Freshman Mason Jacobs has made great progress on his short game since the fall.
March 24, 2009
Champaign, Ill. - Last spring an Illini team of mainly freshmen and sophomores burst back onto the national scene, finishing third in the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Regional and 17th at the NCAA meet. The strides made during the mid-season break at the Demirjian Indoor Facility were largely responsible for the growth of the team.
Now as Illinois looks to take the next step toward competing for top spots at both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, freshmen Luke Guthrie and Mason Jacobs are reaping the benefits of the fall season of college golf and some hard work during the winter months.
Both players came to Illinois with impressive credentials. Guthrie won back-to-back large school state titles and was ranked as a top ten player on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) last summer. Jacobs, meanwhile, won a record three straight Illinois state titles - winning in both Class A (2006 and 2007) and Class 2A (2008).
During the fall, Guthrie competed in two tournaments and Jacobs in three for Illinois, combining for one under par round, an impressive 64 by Guthrie en route to a third place finish at the D.A. Weibring Invitational. Jacobs, meanwhile, shot a best round of 72 at the Windon Memorial.
"Everybody tells you it's a big jump," Guthrie said. "It is a change in lifestyle. It caught me off guard a little bit, but I think I've adapted to it now," Guthrie said.
"You hear about it, but until you experience it, you don't really know," Jacobs added.
This spring, the freshmen have led the charge. Jacobs hovered in the top ten through the first round of the General Jim Hackler Championship, finishing a team best 24th while Guthrie was the Illini's second best in 32nd. Both men split the Match Play matches in the first two events of the season and credit both Coach Mike Small and the Demirjian Golf Practice Facility for elevating their games during the mid-season.
"I've worked with coach on my game trying to get it better and improve as much as I can," Guthrie said. "I have a long way to go still, but I feel good about the direction I'm going. My swing has gotten a lot better. It's more technically sound. I feel like I can repeat it more often,"
"I've been working pretty hard on my swing with coach and my short game because I needed to add a few more shots around the green," Jacobs said. "I'm starting to hit the ball a little better. Confidence is a big thing. I lost a little of it in the fall with ball striking, but once that has come around, I'm starting to hit some good shots and getting it going."
The duo will be key to the success of the club as the big spring tournaments loom. The Illini are now 16th in the Golfweek and 20th in the Golfstat computer rankings following an uncharacteristic 13th place finish at the General Hackler Championships.
"That was a strange event," said Illinois head coach Mike Small. "Everything was different. We had two people sick. That was a difficult week, but you have those during the course of the year and we have to see how we respond."
Illinois returns to action this weekend at the FAU Spring Break Invitational. This follows four days of practice and team qualifying rounds during the week. The mainly Midwestern field takes to the Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla., on March 27-29. The nation's number one ranked player, Mike Van Sickle of Marquette, headlines the field individually.
The Illini are among six Big Ten teams in the tournament, which also includes Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Host Florida Atlantic, Eastern Michigan, Marquette, Memphis, Missouri, Northern Illinois, and Notre Dame round out the field.
"I'm confident in this team," Small said. "The last tournament doesn't change my thought process or my expectations. We have good players, we just have to get guys healthy and get our focus and our mental intensity where it belongs."
Guthrie and Jacobs will play a major role in what could still be an historic spring for the Illini.
"They are a hard-working duo," Small said of this year's freshmen class. "When they get on a roll and in a rhythm, they are good players. I still think they are trying to figure out how to how to prepare, how to practice and how to compete at this level. Their futures are bright, but we're going to need those guys to step up this spring for us to be good as a team."