Illini golfers play to stay on top after pair of wins



By Rich Mayor

There are new kings in college golf. And they’re wearing crowns of orange.

The Illinois men’s golf team is No. 1 in this week’s Golfstat rankings, the primary rankings used to determine placement in the NCAA Regionals in May. The squad made the jump from No. 5 last week after beginning the season as an unranked afterthought, marking the first week since the inception of collegiate computer golf rankings that the Illini have been No. 1.

Illinois is followed in the Golfstat rankings by Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Georgia and USC.

The Illini rode the success of a surprise victory at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational three weeks ago, and a blowout of the Windon Memorial Classic earlier this week, to the number one spot. At the Classic, Illinois defeated previously undefeated Michigan, the only team that’s beaten them all year, by a whopping 34 strokes.

“(The No. 1 ranking) means we’re doing something right, and it means we’re recruiting the right kids,” head coach Mike Small said. “But it’s only a ranking – it’s not the National Championship or anything like that yet. It shows we can compete it shows that (we)have the potential to be good, now we just need to follow through with it.”

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    Armed with the top ranking, the Illini head to Normal, Ill., for the D.A. Weibring Invitational. Illinois is used to success at this event. The Illini won it last year, and sophomore Chris DeForest is the defending individual medalist. He shot a 63 in the final round last year, which when coupled with his 64 in the last round of the Windon last weekend gives him the two lowest scores in school history.

    The 15-team field at the D.A. Weibring isn’t the most prestigious, and anything but a blowout victory for the Illini may hurt their national ranking. Strength of tournaments is a key component of the computer’s ranking formula.

    In addition to defending champion DeForest, the Illini will send some of their best this weekend, all of whom have won individual tournaments in the past year. Junior Matt Hoffman won the Fighting Illini Spring Invitational, junior Zach Barlow took the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, and sophomore Scott Langley was victorious at the Argonaut. They’ll be joined by freshman Luke Guthrie, who raised eyebrows with a consistent 71-73-74 in the Windon last weekend, his first collegiate tournament.

    “I’m really proud of them,” Small said. “They’ve worked hard, and when they play they take advantage of opportunities. I’m excited for them. This is what we do everyday at practice and at every tournament, we play like we want to be No. 1.”

    A victory this weekend would be the first time the Illini won three consecutive tournaments in 20 years.

    Small isn’t quite sure how he expects his team to react to the new pressure of being top dog.

    “Well we’ll find out, we’ve never done this before,” Small said. “But I’d assume and hope that they’d come out prepared and ready to play so we can build on the ranking.”