Illinois' Luke Guthrie is off to a fast start in 2010-11, placing third at the Wolf Run Invitational.
Sept. 14, 2010
Olympia Fields, Ill. - In quick order, the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational has become one of the elite tournaments in collegiate golf. The 2010 event, the fifth annual, is no exception. Defending NCAA team champion Augusta State and NCAA individual champion Scott Langley of Illinois highlight an extremely strong field at this weekend's tournament, which features a 54-hole format (18 holes each day) and runs from Sept. 17-19 at the historic Olympia Fields Country Club.
The tournament already has history with 2007 champion Rickie Fowler of Oklahoma State being named to the United States Ryder Cup team this fall. A year later Illini junior Zach Barlow went head to-to-head with Fowler to claim co-medalist honors in helping Illinois to the team title. The 2010 field, though, may be the best yet. Not only does it include the NCAA champions, but runner-up Oklahoma State, semifinalist Florida State and nine teams overall who reached the 30-team NCAA finals in June.
"The past fields have been strong, but this one has a lot of good amateurs in it and the teams are impressive as well," said Illinois head coach Mike Small.
The top three teams in the Golf World/Nike Coaches poll will be there and 10 of the top 20 teams in the nation overall -- #1 Oklahoma State, #2 Stanford, #3 Augusta State, #8 Florida, #11 Texas, #12 Arizona State, #13 Florida State, #15 Alabama, #16 Illinois and #19 Duke. California, the first team also receiving votes in the top 25 poll, will also compete at Olympia Fields this weekend. The rest of the field consists of the Big Ten foes Indiana, Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue.
Recently, Golfweek released its list of the top 30 collegiate players and six of the top nine will be at Olympia Fields, including three from top-ranked Oklahoma State -- 1 Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State; #4 Langley, #5 Kevin Tway of Oklahoma State; #6 Morgan Hoffman of Oklahoma State; #7 Bud Cauley of Alabama; and #9 Patrick Reed of Augusta State.
"You try to treat it like any other event, but human nature is the you make it a little bit special," Small said. "First of all, the golf course is so special -- one of the best courses we'll play all year. Add to that such a great field and a win here will go a long way at the end of the season."
Small experience that first hand two years ago when a victory propelled the Illini to No. 1 in the computer rankings for the next month of the season. Illinois is coming off its third straight team title at Wolf Run paced by a couple of veterans, Langley and junior Luke Guthrie, who each posted final round 69s and tied for third overall. Senior Chris DeForest, sophomore Mason Jacobs and freshman Thomas Pieters will again represent the Illini. Jacobs shot two even par rounds to finish 11th at Wolf Run, while Pieters was 15th in his collegiate debut.
"I was really encouraged with how we played last weekend because we finished strong," Small said. "It will take a total team effort again because all the elite teams in college golf have depth."
Playing in a team format is nothing new to Pieters, who helped his country, Belgium, to the European Team Championships this summer.
"I know what it feels like to be on a good team and this is a very good team," Pieters said of his first impressions as an Illini. "I like to play challenging courses, and my teammates have told me that Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open there (in 2003). Working with Coach Small, already my short game is ten times better and I'm looking to test it at Olympia Fields."
The teams will compete with U.S. Open tees and pins at the historic North Course, which will play as a 7,157-yard par 70, and tee off between 8-9:45 am each day.
"The coaches and the teams love to come to Olympia Fields because of how well they're treated," Small said. "If the rough is thick and the greens are firm, anything around par is going to be great, but if the greens soften up, guys can shoot some under par scores. It will be fun to watch."
Live scoring can be found at golfstatresults.com