Men’s golf looks to finish fall season strong at Jack Nicklaus Invitational

For the first time in this young 2011-12 season, the Illinois men’s golf team will head out of state to participate in the Jack Nicklaus Invitational.

The Illini had yet to drive more than two hours away from Champaign for any tournament, but are now set to compete Monday in Dublin, Ohio.

“Yeah, it’s going to be in a different state, but there is no difference in preparation for us,” head coach Mike Small said. “The courses in the Midwest are all somewhat put together the same way. When you travel to the South or out to the West Coast, that’s when you need to prepare in a different way.”

Another first for Illinois this season will be heading into a tournament coming off a win. Last week, the Illini won the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate by a convincing 23 strokes.

“There’s definitely some momentum from last week,” junior Mason Jacobs said. “It was our first win of the year. Luke got a win, and we had some other guys finishing in the top 10. I think we’re playing better overall now than we were in the beginning of the year.”

When asked if the preparation is different coming off a win, Small said it’s just the “same old, same old” for the Illini, working on their game during the week at practice.

Illinois played in the Jack Nicklaus Invitational last year, finishing second to perennial power Oklahoma State. This season’s contest will be held at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

“It’s a pretty different course than we played at last year for the Jack Nicklaus,” Jacobs said. “It was used for the PGA tour a couple years back so it should definitely be a good challenge for us as a team.”

Also at last season’s Jack Nicklaus, then-junior Luke Guthrie won the first individual tournament of his collegiate career. He fired off back-to-back even-par 70s and finished the event carding a 5-under 65 to win the contest by three stokes over last year’s No. 1 amateur, former Oklahoma State Cowboy Peter Uihlein.

Illinois sophomore Thomas Pieters finished in a tie for 20th place overall at 13-over last year while Jacobs came in 43rd at 21-over.

Illinois enters the weekend ranked No. 16 in the country and will be up against four other top-25 teams, including No. 3 Arkansas and No. 5 Oklahoma State.

“The competition will be tough,” Small said. “The key for us will be to have five guys playing the whole weekend. We have to play hard and have some low scores out there. Luke won this event last year, but we’re really going to need all five guys to pull out this victory. I definitely think we have the capability to do so.”