Illinois men’s golf finishes 6th in Fighting Illini Invitational

A rough start had the Illinois men’s golf team tied for eighth after the first two days of its lone home meet of the season. The Illini attributed it to a lackadaisical mind-set, and a talk with Illinois head coach Mike Small on Saturday night helped the team focus.

“He told us we didn’t have any pressure because we didn’t have anything to lose but plenty to win,” sophomore Thomas Detry said. “We finished second in nationals last year, so we all know that we have the ability to play well and shoot low scores.”

Illinois played like a different team Sunday. As a team, Illinois shot 2-over-par, vastly improved from their previous scores of 15-over and 16-over. The performance was good enough for sixth place in the Fighting Illini Invitational.

“We weren’t going to go down like losers the last day,” junior Brian Campbell said. “We were going to fight to the end.”

Campbell led Illinois in the fight, with a 3-under-par 67 in Sunday’s final round, the only under-par round for the Illini in the tournament.

Illinois finished with a final score of 873, 24 strokes behind No. 1 Alabama, which defeated Illinois in the NCAA championship in June. The tournament had eight teams in the top 25.

Illinois’ top finisher on the weekend was sophomore Thomas Detry, who shot a 72 on Friday and 71 on both Saturday and Sunday.

“He’s a smooth, consistent player,” Small said. “He was the star of the week to do what he did with this field.”

Illinois’ top golfer, Campbell, scored 7-over and 6-over in his first two rounds, but he finished with the only round under par by the Illini with a 3-under on Sunday. Campbell said he let his new role affect him.

“It shouldn’t, but it definitely had a little impact on me, having a new role on the team,” said Campbell, who replaced 2012 NCAA champion Thomas Pieters as Illinois’ No. 1. “It’s one I need to embrace.”

Illinois’ lone senior, Jonathan Hauter, led the way on the first day with a one-over, but struggled the last two days, shooting a 15-over and 7-over, respectively. Hauter hadn’t competed for the Illini since March 6, 2012.

Detry said the strong finish should help the Illini at next weekend’s Wolf Run Invitational in Zionsville, Ind.

“It builds confidence after every good round; the last round was very big for confidence,” he said.

Small headed straight to O’Hare International Airport following the tournament to head to England, where he will compete in the PGA Cup from Friday through Sunday. The tournament, which is held every two years, is a Ryder Cup-style tournament pits the PGA Professionals of the United States versus the professionals of England and Ireland.

This will be Small’s fifth time competing in the tournament, where he has six wins, ten losses and three halves. The United States is 3-1 in his appearances.

Small will miss the Wolf Run Invitational, which the Illini will compete in next weekend.

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and @jhett93.