The 2015-16 Illinois men’s golf team was one of the best

The team had its fair shares of ups and downs this season. Even then, several players had breakout years to help the Illini cap off one of the winningest season’s ever in program history.

By Ryan Wilson, Staff writer

It was a year to remember for the Illinois men’s golf team. The Illini are heading into the NCAA Tournament after having one of the most successful seasons in program history.

The 2015-16 season saw senior leadership, a mid-season slump sandwiched in between wins and breakout performances by nearly every player.

The fall season teed off at the par-72 Rich Harvest Golf Course in Sugar Grove, Illinois. The Illini won the tournament and three more before winter break.

The only non-win of the fall season came at the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational on Sept. 20 when the team came in fifth.

The spring season was similar to the fall. The Illini picked up momentum with wins at the Tinervin Cup and Louisiana Classic Invite.

But the next tournament on March 9 was the team’s worst of the season. Illinois tied for eighth at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, leaving the team 18 strokes off the lead. No Illini golfer placed in the top 15.

“Good teams expect themselves, and find themselves, to be near the top of the leaderboard in tournaments,” Small said after the tournament. “Good players will always find themselves at the top.”

The next tournament, Valspar Intercollegiate in Palm City, Florida, was better for Illinois, but the end result still did not meet the golfers’ expectations.

The Illini tied for fifth in the standings and were 19 strokes behind leader Texas in the March 21-22 tournament. Seniors Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry tied for fifth in the individual standings.

After the string of non-wins for the team, they won out the regular season. The first-place finishes came in the 3M Augusta Invitational, the Boilermaker Invitational and the Big Ten Tournament — the most recent competition.

Danielson and Detry led the team in the individual rankings all season. Their Big Ten Tournament finish (Detry No. 1 and Danielson No. 2) only exemplified their performances. There were four times this season in which both players were either tied or separated by one spot in the top 10 in the individual rankings.

The younger players on Illinois also proved their spots in the lineup and looked capable of filling the seniors’ shoes. Sophomores Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer consistently made the lineup and had a combined 10 top-10 finishes and four top-five finishes.

Freshman Edoardo Lipparelli, on the other hand, was not in the lineup at every tournament. He was beaten out by redshirt-senior Alex Burge a couple times, but that changed toward the end of the season.

As the season progressed, Lipparelli started challenging Burge for a spot in the lineup. Burge had two top-25 finishes two years ago (he redshirted last season) and qualified for the 2013 U.S. Amateur and finished 11th at the 2014 Illinois Open.

Even then, Lipparelli beat him out for a spot in two tournaments (the Big Ten Championship and the 3M Augusta Invitational) in the lineup this spring as compared with only once in the fall.

Lipparelli, from Ronciglione, Italy, saw action in 10 tournaments this year. He competed individually four times, meaning his scores didn’t count toward the team’s overall score.

He had three top-20 finishes. His best finish came at the Crooked Stick Intercollegiate on Oct. 12-13 and the Northern Intercollegiate on Sept. 12-13. He tied for 10th and 16th at the tournaments, respectively.

With this season now coming to a close, the team is preparing for another run at the University’s first-ever NCAA golf title.  The returning players are trying to avoid repeating last season and the 2013 season’s ending when they finished tied for third and second in the national tournament, respectively.

What would it mean if Illinois won this year?

As several players have said, “Everything.”

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