Illini women’s golf finishes fifth in South Carolina

By Lucas Wright

Johns Island, South Carolina was the site of a big comeback for the Illinois women’s golf team Sunday.

The Illini carded a fifth-place finish at the Briar’s Creek Invitational with a 31-over par 895 — the best finish by a Big Ten team. Illinois topped Michigan State by one stroke, and finished ahead of Maryland, Penn State and Indiana.

Freshman Dana Gattone busted out of her slump and finishing in a tie for 14th ­with a 4-over 220, 13 shots back of the leader and the best individual Illini finish. Gattone opened the tournament with a 7-over 79 but wasn’t alone in her first-round struggles.

Saturday the Illini carded a first-round 28-over 316, leaving them in 16th place, only ahead of Indiana. The score was the team’s worst single-round total since October, when it shot 316 in the second round of the Diane Thomason Invitational.

“It was a rough start out there. The entire first day we got rain, and it was pretty constant,” Gattone said. “All the teams were challenged by the weather conditions, and the course was playing soft, so it was playing very long.”

The effects of the poor conditions were felt by the field as a whole on the first day, but head coach Renee Slone believes that the biggest problems for the Illini were on the greens and in their heads.

“Speed control on the greens was not very good starting off,” Slone said. “Early on in the round we had a couple of team members struggle determining club selections to the greens and making the calculations for the conditions.”

However, the Illini rebounded in rounds two and three. Gattone shot an even-par 72 to climb into the top-25, and ended her tournament with a season-low — and career-low — round of 3-under 69.

“I was ready to have a really good round, and to have it at this tournament was awesome to me,” Gattone said. “I knew I was playing well the last day, but I didn’t really add up my score at all, and I was my first time actually ever breaking 70, which I was unaware I even shot that.”

As a team, Illinois banded together to put up a 4-over 292 in the second round and climbed nine spots on the leaderboard into a tie for seventh. It managed this behind an even-par round from Gattone, 1-over rounds from freshman Grace Park and sophomore Emily Joers and a 2-over round from sophomore Stephanie Miller.

The final round was the peak for the Illini during the tournament. The team carded a 1-under score of 287, the fifth-lowest round of the tournament and its lowest round all season. Along with Gattone, Park also went under par with a 2-under 70. Miller added a 1-over 73, and Joers rounded out the team by shooting a 3-over 75.

Its fifth-place finish is the best finish for the Illini this spring. Slone said the solid finish will help instill some confidence in the team.

“The team bounced back very well,” Slone said. “This just helped provide confirmation that we are able to play really good golf and can do so in less than ideal conditions.”

Illinois will look to bring its newfound confidence into its next event Monday and Tuesday at the Web.com Intercollegiate Tournament. The two-day event will take place in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

The field will feature two fellow Big Ten teams: Ohio State and Minnesota. Also in the field are Miami and Florida State, who rank 35th and 36th in the country, respectively.

The Illini have spent their time between tournaments practicing and relaxing in Georgia, and Slone believes that this time off, coupled with their recent tournament success, will greatly benefit the team.

“We’ve had some time to work on things, and we have some areas we’ve keyed in on,” Slone said. “It’s definitely been a nice boost, and we can definitely take a lot of positives from it and hopefully build off of it.”

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