NCAA Line-up: Zach Barlow, Scott Langley, Chris DeForest, Luke Guthrie and Matt Hoffman
June 4, 2009
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois men's golf completed its most successful season in recent memory. Illinois led the nation with seven tournament victories as a team, added four medalists individually, reached the number one ranking in the computer at one point, won its first Big Ten title in 21 years and advanced to the NCAA Championship for the second straight season and fourth in the last eight years under head coach Mike Small.
What made the team special was the ability of any one of the top five players to shoot low and pace the team at a given event and its ability to make late charges to close out victories.
Sophomore Scott Langley was the most consistent in the line-up, backing up his 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades with nine top-12 finishes. Langley joined sophomore teammate Chris DeForest as First Team All-Big Ten performers and ended the regular season at 24th in the Golfstat computer rankings. The Manchester, Mo., native led the NCAA Championship after a first round 69 before tying for 18th.
Statistically, Langley had the fourth-best season scoring average ever by an Illini at 72.08 over 37 rounds while freshman Luke Guthrie's average of 73.00 over his 28 rounds is 10th best.
Small also picked up some hardware, claiming the 2009 Big Ten and Midwest Regional Coach of the Year.
A relatively young Illinois team had placed third in the Big Ten and 17th in the nation in 2008, but the Fighting Illini really made some noise nationally by defeating three of the nation's top-five teams and seven ranked teams overall at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational in September. In the final round, Illinois surged past second-ranked Oklahoma State with a 279 to better the field by seven shots.
Individually, junior Zach Barlow, playing the final round alongside two of the top five players at the 2008 NCAA Championship in Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler and Indiana's Jorge Campillo, tied for the individual title after firing a 67. Langley, who also shot a 67 on the final day, was two strokes back in fourth.
Illinois backed up its victory two weeks later by winning the Windon Memorial in Glenview, Ill., This time DeForest and junior Matt Hoffman posted top tens. Hoffman had the 36-hole lead after a firing a career best 65 in the opening round and finished seventh. DeForest placed third after charging to near the top of the leaderboard with a final round 64. Combining that with a 63 he had during is freshman year gives the Cottekill, N.Y., native the two best individual rounds in school history.
The victories vaulted Illinois to the number one spot in the Golfstat Computer rankings and earned the team some national exposure. The Fighting Illini continued its momentum by defending their title at the D.A. Weibring Invitational, giving Illinois three straight tournament wins for the first time in two decades.
Langley won the first of his two tournaments on the season with a score of 201, matching DeForest's 64 in the first round while Guthrie also fired a 64 in the third round.
The success continued in the spring, beginning with an 8-1 victory over Illinois State in the annual Tinverin Cup. After succumbing to some health issues the following tournament, Illinois rattled off four tournament victories in a row, the dramatic coming at the Boilermaker Invitational where the Illini made up eight shots in the final three holes to edge Penn State by one stroke.
Langley won two Big Ten Golfer of the Week honors - on March 4 after helping the Illini to the Tinverin Cup and on April 1 after winning the FAU Spring Break Invitational against a field the included six Big Ten teams. Three Illini finished among the top ten in that event with DeForest tying for fourth and Guthrie in eighth.
Barlow won his second tournament of the season the following week at the Marshall Invitational, shooting 211 over 54 holes, including a season best 66 in round two.
The season's big prize came in early May at the Big Ten Championship in State College, Pa., where the Fighting Illini captured its first conference title since the likes of Small and Steve Stricker claimed the championship in Savoy in 1988.
Illinois broke open a tight pack in round three after an even par 284 to take a seven-stroke lead into the final day and closed the door in the fourth round to win the championship by 13 strokes over Minnesota, the largest margin of victory for a champion in eight seasons.
All five Illini players finished among the top 17. DeForest posted his fourth straight top four by tying for third. Hoffman had four birdies on the front nine in round three as Illinois took the lead for good, and finished seventh overall. Guthrie's consist rounds were good for ninth while Langley and Barlow, who fired a tournament best 68 in the final round, tied for 17th.
Illinois advanced to the NCAA Championship after placing third at the Northeast Regional in Galloway, N.J. Langley tied for seventh individually on a course that had heavy winds on the tournament's first day. The top five teams from each of the six Regionals moved on the NCAA finals at the Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio.
The Fighting Illini didn't have the finals they were hoping for, settling for a 21st-place finish. The tournament was not without its excitement, however, as Langley's 25-foot birdie putt in front of a large gallery on 18, propelled him to a share of the lead after the first round. DeForest paced Illinois with a one-under par 70 the following day.
Collectively, Illinois shot a total of 43 rounds under par. The top six players, which included freshman Mason Jacobs, all had rounds in the 60s with Langley, Guthrie and DeForest firing 64s, Hoffman a 65 and Barlow a 66. Illinois returns everyone in the line-up in 2009-10 to try to match or surpass this season's accomplishments.