DeForest, Illini take first in Florida

At the FAU Spring Break Invitational last weekend, junior Chris DeForest led the No. 12 Illinois men’s golf team to an 18-stroke victory, while finishing in first place individually.

DeForest beat out Eastern Michigan’s Cam Burke and Notre Dame’s Doug Fortner after initially trailing Fortner through 18 holes. DeForest finished the tournament at 8 under par — four strokes ahead of his closest competitor.

“It felt great to put it all together and win the tournament,” DeForest said. “I’ve been struggling the last couple weeks here, but I was able to just keep the ball in play and keep the ball under control.”

Even with the individual win, DeForest is putting the team first.

“It was good to know I had my team’s support,” DeForest said. “We were fighting for a team title, and that helped me keep my mind off of my individual results, which took a little bit of pressure off of me.”

After day one of the three-day, 54-hole tournament at Gleneagles Country Club, the Illini led Notre Dame by six strokes in the 16-team field by posting a 2-under-par 282.

Day two brought more of the same for the Orange and Blue, as they increased their lead to 12 strokes behind stellar second-round performances from DeForest and senior Zach Barlow, who each shot a 3-under 68.

By the end of day three, the Illini had built a commanding 18-stroke lead and the team held that lead until the end of the 54th hole.

Head coach Mike Small applauded his team’s ability to improve throughout each round.

“We got better every day,” Small said. “That’s the goal when you play tournament golf. You want to improve every day that you see the same golf course. We did that (this weekend).”

Small said his team was able to fight back even after hitting some shots poorly.

“We had a lot of good shots this weekend, but we also had some bad shots,” Small said. “But the team was able to recover from those bad shots with a solid short game and some good putts.”

Junior Scott Langley, who finished the tournament tied for fifth place with Barlow at 3 under par, said the team was never content with the lead it had built.

“We never let up,” Langley said. “We didn’t just try to hold our lead. We played aggressively. We wanted to put it away early and win by a lot.”

Even with the 18-stroke win, Small is focused on improving and continuing to play well for the remainder of the season.

“We are trying to get better every week,” Small said. “We’re not going to stand pat with what we have. My goal, and our goal, is to get better than this.”