Olympia Fields, World Amateur On Tap For Illini Golfers
Sept. 26, 2012
Champaign, Ill. -
It is an exciting week for Illinois men's golf. Fresh off a pair of wins to start the season, the Illini face their stiffest test yet at the always competitive Olympia Fields/Illini Invitational. The tournament features six ranked teams and two others who are receiving votes in the Golf World/Nike Coaches Poll. Illinois will take to the course without two of its regular starting five as junior Thomas Pieters and freshman Thomas Detry are leaving for Turkey to compete for their native Belgium at the 2012 World Amateur Team Championships.
The Olympia Fields/Illini Invite has been called one of the top five in-season events in college golf. The event, now in its seventh year, annually attracts some of the top teams and players from around the country. Illinois has 25 team wins in the last six seasons, which included a memorable victory in the 2008 Olympia Fields event. That year, Illinois' Zach Barlow out-dueled Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler, who won the tournament the year before. Other previous winners include Stanford's Patrick Rodgers (2011), Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein (2010), Trent Whitekiller (2009) and Fowler (2007), Georgia's Harris English (2009), Barlow, Indiana's Alex Martin (2008) and Arizona State's Niklas Lemke (2006).
"Olympia Fields is one of the best golf courses in the world," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "For us to be able to call it our home away from home is pretty special. The teams coming in from across the country are excited to be a part of it."
This year's 14-team field includes No. 8 Arkansas, No. 11 Stanford, No. 12 Florida, No. 16 Florida State, No. 21 Duke and No. 24 Clemson as well as Illinois and Oklahoma State, who are receiving votes in the preseason coaches poll. Olympia Fields marks the first event of the season for two of the traditional powers Oklahoma State and Stanford. Teams in the field who have competed and are ranked in the Golfstat computer rankings include SMU (2), Florida (4), Northwestern (13), Illinois (18), Clemson (19) and Indiana (25). The rest of the field features Augusta State, who won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011, and Purdue.
Traditionally, the tournament has been played on the north course, but this year it will be held at the 7,080-yard, par-70 south course. The teams will get an additional treat. After playing a practice round on Saturday morning, they will load buses to attend the afternoon matches at the Ryder Cup, which is being up the road at Medinah. The 54-hole Olympia Fields/Illini Invitational tees off at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30 with the second and third rounds slated for 8 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Small explained the reasoning for providing tickets for the teams by saying, "We went into hosting this event seven years ago to make it the best in college golf. When people come to play at Olympia Fields, they are our guests. We try to do what we can to make their stay as positive as we can make it. We had an opportunity and felt this was yet another way to make this a special event for everyone involved."
Illinois is playing in its third tournament in as many weekends after having won the Wolf Run Invitational by three strokes over Indiana and the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate by 21 strokes over second-place Central Arkansas.
"To go to both of them and come out on top is a big positive," Small said. "What I like are the scores we're shooting. Wolf Run was a tough golf course and we were pretty consistent across the board. At the D.A. Weibring, the conditions were tough and the greens were fast, yet we shot some good scores there, too."
The Illinois line-up will feature fifth-year senior Mason Jacobs, who tied for third a week ago at the Weibring; freshman Charlie Danielson, who has a pair of top-10 finishes to start his collegiate career; freshman David Kim, who finished 13th and 10th, respectively, at his first two tournaments; sophomore Brian Campbell, whose second-round 67 at Wolf Run was instrumental in keeping his team close heading into the final 18 holes; and sophomore Alex Burge, who has shot par or better in three of his first six rounds this season.
Pieters and Detry, meanwhile, leave Friday for Turkey to compete at the 2012 Men's World Team Amateur Championship. The event, which is Oct. 4-7, is being held at the PGA Sultan Course in Antalya and features three of the top amateur players from 53 countries around the world. Two years ago, Illinois also sent two players to the event in Brazil in Pieters and Scott Langley, who competed for the United States. Detry and Pieters along with Christopher Mivis, helped Belgium to an eighth-place finish in the 69-nation field in 2010.
"That is the biggest team amateur event in the world, the Olympics of amateur golf," Small noted. "It speaks volumes for our program that both Thomas' are playing on a national stage. We certainly are proud of them and wish them well."