NIU men’s golf: Huskies rally for 4th at MAC Championship

By Steve Shonder

After falling behind through the first two rounds, men’s golf put together a furious comeback in the final two rounds to end its season on the right note.

The Huskies (304, 300, 290, 285, 1179) finished in fourth place Sunday at the MAC Championship at the Mayfield Sand Ridge Club in Chardon, Ohio. They ended up just five strokes behind the third-place Eastern Michigan Eagles (290, 294, 300, 290, 1174). The Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (287, 289, 294, 290, 1160) came out on top, which is its first conference championship since 1996.

“It’s always nice to end your season with the best round you’ve played all year,” said head coach Tom Porten. “We didn’t get off to a great start, but we finished strong. I’m very proud of our team and all the work we put in this weekend and season to have a positive experience. It was really fun to watch them play well, and it was a lot of fun to see Jordan [Wetsch] hit that hole-in-one. I’ve seen a few of those, but I don’t know if any were as pretty as that one.”

Johnny Watts (76, 71, 67, 71, 287), of the Ball State Cardinals, took first place individually. He finished just one shot ahead of Ian Holt (74, 72, 71, 71, 288), of the Kent State Golden Flashes, and Miami’s Scott Cahill (73, 72, 72, 71, 288), who were both tied for second.

The Huskies struggled through the first two rounds Friday and ended the day tied for eighth place. Despite the struggles, they improved by four strokes between the first and second rounds and kept improving.

After dropping 10 strokes from their score in the third round to shoot a 290, the Huskies went on to shoot the best single-round score of the tournament and their best of the season in the finale Sunday with 285. The score was two strokes better than the next closest, which was achieved by Miami in the first round and Ball State in the second round.

“We really felt, after the 36-hole day, we were starting to learn how to play certain holes,” Porten said. “We did a much better job playing the par-5s. The same thing on the back-nine. We were doing a much better job on taking advantage of the holes that were playing downwind. We virtually eliminated the mistakes that we had on Friday. Minimizing our mistakes and taking advantage of our scoring opportunities really helped us to move up on the weekend.”

Sophomore Joo-Young Lee (80, 73, 72, 69, 294) shrugged off a dreadful opening round to end up in 15th place. Lee’s 69 on Sunday is his best round score of his career and came as he shot three birdies.

“Joo struggled with his putter” Friday, Porten said. “He really had a tough opening round. He worked really hard. After 10 hours on the course Friday, he spent an hour and a half — until dark — working on short- and mid-range putting. We kind of found something that clicked. He gained much more confidence in his putting. When you think you can make putts, you will. He nailed a lot of birdies, and he just played some terrific golf.”

Junior Jordan Wetsch (73, 75, 74, 69, 291) led the way by shooting just one-over in round one and three-over in the second. He went on to tie his season-best score in the final round Sunday. But, to top it all off, he hit a hole-in-one on the 168-yard eighth hole. Wetsch ended the tournament tied for 10th individually.

“Jordan did a great a job in a lot of areas,” Porten said. “He was terrific in [his] whole game. He gained control of his driver. As far back as Purdue, he had been struggling a little bit with his driver. He hit the driver beautifully all week. Just about every time you saw him hit, he was in the fairway. At Sand Ridge, you have to hit the golf ball on the fairway, and he did that. And just like Joo, the putts were going in for him.”

After ending the season on the best note they possibly could, the Huskies are in a good spot heading into next year with all five members of this lineup returning. They will only lose senior Liam White to graduation.

“All these kids come back next year,” Porten said. “We’re still a young team. Having a team that since October was 21-3 against conference opponent and had some consistent success, that just really bodes well for a program moving forward. We’re getting better, and we’re young.”