Illinois waiting to tee off

By Jon Gluskin

Mike Small had an interesting summer vacation. The Illinois men’s golf coach spent Aug. 13-14 competing in the PGA Championship.

Now it’s time for Small’s team to take their turn and start playing competitive golf again.

The Illini are coming off of their third consecutive second-place finish in the Big Ten Championships. While the team would like to be one place higher this year, Small cannot worry about the Big Tens right now.

“Hopefully it’s our year to win it,” Small said. “But again, we just keep playing as hard as we can, and if we can finish up there we will. But that’s not until May. These tournaments now count towards our NCAA berth, which are important. We want to continue to improve from this point forward all the way until May, and then we’ll be OK.”

It will be a challenge for the Illini to replace the scores of departed seniors Joe Affrunti and Ryan Tendall, but this is a task Small knows his team can take on.

“On paper, it’s tough to replace,” Small said. “But that’s the challenge of collegiate athletics, is trying to find guys who can actually do that when it’s time to play golf.”

Two seniors, Garrett Chaussard and Mike O’Neal, will have to step up for the Illini. Joining them will be two juniors, Blair Harkins and Patrick Nagle.

The sophomores are Mark Ogren and Jordan Carpenter, who is red-shirting this season. Rounding out the roster will be freshmen Frank Alafoginis, Andy Mack and Danny Zimmerman.

Small is optimistic about his team’s talent and capabilities.

“We have three guys on our team that have played a lot of college golf,” Small said. “We have two seniors and a junior (Nagle), which adds some experience,” Small said. “Then we have some youth too, which we need to mix into it. So I’d say some of the strengths are experience of the upperclassmen.”

The Illini will be competing this season with four new members on the team. Along with the three freshmen, Harkins is new to the team. He transferred this season from Saddleback College, in Mission Viejo, Calif.

The athletes have a very positive attitude right now, which is pleasing their coach.

“I think they’re all excited about playing,” Small said. “We always have good attitudes on our team.”

The first tournament for the Illini will be the weekend of Sept. 11-13.

Small prefers going into the season with no specific expectations, but instead stresses confidence.

“We don’t like to think in terms of expectations as much,” Small said. “We believe that we can win the Big Ten Championships. We believe that we can go to the National Championship. We just want to keep working on what we’re working on.”