Illinois using breaks in tournaments to learn courses

By Ryan Wilson

The Illinois women’s golf team had only two days to practice for its debut at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Challenge in Knoxville, Tennessee, last week. The team competed against three teams ranked in Golfweek’s top-30, including the host, Tennessee, who was ranked ninth in the nation going into the tournament.

Head coach Renee Slone and her husband, Rick, who are familiar with the course, advised the team about the course’s short par 5s and large, uneven greens.

“This golf course is really going to come down to playing par golf and positioning yourself well in relation to the hole,” Slone said before the tournament.

Stephanie Miller and Dana Gattone both went 6-over, tying for 18th place. Illinois shot a team-best 6-over in the final round to finish at 26-over 876 and sixth place as a team.

“We’ve definitely got more to show,” assistant coach Jenny Coluccio said. “We’ve got more to take. It’s one step closer to where we want to be at the end of the year.”

Final round boost

For the second-straight tournament, Illinois had its best team score in the final round.

The team went 7-over at its season-opener at the Minnesota Invitational. The Illini then went 6-over in third round of the Mercedes-Benz Challenge.

Miller said the team was able to learn from its mistakes in rounds one and two. She said she learned the hole placement and the green undulations better after day one of the tournament.

“(You learn) just kind of the things you should gather when you play,” Miller said.

Gattone said the team’s goal for the Mercedes-Benz tournament was to move up two spots in the leaderboard after day one. Gattone helped the team do so.

“I definitely battled back to get my scoredown,” Gattone said. “I knew the team needed it.”

New grass brings new challenge

Illinois is used to practicing mostly on bent grass. But there was no such grass in Knoxville, Tennessee. It had only Bermuda grass with undulating greens.

“(Bermuda grass) is fluffier,” Bing Singhsumalee said. “So the ball sticks in it more. So once you’re in the rough, you got to make sure you get it.”

Singhsumalee double-bogied the 15th hole on the second round. She drove the ball into the rough. She then hit into more rough, a bunker and another bunker for her next three shots. She one-putted from there.

That, she says, is partly because of the Bermuda grass. She went 6-over in the second round.

“I learned that short-game is very important,” Singhsumalee said. “I also learned that the mental game is very important.”

Illinois does have some Bermuda grass at its outdoor facility on campus, and Miller said that helped.

“I think the work that we put in paid off,” Miller said.

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