Men’s golf team continues growth



By Rich Mayor

A young, improving and well-balanced Illinois men’s golf team will take to the links this fall, after making great strides last year between the fall and spring seasons.

As a team last season, the Illini won three tournaments overall – the D.A. Weibring Invitational, the Marshall Invite and the Fighting Illini Spring Invitational. The squad defeated multiple ranked opponents throughout the year and placed third in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Central Regional.

“We plan on winning the Big Ten and the National Championship,” sophomore Chris DeForest said with a laugh, “but really we’re just planning on trying as hard as we can all year and see where that takes us.”

Illinois finished the spring season by missing the final 15 team cut by three strokes at the NCAA Championship, yet still finished tied for 17th place.

The Illini also found individual success last season, as three different players – sophomore Scott Langley (Argonaut Invitational), junior Matt Hoffman (Fighting Illini Spring Invitational) and DeForest (D.A. Weibring) – came out individually victorious. All three players will return this season.

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“(Depth) was one of our advantages last year,” head coach Mike Small said. “We didn’t have one individual ranked very highly in the National Rankings, but we progressed because we’re a deep team. We have five, six, seven good players, and that’s an advantage. We’re going to need those guys to step up and hope that a horse shows up every so often, which has a bigger chance of happening if you have that many good players.”

DeForest believes the extended season last year gave the team the confidence and experience it needs heading into this season.

“Last year, all the postseason stuff we went through helped everyone, since it was pretty much our first time being there,” DeForest said. “We’re all just hoping to become more complete players and capitalize on the opportunities that we got last year.”

This season’s squad consists of senior Larry Blatt, juniors Zach Barlow, Hoffman and Clayton Parkhill, sophomores DeForest and Langley, and two highly touted freshmen, Luke Guthrie and Mason Jacobs.

“I’m still getting to know them,” DeForest said of the freshmen. “I’ve known Luke for a long time and I’m still getting to know Mason. They have great resumes and are obviously good players, so I think they’re going to help us out a lot this year.”

During the summer, Barlow won the Illinois State Amateur title, becoming the first Illini to do so since D.A. Points in 1999. Parkhill won the Twin City Open with a dramatic 60-foot putt on the second playoff hole, and Langley won the Metropolitan Open and qualified for the US Amateur Championship.

“I think we’re starting to learn how to win,” Small said. “Many of our guys are playing bigger and better summer tournaments, and they’re improving. They’re learning more about their games and learning more about the game of golf, and that’s something that hopefully will translate to some better scores.”

Guthrie and Jacobs comprise one of Small’s greatest recruiting classes as both are considered top players in Illinois high school history. Guthrie (Quincy High School, Quincy, Ill.) was the nation’s seventh-ranked junior player when he signed with the Illini. Jacobs (Massac County High School, Metropolis, Ill.) was a three-time State Champion.

“The freshmen have brought great credentials with them, they have great pedigrees, but it all starts over here,” Small said. “They have to get acclimated to what’s going on, and get comfortable and familiar with the college scene. When they do, I think their talents will come through.”

The Illini open their season at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate in Zionsville, Ind., on Saturday.

“Our expectations are for us to go out and play hard every day, to be correctly prepared for each and every tournament, and let our talents come to the forefront,” Small said. “If we take everything day by day and prepare and stay focused, I think we’ll have a good season.”