Larry Blatt's play around the green has given him a chance to have good scores.
Nov. 2, 2007
Champaign, Ill. - The fall season has seen a lot of growth and development for the Illinois golf team. The season has seen the Illini face over half of the teams ranked in the top 25, set two school records and win its first tournament in two years. On Monday and Tuesday, they finish off the 2007 portion of the schedule at the Wolverine at Mission Inn Invitational in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., hosted by the University of Michigan.
"When you look at our roster and see two freshmen, two sophomores, a junior that hasn't played a lot and a transfer, you notice we entered the season as a young team with a lot of unknowns," said Illinois head coach Mike Small. "However, every tournament has seen an improvement in some type of our game. We want to continue that progression this weekend."
The transfer in the mix is junior Larry Blatt, an Illinois native who starred at Sandburg High School in Chicago's South Suburbs. After two seasons competing at the University of Mississippi, he decided to return to his home state to finish his collegiate career.
"Probably the biggest mistake I made was not coming to Illinois in the first place," Blatt said. "Ole Miss was quite a culture shock for me and I'm glad to get a chance to play for a coach who has accomplished as much as Coach Small."
Blatt wasted little time in making an impact for his new team, firing rounds of 70 and 69 at the challenging Olympia Fields Country Club to enter the Fighting Illini Invitational's final day in third place. "I have always hit the ball pretty well," Blatt recalled. "That day I was solid around the greens and gave myself a chance for a good score."
"He didn't give away any shots around the green," Small concurred. "He was very efficient and lag putted well."
Blatt's tournament, however, was a microcosm of the fall for a young team spreading its wings for the time. He struggled on the final round to finish in a tie for 15th overall. Two weeks earlier, senior Mark Ogren found himself in a similar situation in third place after 36 holes of the Gopher Invitational only to finish 19th.
"Eighty-five to 90 percent of each tournament has been great," Blatt said. "We've still managed to beat good teams which will help in our computer rankings for post-season. If we can put that other 10-15 percent together, we can have a real impact in the spring."
While many of the top teams Illinois has faced thus far have been from the South and West, this week's tournament features many of the top teams in region, including Penn State, Iowa and Michigan from the Big Ten.
"We will not only be able to gauge ourselves against some top Big Ten and other top Division I schools, but we'll also try to build on this fall, so we'll have a springboard to the spring," Small said.
Illinois will travel six to the Orlando area this weekend - Blatt, redshirt sophomore Zach Barlow, freshman Scott Langley, junior Jon Krick, Ogren and sophomore Matt Hoffman, who makes his first appearance in the line-up since the Olympia Fields Illini Invitational.
Of those, it's Blatt who has the best scoring average on the team thus far. He shot a 68 in round two of the D.A. Weibring Invitational and finished seventh as Illinois won the team title.
The 68 tied a collegiate low for Blatt, who also scored that number as a freshman at Ole Miss. His other notable accomplishments in Oxford included a third at the Auburn Invitational and fourth-place finish at the Billy Hitchcock Intercollegiate.
As an amateur, Blatt had some success as well, placing third at the Rice Planters Tournament and seventh at the Illinois State Amateur. He began playing competitively as a freshman in high school and placed eighth in the state tournament as a senior. He was named the 2003 and 2004 Callaway PGA Junior Series Player of the Year.
Small said that while he recruited Blatt two years ago, having not followed his progress for two years, he wasn't sure what to expect. "He's a hard worker, is dedicated to his game and is good student," Small said. "Those are the characteristics we look for in our student-athletes."
"Larry's had some great rounds, but we're working with him right now on finishing off some tournaments," Small added. "Once he understands that and gets more comfortable in our system, his tournaments will become three round tournaments instead of two. He's an analytical player and very fundamentally sound. Golf, though, is an art form, and we're trying to add more creativity, imagination and athleticism to his game. He's a no-nonsense guy. That's what I like about him. He's here to do his work and he's here to get better and there is not a lot of wasted time with Larry."
That's what the coach hopes to see in general from his team at Mission Inn. "We need to keep building," Small said. "I believe we are going to finish it off and have a good week individually and as a team."