BIG TEN MATCH PLAY: Donald is helpful in spurring NU’s three-peat

BRADENTON, FL. — The current Northwestern men’s team was no match for the Wildcats’ alumni, but taking a pasting from world No. 1 Luke Donald and his cohorts did have its upside. It prepared the Wildcats well for another un at the Big Ten Match Play Championship.
Despite winning the title the previous two years, the Wildcats went into this year’s tourney as only the No. 7 seed. That didn’t matter, as coach Pat Goss’ squad knocked off No. 10 Penn State, No. 2 Iowa and No. 6 Ohio State before edging No. 8 Minnesota 4-1-1 to clinch the three-peat on Saturday.
A few days before the tournament the Wildcats took a 20 1/2-6 1/2 pounding from an alumni team that featured Donald but also included Nationwide Tour member Chris Wilson, former Illinois Amateur titlist T.C. Ford, former Eastern Amateur winner Kyle Moore and ex-PGA Tour player Jess Daley.
Donald starred for the Wildcats in his college days and has never forgotten his school loyalties. Among the many things he does to support his school involves hosting the annual alumni match at the Bear’s Club in Florida. That was particularly beneficial this year.
“Other schools have had those kinds of matches,’’ Goss said of the alumni battle, “but it helped (us). We always seem to play well in (the Big Ten Match Play) tournament.’’
Goss has now coached the Wildcats to 27 tournament titles in his 15 seasons.
The Bear’s Club, where Donald does his winter practicing, is a Jack Nicklaus design. So is the Concession Golf Club, which became the third course to host the Big Ten Match Play tourney in its four-year history.
Concession was brutal. Weather conditions were good on the first day of the two-week tourney, but the course (which Nicklaus designed with input from former European Ryder Cup champion Tony Jacklin) lived up to its 155 slope. Players from the 12 Big Ten members needed 5 1/2 hours to complete the first round of matches on the 7,472-yard layout and the second round was barely completed when darkness set in on Friday.
Fearing problems getting the tourney over on its second day, the coaches made a night-before decision to hold only a championship and third-place match after all teams played matches in the morning. That was a wise move as Concession played even more difficult on the Saturday day with strong winds swirling throughout.
After watching Donald shoot 67 in taking down Sam Chien in the alumni romp, the current Wildcats had a first-round scare at Concession. They survived Penn State in a tiebreaker after the regulation six matches ended 3-3. Iowa and Ohio State went down much more easily before Minnesota went down in the final. The Wildcats have won 13 straight matches in the tourney, which started in 2009 and are 14-1 overall.
The Big Ten became the first conference to establish a match play championship. Most college competitions are at stroke play, but league coaches thought it would better prepare their teams for the NCAA Championship if a match play event was included on the schedule. The format for the NCAA Championship was changed in recent years to provide a match play wrapup. The Big Ten’s version is the only televised regular-season collegiate tournament. Big Ten Network covered the action.
Teams were seeded according to their rankings in the fall season. Top-seeded Illinois was knocked out immediately, by Minnesota, and No. 2 Iowa survived only one round before losing to the Wildcats. NU didn’t figure to contend, despite its strong showing in previous conference match play competitions. NU was only mediocre in the fall season, but that was due in part because junior Nick Losole wasn’t available due to a bulged disc.
“He’s probably my second-best player,’’ Goss said.
Given clearance to use a push cart, Losole was a big factor at Concession. Playing as the No. 5 man in his first tourney of the year he didn’t need to play even the 18th hole in winning his first three matches and halved his other.
Joining Chien and Losole on the NU squad that competed at Concession were Eric Chun, Matthew Negri, Jack Perry and Matthew Negri.