Big Ten Champions | T-5th NCAA Championships | Stats
The 2010-11 season saw Illinois golf reach new heights. For starters, the Illini won five tournaments, bringing the impressive four-year total to 21. Next they maintained their stronghold on the Big Ten Conference with their third straight conference crown. Illinois advanced to the NCAA Finals for the fourth straight year, one of only seven schools in the country that can say that. Finally, the Illini tied for third in the 54-hole stroke play round of the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the match play round for the first time in school history.
Illinois won two tournaments in the fall. Senior Chris DeForest claimed his second career D.A. Weibring Invitational and his fifth career title overall. Only Steve Stricker has more career individual titles than DeForest. Illinois also won the team title at D.A. Weibring. The Illini began the season by winning the Wolf Run Invitational, defeating a field of 15. Eight months later the Illini returned to Wolf Run for the NCAA Regional, placing second.
Senior Scott Langley began the year in the top 10 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. In January, Langley was one of 16 players invited to a practice session for Walker Cup hopefuls. It would have been tough for Langley to match his success from 2009-10, but he was still a consistent force for the Illini in 2010-11. Of 11 tournaments, Langley placed in the top 15 in nine of them, including seven finishes inside the top 10.
Junior Luke Guthrie had a break-out season, emerging as Illinois' no. 1 player and ended the year by being named a PING first team All-American. Guthrie set the Illinois single-season stroke average record with a 71.36, while the Quincy, Ill., native career average of 72.71 is also tops.
Guthrie won four individual titles, the last three of those involved late round heroics. Guthrie was also the only player in the nation to win both his conference and regional titles in 2011.
Guthrie shot a final round 65 to win the Jack Nicklaus Invitational by three shots, defeating many of the top amateurs in the world from Oklahoma State and competitors from NCAA qualifying teams Oklahoma State, Texas, Arkansas, USC, LSU, Ohio State and Kent State.
At the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate, Guthrie and Kent State's John Hahn went into the last hole tied for the lead and Illinois and KSU tied for the team lead. Guthrie nailed a 30-foot birdie putt forcing Hahn to do the same, which he did. Both men tied for the title as did Illinois and Kent State on the team side.
At the Big Ten Championship, Guthrie was in a three-man race with Northwestern's David Lipsky and Iowa's Chris Brant. Guthrie matched Brant's birdie on the par-five 16th to maintain a one-shot lead. After Brant and Guthrie each pared 17, both men faced tricky two putts on 18, needing to both clear a steep ridge. Guthrie was first and played the ridge perfectly, needing only to tap in for the win at -1. Brant, also pared the hole and placed second at even par, while Lipsky finished his round with a birdie on 17 to end the tournament third at +1.
At the NCAA Regional, Guthrie matched wits with Lion Kim, a 2011 Master's participant from Michigan. Both men shot final round 65s to tie for the title. Guthrie played the final four holes at -4 with an eagle, a par and two birdies.
Illinois had victories over 19 of the final top 25 in the NIKE Coaches' poll on the year. The Illini reached the championship match of the 16-team Callaway Match Play Championship, defeating Baylor, No. 17 Texas Tech and No. 6 Texas A&M along the way and finished just behind top-ranked Oklahoma State at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational.
Illinois turned it on late in the season, first posting a convincing 19-shot victory at the Big Ten Championship.
Legendary course designer Pete Dye drew up the Kampen Course at Purdue to play long and be challenging for championship caliber golf. Dye was in the gallery for the final round to see the Illini shoot seven-under par as a team and post a +8 overall team score in winning the tournament over second-place Northwestern (+27), who also shot seven-under par 281 as a team in the fourth round. Iowa finished third at +29.
The win marked the first three-peat in the Big Ten Championship since Northwestern won three straight from 1999-2001 and just the seventh time a team has won three straight in the history of the tournament, which dates back to 1920.
Illinois had three players in the top five and four players in the top 10.DeForest had his fourth straight top 10 at the conference tournament, tying Scott Langley for fifth at +4. Freshman Thomas Pieters began his strong final month of the season with a tie for 10th after a pair of even par 72 rounds.
Illinois played well at the NCAA Regional, placing second at -9. Sophomore Mason Jacobs backed up Guthrie's 65 with a career-best 68 in the final round. All five Illinois players finished in the top 25 -- Guthrie (T1) Langley (T9th), Jacobs (T14th), Pieters (T16th), and DeForest (T23rd).
The Illini entered the NCAA Championship as the No. 9 seed and lived up to its ranking, tying for third out of 30 teams in the 54-hole stroke play round. The Illini had the best second round score of any team with a one-under par 287, which included a three-under par 69 from Guthrie, who tied DeForest for 13th individually, earning them all-tournament honors.
Pieters finished the year strong, which included a tie for 20th at the NCAA at +4. He tied for the best final round with a two-under par 70 at Karsten Creek.
The Illini reached the NCAA quarterfinal match play round, posting the highest finish by the program since 1941. Georgia ended Illinois' season with a 3.5-1.5 victory. Pieters won his match 2up over the Bulldogs' T.J. Mitchell.
The tournament ended a great career for a pair of seniors in Langley and DeForest. The duo were highly touted junior level players and lived up to their billing, leading the Illini to 21 tournament titles, eight titles individually between the two of them, three Big Ten titles and a third-place finish at the conference meet, four NCAA appearances, and the best Illinois finish in two generations. Langley won the NCAA title in 2010 and both men qualified for the U.S. Open -- Langley in 2010 and DeForest in 2011.