No. 2 Illinois Looks to regain top ranking

By Drake Pena

For the first time this season, the Illinois men’s golf team is no longer at the top of the collegiate rankings.

The Illini now rank second behind Valspar Collegiate Invitational winner, Florida State — the Illini finished seventh in the field of 13. But head coach Mike Small is not bothered by the changing rankings.

“It doesn’t matter to me, rankings are flattering but it has no bearing on who wins the championship,” Small said. “At the end of the day, we play for championships, not rankings, and we know that we need to play better.”

The team has an opportunity to bounce back at this weekend’s 3M Augusta Invitational. The Augusta Invitational takes place April 4-5 at the Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

The tournament covers 54 holes in a shotgun format, which allows for it to be completed in less time, since a large number of golfers begin play simultaneously. The tournament is in its 37th year and 34th at Forest Hills Golf Club.

The Invitational once again pits Illinois against a strong field of competitors, including the No. 3-ranked Texas, No. 20 Oklahoma State and reigning Augusta Invitational champion, Central Florida. The field also features Big Ten rival Purdue, who Illinois gets a chance to look at before its next tournament, the Boilermaker Invitational, hosted by Purdue.

In the last two tournaments Illinois’ results have been a mixed bag. Great individual performances by junior Charlie Danielson — who finished sixth in individual play at the Louisiana Classics — and junior Thomas Detry — who finished third in individual play in the Valspar Collegiate Invitational — didn’t correlate to strong team finishes.

Small has been encouraging the team to focus on the competitions that lie ahead.

“We understand we need to play better, and if we play to our ability, we can win,” Small said. “We don’t preach worry, we don’t preach nervousness, we treat every day as a new day and I’m not concerned.”

Small said one of the positives from the past few weeks has been the play of Detry, who is coming off his fourth Big Ten Golfer of the Week award, and arguably his best performance of the season — he shot a 205 (-8) in the Valspar Collegiate Invitational and never shot above 69 in any of his three rounds.

“Thomas is a good player,” Small said. “Thomas did work hard, he worked hard this winter, he’s now starting to mature and handle adversity on the golf course. I would call it a normal maturation process for a player who wants to be great.”

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