Illini places third in home invitational, season-best finish

Sophomore+Reena+Sulkar+swings+at+the+Illini+Women%E2%80%99s+Invitational.+The+home+invitational+took+place+in+Medinah%2C+Illinois%2C+on+Oct.+9.%0A

Photo Courtesy of illini athletics

Sophomore Reena Sulkar swings at the Illini Women’s Invitational. The home invitational took place in Medinah, Illinois, on Oct. 9.

By Josh Pietsch, Staff Writer

The Illinois women’s golf team traveled 150 miles north of campus this week to host the Illini Women’s Invitational in Medinah, Illinois. The Illini had their best team finish so far this season, placing third out of 15 teams.

Following a weekend trip to Norman, Oklahoma, where the Illini finished tied for 5th out of 15 teams, Illinois hoped to improve on its performance at the Illini Women’s Invitational. Senior Tristyn Nowlin came off a performance where she tied for first individually in Norman with the fifth-ranked amateur women’s golfer in the world. This week in Medinah, head coach Renee Slone and the team thought the conditions were much better than the previous week in Norman.

“We know all the courses will be different … These conditions were tremendous,” Slone said. “Weather-wise, it turned out to be a beautiful day … wind was a mild breeze and basically a non-factor.”

The team took advantage of the course conditions, getting out to an eye-opening start. After round one, the Illini found themselves in sole possession of first place with a score of 285. Kentucky State was in second place, two strokes behind with a 287, and Louisville and Tennessee were tied for third, both shooting a 288. Crystal Wang and Kornkamol Sukaree led the way for the Illini, each shooting a 70 on the round. Sukaree was pleased with the teams’ first-round performance, despite not knowing where they were ranked. 

“We didn’t really get to see the score after the first 18 (holes), but I think it’s a really good feeling knowing we can be up there,” Sukaree said. “It’s good to be in the potential reach of first.” 

Despite an impressive first round, the Illini didn’t perform nearly as well in the second, shooting 289 as a team. Due to strong rounds from Kent State and Louisville, both teams passed Illinois in the team rankings, dropping them to third. Sukaree shot another 70 in the second round, three strokes better than the second-best Illini. 

Illinois bounced back with a better third round, shooting just one stroke higher than its first-round score. It wasn’t enough to move up, but it was enough to hold its spot in the team rankings and finish the home invite in third place.

A good round from Mississippi moved the team up to finish in second place, and a poor round from Louisville dropped them to fourth. Kent State held on to win the invite by one stroke, shooting a team score of 853, followed by Ole Miss with an 854 and Illinois next with an 860. Louisville and Maryland rounded out the top five, tying for fourth with an 862. 

Sukaree shot a 72 in the final round, leading the Illini with a total of 212. A strong 71 in the final round by Nowlin put her in second for Illinois with a score of 214. Ole Miss’ Kennedy Swann won the meet, shooting a 207.

Sukaree said she was pleased with her performance this week, especially after not shooting as well as she’d hoped the previous week in Norman.

“I am actually really proud of how I did, compared to how I did in the last tournament,” Sukaree said. “Getting to know what my weaknesses are (to play better) is really good.” 

Third place has been the Illini’s best finish so far this season, but there were moments in all three rounds where the team could have capitalized to improve their individual and team scores. Slone said the girls definitely have some important things to work on this week before the next invite. 

“We’re gonna focus a lot on three to six-footers because we, unfortunately, let a few shots slip away from us,” Slone said. “And then just playing with confidence in each player individually and collectively as a team as well, and using that as a source of energy and passion that will motivate us through the tournament and really bring everybody together and keep the charge moving forward.” 

The Illini are off this week, giving them the opportunity to focus on practice. But, the team will travel to the East Coast for the Landfall Tradition in Wilmington, North Carolina. The tournament will be hosted by the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks Oct. 25-27. 

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