Men’s golf faces challenge in final fall tournament

After a disappointing 9th-place finish last week at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, the Illinois men’s golf team will look to rebound starting Monday in its final tournament of the fall season at the Turtle Bay Collegiate Invitational in Kahuku, Hawaii.

Their subpar finish last week has left the Illini looking to prove they deserve their No. 6 spot in the national rankings.

“After a week where we struggled, we really want to get out there and get back on the horse,” junior Scott Langley said. “It definitely motivates us. We want to prove to people that we’re better than what we played last week.”

For the Illini to improve on their performance from last week, putting well will be the key.

“It always boils down to putting,” sophomore Luke Guthrie said. “If our team putts well, we will be right there at the end of the tournament. We just need to be really good around the greens.”

Guthrie added the team needs to take advantage of its practice rounds.

“We need to play our practice rounds better and get focused,” Guthrie said. “We are thinking too much. We need to just go out there and play golf.”

Playing in Hawaii means Illinois will be playing on Bermuda grass, which is different from the grass the team is accustomed to playing on. Bermuda grass is grainy, which causes a golf ball to play slower than on grass in the northern half of the United States.

“The grass and the conditions will be similar to last week (in Florida),” head coach Mike Small said.

“It will be Bermuda grass, which is a warm-climate grass. It’s different than what we play on in the North, so it will be a good test to see how we rebound from last week.”

At the Isleworth Invitational last week, Illinois struggled to start the tournament strong and found itself playing from behind throughout the duration of the tournament.

Small said he wants his team to fix that problem before the close of the fall season.

“We need to build momentum towards April and May, that’s the whole goal,” Small said. “So we need to take what we didn’t do well, face those issues head on and make a statement to ourselves that we’re going to change it.

“Our development as a team has to adjust to it and get back on it. It will be fun to see if there is any improvement from last week,” Small added.

A win at the tournament would end the fall season on a good note and put the team in a great place to repeat as Big Ten champions in the spring season.

“This tournament is extremely important,” Small said. “We have been in the top 10 all fall. We have won two times, and we haven’t always played our best. (A win) would be a good way to build momentum for April and May.”