Illini freshmen showing major presence in first two fall tournaments

By Lauren Mroz

Last season, the Illinois men’s golf team tied for fifth at the NCAA Championships — their third top-five finish over the past four years. The team’s 3-2 loss to top-seeded Stanford was determined by only one hole that kept the Illini from reaching the national semifinals.

As hard as this close loss may have been for head coach Mike Small and the Illinois coaching staff in late May, there was much to look forward to at the start of the season. In addition to its top four contributors from last season, the Illini added four talented freshmen to this year’s lineup. Three of the freshmen were among the top-five recruits in their respective states, Nick Hardy (No. 2 in Ill.), Dylan Meyer (No. 2 in Ind.) and Colin Proctor (No. 5 in Ind.).

Hardy, Meyer and the Illini’s fourth freshman, Spencer Reed, all competed in the team’s first fall tournament at the Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invitational. Facing off against teams of second and third national rankings, Meyer tied for first with Stanford’s Maverick McNealy. Hardy tied for 12th, while Reed tied for 38th. In their following tournament at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate, Hardy tied for eighth and Meyer tied for 19th.

“They’re doing great,” Small said of his freshmen. “I think they fit in with the team very well. They’ve shown that they have the ability to compete in Division I golf. I’m anxious to see how they fit in academically moving forward, but they are doing great golf-wise.”

The transition into college has been fairly smooth for Hardy and Meyer. Having spent most of their high school days either in school or on the golf course, they said that their schedules at Illinois have been a lot easier than before. Not only do they have more free time outside of the classroom, but the Illini are also finishing up a three-week break between tournaments, which the freshmen said they have used to relax and catch up on schoolwork.

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A heavily golf-oriented schedule is nothing new for both Hardy and Meyer, whose fathers initiated each of their golf careers at a young age.

“My dad (introduced me to golf) back when I started walking and would take me to the par-3 course by my house.” Hardy said. “I carried plastic clubs around the backyard, and yeah, I’m definitely responsible for a few broken windows.”

Although they competed in a few of the same junior tournaments, Hardy and Meyer did not form their current friendship until after Meyer committed to Illinois. Their equal rankings coming into college have sparked a bit of rivalry between the two freshmen for state bragging rights; however, they know the internal competition is far from toxic and encourages each golfer to build on one another.

“We’re just an extra motivation for each other.” Hardy said. “When there’s competition within your team, there’s more competition with other teams.”

Both freshmen were looking for more than just a successful team record when deciding which college they would choose to play for. From their perspective, Small’s accomplished reputation will provide that.

“I know Coach Small has a great attitude and mindset.” Meyer said. “He’s developed his teams over the years, and that’s something that I need to advance my game. I can always improve physically, but there’s just something there that he has with the mental side of it.”

Both Hardy and Meyer are confident in the team’s ability to return to the national quarterfinals again this season, with a hope of advancing even further. Although only two tournaments into the season, the freshmen are excited to represent the top-ranked team and predict no stopping point throughout the season.

“We compete every day.” Meyer said. “We get better every day. Coach doesn’t slack off. We don’t slack off. If you want to become the best player you can be, Illinois is going to push you to do that.”

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