The Daily Illini

Illinois golf didn’t live up to high expectations

By Rishab Sikri, Staff writer

It was a season that began with enormous expectations. Coming off three consecutive Big Ten championship titles and having a top five preseason ranking is sure to put pressure on any team.

Under head coach Mike Small, Illinois has become one of the top golfing programs in the nation, and they were expected to be competing for first in every event they golfed at.

For a program that holds itself to such a high standard, the fall season did not go as well as the Illini had hoped. They did not earn any first-place finishes, they did not win the East Lake Cup for the first time in three years, and they dropped to 15th in the national rankings.

Even with these disappointments, there were still flashes of greatness throughout the season and many great things to build upon for the spring.

The Illini competed in five events this fall. They opened the season on Sept. 15 with the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational, where they finished fifth against some strong competition. Senior Nick Hardy finished second overall, while sophomore Michael Feagles finished in the top 15. Considering Illinois was going against the likes of Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas and other top golfing programs, a top-five finish was a strong start to the season.

Illinois followed that up with another fifth-place finish at the Bearcat Invitational in Cincinnati. This time, however, finishing fifth place was not nearly as impressive. The competition was weaker than the last tournament, and the Illini struggled in the later rounds.

Illinois assistant coach Zach Barlow commented on how undisciplined the team was playing, and Small wasn’t thrilled either.

Following the disappointment in Cincinnati, the Illini had a couple of weeks to get themselves back in form before the Crooked Stick Intercollegiate in Carmel, Indiana. They responded to their coach’s criticism with a much better performance, finishing third overall. Hardy tied for second and had another dominant outing, even in windy conditions. Sophomore Giovanni Tadiotto and senior Dylan Meyer had strong top 25 performances.

With a very short break, the Illini then headed to the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational in Windermere, Florida. They finished second at this tournament, which was a disappointing finish considering how well they played through 51 holes. Meyer had one of his best performances though, finishing 11-under par and winning the individual tournament title.

The Illini finished the fall season in Atlanta at the East Lake Cup, an event they had dominated the past two years. Although they had a great performance in the semifinals against Oklahoma, the defending NCAA Champions, they failed to carry that momentum into the finals. Illinois finished as the runner-up to Vanderbilt after collapsing late.

Illinois has plenty of work to do if it wants to regain its position as a top-five team this spring. The fall season wasn’t as strong as previous ones, yet the Illini showed signs of being their dominant selves. The talent, experience and coaching are still there. Illinois just has to figure out a way to put it all together again.

This team still has its eyes set on an NCAA title, and a disappointing fall season isn’t going to change that.

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