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Illini of the Week Feb. 25: Charlie Danielson

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Illini of the Week Feb. 25: Charlie Danielson

Charlie Danielson at the 2015 NCAA Championships. Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics.

Charlie Danielson at the 2015 NCAA Championships. Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics.

Charlie Danielson at the 2015 NCAA Championships. Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics.

Charlie Danielson at the 2015 NCAA Championships. Photo courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics.

By Ryan Wilson

But Charlie was in the opposite of “nowhere” from Feb. 18-21; he was in the national spotlight.

“It might catch up to me when I get back to the hotel,” Charlie told the Los Angeles Times. “Right now, I’m trying not to think too much.”

Charlie was making his PGA debut at the 7,279-yard Riviera Country Club in the Northern Trust Open.

It took him one round to top some of the world’s best golfers.

He was tied with Rory McIlroy, the No. 3 golfer in the world, and four strokes behind leader Camilo Villegas through 18.

And he was beating world No. 1 Jordan Spieth by 12 strokes.

“It was an incredible debut,” Casey said.

***

In 2015, two generous donors made it possible for Illinois to send one of its golfers to the second-annual Northern Trust Open Collegiate Showcase, a one-day event in which 14 college golfers from around the nation pair with a professional. The winner qualifies for the Northern Trust Open.

Illini head coach Mike Small had his golfers compete for the spot and a chance at a PGA event. Whoever had the highest average Golfweek and Golfstat ranking during the fall season would earn the spot.

Charlie won the competition — he is fourth in the latest GolfWeek poll and seventh in Golfstat’s. Sophomore Nick Hardy trails his teammate by six and seven spots, respectively, in each poll.

On Feb. 17 — three months after the fall season ended — Charlie teed off in the Collegiate Showcase. He was paired with 2011 Illinois graduate Scott Langley.

Charlie shot a 3-under par and was the only golfer under par in the tournament. He defeated 2015 winner Will Zalatoris of Wake Forest by three strokes.

It certainly didn’t hurt Charlie’s case that Small, a 26-year PGA veteran and member of Team USA in the 2005 PGA Cup, was his caddie.

“It’s always fun to have him walk with me and go through shots together, because I learn a lot,” Charlie said at a press conference after the showcase. “I’ve been there (at Illinois) for three and a half years, and I’m starting to catch on to everything he says.”

In the Northern Trust Open, Charlie would be without Small. If Small caddied for Charlie, the senior would need to forfeit a college tournament in the spring, according to NCAA rules.

But the Illinois senior would not be alone at Rivieria.

His family had just flown back to Wisconsin after watching Casey play for Stanford, who was hosting the Peg Barnard Invitational. Charlie’s scores convinced his family to return to California.

“We were watching the scores come in,” Liz, his mother, told The Los Angeles Times. “Then we started checking flights.”

A short time later, Charlie’s mom, sister, uncle and two cousins were at Riviera watching him play in his first PGA tournament.

***

He began the Northern Trust Open with two-straight birdies, followed by two bogeyes and six pars on his front nine. He started his back nine with birdies on two of his next three with a par sandwiched in between.

He finished his first round tied for third with a 4-under 67 — the lowest score by an amateur in the tournament since 1981.

“I was a little intimidated at first, but everyone has been so kind to me,” he said.

He started his second round with his only eagle of the tournament. Two of his next five holes were bogeys, which he followed by three-straight pars.

His back nine started with a bogey and two holes later, his first double bogey. He birdied No. 15 and parred out the last holes to finish round two to tie for 26th with a 1-over 71 — the same score as former Illini Steve Stricker.

Despite dropping 23 spots down the leaderboard, Charlie’s overall score of a 3-under was enough for him to make the cut. Speith, at a 5-over 147, and Wake Forest’s Zalatoris did not.

“Charlie, in his first PGA event, making the cut is a remarkable performance,” Bill Linneman, the Director of Rules and competitions for the Wisconsin Golf Association, said.

Linneman was one of several people who watched Danielson burn through the Wisconsin high school golf circuit.

Charlie was making his family, friends and Wisconsin — and Illinois — proud by making the cut, but his scores continued to drop.

***

He finished out the tournament with a 5-over 289, and his drive accuracy 35.71 was almost half of his second-high average.

He shot a 2-over 73 in the third round — his drives averaged 10 yards shorter than they did in the previous round — and added a 6-over 77 in the fourth round.

“If you ask him, he might be disappointed in his performance after he made the cut,” Linneman said.

Rod Lidenberg, a PGA master professional who teaches in Chaska, Minnesota, 90 minutes away from the Danielson home, said he thinks the course conditions in the latter rounds affected Charlie’s play.

It rained on the Riviera Country Club a day before the tournament, which can cause the ball to roll on the grass more than average. Four-straight days of 60-degree and sunny weather dried out the course and the ball stuck to the kukuya grass, which “wraps around the ball like a bird’s nest,” Lidenberg said.

Regardless of Charlie’s results, Linneman, who told Small Charlie was “a winner” before college, said he thinks Charlie is on his way to playing in the PGA tour on a consistent basis.

“If he keeps improving in the pace that he has, could certainly be one of the top-50 players in the world,” Linneman said.

Even though Casey couldn’t go to the tournament, she called and texted her parents for updates on Charlie. She followed PGA Tour social media accounts and relayed the news to her friends at Stanford.

“It was so fun to brag about him,” she said. “We got a lot of support from our hometown … I got to tell my teammates, like, ‘Oh yeah, the dude in the PGA event. Yeah, that’s my brother out there.’”

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