Illinois men’s golf welcomes two newcomers for 2020-2021 season

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Giovanni Tadiotto watches his ball fly through the air after following through on a stroke during competition.

By Jonah Perez, Staff Writer

This year’s Illinois men’s golf recruiting class consisted of Piercen Hunt and transfer Nico Lang.

Hunt was the No. 22 recruit in the American Junior Golf Association and has lived in Wisconsin for the last five years. He was originally born in Canada and moved around a lot because of his dad’s job. Champaign being four hours away was a nice surprise, but not a priority.

“Illinois just is the right fit, coach (Mike) Small has a great program … a very competitive team, and I thought everything fit perfectly for me … it’s going to work out pretty good,” Hunt said.

One of his goals is to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year and to catch up to the reigning one, sophomore Jerry Ji. Hunt lived in the Netherlands for three years and competed against Ji, and though the sophomore got the better of him, he wants to show what he is made of.

He also appreciates the uniqueness of playing for a team in a mostly individual sport.

“He’s a ruthless competitor and his upside physically has the ability and the chance to be really, really good,” said head coach Mike Small. “He’ll grow as a person and a player so much here because he has the capability and the ability to do so.”

A lot of Hunt’s growth will come from his new teammates, with whom he has been communicating with over group chats. He is excited to see everyone in the fall and learn from some of the more experienced players, especially fifth-year seniors Michael Feagles and Giovanni Tadiotto.

Describing his game, Small said he has great speed on the ball, which is especially huge in today’s game. He just needs to refine it to help his short game and expand his arsenal of shots, which will come with the experiences he will face over his college career at Illinois.

Lang is a sophomore transfer from West Virginia University, and he was born and raised in Ingolstadt, Germany. He finished second on the team for stroke average with 71.81 and won multiple European tournaments prior to his college career.

Like every college golfer, his ultimate goal is to reach the professional level, and though he enjoyed his time at West Virginia, Illinois’ facilities are what really caught his eye.

“It’s just awesome,” Lang said. “The practice facility, you can go out there, you can hit every pitch. You can hit every putt, you can hit every chip shot, just hit a bucket of balls and they’re on the facility, on campus. That’s just awesome.”

West Virginia University has plans to build a $5 million off-campus golf facility in the future. Lang doesn’t have time to wait, and he realized how beneficial one could be for his game.

It was a smooth transition; his family was very supportive of him and his new teammates have been in contact and very welcoming. It helped to have someone he knew on the team. He, like Hunt, competed against Ji in European tournaments prior to college.

It also was exciting for him to have European teammates who can easily relate.

“When you’re watching the Ryder Cup, and you’re not the only one who’s rooting for team Europe,” Lang said.

Lang was a sought-out transfer with obvious talent and mental fortitude, paying attention on the course and in the classroom, focused but not deterred by the new college distractions.

“I think they’ll bring the continued strong mindset, optimistic attitude and love for the game that everybody else on this team brings. That’s what we look for, we look for the person before the player and we’ve always done that,” Small said.

As newcomers to the team, they’ll need to prove themselves to crack the team lineup. Every time they take the course, whether it be a tournament or morning practice, it’s a competition for starting tournaments. Performers will be rewarded with game time and those who are struggling will work at their craft until they do. Adapting to this environment can take time for some and not for others.

@jonahap2

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