Pieters wins NCAA title
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Thomas Pieters wanted to call his parents to tell them he had won an NCAA championship.
But they were asleep.
Good news, in this case, wasn't traveling fast.
"I guess they'll have a nice surprise when they wake up," Pieters said.
As the Illinois sophomore was wrapping up his individual title with an even-par 71 Thursday, it was 4 a.m. in his native Belgium. Pieters said his sister, however, stayed up to monitor his progress and promised to relay the results to Mom and Dad. Probably at the breakfast table.
"It's pretty cool," Pieters said. "I'm glad I could finish this one off."
Pieters is the second Illini to win the NCAA title in three years, following 2010 champ Scott Langley.
Pieters is the third NCAA champion recruited by UI coach Mike Small. James Lepp transferred from Illinois to Washington and won it all in 2005.
The NCAA title was the third produced by an Illini in a six-week span. A day after Illinois won the men's gymnastics team championship in April, C.J. Maestas and Paul Ruggeri brought home event titles.
Langley texted Pieters after Wednesday's second round.
"He said keep calm and do my own thing," Pieters said. "And to switch my phone off so no one bothers me."
The 20-year-old Pieters met little resistance in rolling to a 3-stroke win over TCU's Julien Brun and Florida's Tyler McCumber. The clinching shot took place on Pieters' sixth hole of the day, No. 15, Pieters burying a 60-foot bunker shot for birdie and a 2-stroke lead on playing partner McCumber.
After that, the hardest part was waiting. Pieters finished with several contenders still on the course, midway through their rounds.
"I was just watching the scoreboard, hoping nobody made birdies," he said. At the NCAA regional in Oklahoma, Pieters finished second by 1 stroke when Washington's Chris Williams eagled the 18th. No wonder he was a bit antsy as the sun set Thursday.
"The whole team was watching with me," he said. "They stood with me the whole time. That made me feel better."
The Illini failed to qualify for today's match-play portion of the NCAA Championship, finishing 21st in the 30-team field. Pieters said he realized his team wouldn't advance while finishing his round.
"I was disappointed when I knew we weren't going to make it," Pieters said. "But Coach Small told me to stay focused on the individual championship."
His reward? "Coach said I could pick where we would go out to eat," said Pieters, who picked Chinese. "We're all starving and it's on the way to the hotel."
Pieters said the team would return to campus today. On Monday, the junior-to-be will play in a U.S. Open qualifier in Chicago. On June 28-30, he'll participate in the Palmer Cup in Northern Ireland as a member of Team Europe.
"I want to enjoy this for a while," he said.