Scott Langley ranks third in the Big Ten Golfweek Sagarin Head-to-Head rankings.
April 28, 2009
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois men's golf has put together one of or perhaps its best regular season in school history. Now the Illini vie to take that momentum into success during post-season.
Over the course of the 2008-09 season, the Illini have reached the number one ranking in the Golfstat computer rankings and racked up a school-record six tournament victories as a team and four tourneys individually. Now Illinois tries to take the momentum of a three-tournament winning streak into this week's Big Ten Championship.
Penn State will host the Big Ten Championships May 1-3. The 7,150-yard Blue Course is hosting the event for the first time since 1996. The 72-hole tournament will begin with 36 holes Friday with 18 more Saturday and Sunday. Illinois enters the tournament as one of the favorites, looking for its first Big Ten title since Head Coach Mike Small, Steve Stricker and company claimed the title in 1988.
Illinois has faced every Big Ten team at some point during the spring, defeating six other conference schools at its most recent event, the Boilermaker Invitational. The Illini made up eight strokes in the final three holes to edge Penn State by one stroke at nine-under par.
No other team in the top 25 has as many team titles as Illinois' six. Top-ranked Georgia has five titles followed by Washington and LSU with four.
The Illini enter the Big Ten Championship ranked 12th in the latest Golf World/NIKE Coaches' poll, two spots behind Indiana (10th). The Illini and the Hoosiers met the most of any conference teams this year with the Illini coming out on top in four of those.
The reputation of the Big Ten in golf is building. Besides Indiana and Illinois, who have been consistently in the top 10 or 15 all season, the conference has four other teams in the top 51 according to Golfstat - Michigan State (37), Michigan (41), Ohio State (48) and Northwestern (51) - with Penn State (59), Iowa (62) and Minnesota (64) close behind. Iowa played in the final group at the Boilermaker and was the only other team in the field to finish under par.
"We saw it last week at the Boilermaker - there are lot of good teams in the Big Ten," Small said. "We know we can play with them, but we also know we have to show up and play. There's a good six, seven or eight teams that could win this thing."
The Hoosiers feature one of the contenders for the NCAA crown in Jorge Campillo, while last week's Big Ten Player of the Week, Kevin Foley, paces host Penn State. What has made Illinois so strong this season has been its strong complete line-up. The Illini have three players in the top ten of the Golfweek/Sagarin Big Ten Player ratings - sophomore Scott Langley (3rd in the Big Ten and 24th overall nationally), sophomore Chris DeForest (8th) and freshman Luke Guthrie (9th). Only Indiana with Campillo (1) and Alex Martin (7th) has more than one player in that category.
Langley and Illinois junior Zach Barlow each have two tournament titles this season. Barlow tied Martin for the title at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational in September. Illinois has 20 rounds in the 60s this season with all five players in the line-up this weekend having scored a 66 or better. Langley has finished out of the top 12 just once in nine tournaments in 2008-09. Two of the other member of Illinois' line-up, junior Matt Hoffman and DeForest, each has tournament titles in his young career.
"Our strength is our depth," Small said. "We're going to need all five guys to show up and play and at least a couple to bust out and not be afraid to play low. We've done a good job building the momentum this spring. Individually, guys are rounding into shape."
Small adds that although this team has confidence heading into the weekend, he's not approaching it any different than he has all season long.
"We're not going to start thinking about the end," Small said. "We've been trained to think about the task at hand -- how we're going to take care of our practice rounds and take care of our games individually. The rest will take care of itself."