February 6, 2023
Following an impressive run of four consecutive top-five finishes to close out fall tournaments in 2022, Northwestern resumed play at the Big Ten Match Play Championship on Friday and Saturday.
The Wildcats entered the tournament as the first seed, ranked No. 38 overall nationally. However, after advancing to the finals, NU narrowly fell to eighth-seed Michigan 3-2, leaving the tournament with a second-place finish.
Making the trip down to Palm Beach, Florida, the Cats began play against sixth-seed Rutgers, winning 3-2 with victories from graduate student David Nyfjäll, sophomore Cameron Adam and freshman Daniel Svärd.
With a round-one victory, NU already surpassed last year’s match play performance, when the team placed fifth after losing its first match.
The Cats advanced to the quarterfinals where they faced ninth-seed Maryland. Senior James Imai led the way in NU’s second 3-2 victory in a row, taking a dominant 6-and-5 win over the Terrapins’ Will Koras.
Looking to earn a third straight victory, the Cats engaged in a tight battle against fifth-seed Minnesota. With wins from Nyfjäll and senior John Driscoll III, NU only needed one more win to guarantee a finals appearance.
But two losses and a Svärd tie put the semifinal round at a 2-2 stalemate. However, because the Cats won four more holes total than the Gophers, the squad went on to the finals.
Facing underdog Michigan –– the tournament’s eighth-seed –– NU sought to secure its first Big Ten Match Play Championship title since 2020 and its sixth in program history.
The finals brought their fair share of intensity. After going down 0-2 in their first two matches, the Cats stormed their way back with two consecutive 2-up wins from Svärd and Nyfjäll.
This made Imai versus Michigan’s Hunter Thomson the deciding matchup.
Through the first 14 holes, Imai held a one-hole lead three separate times, but the score remained tied. On the 15th hole, Imai’s bogey allowed Thomson to gain the lead, which the sophomore maintained through the last three holes.
Despite the hard-fought defeat, there is much for NU to be excited about.
Nyfjäll, the reigning individual Big Ten champion, continues to impress after going 4-0 in the tournament. Svärd, the Cats’ youngest competing player, also impressed with three individual victories and one draw.
NU’s next outing will be in California as it competes at The Prestige on Feb. 20 through Feb. 22.
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