Barlow soars above competition

 

 

By Rich Mayor

Zach Barlow’s dream had come true.

He had been paired with two of the best college players in the country – No. 2 amateur player in the world, Oklahoma State sophomore Rickie Fowler, and top-10 ranked Indiana senior Jorge Campillo – on the final day of one of the fall’s most prestigious tournaments and on one of the top-50 courses in the U.S. As if all that wasn’t enough, the junior was in the hunt for the individual title at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, and his team began the day in second amidst a slew of juggernaut golf programs.

Barlow seized the opportunity. Starting the day tied for seventh, Barlow had six birdies in his first 12 holes and at one point sat at 5-under-par for the day. Simply put, Fowler and Campillo, the college golf equivalents of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, couldn’t keep up. Barlow finished the day with a sparkling, 3-under round of 67, while Fowler and Campillo went home with matching 69s. His 67 was good for a 1-under-par 209 for the tournament, which tied Indiana’s Alex Martin for the individual medalist. Fowler finished tied for fifth; Campillo tied for seventh.

“(Being paired with Fowler and Campillo) was honestly unbelievable,” Barlow said. “I’d played with (Campillo) the week before, and playing with Rickie Fowler is crazy. Playing with them, it’s like a dream ending to be able to shoot a score like that – you don’t really expect it, but it gives you motivation. Rickie’s got the target on him, and I’m sure it’s tough playing every week like that. I wasn’t scared to play him, though. Rickie’s a great player, but he does things differently than I do, so I just had to stick to my game and do what I do best.”

The best of Barlow and his Illini teammates, for three days at least, was good enough to slay the collegiate golf giants and win the tournament by a whopping 11 strokes over second-place Indiana and 12 over third-place Oklahoma State. They did not feel the pressure of the moment.

“I thought he’d do fine, I have a lot of confidence in Zach,” Illinois head coach Mike Small said of Barlow. “He really embraced the challenge on Sunday, and he was relentless and never let up. That’s the way he’s learned he has to play every round, be very competitive and efficient. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and he’s doing a great job of finding his game and his edge.”

Small redshirted Barlow his freshman year, allowing him to grow physically and mentally.

“I came in, and I don’t think I really knew how much better these guys were,” Barlow said. “I was still a little runt, weighed 120 pounds. Coach used to tell me I was skin and bones. So it was a growth period for me, coming out here every day getting my butt whooped by these guys, just trying to feel out my game and what I had to do to get better and get to the next level.”

Since then, with the help of Coach Small and the daily “butt-whoopings” at the hands of his teammates, Barlow’s mental toughness developed. His short game has also made tremendous strides under Small’s tutelage.

“He’s transformed quite a bit. He came in as young player, not a lot of big time competition or exposure, and he’s absorbed a lot of knowledge and instruction, which he’s used to his advantage,” Small said. “He hasn’t been fazed by the competition, he’s grown with it. When he came in as a freshman, he wasn’t very competitive honestly, but he was redshirted and since then he’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten bigger, he’s learned more about the game and has taken his to a new level.”

Barlow struggled at the beginning of this past summer, but he never stopped working. This dedication parlayed into late-summer success, including a three-shot victory at the Illinois State Amateur at Cantigny Golf Course in Wheaton, Ill. The Illini have finished in the top two in each of their fall tournaments thus far – the Wolf Run Intercollegiate and Fighting Illini Invitational. The squad received preseason votes for the top 25, but wasn’t considered a true threat to the powers-that-be in collegiate golf. Things have changed since then.

“We’ve learned that there’s not that much of a difference between us and the No. 1-ranked team in the nation,” Barlow said. “We can play with anybody. But I don’t think it’s really quite sunk in that we’ve beaten all these teams that are supposed to be one, two, five, seven and eight in the country. Hopefully that means we’ll keep working hard and not have a big let-down, be able to use this as a stepping stone for the future.”

Editor’s Note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down on Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete is our Illini of the Week. Student-athletes are evaluated by individual performance, contribution to team success and personal achievement.

Honorable Mention

Jeremy Stevens – Cross Country

The junior runner led the Illini to the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships title Friday in Normal, Ill., finishing second in the 8K race. Stevens garnered Big Ten Runner of the Week honors Tuesday, and previously won the Illini Challenge on Aug. 29.

Alexandra Kapicka – Soccer

The Illini goalkeeper helped her the soccer team beat two previously unbeaten teams in Colorado College and Washington last weekend. Both games were shutouts. Kapicka earned Soccer Team of the Week honors Tuesday and was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.