Small's team needs to make up ground
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Eighteen holes. Make that 18 good holes.
That’s what separates the Illinois golf team from a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals.
“We’ve got to play really strong the last 18 holes of this tournament to get in,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “We’ve got some work to do. We’re fighters.”
After two rounds Saturday at Prairie Dunes Country Club, the Illini return Sunday for 18 more holes. And a few extra left over from Saturday.
The team of Brian Campbell, Thomas Detry, Charlie Danielson, Jonathan Hauter and Alex Burge dug itself a small deficit.
The team stood at 4 over par. The Illini were tied for 14th in the 30-team field.
The top eight teams after stroke play advance to the quarterfinals, which start Tuesday.
“It’s doable,” Small said. “But we’ve got to play better.”
Illinois trails Oklahoma State and LSU, which were tied for the final quarterfinal spot, by 8 strokes.
The problems for the Illini on Saturday came mostly on the greens.
“We didn’t putt very well,” Small said.
And there were some other wayward shots.
“This course is very penal off the fairway,” Small said. “When you get off the fairway, you can’t make big numbers, and we did. We had a bunch of doubles and a triple.”
His team has plenty of confidence after a strong regional performance.
“We’re good players, but when the putts aren’t falling that kind of deflates you a little bit,” Small said. “We need to persevere and get beyond that. When you miss a putt, the next thing you should be thinking about is getting the ball in the fairway and not let it carry with you.
“When a basketball team isn’t making shots, it’s hard to play. When you’re not making putts, it’s hard.”
The tournament has been impacted by Friday’s storms, which wiped out most of the first round and forced half the field to try to play two rounds Saturday, including Illinois.
“It was a long day,” Small said. “I’m sure that the guys are tired. I think fatigue was setting in. But Stanford played as many or more holes than we did, and they were 13 under par in the afternoon.”
Half of the teams will play their second rounds Sunday, followed by another 18.
Defending national champion Alabama appears to be a safe bet to reach the quarterfinals. No. 3 seed Stanford leads the tournament at minus-12. The Cardinal was followed by No. 2 Alabama and South Carolina, both at minus-8.
After shooting plus-5 in Saturday’s first round, the Illini improved their score during the second round, shooting minus-1 with a few holes left to play Sunday.
Detry, who struggled in the first round with a 6-over 76, bounced back with a minus-4 in the second round. He has three holes left to complete Sunday before his final 18.
“We needed that,” Small said. “Now we need the rest of the guys to jump in there and fight back.”
Danielson was at even par after two rounds and was tied for 40th in the individual standings.
“He’s playing better than that,” Small said. “He’s got to get confidence on the greens and get the ball rolling in the hole. If one or two of those go in the hole, it can change a little bit.”