Illinois men’s golf hosts top-four teams at Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invite

By Chris Kennedy

Last year, the Illinois men’s golf team was eliminated in the Final Four of the NCAA Championships.

The Illini finished fifth this weekend at the Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invitational and got a glimpse at what the national championship field might look like in the spring.

Bushnell/Golfweek preseason No. 4 Florida State won the Invite, followed by No. 16 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Arizona State and No. 10 Stanford.

“Our goal is to win the tournament, but I saw a lot of positives this week that we can build on,” head coach Mike Small said in a press release. “We got away from who we were sometimes this week; our mindset, our ability to handle adversity and our preparation to play wasn’t as strong as it has been.”

Stanford’s Maverick McNealey took home the individual title. Last year, he tied for the Invite’s medalist honors with Illini freshman Dylan Meyer, who was playing in his first collegiate tournament. This year, he finished three strokes ahead of the top Illinois finisher, Thomas Detry, who ended in second place.

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The Illini senior got off to a fast start to the weekend with a record-setting first round. He shot 7-under-par to take an early lead in the tournament and tie the course and tournament record set in 2007 by Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler.

Apart from Detry, the Illini had a rough start in the first round of play on Friday morning but were able to recover on the back nine, finishing the round in third place. On Saturday, Illinois started fast but had difficulty in the middle of the round, as some of the course’s most difficult holes played even tougher after a Friday night downpour.

The Illini finished the second round with a score of 288, putting them in fourth place. An identical third round score landed the Illini a fifth place finish, 12 strokes behind Florida State but only three strokes out of third place. The Seminoles had a strong first round, scoring 7-under as a team. FSU had the only team scores under par in the entire field, also finishing the third round at 1-under.

Sophomore Nick Hardy finished the tournament at 1-under, good enough for a three-way tie for sixth place. Senior Alex Burge and Meyer, the Big Ten Golfer of the Week after his victory at the Northern Intercollegiate, finished tied for 43rd.

Freshman Edoardo Lipparelli made his debut in the team’s starting lineup this weekend after senior Charlie Danielson suffered a back injury during the practice round. Lipparelli finished tied for 59th. He had his best round on Saturday, shooting three over.

“I thought Edoardo had a very good round going,” Small said on Saturday in a press release. “But for him to step in for Charlie, as a freshman, and shoot a 73 in those conditions, that was very good.”

The Illini now have some time off before returning to action at Indiana’s Crooked Stick Invitational on October 12. After an early season bout with elite competition, Small says the team has plenty of room for improvement.

“We will use this as an opportunity to reestablish who we are as a team,” he said in a press release. “(The outcome) is also an opportunity for us to get better.”

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