Illinois men’s golf too early to settle on No. 1 ranking

By Lauren Mroz

The Illinois men’s golf team is No. 1 in Golfweek’s team rankings, but the Illini know, only two tournaments into the season, that their national status is merely a number that can be taken away.

“They don’t give a trophy or anything,” head coach Mike Small said. “The records 20 years from now aren’t going to show that we were No. 1 at this time. It only shows if we’re No. 1 at the end of the year, and that’s all we’re trying to get to.”

Illinois was dominant during its first two tournaments; in the Illini’s win at the Wolf Run Invitational on Sept. 20-21, Houston (52) was the highest-ranked competitor.

Still, Illinois’ average opponents should not take away from the Illini’s potential to win the NCAA tournament. The Illini only lost one graduate this past offseason, and are led by senior Brian Campbell and junior Charlie Danielson — both top-10 golfers nationally. The team added four promising freshmen, including Nick Hardy from Illinois and Dylan Meyer from Indiana — both the No. 2 high school players from their respective states. Both are currently on the team’s tournament roster — the group of five golfers on the roster that are chosen to compete.

Small said it is his job as a coach and leader of the program to continuously bring in new players each year who raise the bar so his veteran players continue to bring their best games.

“I’m just looking to bring consistency,” Hardy said, “Dylan and I have stepped in pretty early here, and we just want to add to what Brian, Charlie and Thomas have done the past couple of years and just try to win a national title.”

The Illini are currently in the second week of an unusual three-week break between tournaments, which Small said he thinks makes a lot of sense at the beginning of the season, since half of his team is freshmen.

During its break, the team plans to catch up on schoolwork, while improving the players’ individual games and eliminating weaknesses before their final two fall tournaments.

“We all have things we need to work on,” Danielson said. “Every part of our game, we need to sharpen up, but we’re definitely confident and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Small has incorporated competition among the players throughout their break to keep their games sharp and keep a steady momentum going into their next tournament.

This weekend, he is planning to give the team time off to regroup and work on their own, before coming back to practice next week.

Illinois will play its third tournament Oct. 13-14 at the Sagamore Preview in Noblesville, Ind.

“There’s no pressure.” Danielson said. “I think all of the guys realize that the rankings don’t matter. We’re going to go out and play our hardest everyday and the rankings will take care of itself.”

Lauren can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MrozLauren.