‘We are going there to win’: No. 4 Illinois men’s golf travels to New Haven Regional with eyes on first place

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Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Junior Jerry Ji swings his club during Southern Highlands Collegiate on March 1. The Illini will be competing in the NCAA Regional in New Haven, Conn as the No. 4 seed from Monday to Wednesday.

By Drew Friberg and Matthew Sinele

Coming off the back of a record-setting seventh consecutive Big Ten Championship two weeks ago, Illinois men’s golf begins its NCAA Regional campaign on Monday in New Haven, Conn. The Illini will enter as the No. 4 seed in search of their 14th consecutive berth to the Championship round, hosted in Scottsdale, Ariz. on May 27.

Within the New Haven regional, there are 14 teams total. Competition for No. 20 Illinois at the regional includes No. 5 North Carolina, No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 17 Wake Forest, No. 27 North Carolina State, No. 31 Charlotte, No. 39 North Florida, No. 49 Georgia Southern, No. 52 Mississippi State, No. 58 Virginia, No. 68 Central Florida, No. 90 Seton Hall, No. 166 hosts of the regional Yale and No. 204 Sacred Heart (rankings according to GolfStat). Following three days of competition, the top five teams in the regional move on to Scottsdale.

Heading into New Haven, senior Adrien Dumont de Chassart was awarded unanimous first team All-Big Ten and Big Ten Golfer of the Year honors just days after leading the Illini to victory in the Big Ten Championships. Additionally, head coach Mike Small earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, senior Tommy Kuhl earned first team All-Big Ten Honors and sophomore Piercen Hunt earned second team All-Big Ten honors.

Despite the individual honors earned and Big Ten Championship secured, the leaders of the team are still shooting for more in the postseason.

“It’s a great honor to receive, but it doesn’t mean that much,” Dumont de Chassart said. “There’s still so much golf to play, and the main goal is to win Nationals. If I could get National Player of the Year this year that would be a great award to receive. I mean, Big Ten is nice, but there’s so much more to accomplish.” 

April and onwards have seen the Illini earn three consecutive first place finishes heading into NCAA Regionals. 

On April 10, the team traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., for the Boilermaker Invitational, where it won by eight strokes over host Purdue, shooting -10 on the weekend.

Just one week later, in Columbus, Ohio, the Illini came first again. This time, the team won by 13 strokes over host Ohio State, shooting -30 on the weekend.

Finally, at the Big Ten Championships in French Lick, Ind., Illinois earned its third consecutive first place finish, beating out Michigan State on the third day of competition by just one stroke, shooting +21 overall.

With these three wins under the Illini’s belt, it seems the team is hitting stride at the perfect time for Regionals.

“We definitely have a lot of momentum going into regionals,” junior Jerry Ji said. “I feel good about the team. We’ve won the last three events, Purdue, then Ohio State, then last week at Big Tens, and I feel like our team still hasn’t reached its full potential yet.”

With confidence and overall play on the upswing for coach Small’s lineup, the Illini are sitting as favorites to make it out of the New Haven Regional. With this year being potentially the 14th consecutive time the Illini make the National Championship round, Small cites the team’s culture and mindset as a major reason for this continued success.

“It’s a mindset we have that we are going there to win (the New Haven Regional), we’re not just going to qualify,” Small said. “I learned that as a professional golfer, if you try and go just to make the cut or went just to qualify, you always found yourself right around the cutline.”

Action in New Haven begins Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. with the commencement of the first round of three, each played a day apart. 

 

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