Golf team conquers giants to win big at Olympia Fields

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By Rich Mayor

The David and Goliath comparisons almost seem too obvious.

On Sunday, an unranked Illinois men’s golf team won the prestigious Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational in Olympia Fields, Ill., by a whopping 11 strokes. The Goliaths in this event included No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 5 Stanford, No. 11 Florida State, No. 12 Arizona State, No. 20 Indiana and No. 24 Texas. The Hoosiers took second place while the No. 1 Bruins finished in 12th and No. 2 Oklahoma State placed third.

“The feeling’s unbelievable,” junior Zach Barlow said. “I think we’d all say we knew we were capable of it, but proving it is a different thing and we did that this weekend.”

The Illini were paced during the 54-hole tournament by performances ranging from solid to tremendous. Playing the lead role of David was Barlow, who tied for the individual title with a three-round score of 209, good for one under par.

Barlow’s three-under round of 67 on Sunday catapulted him from a tie for seventh when play ended on Saturday to tie with Indiana’s Alex Martin for the title.

“My irons and putting were the keys,” Barlow said. “Today I finally drove the ball well – I’ve been having trouble with my driver. But I hit my irons well all weekend, which helped get me out of some trouble from bad drives. It all comes down to the short game. Yesterday I didn’t hit it well, but the short game was there to save it.”

Sophomore Scott Langley also shot a 67 on Sunday, skyrocketing him from a tie for 15th on Saturday to fourth at the end of the tournament. Langley shot a one over par 211 for the tournament. Sophomore Chris DeForest also made noise, tying for 11th after firing a 214.

“We had two what we call ‘eraser’ scores today, the two 67s out here, which is big time golf,” head coach Mike Small said. “It was a total team effort, but those scores today were big and those three guys played well.”

Four of Golfweek’s 10 Preseason All-Americans and 10 of the top 30 players in the country took to Olympia Fields this weekend, including No. 1-ranked Rickie Fowler, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, and No. 2-ranked Stanford sophomore Sihwan Kim. Fowler finished behind two Illini as he tied for fifth, while Kim tied for 35th, behind four Illini.

The overwhelming talent in the field kept Illinois on its toes all weekend, especially late in the final round.

The lineup for Illinois included juniors Barlow, Matt Hoffman and Clayton Parkhill, as well as Langley and DeForest.

Their hard work leading up to the tournament came to fruition Sunday.

“I feel a sense of satisfaction,” Small said. “I’m really happy for them, and the work they put in led to these rewards. They had a lot of conviction and desire to win this thing and they went out and won it.”

Perhaps this victory will catapult the Illinois men’s golf program a bit more into the national spotlight.

“I hope it does, and it really should,” Small said. “We’re a good team, and now we need to keep playing well. That’s the thing, this is just the beginning.”