished tied for 31st after shooting a 3-over 216. Niall Shiels-Donegan, the Wildcats’ fifth golfer, finished tied for 51st thanks to his 8-over 221. The team will return to action later this month when it hosts the Windon Memorial Classic in Northfield, Illinois, on Sept. 25 and 26.

Women’s Golf

As for the women’s side, the Wildcats reversed the fortunes of the men. At the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the women’s team started poorly but put together their best round in the final round. Despite the brilliant 3-under 285 in the third round, the Wildcats couldn’t overcome their earlier performance and finished tied for 12th in the 16-team event.

The first round was extremely unkind to Northwestern. First-year Ashley Yun was the only Wildcat to shoot even par at 72, with all four of her teammates shooting at least 4-over on the round. When the dust settled, Northwestern had shot a 14-over 302 for the day, putting the team just one stroke ahead of a tie for last.

The second round was a slight improvement. While Yun shot 4-over par, not a single Wildcat shot worse than 5-over par, and junior Lauren Nguyen shot a 1-over 73 to lead the way for the team. While the 11-over 299 wasn’t ideal, it did help stop the team’s backward momentum. It also helped set the stage for its stunning third round.

In that round, the Wildcats came out on fire. All five players shot 74 or better, and both Nguyen and sophomore Dianna Lee were able to shoot under par, the first such instances of a Wildcat golfer doing so at the tournament. As a whole, the team shot a three-under 285 in the third round, tied for the second-best round of any team all day, behind only runner-up Kansas, which shot a 274 in the third round. Tournament winner Pepperdine shot a 270 in the second round en route to a 14-under 850 for the tournament. Northwestern’s 22-over 886 was 36 strokes behind.

As for the individuals, Northwestern put just a single player in the top 25, but did have four in the top 50. Jennifer Cai, who competed in the tournament as an individual, shot par or better in two of the three rounds, and finished the tournament with a 1-over-par 217 to finish in a tie for 17th. Nguyen had the best tournament of any Wildcat who competed in the team play, with her three-over 219 tied for 28th in the competition. Lee was two strokes behind at a 221 for the tournament, which was good enough for a tie for 39th, and Yun’s 222 helped her tie for 41st. Neither Jiayi Wang nor Jieni Li finished in the top 50. The team will be off for the rest of the month before hosting the Windy City Collegiate Classic in the aptly named Golf, Illinois on Oct. 2 and 3.