Elevated competition, sea level factors at Southern Collegiate Masters for Illinois men's golf

By Ryan Wilson

While Illinois’ new athletic director was settling into his position in Champaign, the University’s top-ranked team — Mike Small’s men’s golf team — was preparing for one of its biggest competitions of the season.EJ

The team competes in the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters from March 7-9. The event is hosted by UNLV at the par-72, 7,510-yard Southern Highlands Golf Club in Las Vegas, which is known for dry, warm and windy conditions and its elevation.EJ

The area is 2,001 feet above sea level — nearly 1,300 feet higher than Champaign. There, golf balls travel farther due to the thinner air. Balls also have extra roll at the higher elevation.

“On a mid-to-long-approach shot, (the elevation) could still make a one-club difference,” Steve Aoyama,EJ Principal Scientist of Golf Ball research and Development for the Acushnet Company, told the Professional Golfers’ Association, “Not to mention that you’ll be about a club closer to the green as a result of the longer drive.”EJ

Besides the elevation, Illinois’ biggest threats are No. 4 Southern California, No. 6 Arizona State and No. 8 Alabama — all of which are used to practicing in warmer weather.EJ

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The event consists of three teams from the top 10, eight from the top 20 and 17 from the top 50, according to the latest Golfweek rankings.EJ

The Illini are the only team from the Midwest in the top 50 competing.EJ

“It’s a perfect opportunity for us to gauge ourselves in the early part of our season against many of the top teams in the country,” Small said. “This could be an NCAA preview.”

Then-No. 3 Texas, who lost in the quarterfinals of the 2015 NCAA Tournament and now ranks fifth in Golfweek, won the UNLV-hosted event by 10 strokes last year with a 26-under 838EJ. Oklahoma came in second with a 16-under 848.

The Longhorns return to this year’s tournament ranked No. 11 in the country.EJ Oklahoma, which will also be in attendance, sits at No. 17. The host UNLV Rebels come in ranked No. 36.

Illinois finished for sixth with a 2-under 286 — its second-worst single-tournament finish of last season.EJ

Charlie Danielson led Illinois in sixth with a 6-under par, after shooting a 68 in the final round to lift him 10 spots in the standings.EJ Senior Brian Campbell shot a 3-under 213 to tie for 11th, and then-freshman Nick Hardy tied for 23rd with a 1-under 215.EJ

“The teams relish the opportunity to play here, because it offers one of the best fields in college golf year after year, and it is played on a championship course,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “It produces a great winner every year, and that will have a legitimate chance to win the national championship.”

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@32RynoSources: http://golfweek.com/news/2015/mar/07/college-golf-southern-highlands-masters-las-vegas/Sources: http://golfweek.com/news/2015/mar/07/college-golf-southern-highlands-masters-las-vegas/

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