Luke Guthrie is ranked 50th nationally in the Golfweek computer rankings
Oct. 21, 2009
Windermere, Fla. -
The setting couldn't be more impressive. The Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere, Fla., was designed originally by Arnold Palmer in 1984 and sits a stone's throw from many of the top PGA professionals' homes. The field for the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational on Oct. 25-27 matches the elite-level course as it features five of the nation's top six teams and 11 ranked teams overall, including Illinois.
The Fighting Illini enter the tournament ranked No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, in the Golfweek and Golfstat computer rankings and No. 6 in the Golf World/Nike Coaches poll. They want to reinforce the respect that they are getting around the country.
"To continue to get the respect from the coaches means we're doing something right," said Illinois head coach Mike Small. "Our schedule has really increased this year and this is a chance to get some wins against some top-25 teams and pad our ranking."
The field includes Oklahoma State, ranked No. 1 in all three major rankings and second-place finisher at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational in September, another tournament with a loaded field. Arizona State, victorious at Olympia Fields and No. 2 in the trio of rankings, is also in the field as is Washington, No. 3 in the coaches' poll, No. 5 Stanford, No. 8 Florida, No. 13 South Carolina, No. 19 Georgia, No. 20 TCU, No. 22 Alabama and No. 25 Texas Tech. A total of 12 of the 15 teams in the field are listed among the top 25 according to the computer, including Clemson (No. 22 and No. 23 in Golfweek and Golfstat, respectively). East Tennessee State and Kentucky round out the field competing at the 7,491-yard Par-72 course.
"This tournament is off the charts when it comes to treating the kids well and putting on an unbelievable event," Small said. "To be invited to this event means you're one of the premier teams in the country. This is our third year in a row, so it's a huge compliment. Driving accuracy is always a premium wherever you play. Here it is not as big as your short game."
Illinois has two wins this fall -- at the season-opening Wolf Run Invitational and the Windon Memorial. The Illini won three tournaments last fall and four more in the spring, giving them nine victories in their last 12 regular season events.
Illinois has not competed as a team since winning the Windon on Oct. 4-5.
"The focus was to let the guys rest a little bit," Small said. "They've been playing hard since February. They played a hard summer schedule and into the fall. We needed a little break."
Small and assistant coach Zach Guthrie got a chance to work with the players individually then they had some match play to get their competitiveness back up heading into Isleworth.
The Isleworth field includes 22 of the top 50 golfers in the country, including top-rated Trent Whitekiller from Oklahoma State and two players from Illinois -- junior Scott Langley (No.7) and sophomore Luke Guthrie (No. 50) Langley finished out of the top 12 just once during the regular season in 2008-09 en route to an 18th-place national finish and Second Team All-American accolades. The Manchester, Mo., native has a second, a third and 12th and a 70.67 stroke average to his credit in his first three tournaments. Guthrie, the 2009 Illinois State Amateur champion, meanwhile, has two rounds under par, and a pair of top 10 finishes.
Seniors Zach Barlow, the runner-up finisher at the 107th Western Amateur over the summer, has finished among the top 20 in all three tournaments. Senior Matt Hoffman, who is coming off a ninth-place finish at the Windon Memorial, and junior All-Big Ten performer Chris DeForest round out the Illinois line-up.
"We are going to have to rely on some of our experience," Small said. "We have some guys who have played here before. I say it all the time, but our strength is our depth. We need to have five guys ante up, play hard, relax, and enjoy the challenge of playing on a great golf course against a good field."