Men’s Golf dreaming of national title ahead of spring season
The No. 3 Illinois men’s golf team knows what it wants this spring season — winning it all.
After capturing four of the five tournaments they competed in during the fall, the Illini have their sights set on their first-ever NCAA Championship.
Despite making their ninth consecutive appearance in the event last year after winning their fourth straight NCAA Regional, Illinois hasn’t been earned the ultimate victory.
Juniors Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer — as well as sophomore Edoardo Lipparelli — remember what it was like to lose to eventual champions Oregon last year.
“I have gone to bed every night dreaming of it,” Hardy said. “Picturing us winning it in front of everyone and holding that trophy, I think it would be so cool. I really think this is the year.”
This year, the championship will be played in Sugar Grove, Illinois, at Rich Harvest Farms golf course, which is about an hour west of Chicago.
Head coach Mike Small, who has helped Illinois to seven of the last eight Big Ten Championships, believes that his young team has shown its ability to win on any stage.
He’s not worried about freshmen Bryan Baumgarten, Giovanni Tadiotto and Michael Feagles competing with older, more experienced competition.
“Time will tell in their results, but I’m confident in these freshmen,” Small said. “I’ll take them anywhere to play anybody.”
But the younger members will have support from their older teammates.
Hardy has taken on the role of a mentor for the freshmen, primarily through example.
“I definitely put pressure on myself to help lead these younger guys and bring them along,” Hardy said. “I love them and I want them to have success too. I just try to do my job as an upperclassman, coming out every tournament and expecting to win individually and as a team.”
The team’s first test is the Louisiana Classics tournament in Lafayette, Louisiana, which will be Feb. 27-28. Rainy weather is a possibility the Illini are unconcerned about, but are prepared to deal with, according to Small.
Hardy, Meyer and Lipparelli will most likely be in the Illini’s five-man lineup, but which two of the three freshmen will play remains to be seen.
But sophomore Trevor Gold will not be there. After struggling to find playing time, he opted to transfer to Lipscomb in Nashville.
“He just wanted a little more opportunity, and it was nothing against Trevor, he just felt he had a better opportunity at Lipscomb,” Hardy said. “We love him, we wish him the best. He’s our brother for life.”
Small believes Gold’s absence will not have a significant effect on his team, as there is plenty of depth.
“Trevor saw an opportunity to go somewhere else and get in the lineup and play and enjoy college, and I support that,” Small said. “He’s a good kid, he’ll have a good future.”
Meyer said the warmer weather has allowed the team to get a lot of valuable time on the course.
But it’s also made the team that much more ready to compete as a team once again.
“Getting back to the team atmosphere is totally different,” Meyer said. “It is definitely better to compete for the university and be a part of something bigger than ourselves, so it will be fun.”