Illini men's golf showing its capable of another title run

By Chris Kennedy

The Illinois men’s golf team began the fall as the No. 1 team in the country. After a dominant first half of the season, the Illini are poised to bring that ranking into the spring and toward another run at the national title.

The Illini sport a deep, experienced lineup. Four of the five starters from last year’s team returned this season, and they’ve all had big moments this Fall.

Last year’s season ended in the Final Four. But Illinois finished the Fall season with another shot at its Final Four opponents. The last tournament of the Fall season for the Illini was the East Lake Cup – a new event that brings together the previous season’s NCAA semifinalists.

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The tournament pinned the Illini against USC — the team that sent them packing at last year’s NCAA Championship tournament. This time, Illinois jumped out to several narrow leads before play was suspended. When it resumed, Illinois finished held off USC and advanced to the championship with a 4-1 victory.

The team went up 2-1 after victories from seniors Thomas Detry and Charlie Danielson. It all came down to the one Illini — senior Alex Burge. He fought his way back from being down two on the 13th hole to force a sudden-death 19th hole. His victory clinched the tournament for Illinois, capping an eventful Fall and building on momentum for a promising spring.

The East Lake Cup was representative of the team’s best efforts this fall. Illinois won four of its five tournaments this fall season, including several competitions against elite competition. The only time the Illini left without a victory was when they played without senior Charlie Danielson at the Fighting Illini Invite. Since his return, the team notched two tournament victories.

November’s Tavistock Collegiate Invitational – which markets itself as “the top tournament in college golf” – provided the stage for a grind-it-out Illini team victory. Five teams were in the mix after Day 1 of the tournament, but no team could match the Illini’s steady improvement over three days. The team climbed the leader board as others faltered on the difficult course. Sophomore Nick Hardy and Danielson played their best rounds on the final day to secure an Illini win.

The other elite tournament for the Illini this fall was their own Fighting Illini Invite. Without Danielson, Illinois took fourth in a field that featured six ranked teams, including No. 1, No. 3, and No. 4 in the country. In the first round, Thomas Detry played a record-setting first round to tie Rickie Fowler’s 2007 course and tournament record of 7-under.

Illinois also dominated the competition at two smaller tournaments this fall. The team kicked off the season at the site of the 2017 NCAA Championships in the Northern Intercollegiate in Sugar Grove, Illinois. All five starters finished in the top-15 and the Illini set a new team course record with a total 15-under in the second round. In Danielson’s first tournament after the Fighting Illini Invite, the two-time All-American took home the individual title and led the Illini to a team victory at Indiana’s Crooked Stick Invitational

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