Women begin golf season with trip to Chrysler Challenge

By Meghan Montemurro

With spring just around the corner, so is the start of the spring season for the Illinois women’s golf team.

After breaking the Illinois school record for a 54-hole tournament with 890 strokes and placing second out of 18, the Illini had a strong finish to the fall season.

The team will look to carry on their success after almost three months off from competition. First year head coach Renee Slone said the team will need to adjust from the time off.

“Since we have been practicing indoors for the past month, our main focus is on the mental aspect of the game,” said Slone, a former Illinois golf standout. “Their game will be rusty since for most of them it has been October since they last competed.”

This weekend the Illini will head to Destin, Fla., for the three-day Chrysler Challenge. Illinois will be without senior captain Meghan Naik, who is out with a hairline fracture above her ankle.

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    Slone said Naik has just returned to practice this week, but is wearing a boot on her foot and is not expected to compete for a few weeks. Despite Naik’s injury, the senior has been very important to the team, Slone said.

    “(Naik) has done a great job, especially these past few weeks,” Slone said. “She has served as a great inspiration to the team, kept up everybody’s spirits, has a great attitude, and encourages her teammates.”

    Despite Naik being out, Slone will be sending five players this weekend to Florida: juniors Casey Burden, Kristine Cook Stephanie Mory, Seul Ki Park and sophomore Nancy Featherstone.

    Slone sees potential for each team member to step up in the absence of their senior leader.

    With the Chrysler Challenge being the first event of the spring, Slone said it will be important for the team to understand they won’t be at the level they are used to.

    “The players just need to realize they will make more mistakes than usual and they just need to stay patient and play one shot at a time,” Slone said. “It will be key to focus on each shot, each day.”

    The Illini have their eyes set on improvement this spring, especially after the strong, record-breaking finish to the fall season. Slone said the Illini are aiming for at least a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Championship meet in April.

    “The team has really come together and we have set some high goals for this season,” Slone said. “The fall season really set the tone for the spring, and they are looking forward to achieving bigger and better things.”

    With the vast amount of practice time the last two and a half months, the Illini have been working hard at the Demirjian Indoor Golf Facility. Slone sees the time her team has put in paying off in the long run.

    “I think the short game is going to be very important,” Slone said. “We’ve worked hard on that all season. They feel much more prepared and more confident heading in.”

    However, the vast amount of practice time can also be viewed as a weakness for the team, Slone said.

    “During practices, we have been playing a lot of games to try and create some competition among team members,” Slone said. “We try to create that atmosphere so it’s not such a big change when we are actually competing.”