Illini in Prime Position Near Top of Leaderboard After Day 2 of NCAA Regional

Illinois is in a perfect position after two days of regional play to qualify for NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer

May 16, 2023

(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)

It will take either a massive collapse on their part or a historic performance against them for the Illinois men’s golf team to not be playing in the NCAA Championships.

The Illini finished the second day of the NCAA Bath Regional Eagle Eye Golf Club in Michigan in second place and 14 strokes away from the advancement cut line into the NCAA Championships as the top five programs will receive an invitation into the finals on May 26-31 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Illinois, which has a roster of four players who were part of the 2022 team which failed to advance out of the NCAA New Haven Regional, has been playing with a bullseye on its back as the highest ranked program in this 2023 regional as they attempt to prepare for a national championship run with a veteran playing roster.

“I think we finished 17th in the country a year ago in the rankings. So we had a good season, but we didn't make it as far as we wanted to in the NCAA championship,” Small said on the IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular Radio Show. “So you know, we had a bad day in there. And that, well, you know, you have a bad day, it didn't work out well at the end of the year. Same way in the NCAA basketball tournament. You have a bad day, you're done. So we wanted to build some consistency. If you've established that consistency, that gives you a better chance and the coaches know what we're getting. So that's impressed me that they bought into that and they've tried to be more consistent in their daily activities, their daily thinking or daily planning and that's something I'm proud of.”

Illinois posted a day two score of 6-under-par 278 to put themselves 18-under-par for the event and are 10 strokes back of the dominating lead from a Georgia team that arrived at Michigan this week as the No. 34-ranked according to - the sixth highest ranked program in this regional.

Illinois had all five players stay around even-par in their first nine holes and then saw a birdie explosion on the back nine as Matthis Besard, a fifth-year senior transfer from Southern Illinois who is competing in his third and final NCAA postseason, birdied No. 10, 11, 13 and 14 and a double bogey on the 128-yard par-3 17th hole kept him from being in even more serious contention for the regional individual medalist honor. Besard backed up his 4-under-par 67 from Monday with a 69 on Tuesday to leave him three strokes behind Georgia’s Ben Van Wyk on the individual leaderboard. Van Wyk, who has never won a college tournament in his four-year career at Augusta University and Georgia, will go to bed with the individual lead after the first two days of competition after posting a 9-under-par 133 (65-68).

Georgia has three players in the top four individual scores and is on its way to winning its first NCAA regional title since hosting the 2019 Athens Regional. The Bulldogs, which came to Michigan as the No. 6 seed in this regional, haven’t won a regional title away from home since 2016.

"This is why we put in all the hard work. There is no margin for error at this stage,” Georgia head coach Chris Haack said. “To make it to the next round, we have to continue to have vision and purpose in everything that we do.”

Illinois senior Tommy Kuhl went from a poor start that saw him possibly being the score that didn’t count toward the Illini’s team total on Tuesday to rallying to post his second consecutive under-70 round. Kuhl bogeyed three of his first six holes but saw a four-hole stretch between No. 8-11 at three-under-par and an eagle on the par-5, 560-yard No. 14 hole allow him to finish in red numbers.

The roller coaster ride of Piercen Hunt allowed for Illinois to think they could be within striking distance of Georgia but a pair of big numbers for the junior from Hartland, Wisconsin set him back from what would be a career-defining round. Hunt birdied two of his first three holes but then suffered a double bogey 7 on the par-5 fifth hole. A triple bogey 7 on the par-4, 487-yard No. 14 made it look like his Tuesday score wouldn’t count but an eagle on the final hole allowed him to sign for an even-par 71.

Oregon’s 10-under-par round moved them from the advancement cut line on Monday to be in safe position to be in the NCAA Championship field after Tuesday. Of the 72 counting holes from the Ducks on Tuesday, they only carded six holes of bogey or worse.

Michigan State, which finished ninth in the 2023 Big Ten Championships, is looking to make a huge upset as the No. 10 seed after finishing Tuesday with a 1-over-par 285 and sit on the fifth and final NCAA Championship transfer spot with a seven shot cushion. The Spartans, playing just four miles north of the MSU campus in East Lansing, is making its sixth NCAA Regional appearance in the last seven years but the program has never advanced to the NCAA Championships.

Florida, which took home the SEC Championship on April 23, will need a serious comeback on the final day from seven shots back to qualify for the NCAA Championships. The Gators have advanced out of regionals five times under head coach J.C. Deacon and the last two years, only not qualifying for nationals twice. Out of 33 appearances, the Gators have only missed securing a spot at the National Championship five times. Florida’s Fred Biondi, a senior from São Paulo, Brazil, could find himself as an individual NCAA Championship qualifier after being 5-under-par (69-68--137) as he stands tied with Kansas State junior Luke O'Neill, from Ireland, and Minnesota sophomore Ben Warian leading all the individual players currently not in a transfer spot.


NCAA Bath Regional 

Team Scores

Georgia -28

Illinois -18

Oregon -15

Texas -12

Michigan State -12

Florida -5

Kansas State -5

Little Rock +1

Liberty +5

San Diego +6

Wisconsin +7

Illinois State +16

IUPU-Fort Wayne +34


Illini Individual Scores

T4 Matthis Besard: 67-69--136 (-6)

T6 Tommy Kuhl: 68-69--137 (-5)

T11 Adrien Dumont de Chassart: 67-71--138 (-4)

T27 Piercen Hunt: 70-71--141 (-1)

T37 Jackson Buchanan: 74-69--143 (+1)


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