Hoffman’s offseason training pays off at Big Ten Match Play Championship

At the start of winter break, senior Matt Hoffman had a choice to make: relax and take a much-needed break from golf, or head to Florida to train with his swing coach.

Hoffman chose the latter option, and that decision paid great dividends for him this weekend at the Big Ten Match Play Championship, where the Illini men’s golf team finished fifth.

“Honestly, I felt great,” Hoffman said. “I worked really hard over the offseason to get my swing where I wanted it, and I felt like it all came together this weekend.

“I spent a lot of time at our practice facility. I worked hard on my swing to get to a point where I could repeat it on the course without thinking about it.”

Although the team finished fifth, Hoffman and All-Big Ten selection Scott Langley made a statement by winning all three of their matches during the weekend tournament. However, a slow start from the rest of the team put the Orange and Blue in a hole they couldn’t escape.

Illinois’ first-round loss against ninth-seeded Purdue sent the team to the consolation bracket, where it defeated Indiana and Michigan en route to its fifth-place finish at the Heron Bay Golf Club.

“(In the consolation bracket), we ended up playing two of the top seeds anyway and played pretty well. We beat each of them fairly handily,” head coach Mike Small said.

Langley attributes part of the team’s finish to the format of the match-play tournament.

“That’s kind of the nature of match play. It doesn’t necessarily identify the best stroke-play team,” Langley said. “There is such a fine line between getting first and fifth. If we win our first match, the whole story would have been different, but we lost, so all of the sudden the best we can do is fifth place.”

The key to Hoffman’s success was to get ahead early and not give the competition a chance to get back in the match.

“I felt like I played really well,” Hoffman said. “But more importantly, I feel like I closed well, which was nice. I didn’t give the person I was playing any room to breath and just closed them out when I had to.”

In the face of his team’s average finish, Small was pleased with the Illini’s resilience and drive, even when down early.

“It’s encouraging. We are definitely leaving on a positive note … We did accomplish some of our goals this weekend by identifying some issues we need to work on and knocking some of that rust off and competing,” Small said.