Men’s golf ends on a sour note

By Jon Gluskin

Disappointing.

That’s the best word to describe the Illini’s final performance of the fall season.

The Illinois men’s golf team placed last out of 14 teams at the inaugural Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge, held at Bandon Dunes Golf Course in Oregon.

“It’s tough,” said senior Garrett Chaussard. “I’m pretty sure that’s the first time since I’ve been here that we finished that low. Just plain and simple, we played awful.”

Minnesota and USC tied for first place with a score of 596, while UCLA placed third at 598. The Illini posted a score of 628.

“We were noncompetitive for the first time in a long, long time,” said head coach Mike Small.

The match was supposed to be three rounds, with the final two being played Tuesday, but the final round was suspended after only five holes due to a storm.

Chaussard was one of the few bright spots for the Illini. He finished off a terrific fall season with his fourth consecutive top-10 finish. His score of 148 placed him in 10th. Chaussard was the Illini’s top scorer in all five tournaments this fall.

Chaussard said he was happy with how he placed, but that he spoiled some good opportunities by missing putts.

“Everybody just has to look at what they must do and re-commit and focus harder on how to get better,” Chaussard said.

The next best finisher for the Illini was junior Blair Harkins, who finished with a 158, putting him in a tie for 53rd. Senior Mike O’Neal placed in a tie for 57th at 160. Freshmen Danny Zimmerman tied for 68th (164) and Frank Alafoginis placed in 70th with a 167.

“Our games were not there,” Small said. “Our focus was not there. We need to have guys start backing up Garrett.”

However, Small said that Bandon Dunes is a top-10 course in the country and given the conditions, it was a great chance for his team.

“It was a great opportunity for our young guys,” Small said. “If we’re any kind of competitors and I think we are, we’ll learn from it. We’re going to take what we have from this and move on and keep working.”

The Illini now enter the off-season. Their first tournament of the spring will be Saturday, Feb. 15th in Placida, Fla., for the Illinois State tournament.

Chaussard said his team has a long time to look at what went wrong and how they can learn from it.

“It really makes you want to go out and play next week, to prove that we’re better than that,” Chaussard said. “There’s a sense of pride that I think we all have. Finishing last is not fun. It’s going to be hard not to forget because it’s how we ended the year.”

It was a bitter ending to a fall season that did not match up with previous fall seasons.

“This is a different team,” Small said. “We’re just trying to bring along people to college golf. What’s good is the spring is the big part of the season, and we have a chance to come back strong.”

Chaussard is optimistic about a better spring season.

“I think everyone on the team feels we’re better than how we played,” Chaussard said. “The fall season showed us how much harder we need to work. Ending on a note like that should serve as a motivation to do better. At times we’ve shown what we’re capable of. It’s not like it’s out of our reach to play like that.

“We need to come out during the spring and fire on all cylinders.”