Matt Hoffman has the best stroke average for Illinois this spring.
April 22, 2008
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois golf is battle-tested heading into this weekend's Big Ten Championship at the Forest Akers West Course in East Lansing, Mich. The Illini have faced seven of the other 10 schools in the past month, having defeated four of the seven schools head to head. More importantly, Illinois has been playing consistent golf with four top three-finishes, including two titles, during the spring.
Illinois will enter this weekend's tournament with two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. Of those five, only sophomore Matt Hoffman participated for Illinois at last year's Big Ten Tournament. Although all five have had their ups and downs, three have won tournaments and two others have contended at major events.
Freshman Scott Langley is the only Illinois player to be in the line-up each time this season. He ranks second on the team in stroke average and holds a win at the Argonaut Invitational in Pensacola. His 65 in round two of the Marshall Invitational is tied for the fourth-best in school history.
Freshman Chris DeForest won the D.A. Weibring Invitational in October with a school-record 63 in the final round to win that tournament individually. DeForest had his best tournament of the spring at the Fighting Illini Invitational, tying for fourth.
Sophomore Matt Hoffman has made the most noise this spring. He was in the line-up in only three of the five tournaments in the fall. This spring, however, Hoffman has three top-ten finishes in six tournaments. In windy conditions, Hoffman shot a tournament best 73 to win the individual title and lift Illinois to a come-from behind victory at the Fighting Illini Spring Invitational.
Both sophomore Zach Barlow and junior Larry Blatt have been in contention going into the final rounds of tournaments this year. Blatt shot 70-69 in his first 36 holes on a challenging Olympia Fields course against a top 25 field. He was tied for third heading into the final round before finishing tied for 15th.
Barlow has demonstrated his ability to play better rounds later in the tournament with his best finishes coming to end the fall season, a sixth at the Wolverine at Mission Inn, and to start the spring, a fourth at the Argonaut Invitational.
"Everyone we're taking this weekend has proven they can play at this level," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "The consistency just has to be there. That comes with maturity and understanding how to play your own game. Last week we played well for 45 of 54 holes, but we have to have a total team effort and have to all be on our games this week to post a solid finish."
Illinois has finished in the top five at the conference meet in four of the last six seasons, including three seconds. The Illini have just one title since 1941, which came in 1988 when Illinois head coach Mike Small and Steve Stricker, one of the top five ranked players currently in the world, were members of the squad. Illinois was five strokes out of first in a second-place finish in 2004.
Illinois is ranked 55th nationally in the latest Golfweek computer rankings, sixth among Big Ten schools. Michigan State and Indiana pace the way at 24th and 25th followed by Penn State (36), Michigan (43), Ohio State (49), Illinois (55), Northwestern (62), Wisconsin (63), Minnesota (76), Purdue (101) and Iowa (105).
"It's a wide open tournament," Small said. "Michigan State and Indiana have probably separated themselves all season long and they have arguably the two best individuals. But last week at Purdue, we hung with them. In a 72-hole tournament, usually the top teams rise in the end, but honestly, there are a number of teams who, if they get hot, can win it."