MILTON, Ga. — Illinois golf coach Mike Small’s squad is one of eight in the country with a shot to win the national title, but it’s the only finalist that doesn’t have year-round weather for the sport.
“It is a great accomplishment to beat all these warm-weather schools,” said Small after the fifth-seeded Illini advanced to face fourth-seeded Texas today in the match-play quarterfinals.
Besides Illinois and the Longhorns, top-seeded Cal plays eighth-seeded Arizona State, Georgia Tech faces UNLV and Alabama plays New Mexico. The winners advance to the semifinals Saturday, with the championship match Sunday.
Texas is the defending national champion.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Small said.
The Illini were led in the third round by freshman Thomas Detry (68), sophomore Alex Burge (69) and freshman Charlie Danielson (70), who earned All-America honors after tying for 13th place at 4 under par. Thomas Pieters, the 2012 NCAA champion, closed with a 71 and wound up 6 strokes behind Cal’s Max Homa, who won the individual title. There hasn’t been a repeat NCAA men’s champion since Phil Mickelson in 1989 and 1990.
“We have a deep team. Thomas has been a stud all year. They’ve all been contributing,” Small said.
Homa, who won by 3 strokes, is realizing his dreams.
“When I came in as a freshman, I couldn’t even imagine contending for a national championship,” Homa said. “This gives me some extra confidence going into the summer.”
For Homa and his Cal teammates, there’s more important work to do.
Winning a championship they all can savor.
Homa’s steady play carried the Bears to the top seed heading into team match play.
“I’ll probably celebrate for about 30 minutes, just hang out with my teammates, my best friends,” he said. “Then I’ll refocus on the real prize.”
The Bears senior leader birdied three of the first five holes, surging past second-round leader Jon Rahm of Arizona State, and didn’t make a bogey on the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course north of Atlanta.
“This is the biggest accomplishment in my life, and it’s not even close,” Homa said. “Obviously, the team championship would be much better, but this feels very, very good.”