Illinois men’s golf misses out on Big Ten six-peat

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By Dan Berstein

The No. 8 Illinois men’s golf team arrived at the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Indiana, this weekend as the winners of the last five Big Ten Championships. Heading into the final round on Sunday, they trailed the Minnesota Golden Gophers by seven strokes.

Head coach Mike Small had some words with his team before the final round.

“I told them to be the chaser and not the chase,” Small said. “We’re used to people chasing us and for the most part, we did that pretty good for most of the day.”

A windy third round of play on Saturday caused some high scores across the board, but the Illini’s Charlie Danielson was able to grind out an even-par 72 to stay within three strokes of the individual lead heading into Sunday; behind Minnesota’s Jose Mendez. Danielson carded scores of 71 and 76 in his first two rounds on Friday, before his round of 72 on Saturday.

“I knew that it was going to be really windy and a real tough day,” Danielson said about his round on Saturday. “I told myself that I had to stay patient no matter what happened and just grind it out. I got off to a rough start and lost my ball on hole two, but stayed patient and fought back.”

The Illini’s Brian Campbell was tied for 14th after three rounds with scores of 72-73-82, while Thomas Detry was tied for 20th after shooting rounds of 77-75-77. Jonathan Hauter also contributed with rounds of 77-75-78, while the Illini’s David Kim carded rounds of 78-75-81.

“Saturday was a day that separated a lot of people,” Small said.

The conditions on Sunday were much more favorable for the golfers, and the Illini took advantage early. Danielson birdied the first two holes, before bogeying holes four and eight to make the turn at even-par for the day and 3-over for the tournament. With nine holes remaining, Danielson trailed Mendez by four strokes. Detry came out hot on Sunday with birdies on holes three, seven, nine and 10, before bogeying three of his final eight holes to finish a solid round of 71.

The five-time defending champions were giving the Gophers all they could handle, as Danielson started striking the ball as well as he has all year on the back-nine. He birdied holes 10, 13 and 14 to tie him with Mendez for the lead after 14 holes. Danielson parred 15 and 16, while Mendez faltered at 16 with a bogey. With three golfers apiece left on the course, the Gophers led the Illini by two strokes heading into 18.

Danielson, however, stood on the tee-box of the par-5 18th with a one-stroke lead in the individual standings.

“I was confident on 18,” Danielson said. “I was just focused on the next shot. I was confident all day.”

Danielson pulled his tee shot to the left, which left him with a tough side-hill lie for his second shot. Despite the bad lie, he was able to hit a solid second shot which left him with 90 yards to the green.

“I shanked my next shot into the bunker,” said Danielson. “I hit my bunker shot to about 22 feet and two-putted for bogey.”

Mendez was able to par the 18th hole to give him a share of the Big Ten Individual Title. Minnesota snapped the Illini’s Big Ten Title run.

“I think Minnesota won the tournament on Saturday,” Small said.

Minnesota won the tournament by four strokes. On Saturday, they beat the Illini by seven.

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