Illinois women’s golf set to compete at Diane Thomason Invitational

It has been nearly a month since the Illinois women’s golf team played, with its last competition being in mid-September, but now it will be back on the golf course in Iowa City, Iowa, for the Diane Thomason Invitational. Since the hiatus, the players have been able to do extra work practicing and improving their skills.

“We started off with two tournaments back-to-back,” head coach Renee Slone said. “We got off to a very good start, and then, it enabled us to really assess where we were at, what we needed to work on, and gave us the opportunity to do so, to really work on and focus in on some things.”

One thing that was emphasized during practices was working on the short game, whether it was putting or chipping. This will be of good use this weekend at the par-72 Finkbine Golf Course at the University of Iowa. Senior Ember Schuldt recently played at the course during a weekend off.

“I’ve been able to share a couple of things (with the team),” Schuldt said. “Especially like a lot of green stuff, with chipping and different shots along the line, so it was definitely helpful for preparation.”

With so much time to practice, Illinois is confident it can handle anything it encounters. If there was anything to be learned from its last tournament, the Minnesota Invitational — where Illinois finished one shot out of first place — it would be, as Schuldt put it, “that every shot matters.”

“Just playing hard from the very start all the way until the final putt,” Slone said. “And remembering that every shot has equal value, whether it’s the first hole of the tournament or the 54th hole.”

The tournament itself will consist of three rounds of 18 holes, with two Saturday and one Sunday. Freshmen Emily Joers and Stephanie Miller, juniors Michelle Mayer and Sam Postillion and Schuldt will be competing for the team this weekend. Junior Jackie Calamaro will also be at the tournament competing independently.

Illinois will be one of 12 teams competing, with fellow Big Ten teams Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan also golfing at the invitational. Although Slone does not view any team as the Illini’s biggest opponent, Calamaro mentioned No. 24 Ohio State and Iowa as potential top rivals for the weekend.

“Traditionally, (Ohio State is) a pretty good team, and obviously, they’re a Big Ten team, so we always want to beat a Big Ten team,” Calamaro said. “I think Iowa definitely has some advantage since it’s their home course … but I think we have a lot of confidence coming into this tournament, and I think — I know we can beat any team there, for sure.”

In the two tournaments Illinois has participated in so far, they have finished third and second, respectively. The start provides a hopeful outlook after Illinois finished 12th in the Big Ten last season. Slone said the important thing is for the Illini to concentrate.

“We absolutely need to stay focused the entire time,” Slone said. “And being so close has really motivated everyone and reminded everyone to take care of the little things that are necessary, and so I think it has helped everyone raise the bar that much more.”

Ashley can be reached at [email protected] and @wijangco12.