Men’s golf upset in first round of Big Ten Match Play

Heading into the Big Ten Match Play Championship, the Illinois men’s golf team was expecting much more than an opening-round loss. But the Illini — the tournament’s No. 1 seed — fell to Minnesota in a tiebreaker in the first round in Bradenton, Fla.

Senior Luke Guthrie, the team’s No. 1 golfer, finished with two bogeys on the final two holes, losing his match after not trailing through the first 16 holes. Sophomores Thomas Pieters, Mason Jacobs and Jonathan Hauter were able to notch victories for the Illini, but losses by junior Ross Frankenberg and freshman Brian Campbell necessitated the tiebreaker, which the Gophers won 10-6.

“It’s disappointing, but not the end of the world by any means,” Illinois head coach Mike Small said. “When the seven and eight seed go to the final match, it really shows how deep of a tournament this was. It’s still early on, and everything depended on one 18-hole match, and sometimes the breaks just don’t go your way.”

The Illini have not fared well in Big Ten Match Play; they lost in the semifinals as the No. 1 seed in last year’s tournament.

“The last couple of years have been rough down there,” Jacobs said. “It’s never good, but we did lose in a playoff. It’s not like we were dominated in any way. We really wanted to win, but it just didn’t pan out the way we wanted.”

The loss eliminated the Illini from title contention, but they were able to save face Saturday in a consolation match, sweeping Nebraska 6-0.

“We definitely played better against Nebraska,” Small said. “All the guys were focused and we deserved the win. It’s still early on in the season, and it’s nice to see our play getting better throughout a weekend.”

Illinois played just one consolation match due to time constraints. Jacobs, Pieters and Hauter were bright spots for the Illini, going 2-0 on the weekend.

“My play wasn’t too bad,” Pieters said. “I made the putts when I had to, which really helped out. The first match was a lot of fun. I really didn’t play well the first nine holes but turned it on during the second half. It was close the whole time, which made it fun.”

The Illini will head down to Mobile, Ala., to compete in the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate next weekend.

“We’re now going back to stroke play, which is different,” Jacobs said. “This weekend was definitely a good experience, as we went up against some stiff competition. We’re still knocking off the rust. Every one has areas to work on, and (we) still need to learn a lot.”