Champaign-Urbana needs a nickname, right?
Let’s consider some options:
Home of the University of Illinois? Kind of obvious.
Chicago South? Might consume tourists looking for the Willis Tower or Wrigley Field.
Gateway to Everywhere? Go three hours west, north and east, you will run into a big city. We want this to be a destination.
Friendlier Than ______. Insert your least favorite Big Ten city. Just a hunch most of you will go with Bloomington or Ann Arbor.
Wait just a sec, I’ve got one that might work. And certainly fits the times: Golf City.
Or Golf Central.
You’d be hard pressed to find many communities in the country with more to brag about on the links.
The Illinois men’s golf team just qualified for its 13th consecutive appearance at the NCAA championships. Led by former standout Mike Small, the Illini finished second to Oklahoma State at the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional.
Small wanted to win it, but the Cowboys were too good on their home course. Illinois easily finished in the top five, guaranteeing a trip to the finals that will start later this month.
Illinois is now 0-3 against Oklahoma State this season. But the only matchup that will really matter is the one at the end of the season.
The weather forced all the teams to play 36 holes on Monday, leaving just 18 left to go in an event originally scheduled to end Wednesday.
Being done early gives the Illini a chance to get a practice jump on the rest of the championship field.
The big tournament starts May 28 at the cool-named Raptor Course, part of Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The guys should bring plenty of Gatorade and sunscreen. Forecast that day calls for sunny skies and 99 degrees. But it’s a dry heat.
The goal for Illinois during Small’s tenure is always the same: get to match play. That means posting one of the top eight scores in 72 holes of stroke play.
Do that and the team earns a berth in the quarterfinals, where anything can happen. Maybe even the school’s first national title.
The PGA Championship tees off Thursday at Kiawah Island, S.C.
C-U golf fans have three names to keep an eye on, including Illinois Hall of Famer Steve Stricker.
The 2021 Ryder Cup captain made news this week, saying he hopes to have injured Tiger Woods serving as an assistant captain at Whistling Straits in late September. Sounds like a plan.
Stricker has played well this season on both the Champions Tour and PGA Tour. For the longest time, he was considered among the best players to never win a major. At 54, that might be too much of an ask this week. But don’t be a bit surprised if he makes the cut and finishes in the Top 20.
Small reiterated last week how generous Stricker has been to the Illinois program over the years. Much of the help given without fanfare.
The Belgium Connection is also representing Illinois at Kiawah Island. Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry both qualified for the event.
Pieters has four career wins on the European Tour. He tied for sixth in the 2018 PGA and played for Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Pieters, who is 29, figures to someday join Stricker in the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.
Detry will be playing in just his second major and first PGA. He finished tied for 49th at the 2020 U.S. Open.
Like his countryman Pieters, Detry plays on the European Tour.
He stays in contact with the Illinois golf team. The 28-year-old visited with Small’s team just before the quarantine went into place last spring.
Doing their part
They can play a little golf in west Champaign, too.
The Parkland College men’s golf team is in the middle of the NJCAA Division II tournament at Plymouth, Ind., with the third round set for Thursday.
The Cobras are coached by Parkland alum and Monticello native Corbin Sebens, who has the Cobras in second place at the 19-team field entering Thursday’s third round. The tournament is set to conclude Friday.
He is building a Small-like power, leading the team to berths in the national tournament in five of his first eight seasons.
Sebens has put together a talented mix of players from Illinois and abroad, with players from England, Ireland and Sweden contributing to Parkland’s success this year.
Golf in C-U is only going to get better. The community is blessed with multiple courses, both public and private. And in the coming years, the Atkins Golf Club in Urbana will be rebuilt and turned into one of the best around.
Perfect for Golfland USA.