Friday, October 22, 2021

“You’re either winning or you’re learning”: MSU men’s golf place third in Gopher Invitational

September 15, 2021
<p>Men&#x27;s golf during the Spartan Collegiate at Sea Island Resort, Monday, March 8, 2021, St.Simons Island, Georgia. (Gary Lloyd McCullough) - Courtesy of Spartan Athletics </p>

Men's golf during the Spartan Collegiate at Sea Island Resort, Monday, March 8, 2021, St.Simons Island, Georgia. (Gary Lloyd McCullough) - Courtesy of Spartan Athletics

Michigan State Head Coach Casey Lubahn talked over an infernal screeching. Through the phone, it sounded like high-pitched screams. Wind whipping across a tarmac. Nails on a chalkboard. 

What was the noise? 

Rollercoasters. 

“I’m about to jump on a roller coaster at the (Minnesota Mall of America),” Lubahn said nonchalantly. “We always take (the team) here and ride rollercoasters for an hour, just so they stop worrying about what they shot today.” 

All worries aside, Michigan State men’s golf placed third in the Gopher Invitational on Sept. 13, after shooting 5-under-par as a team. The Spartans fell behind Kansas and Notre Dame (both 14-under-par) throughout the weekend for their second consecutive top-five finish to start the season. 

“A third place finish in the Gopher Invitational is always a good finish,” Lubahn said. “It’s a finish that means you’re a top 10 Big Ten team and a top tier national team.”

Redshirt senior Troy Taylor II (66-74-70) and junior Bradley Smithson (69-68-73) tied for 10th overall to lead the way for the Spartans at Windsong Golf Club in Independence, Minnesota. Lubahn praised Taylor’s strong weekend, from a career-low opening round to the leadership he displayed during an adverse second round and his ability to put it together on Monday’s final nine for a strong finish. 

“This is the kind of player Troy Taylor is," Lubahn said. "The second round, he lost his attitude for a couple minutes and he was the first one to call himself out and apologize and get ready to get back at it (Monday),” Lubahn said. “He’s coming off a win last week, backed up with another top 10 in a good field. ” 

Smithson was tied for the lead at 5-under-par with Kansas junior Luke Kluver going into the final round. Carding a 73 on Monday nixed his chances of winning, but Lubahn said Smithson is an “elite player” that will put the lessons he learned at Windsong to good use.  

“In golf, you’re either winning or you’re learning,” Lubahn said. “(Monday) was a great learning experience because he’ll be back in that position an awful lot with all the talent he has.” 

Sophomore August Meekhof (71-71-70) tied for 16th overall at 1-under-par, displaying a consistency that led Lubahn to say he had “probably” the strongest week out of any golfer on the team besides a handful of bogies. Freshman Ashton McCullough tied for 38th overall in a 7-over-par performance that Lubahn attributed to dealing with the rigors of a 36-hole day. 

After a month and a half long stretch of outstanding form, fifth-year senior James Piot (71-72-73) tied for 28th overall after shooting 3-over-par. Lubahn said Piot’s weaker outing was the accumulation of a lot of things: a lack of focus, fatigue from a highly successful last month that saw him garner Ben Hogan Award August Golfer of the Month honors and competing on a course he’s struggled with before. 

“I think he kind of hit the wall,” Lubahn said. “Knowing James, (it) might not be the worst thing to happen.”

Lubahn said neither Piot nor him would make excuses for his performance, but recognized the burden he’s carried since his U.S. Amateur triumph and expects him to be in contention for their next tournament. 

“We understand he’s not going to be perfect every day but we know he’s going to be great most of the time,” Lubahn said. “It’s just who he is.” 

Lubahn said Windsong boasted fast, firm greens and difficult wind conditions, playing a role in the higher scores and larger inconsistency MSU showed this weekend. While he added that the Spartans need to be more disciplined, especially when attacking par-5s, to shave strokes off, their talent managed to shine through on a particularly unforgiving course.  

“We just had some unusual struggles … that the course kind of brought on,” Lubahn said. “I think it really rewarded guys who were driving well and we’re hitting higher approach shots. A few of our guys kind of casually finished in the top 15 without playing great.”

Lubahn also discussed the general exhaustion that typically comes at this point of the season. Between underclassmen battling mental exhaustion from playing a lot of golf in so little time to coaches and players still feeling drained from Piot’s high-wire comeback at Oakmont, he said everybody needs a break and a different outlook on recent results. 

“All this stuff is normal, but when you’re this elite, you only have 10 events throughout the year, you got to take advantage,” Lubahn said. “Take a step back, look at how good the stats are, look at how good the numbers are overall and just get a little perspective on how good we are playing but how much better, how great it is that our ceiling is still way higher.” 

Michigan State returns to action on Sept. 27 with the Windon Memorial Classic in Lake Forest, Illinois. Lubahn said the event has a great tradition, an eclectic field and it’s an opportunity for the Spartans to establish themselves as conference and national contenders. 

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For now, the team can rest. They’ll be spending that time looking for perspective in any way possible. In the weight room, on a putting green, a stat sheet. 

Or maybe even a rollercoaster.

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