Illinois Golf learns to weather storm

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With the Illinois men’s golf season approaching quickly, the No. 6 Illini are primed for another long and successful season. As avid Illinois sports fans know, the golf team is one of the best athletic programs on campus. This leads golf fans to wonder how Illinois, which is located up north where it is cold for a majority of the year, has created a niche in the golf recruiting market. 

I remember watching the NCAA Championships over the summer. I realized that Illinois was literally the only school left in the competition from the north. Of the final eight teams, two of them were from the west coast, Stanford and UCLA, and the other five were from the south, Oklahoma State, Alabama, SMU, Georgia Tech and LSU. 

To me, this makes sense. As an average-at-best golfer in high school, if I somehow drastically improved my game and was getting college offers, my first inclination would be to go to a school with nice weather. This immediately puts Illinois at a disadvantage in the eyes of prospective players, because there is snow lying around campus and on the neighboring golf courses during the winter.

I find this topic fascinating because it doesn’t make sense that our best sports team on campus is so in conflict with our weather. It really goes to show how good of a recruiter head coach Mike Small is. 

Small, in himself, is a unique character. Aside from coaching the Illini, he is also a current member on the PGA Tour and just won the Illinois PGA Championship.

When I was the golf beat reporter last year, all of the players on the team mentioned how big of an impact Small had on their collegiate decision. You could see how comfortable he was with the players, and vice versa. When I would show up at the course to interview the team before practice, he would always head out with the team and play the practice rounds with them.

The weather is definitely a disadvantage to the Illinois golf program, but it allows the team to show off one of its greatest strengths: adaptability. Maybe the team is prevented from going out on the course occasionally because of weather, but they have learned how to practice just as well indoors. This in turn has provided the team with an advantage in tournaments with spotty weather.

I try to keep my bragging about Illinois to a modest amount, but with this situation, it is hard for me to control myself. There are tons of great universities located up north that offer both great academics and sports, but Illinois has been the only one who has been able to find success in the golf world.

Coach Small has taken a difficult situation and relished the fact that Illinois is very different from other schools. When thinking about the university’s golf team in the future, make sure to remember how impressive the strong foundation of the program is.

Kieran is a sophomore in Business. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KHampl95.