Illinois men’s golf headed to prestigious Isleworth

The Illinois men’s golf team, which has already won two tournaments this fall, is poised to compete in one of the most prestigious college tournaments this weekend. 

The Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in Windermere, Fla., will play host to 15 of the elite NCAA Division I teams throughout the country.  This will include two top-five teams in last year’s national champion No. 1 Alabama and perennial power No. 4 California. In total, there will be eight top-25 teams participating in the tournament. 

The Illini are not completely new to the tournament having participated from 2007-09, but it will be a new experience for every member of the current Illini team. 

Head coach Mike Small described the tournament as one of the best events in the country and said it is in very high demand. He said Windermere is a fun tournament for all of the players and a great experience considering it’s home to some of the best golf professionals in the world.

Isleworth Golf & Country Club has consistently been ranked the longest and toughest course in Florida by the Florida State Golf Association (FSGA). It demands precise drives and accurate short game shots and has been known to yield higher scores than most other college tournaments. 

When asked to compare Isleworth with The Course at Yale, where the Illini last competed, Small said the courses are a complete “antithesis” of each other.  

The biggest difference is that Isleworth has Bermuda grass, which is much thicker than most other grasses that are commonly seen at golf courses. This poses a challenge for the Illini, especially around the greens. It’s also what the Illini have spent the majority of their time preparing for.  

This week, Small has emphasized how important short game will be at Isleworth and has tried his best to prepare for the Bermuda grass that he expects will cause problems for his players.

Senior Jonathan Hauter, who has never played at the course before, has worked on preparing his short game as well as mental game for the tournament this weekend. 

“I have put more focus inside 100 yards,” he said. 

He also said it is different playing against some of the top teams in the country as opposed to at The Macdonald Cup, which mostly consisted of Ivy League teams. Sophomore David Kim said, “Playing good together is all we can really control,” in reference to how this tournament will be different, especially due to a more competitive field.  

The Illini, currently No. 6 in the GolfWeek rankings, have a good opportunity to beat some of the toughest schools in the country as well as capping off a solid fall season, but that does not mean they are satisfied heading into their last event of the fall.

“You are only as tough as your last event,” Small said.

Kieran can be reached at [email protected]