Encore title for Illini
May 2, 2010
Independence, Minn. -
The last time Illinois won back-to-back Big Ten titles in men's golf, the United States was still months away from entering World War II - 1940 and 1941. The Fighting Illini returned the entire line-up from 2009's conference title and survived an all out blitzkrieg from the likes of Michigan, Northwestern and finally Iowa in surviving for a three-shot victory to accomplish that feat that no Illinois team has in nearly 70 years.
For the second day in a row, Illinois struggled out of the gates, but used an assault on red numbers on the back nine to hold on for the team title. The Illini shot an 11-over par 295 to finish the tournament at +21 (1157) compared to +24 for second-place Iowa (1160).
Counting the two Big Ten titles, Illinois now has won 13 tournaments in last two seasons and 16 tournaments in the past three years.
"It's a testament to the kids," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "We talked about this three years ago when we finished third and set this as our goal. They bought in and have been resilient since then. They know how to win and close it out."
Junior Chris DeForest edged teammate Scott Langley out for Les Bolstad award signifying the top stroke average in the Big Ten this year (71.54). He is keenly award of the title's significance. "Last year we won for the first time in 20 years," he said. "To do it again solidifies this group as one of the best in school history."
Illinois entered the day with a 12-shot lead over Michigan, who posted the best score in Saturday's third round. Paced by individual medalist David Lipsky, Northwestern closed to within five shots of the Illini at the turn. Iowa also made a run charge to close to within four shots before the Hawkeyes Barrett Kelpin birdied 18 to account for the final margin. Iowa made up 13 shots on the Illini in the final round after posting a two-under par 282 as a team. Northwestern shot even par 284 to finish six strokes back at +27. Michigan shot a 299 to finish fourth at +37 followed by Purdue at +41. The Illini used its -6 in the first two rounds to build just enough cushion to hold on.
"It was nerve racking for the old coach." Small said of the closing holes. "We finished off with a number of birdies down the stretch, which was huge."
DeForest began the run by chipping in from in 55-feet for eagle on 13 and played the final 10 holes at -4.
"I knew it was getting close at that point," DeForest said. "When I holed it, I just got really excited. I was out of the individual race, but I knew that my team needed me. I just set a goal to do what I needed to do to finish strong."
"When something like that happens you try to spread the word," Small said of DeForest's eagle. "I think that lifted out guys' spirits a bit."
Sophomore Luke Guthrie posted three rounds of par or better and was named to the All-Tournament Team as one of the top five finishers. Guthrie's final round even par 71 was good enough for fourth overall at +2 (286). Lipsky also shot even par in the final round to claim the title at -3, two strokes in front of Michigan's Matt Thompson (-1) and three in front of Kelpin (even par). Guthrie overcame four straight bogeys on holes 3-6 to play the final 12 holes and -4.
"I came to Illinois to win championships," Guthrie said. "Hopefully we can add another one in a few weeks."
DeForest tied for 10th at +7 after a final round 72 on the 7,346-yard par 71 Windsong Farm Golf Course. Senior Zach Barlow, the second-round leader, tied for seventh at +6 after a final-round 78, giving Illinois three players in the top 10. Senior Matt Hoffman got up and down twice for par in the first two holes and finished off a 74 with a birdie on 18. Hoffman and senior Scott Langley tied for 24th at +13.
"This was totally a team effort," said Guthrie. "Everyone took turns covering for their teammates. It's what team golf is all about."
No. 14 Illinois earns the automatic bid from the Big Ten into the NCAA Regional. Assignments will be announced on Monday, May 10 for the six Regionals, which will be May 20-22. The top five teams at each regional advance to the NCAA Championships on June 1-5 in Chattanooga, Tenn.