Confident Illini still not satisfied with performances

 

The Illinois men’s golfers have more enough reasons to be confident. The team is coming off a program-record seven regular-season wins and epic Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Regional wins.

Not too bad for the No. 2 team in the nation, which boasts four players in the World Amateur Golf top 100.

“We know we have the ability to be the best team in the country, if we put our minds to it,” senior Charlie Danielson said.

Illinois makes its ninth-straight NCAA Championship appearance Friday in Eugene, Oregon, at the Oregon Country Club. It is the team’s 24th appearance and 11th under head coach Mike Small.

Their confidence, though, has at times wavered this season — most recently at the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois’ two-stroke first-round lead in the tournament turned to an eight-stroke deficit after round two.

“The look we had leaving the golf course yesterday was not our team,” Small said after the tournament on April 24. “The way we handled adversity was not our team, and we had to get back to who we are.”

The team had a 45-minute “gut check” after the second round, as Small called it, and the Illini managed pull away with a 13-stroke win.

The golfers had a similar comeback at the NCAA Regionals, except the win more fell into their hands. Florida led by seven strokes entering the 17th hole, but the Gators then found two bogeys, one double bogey and one triple.

The top-ranked Illini slid into the lead and won the tournament.

“It’s a little bit of a wakeup call knowing that we just got to on it from the start,” Danielson said regarding the Illini last two tournaments.

Now, a little more than a month later, Illinois wants to continue that momentum, and it’s looking to Danielson’s experience and memories of last year’s NCAA Championship.

Danielson is the only golfer on the team with experience at the Eugene Country Club. Danielson played at the top-100 course last summer in the Pacific Coast Amateur in which he placed 12th.

The Wisconsin native is sharing his memories of the course with his Illinois teammates. He is emphasizing the importance of straight drives, and he is telling them to watch out for the fast greens, thick rough and low pine trees.

Those lessons have stuck with senior Thomas Detry, as he practiced just that. Detry, though, is especially focusing on shots from 100 yards and in and wedges.

“Honestly, my whole game feels very good right now,” Detry said. “I feel it’s little details here and there (that he needs to work on).”

Illinois is also looking at its third-place finish at nationals last year, which saw up and down performances from the team.

The Illini won three of the five days of stroke play. They won the first round of match play, but followed that with two-straight losses.

“We’re going to pace ourselves a little better, maybe not beat ourselves up so quick during the week,” Small said on how his team is approaching this year.

“To beat up, means not practice so much, not actually beat up,” he added, followed by a chuckle.

If the Illini do trail early or fall behind at any point, Danielson is confident in his team.
“We know we can come from behind, so if we have to at nationals, we have the abilities to do so,” he said. “Hopefully, we get on it from the start and ride it all the way through.”

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