Illini finish 12th despite good start

By Jon Gluskin

It started off well. After the first round, the Illinois women’s golf team was only four strokes behind the leader. A strong second round kept them in contention.

But the third round was not the charm for the Illini.

A disappointing final round put them in a 12th place finish at the Edwin Watts/Palmetto Intercollegiate Monday and Tuesday, ending their fall season.

“Well, we had a really good first two rounds, which was really exciting,” said junior Megan Godfrey. “We all kind of struggled in the last 18. I think we were all hoping we would finish better because we started off strong, but there’s really nothing we can do about it. I think we all got worn out by the end.”

Head coach Paula Smith said the ambience helped, and that her team stayed in a four-bedroom home, instead of the usual hotel room. These comfortable surroundings helped relax her team.

“I think it made everybody feel kind of like a home away from home,” Smith said. “I’d really like to go back (to the tournament) because it was definitely a plus.”

Illinois scored 302-304-319 to finish at 925. The 302 was the team’s lowest round this fall. Campbell won the tournament with an 882, Michigan finished in second at 885 and Southern Methodist took third with an 888. The tournament was played in Kiawah Island, S.C. at Oak Point Golf Course and was hosted by the College of Charleston.

Despite the poor finish, Smith was happy with the tournament.

“(It was) a fantastic tournament with great competition from different parts of the U.S.,” Smith said. “Great course, great location, and I thought the team had done some great things. The last 18 holes just didn’t happen, but I’m very hopeful for the spring because we did see a lot of really good things.”

Godfrey said her team encountered success early on because of a number of factors that haven’t really been prevalent to her team prior to this tournament.

“Our practice round went really well,” Godfrey said. “We were really focused and at the same time relaxed. We went into the tournament confident.”

This was the first time all season each day had 27 holes, instead of the usual 36 the first day and 18 the second day. Godfrey said it took time getting used to this unfamiliar format.

Godfrey finished off a solid fall season for the Illini. She was the top scorer for the Illini this tournament, finishing tied for 23rd with a 225. Freshman Seul Ki Park finished tied for 38th at 229. Freshman Kristine Cook tied for 59th at 236. Sophomore Meghan Naik tied for 69th (239). And freshman Stephanie Mory finished tied for 80th at 244.

Godfrey said she was pleased with how the fall season went, especially with the play of the freshmen.

“I’m really happy with all our freshmen’s performances, considering our team changed from tournament to tournament,” Godfrey said. “I think it’s promising to see how far our freshmen have come from the beginning to the end.”

Smith was also satisfied by her team this fall even though the roster constantly was changing.

“Even with that, I thought the ones on the trip would always contribute,” Smith said. “In this last tournament, everybody again was able to contribute at least once.”

The Illini now enter the offseason and will return to play March 4-6 at the East/West Rio Verde Invitational in Arizona.

Smith said playing in the heat and humidity with tired muscles made that last round difficult. For this reason, her team will work on getting stronger this offseason so finishing tournaments will be an easier task. She also said her team will work on mental conditioning.

“We’ve been going pretty strong,” Godfrey said. “Our offseason will definitely help us and keep us ready to go. I think it looks good for the spring, once we regroup from the offseason. It’s kind of sad; golf’s over for the fall now.”

Overall, Smith has a positive outlook for the spring season.

“Now is a good time where they can focus on getting stronger and their academics,” Smith said. “I’m very encouraged. We’re not there, but I feel they’re making progress and that’s all you can ask of people.”