Men’s golf looks to top off successful season at NCAA Regionals

_Editors note: This article is part of The Daily Illini’s year in review edition. These articles are meant to round-up the most important news of the academic year, Fall 2010 through Spring 2011._

The No. 11 Illinois men’s golf team has unfinished business to resolve.

With the NCAA Regionals less than two weeks away, the Illini look to advance to the NCAA Championships taking place May 31 to June 5 in Stillwater, Okla.

The Illini started the season at the Wolf Run Invitational on Sept. 11 after a 2009-10 season where they finished 19th at the NCAA Championships with NCAA individual champion Scott Langley. Illinois dominated the competition at Wolf Run, winning the tournament by 19 strokes over Central Florida and Tulsa.

The Orange and Blue then hit a road bump, finishing eighth out of 15 teams at the Olympia Fields Invitational. It didn’t take long for the Illini to get back on track, though, with a win at the D.A. Weibring Invitational, which senior Chris Deforest won. Junior Luke Guthrie earned his first collegiate individual win at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational, while his team finished second to No. 1 Oklahoma State.

For the eighth year in a row, the Illini defeated the Redbirds of Illinois State in the Tinervin Cup, and this season followed it with a win at the Louisiana Classics Invitational two weeks later. Illinois would not see its next win until the end of April at the Robert Kepler Invitational, where Guthrie tied for first individually. Guthrie and his team came up big again at the Big Ten Championships where the Illini won their third straight title and Guthrie won again.

Along with the team’s successful season thus far, many individuals have made progress in their own game. The Illini have had two players earn Big Ten Player of the Week awards with Guthrie winning back-to-back honors during the first two weeks of March and DeForest also getting the award for his performance at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play, where Illinois fell in the finals to Duke.

“Everyone really contributes to our wins,” DeForest said in the days following last weekend’s Big Ten Championships. “It’s always a team effort out there on the course.”

Guthrie also moved into the top 20 amateur golfers in the country, currently sitting at No. 18.

“These guys are an exciting bunch,” Illinois head coach Mike Small said, also after Big Tens. “They take advantage of every opportunity that they get, and I think that is very important.”

Small won his third straight and fourth career Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

“He’s just a really great coach,” DeForest said. “He cares about our winning and progress more than anything. He’s very focused as a coach.”

The Illini now have to wait until May 19 to continue their season at NCAA Regionals, where Illinois will look to top off its five team wins and four individual titles on the season.