NIU men’s golf: Huskies head to Liberty Spring Invitational

By Steve Shonder

Men’s golf will take a shot at a third-straight top-five finish this weekend, going up against big-name schools.

The Huskies will be competing in the Liberty Spring Invitational on Friday and Saturday in Amherst, Va. They’ll face off with the Liberty Flames — the host team — the Ole Miss Rebels, the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Villanova Wildcats. The Huskies will be the lone MAC team participating.

The Huskies’ lineup will be the same as at the FAU Slomin Autism Invitational on March 29, but in a different order. Sophomore Joo-Young Lee will be taking over the No. 1 spot and will be followed by sophomore Raphael Denais, junior Jordan Wetsch, junior Nick Huggins and freshman Patrick Murphy.

“It’s nice that this group is starting to play with more consistency,” said head coach Tom Porten. “You don’t like to change your lineup this late in the regular season, so I’m glad they’re showing improvement in their games. I like this lineup and what they’ve done on the golf course.”

The Huskies, who were tied for second through the first two rounds in their last tournament, finished tied for fifth after struggling in their putting game. Porten said the Huskies have been taking advantage of the warm weather in DeKalb to get outside and focus on making those improvements.

“Most of what we’ve been practicing is pitching and putting,” Porten said. “We’ve been working diligently on trying to get better and compete and try to climb the rankings. We’ve had some good work the last week and a half.”

With two-straight top-five finishes, the Huskies have made big strides from the fall season. They finished in the top-five once in the fall — a third-place finish at the Sagamore Fall Preview on Oct. 13.

The Huskies’ finishes have been marred by poor third-round play, which has dropped them to fifth in each of their last two tournaments. With the strong starts already down, they’ll be focused on finishing strong as well.

“It’s really about executing,” Porten said. “We seem to have improved in a lot of areas. We’re putting our ball in play … off the tee. The area we have to fine-tune and take advantage of is the wedge-play. We need to hit the ball close to the hole with wedges and then make putts. We didn’t do a great job of that at FAU. If we can do that a little bit better than we did at FAU then we have a chance to finish in the top five again.

“It’s a really good field at Liberty. … We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re really looking forward to the challenge to get into the mix in the final round and get into the top-three, four or five.