Illini men’s golf prepare for hopeful spring season
November 5, 2020
In the absence of a fall season, the Illinois men’s golf team has been forced to adapt to stay on track to compete in 2021.
The Illini have achieved sustained success as a program, reaching 12 straight NCAA championships, just one shy of the record held by Texas. After a strong start in the spring, Illinois had a good shot at tying the record until the season was canceled early in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Having that season canceled and then having an extra year of availability was a massive change of events for us,” senior Giovanni Tadiotto said. “I had to change my whole plan of my senior year.”
Tadiotto planned to turn professional this year and return home to Europe. Instead, he and fellow senior Michael Feagles decided to accept the fifth year of eligibility the NCAA offered to spring sport seniors.
In the spring, Tadiotto recorded three consecutive top-five finishes, the closest he has come to a win since his freshman year at Illinois. Despite these challenges, Tadiotto has remained positive.
“Lots of doors closed, like invites to professional tours, but a lot of other doors opened for me,” Tadiotto said. “Like playing one more year with this team, improving my game and learning.”
Since the season was canceled in March, the team has been doing more individual work than normal. Though golf is an individual sport, the team environment is important for the players’ development.
“It’s put a cramp in our ability to develop and grow,” head coach Mike Small said.
Individual practice may be viable for upperclassmen like Feagles and Tadiotto, but less experienced golfers on the team still need time to “absorb the culture, embrace the culture and keep it going,” Small said.
Feagles, who recorded the lowest stroke average on the team last year, wasted no time getting back to work after the cancellation. Less strict pandemic protocols in his home state of Arizona allowed him to practice more than he would have been able to in Illinois, where many golf courses closed during the state lockdown.
“I basically just got right back to work, worked hard all late last spring and into the summer,” Feagles said. “I played a lot with a bunch of professionals down there and just tried to keep my game sharp.”
Small has not lowered expectations for the team. He expects to tie Texas’ record 13 consecutive NCAA championship appearances this spring.
“We’ve had this streak because we’re not focused on peaking,” Small said. “We’re focused on establishing a high standard and hitting that standard.”
Small lived up to that standard himself this fall when he won the Illinois PGA Championship for the 13th time. He cited the increased free time with the team split up as the main reason for his victory.