Men’s golf stumbles to 17th place finish at NCAA Championships

By Wes Anderson

Before the NCAA Championships began, head coach Mike Small insisted that simply making the field, especially with an inexperienced team, was a huge accomplishment. Even so, the Illinois men’s golf team fought valiantly and hung with national powerhouses until a 24-over-par 312 on Friday put the team below the 54-hole cut line and brought a surprising season to an end.

The Illini’s overall score of 52-over-par 916 at Purdue’s Kampen Course was good enough for 17th place, three shots short of being among the top-15 teams that qualified for Saturday’s final round. UCLA would go on to win the national title Saturday, finishing at 42-over-par and beating Stanford by one stroke.

Chris DeForest, who shot 70 on Friday, ballooned to an 82 in round three. The freshman got off to a nightmarish start, making bogey or worse on four of his first five holes and could not recapture his form from the day before. With his score counting toward the combined total, along with an 80 from Larry Blatt, the team dropped in the standings after beginning the day above the cut line.

Zach Barlow shot a 75, as did Scott Langley, who had Illinois’ best 54-hole score of nine-over-par 225 but missed out on participating in the final round as an individual after falling in a three-way playoff for the final spot.

In a press release from the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Small said the tournament was, above all else, something to build upon. The Illini made their first appearance in the tournament since 2003 and returned to prominence on the national scene.

“(Playing in the NCAA Championship) is something you can’t practice for, you just have to come in and experience it,” Small said in the release. “It was a huge experience for our team.”

Encountering the pressure of competing on such a grand stage should only improve the Illini, who showed remarkable depth throughout the spring despite lacking a veteran presence.

“If you looked at the scores the last month, they all played a prominent role sometime down this deal,” Small said. “There wasn’t one guy carrying us. Every one of these five guys in the last four tournaments took ownership. This was a total team effort.”

With the season now over, the Illini can do nothing but move forward. All five players at the tournament – two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior – are expected to return, and they will be among the favorites in the Big Ten next season.

“We’ve been talking all spring how young this team is, but that is in the past now,” Small said. “They had a great year and this experience makes them all a year older. Getting here was a win-win situation. We didn’t win the championship, but in placing 17th out of over 300 schools nationally, these guys should be proud of that.”