Illini men’s golf struggles, fails to repeat as champions

By Dan Bernstein

In match play, you need to make birdies. 

The Illinois men’s golf team was incapable of doing that this weekend at the par-72 Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla. The Illini failed to repeat as Big Ten Match Play Champions, as the team finished seventh out of 12 Big Ten teams.

“We did not go down and take care of business,” head coach Mike Small said. “It was disappointing and surprising the way we competed, but the Big Ten is a good, strong conference so any time a team in the Big Ten has a chance to get us. We need to meet their intensity. We can’t just waltz in there and think we’re going to win.”

Illinois entered the weekend as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, which gave it a first round bye into the quarterfinals where they faced Michigan. Sophomore Charlie Danielson got off to a good start for the Illini, as he defeated Reed Hrynewich 5 and 4. Danielson was able to take a 1-up lead at the turn, before birdieing four out of his first five holes on the back-nine to seal his match.

Brian Campbell also received a point for Illinois, as he was able to pull out a 1-up victory against Michigan’s Chris O’Neill. The match was all-square through 17-holes before approaching the longest par-4 on the course, the 482-yard 18th. Campbell was able to par the hole to take the match.

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“(The 18th hole) was playing pretty difficult, but I put myself in a good place off the tee,” Campbell said. “I used my short game to get up and down to save par. That round was a battle.”

The other three Illini golfers Jonathon Hauter, Alex Burge and Thomas Detry all lost their respective matches, as the Wolverines advanced to the semi-finals with a 3-2 victory. Small blamed the loss on the Illini’s inability to make birdies. Burge only birdied one hole in his 16-hole match, while Hauter finished with only two birdies. Detry lost four out of his final six holes to come up short in his match.

“We did not play with the edge we needed to play with,” Small said. “We were our biggest problem. We were soft.”

The Illini weren’t able to bounce back in the consolation bracket against Minnesota on Saturday morning. Campbell was the only Illinois golfer to win his match, as the Illini fell to the Gophers 2-1-2. Campbell managed to birdie six of the first 10 holes he played, but his solid performance was not enough.

In the Illini’s final matchup of the tournament, they were able to pull out the 2-2-1 victory because of the tie-breaker of total holes won.

After a disappointing seventh-place finish this weekend, the Illini will go back to work in Champaign for a couple weeks, before traveling to Tampa, Fla. to compete in the USF Championships.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @yaboybernie11.