Illinois women’s golf feels confident heading into Big Ten Championships

The Illinois women’s golf team is set for Big Ten Championships just three days after its sixth-place finish at the Lady Buckeye Spring Invite. 

The team practiced just once Tuesday before departing for the Pete Dye Course at the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind., during the late afternoon Wednesday.

“Given the short time window between tournaments, team practice time has been limited,” head coach Renee Slone said. ”We had a great cardio workout (walking the ramps with backpacks at Memorial Stadium) Monday morning to help prepare for the elevation changes at the Pete Dye Golf Course. The team had strength training on Tuesday morning with a stretching routine. Practice on Tuesday was at Stone Creek (Golf Club in Urbana) with some individual practice time and nine holes of play. During the round, the focus was on breaking the fairway into thirds and the greens into sixths.”

Despite the short amount of time, the Illini aren’t worried.

“The team is feeling very confident heading into Big Tens,” junior Erin Ahern said. “We are coming off of our best finish at the Lady Buckeye Invitational since 2006. The Scarlet Course definitely tested us, but we managed the course well and gained a lot of confidence.” 

Slone also said the team’s final nine holes at the Lady Buckeye Spring Invite were strong, so the golfers will be looking to use that as momentum heading into the three-day conference tournament.

The Illini are also confident because of their experience at the course, as the team practiced there in the fall.

“Feeling comfortable with a golf course is very important,” Ahern said. “Playing it back in the fall eliminated any big surprises from popping up during the practice round. For the most part, we know what to expect so, we feel more confident. There is a lot of slope around the greens, so short game will be crucial. It is also a course that requires good lines off of the tee. I think that we play better on courses that require accuracy and precision, so this is definitely an advantage.

Junior Jackie Calamaro added: “It’s definitely a course where you just need to be able to manage your game well and understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. So the nice thing is it doesn’t necessarily favor a player with a specific kind of game. If you play it smart, you’ll be able to score.” 

One disadvantage Calamaro did mention, though, is the difference in course conditions. When the golfers played at the course in the fall, it was wet. However, there aren’t many concerns, as the Illini will be able to reacclimate themselves with the course in Thursday’s practice round.

The course doesn’t have many trees, which allows the wind to play a large factor. Luckily for Illinois, Tuesday’s practice took place in windy conditions, so the golfers have a recent experience to relate to.

Northwestern and Ohio State come into the event as the highest ranked teams in the Big Ten at 12th and 25th. For Illinois, there’s plenty of confidence heading into the weekend, and both Ahern and Calamaro were sure the team goal this weekend is to win; however, Slone isn’t as certain.

“We have discussed all year that we are fully capable of winning Big Tens,” Slone said. “But now we need to focus on the processes that will make the opportunity a reality.”

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