Illinois men’s golf no longer perfect

By Lauren Mroz

The Illinois men’s golf team’s No. 1 ranking was put to the test Oct. 19-21 at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational at the Lake Nona Golf and Country Club — a course well-known for its difficulty. Competing with a talented group of fifteen teams that included ten of Golfweek’s top 50 teams, the Illini needed to be at the top of their games this week in order to continue their undefeated fall season.

The Illini opened the tournament with a strong first round, posting a 12-under-par 276. That was only enough to land them a fourth-place finish, which is where they would stay for the remainder of the tournament. After a poor second round on the forest-lined, lake-surrounded course in Orlando, Florida, the Illini sat 15 strokes behind first-place Vanderbilt. 

Freshman Dylan Meyer showed the only sign of consistency for the Illini in the second round. He stood at 2-under-par through 16 holes before making his first bogey of the round on the par-3 17th hole. His round landed him in 12th place, tied with teammate junior Charlie Danielson. Meyer’s steady stride did not continue into the final round as he found himself in 29th to tie with teammate senior Brian Campbell.

Freshman Nick Hardy led the team in the final round, shooting a season-best 5-under-par 67. Danielson added a 3-under-par 69. The Illini bounced back to finish with the second-best round of the day (-12) at 276 but had too wide a margin to overcome, contributing to their first loss of the season.

Coming off a tournament win at the Sagamore Fall Preview Oct. 13-14 and Big Ten Golfer of the Week honors, junior Thomas Detry struggled in Orlando. A 78 in the second round dropped him from 16th place to 50th. He made up some strokes in the final round, however, and finished at 217, tied for 40th.

This week’s loss concludes fall play for the Illini, along with ending their undefeated season. It was Illinois’ best start since Steve Stricker led the 1988-89 team to a 4-0 fall season.

“I thought it was some solid golf,” head coach Mike Small said. “As a coach, you have to take the good with the bad at times. This wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t our best. I’m proud of the guys for finishing up the way they did. With a fourth place finish in an event like that, a lot of teams would take that.”

The loss also puts the team’s No. 1 ranking in jeopardy. Illinois’ spot at No. 1 marks the first time since 2001, when the coaches’ poll started, that a northern school has claimed the top spot in a nationally recognized poll.

“I’m proud of the guys.” Small said. “They’ve earned the rights to be selected out. They’ve worked hard for this. They deserve to get some of the fruits of their labor. That being said, a lot of these teams will get better over the winter, so we need to continue to get better ourselves.”

The Illini head back to Florida January 24 for the Tinervin Cup in Placida where they will compete against the Illinois State Redbirds for the competitors’ 11th annual face off. Illinois has won all ten of the previous matchups.

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