By Aaron Navarro

About 5 feet in front of all the trophies in Illinois golf history, Zach Barlow, assistant coach of the men’s golf team,ss sat in a leather chair in the barn-shaped portion of the Demirjian Golf Practice Facility. He leaned forward, looking down at his putter, which swung like a pendulum in front of his bent knees.

“We have a target on our back,” Barlow said, as his eyes rose and he turned his head up and to the left.

Illinois, now ranked second in Golfweek and first in Golfweek’s Coaches Poll, enters the spring season winning four of the team’s last five tournaments and having three players named to the Big-Ten All-Conference Team.EJ The Illini have played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the last eight years.EJ

However, despite all those accolades, there’s one thing that no Illinois golf team has won: a national championship.EJ

“Ultimately, the game plan is to win,” Barlow said.EJ

Illinois opens the spring season with the Tinervin Cup, a match-play tournament at the Coral Creek Golf Course in Placida, Florida, on Feb. 1 hosted by Illinois State. It is a par-71, 7,038-yard course with multiple hazards and winding turns along water and bunkers.EJ

Barlow said the par-5 4th, par-3 17th and the par-4 18th are the most challenging holes of the 16-year-old course. The shot off the No. 18 tee requires a shot over a ridge to reach the fairway, which bends from left to right around a bunker. The second shot is also over an edge of a wetland and left of a bunker on the left side of the green.

“It’ll be good to get down and start playing some real golf,” Charlie Danielson said. Danielson currently is sixth in Golfweek’s individual poll and one of four Illinois golfers in the top 54.EJ

Head coach Mike Small has the Illini using this tournament as a baseline for the rest of the season.EJ

“It’s an opportunity for us to knock the rust off over the winter, but we also get to establish and identify the parts of our game that we need to work on,” Small said.

The Illini won all three fourball matches and five of its six singles matches at last year’s tournament. Thomas Detry picked up the team’s only loss.EJ

“We’ve held (the Tinervin Cup Trophy) for 12 years,” Barlow said. “Let’s hope for 13.”

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