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Illini head to Maryland for Big Ten championship

Senior+Dylan+Meyer+competes+for+the+Illinois+men%E2%80%99s+golf+team+in++match+play+against+Bradley.+Meyer+is+finishing+up+his+final+season+with+the+Illini+as+the+team+heads+into+the+Big+Ten+Championship.
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Illini head to Maryland for Big Ten championship

Senior Dylan Meyer competes for the Illinois men’s golf team in  match play against Bradley. Meyer is finishing up his final season with the Illini as the team heads into the Big Ten Championship.

Senior Dylan Meyer competes for the Illinois men’s golf team in match play against Bradley. Meyer is finishing up his final season with the Illini as the team heads into the Big Ten Championship.

Senior Dylan Meyer competes for the Illinois men’s golf team in match play against Bradley. Meyer is finishing up his final season with the Illini as the team heads into the Big Ten Championship.

Senior Dylan Meyer competes for the Illinois men’s golf team in match play against Bradley. Meyer is finishing up his final season with the Illini as the team heads into the Big Ten Championship.

By Jack McCoy, Contributing writer

The Illini men’s golf team is hitting its stride this season and it may not be coming at a better time for the reigning Big Ten champions.

The team is coming off of back-to-back first-place finishes at the Bighorn Invitational and 3M Augusta Invitational, a win over Bradley in match play and a second-place finish at the Robert Kepler Invitational in Columbus this past weekend.

The No. 13-ranked Illini have switched their focus to earning their fourth-straight Big Ten title this weekend.

The team will head to Baltimore Country Club in Maryland to compete at a course it is quite familiar with after pulling past conference opponents in last year’s Big Ten Tournament at the same location. Although, the team isn’t completely relying on familiarity.

“You still gotta be smart and patient because it is a tougher course,” said senior Nick Hardy. “However, we do know what to expect (because) we saw it last year.”

Success has been a big part of recent Illinois men’s golf history, having won the tournament eight out of the past nine years. While the track record has been kind to the Illini, the team doesn’t pay much attention to what has happened in the past.

“We live in the present; whatever happened last year or five years ago doesn’t matter,” said head coach Mike Small. “What’s there is there and we’re gonna do the best we can to take it.”

Small has preached to his players a play-for-one-another mentality and to not let the past success of former teams add too much pressure on the current roster.

 Senior leaders Dylan Meyer and Hardy have helped get this message across and have continually pushed a message of consistency.

“It’s huge,” Small said. “Experience is huge in the game of golf; knowing how to handle certain situations and having been through it before, plus they’ve been to three final fours. They understand the importance of it and how to handle it.”

The senior duo will be joined by sophomores Michael Feagles, Giovanni Tadiotto and Bryan Baumgarten, who competed in all major tournaments last year.

“If they can just play hard and enjoy the challenge of seeing how good they can be, it can be a pretty special thing,” Small said.

Coming down to major tournament time, Hardy has seen the work his teammates have put in.

“We’ve really grown since the day that we came here to now; everyone’s games have gotten better and I think we’re really in a good place right now,” Hardy said. “I don’t think we try to, as a team, treat it any differently. We’re gonna go out there and play hard. We know what’s on the line.”

Meyer feels like the team has found a winning formula, and this could lead to the Illini winning it all. However, for Small, it is business as usual and has the same level of expectations each season.

“Our goals every year from August until now are to get better up until this time,” Meyer said. “Let loose and trust the process we’ve done all year and how we’ve gotten better.”

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