By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
For the first time since 2008, a NCAA Men’s Golf Championship will not involve the University of Illinois.
After failing to be one of the top five teams to advance out of the 2022 NCAA New Haven Regional hosted by Yale, Illinois’ streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances has come to an end. The Illini finished the three-day regional event in seventh place of the 14-team field with a 2-under-par 838. Illinois began the final day of competition five shots behind the fifth and last transfer spot into the NCAA Championships to be played on May 27-June 1 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Illini’s 3-over-par 283 final round score caused head coach Mike Small’s squad to lose further ground in strokes and places on the team leaderboard.
"We just picked a bad week to play bad," Small said in the university release. "From day one, we talk about it. If you don't hit your standard these things can happen, and we didn't hit our standard this week. We didn't drive it well, our lag putting, and our scoring shots around the greens were not very good, and we just struggled all week. It's a disappointing way to end the season. This hasn't happened to us for a while, and it's something that we don't want to get used to."
Until Wednesday’s results, Illinois’ streak was the second active streak in Division I men’s golf behind Texas and the Longhorns advanced in the NCAA Norman Regional to make it 16 straight years participating in a NCAA Championship.
The Illinois squad was plagued all three days with slow starts on the back nine at Yale Golf Club. On Wednesday, Illinois needed several birdies to put themselves in the conversation for the fifth and final transfer spot but their first 15 holes (first three holes of each of the five players) included one birdie, four bogeys and a double bogey.
A day after being tied with North Carolina after two days of play, Wake Forest backed up its Atlantic Coast Conference Championship with the school’s first NCAA regional championship since 2008. The program that has produced such legendary talents as Arnold Palmer, Curtis Strange, Darren Clarke, Lanny Wadkins, Jay Haas, Webb Simpson, Bill Haas and Will Zalatoris hasn’t won a NCAA team title since 1986. Wake Forest won the regional by seven strokes after posting three straight days of under-par rounds for a 26-under-par 814. Despite finishing a 1-under-par total on Wednesday, North Carolina finished second and was trailed by Texas Tech by two shots, which made a 7-under-par final round charge to move up two spots.
The fourth and fifth spots in this regional went to mid-major programs not anticipated by the seeding to advance to Arizona. North Florida, the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament champions, finished with a three-day total of 16-under-par and will now play in its second NCAA Championship in three seasons with the one miss involving UNF being outside the cut line by one spot after placing sixth in the 2021 NCAA Noblesville Regional.
Georgia Southern, which was one of the final at-large berths in NCAA Regional play this season, will be making just its third NCAA Championship appearance in the last 12 years (2010 and 2019), after surviving a six-over-par total on the final day to grab the final transfer spot with a 6-under-par tournament total of 834.
The final day dip of GSU meant there was a window for Illinois to make a dramatic comeback for the final transfer spot as the Illini would’ve needed a 2-under-par 268, which would have been the third-best score of the day, to make the regional cut without a tiebreaker.
Illinois senior Tommy Kuhl, who just recently won medalist honors at a U.S. Open Local Qualifying event, posted back-to-back rounds of 68 to finish his final tournament of the 2021-22 season at 3-under-par 207. The Morton native has made only six bogeys all week and eagled on the par-5 16th hole on Wednesday. Illinois’ top player Adrien Dumont de Chassart posted a three-day total of 2-under 208 following a final-round 72. After carding a career-low 64 on Monday, Piercen Hunt found just two more birdies on his final 36 holes of action to take home an individual finish of tied for 35th place following a three-day total of 3-over-par 213. Illinois freshman Jackson Buchanan (69-74-71--214) finished tied for 38th place and junior Jerry Ji (76-73-72--221) rounded out the Illini players with a finish of tied for 57th among the 75-player field.
"We're optimistic about next year. We're excited about (Adrien and Tommy returning), but I think we showed today that we need to get better. Everyone needs to get better,” Small said. "You’re only as good as your standard, and we've got to be more consistent with everything that we do. Obviously the potential is there, but the development has to continue."
North Carolina junior Austin Greaser, who placed second last summer at the 2021 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont Country Club earning him a spot in the 2022 U.S. Open field this summer, became the first UNC player in the program history to take home the individual medalist honors in a NCAA regional tournament with a three-day total of 10-under-par 200. Greaser, who backed up his 63 from Tuesday with a final-round 69, finished one stroke ahead of Wake Forest senior Alex Fitzpatrick from Sheffield, England, who is the younger brother of European Ryder Cup player Matthew Fitzpatrick.
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