Illinois men’s golf fall at final hurdle following another stellar regular season

Junior+Jerry+Ji+swings+his+club+during+the+Southern+Highlands+Collegiate+on+Feb.+28.+The+Illinois+mens+golf+team+closes+their+season+with+four+tournament+titles+and+three+Big+Ten+all-conference+members.+

Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Junior Jerry Ji swings his club during the Southern Highlands Collegiate on Feb. 28. The Illinois men’s golf team closes their season with four tournament titles and three Big Ten all-conference members.

By Matthew Sinele, Staff Writer

Though the season didn’t end with a shot at the championship for Illinois, nothing can take away from the accomplishments the program racked up this year. 

As the 2021–2022 season has come to a close, the Illini were able to boast four tournament titles, three Big Ten all-conference members, Big Ten coach of the year Mike Small, and the Big Ten golfer of the year in senior Adrien Dumont de Chassart.

Dumont de Chassart and senior Tommy Kuhl were named to the Big Ten All-Conference first team, while sophomore Piercen Hunt was named to the second team and all three were selected by the Golf Coaches Association of America to the 2022 Division I PING All-Midwest Region team.

The Illini started the men’s golf season on the right side of the hole at the Hoosier Invitational, getting a share of first place with Kuhl and Dumont de Chassart both finishing in the top three of the individual leaderboard, shooting -2 and -3 respectively. However, the young age of the team and transfer of leadership to Dumont de Chassart proved to be a challenge for the fresh roster. 

Over the next seven matches, the Illini finished in the top three just three times. The first came as sophomore Piercen Hunt led the team to a second place finish at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, finishing with the best score on the course and recording one of his best outings of the season at seven strokes under par.

The next placement for the Illini came at the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate with the team finishing third, followed by another third place finish at the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational behind No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Texas.

Finishing behind two of the best teams in the country gave Illinois the confidence they needed heading back into conference play. The team’s next challenge was the Boilermaker Invitational where the team would go on to win the tournament by a commanding eight strokes over hosts Purdue. Dumont de Chassart, Kuhl and freshman Jackson Buchanan all finished within the top five of the tournament leaderboard, and gave life to this hopeful Illini team.

This win was huge for Illinois’ confidence, especially at the tail end of the season. 

“Purdue really showed us that we really can play when everyone gets on board and is firing on all cylinders,” said junior Jerry Ji.

The Illini followed up this much needed title win with a thirteen stroke victory over hosts Ohio State at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate in Ohio. This win not only marked the team’s third season title, but also the first time the entire team had finished inside of the top ten of the leaderboard. The compiling success of the team placed Illinois 19th in national rankings and gave the team a glimpse of what playing at their potential looks like.

With two straight title wins and six straight Big Ten Championships, the players could feel the weight of the expectations beginning to settle in heading into the 2022 Big Ten Championship. Despite Dumont de Chassart’s nearly perfect first round, the team struggled to keep up, finishing third on the day and ten strokes behind the first place Michigan State Spartans.

The Spartans’ struggles in round two and Illinois’ perseverance to salvage a +4 on the day left the Illini back just one stroke heading into round three. From here, the team was able to overcome Michigan State in the third round out shooting the Spartans 19-21 on the final eighteen, resulting in one of the biggest comebacks for the team in recent history and their seventh consecutive Big Ten championship. This was no easy feat, however as the wind coupled with the already challenging course in Frenchlick, Ind. proved to be the biggest challenge the team had faced throughout the year.

Coach Small, following a grueling Big Ten Championship win, summed up the approach the team looks to build on in the coming season. 

“You win a lot of championships in golf specifically by not losing at yourself, by staying steady,” Small said.

This then brought Illinois to its final hurdle of the season at the NCAA New Haven Regional, where 14 teams gathered to compete for a spot in the NCAA Championship Round in late May. Following an underwhelming performance from the team across the board, Illinois placed sixth, missing out on the Championship Round for the first time in 14 years.

With all five NCAA and Big Ten tournament members returning to the greens in Champaign next season with a well tested crew of golfers, Illinois looks to have yet another impressive season. Will they finally capture the ever-illusive national championship behind two time Big Ten player of the year Adrien Dumont de Chassart? The Illinois fan base waits in great anticipation. 

The team is incredibly confident for next season, especially Ji.

“I still believe most of our guys haven’t reached their peak yet.”

 

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