Campbell, teammates claim NCAA regional titles
SUGAR GROVE — The standard in the Illinois golf program has been set so high that finishing second at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago after winning the previous five conference titles didn’t sit well with Mike Small and his team.
“We were bothered by that. The Big Ten is a big deal to us,” Small said.
The conference winning streak is over, but thanks to a solid effort at Rich Harvest Farms, another streak is alive and well. The ninth-ranked Illini tied for the best round of the day, shooting a 7-over-par 295, to win their second consecutive NCAA regional championship by 2 strokes over Alabama-Birmingham to advance to the NCAA Championships at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan.
“This is a big deal, too,” Small said. “This gets us another banner at Demirjian (Golf Facility), and that’s something the guys really wanted to do this week.”
The Illini are hanging another banner at their practice facility, thanks in large part to the effort of Brian Campbell. The Big Ten Player of the Year shot even-par 72 Saturday to claim a 4-shot win at 5-under 211, earning individual medalist honors.
“He was ready to go from the start. He had a good rhythm to him all week,” Small said.
Campbell shot 69 in the opening round, and his 70 on Friday included a quadruple-bogey 8 on one hole.
“I felt solid, sticking to my game plan,” he said. “I knew I was hitting it pretty well. I just had to keep the short game in order.”
Campbell led the Illini charge at the regional, followed by Thomas Detry (tied for 11th) and individual Big Ten champion Charlie Danielson (tied for 15th).
“You need players like that to carry you. Charlie tried to do it for us (at Big Tens). Thomas Detry could be next for us. We need guys to step up and carry us,” Small said.
Jonathan Hauter battled a sore back to shoot 77 Saturday and finish tied for 25th. Alex Burge tied for 53rd.
The Illini entered Saturday’s final round in second place, 1 stroke behind UAB and in comfortable position to be one of the five teams from the regional to qualify for the NCAA finals, which begin Friday.
“We handled it well. We went out and played correct golf. We got off to a good start, which was huge and took some pressure off, and we pulled it out in the end,” Small said. “The guys kept wanting to know where they were in relation to winning it, not just making it, and that was comforting as a coach.”
The trip to nationals is the seventh straight for Illinois, one of just five programs in the country enjoying such a run. UCLA, USC, Texas and Texas A&M are the others.
“It means a lot. I’m proud of all the guys. I’m glad we got this regional,” Campbell said. “We work hard, and what we put in, we get out. Whether the conditions are tough like they were this week, we just work hard.”