Hardy, Meyer aspire to continue Illinois golf’s PGA pipeline

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Hardy, Meyer aspire to continue Illinois golf’s PGA pipeline

A shot of Nick Hardy playing golf on September 12, 2016.

A shot of Nick Hardy playing golf on September 12, 2016.

Wenyuan Chen

A shot of Nick Hardy playing golf on September 12, 2016.

Wenyuan Chen

Wenyuan Chen

A shot of Nick Hardy playing golf on September 12, 2016.

By Gavin Good, Assistant sports editor

Luke Guthrie. Scott Langley. Thomas Pieters. Thomas Detry. Charlie Danielson.

There’s a long list of former Illinois men’s golfers who have gone on to compete at the PGA or European Tour levels since head coach Mike Small has been in charge.

Juniors Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer want to add their names to that list. They have been working to reach their goal from early ages.

“I got into the game when I started walking,” Hardy said. “Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be the best at it.”

Both of the Illini juniors boast impressive resumes by NCAA golf standards. Meyer was a 2016 PING All-America Honorable Mention, an All-Big Ten First Team selection and led the team with a 70.83 stroke average during the fall.

Hardy was named to the 2016 All-Big Ten Second Team, 2015 All-Big Ten First Team and earned 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He was recently named to the 2017 Arnold Palmer Cup U.S. team, the fifth Illinois golfer to earn the recognition.

The pair do not solely credit themselves for their success. The program at Illinois and the advice of their PGA Tour veteran coach have been vital.

“I think it comes down to coach Small,” Hardy said. “I think he has a knack for finding players who are hungry and determined and have that goal in mind but will work relentlessly to achieve that. Combine that with his knowledge and his work ethic too, and it’s a perfect storm for graduating tour pros who can get their cards early.”

Small’s goal when coaching his teams is ultimately to give players opportunities and put them in situations they would not get to experience at less esteemed programs.

“We teach a lot of the things that normal players learn once they turn pro, once they try to get out on their own,” Small said. “If we can teach them that while they are here, they will be one step ahead of the curve getting out.”

Meyer agrees that Small’s tutelage is a valuable asset to have and hopes to continue drawing on his experience and technical advice for the rest of this season and his senior year.

Small constantly scrutinizes the juniors, searching for aspects in their games that are lacking and working to improve them. Meyer knows what one of his biggest flaws is and focuses on improving himself from the time he set foot on campus.

“Being open-minded and letting my stubbornness go is kind of one of those things I’ve been working on since I’ve been here,” Meyer said. “It’s gotten better, but it needs to continue to keep getting better. It kind of hurts my leadership abilities as well; sometimes I like to fight Coach, but I know that’s not for the better of the program or myself, so being able to work on that is definitely going to get me where I need to be.”

Meyer added that having the ideal mindset has maximized his improvement. He said that always thinking he is right about his actions and opinions has hurt him in the past, but he believes that accepting what others have to say about his game has made a positive impact on him.

Hardy and Meyer stay in touch with former Illini who have entered the pro ranks too, drawing on their experiences and maintaining strong relationships. For Hardy, the professionals are the gold standard he wishes to emulate — and potentially eclipse.

“I hope to follow in their footsteps,” Hardy said. “I learned a lot from Charlie, Detry and Brian (Campbell) when they were here the past couple years; I really looked up to them. Seeing Brian get a PGA tour card already and Detry get his European tour card so fast, it tells me ‘hey these guys have had success so fast, why can’t I?’”

Hardy has seen certain qualities within his former teammates that he has concluded to be foundations of finding professional success in golf.

The Northbrook, Illinois, native has not received any particular bit of advice that sticks out to him, but he has observed over time certain characteristics that have helped his former teammates and mentors thrive.

“You always have something in mind to accomplish and not to just go through the motions is something that not any one person has taught me,” Hardy said. “But it’s something many people have had.”

The pair are not constantly speaking to the former players, but they have open lines of communication.

Hardy said he and his teammate call them whenever they have any questions — or just to catch up. Hardy most often converses with recent program graduate Charlie Danielson.

Small said the mentality his players have had over the years has helped them find success at the next level. He said building on all aspects of their game, identifying and then shoring up technical weaknesses in addition to being strong mentally, physically and emotionally are all key qualities for professional players to have.

Like Hardy and Meyer, Small maintains solid relationships with his former players who have gone on to professional careers. He values the example players like 2015-16 graduates Detry and Danielson have set for current and future Illini, and the program will not forget their contributions.

“Once they get out or if they have trouble or want to visit or work, they are always welcome to do that, and a lot of them do,” Small said.

Down the road, Meyer has other ambitions in addition to becoming a golf pro: running for political office.

He plans on playing on the tour as long as he can and then wants to make a difference in people’s lives, with education being the aspect of life Meyer wants to focus on the most.

His dream is closer now than ever before. Meyer described playing golf at Illinois as a huge opportunity.

“Having that opportunity is a blessing; I’ve been blessed to have a family that supports me and has been able to be there and do everything they can,” Meyer said. “Same with the University, Coach and this program: they’ve been able to propel me forward with what I want to do both on and off the golf course.”

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