Pieters and Detry bring credibility to program in convincing talented Belgian players to pick Illini
The Belgium-to-Illinois men's golf connection started with Thomas Pieters. Then, Thomas Detry. And now Giovanni Tadiotto and Adrien Dumont de Chassart, a Big Ten medalist as a freshman.
All four have played critical roles in Illinois' long run of NCAA tournament success.
So, Illini coach Mike Small must have a summer home in Antwerp? Knows his way around Ghent and Brussels?
How many times has Small visited the European country? Twenty? Thirty? The correct answer is zero.
"I never went to Belgium," Small said.
Still, the University of Illinois is all the rage in the Belgian golf community.
How does it work?
They talk on the phone and they meet at tournaments. He watched them play in the winter.
"Both those kids committed from Belgium over all those warm-weather schools when there was 3 feet of snow on the ground," Small said. "They feel the passion. They feel the relationship: 'I trust this guy. I trust this coach. He wants to make me better.'"
The early Illini success of Pieters and Detry helped a lot. They are both now pro golfers and their careers mean plenty back home.
Pieters took a leap of faith when he picked Illinois over Florida, Texas and Florida State.
Follow the leaders
As a junior player, Tadiotto had December tournaments in the U.S.
"I saw Coach Small there for the first time," Tadiotto said. "After that, we did Skype and FaceTime so we could talk."
Tadiotto isn't surprised by Small's lack of trips to Belgium.
"I don't think for a lot of people that's the first place that comes to mind (to visit)," Tadiotto said. "Also, we don't have big tournaments in Belgium."
No reason to take a long flight to Belgium when the players are coming to the States.
Across the ocean, the Belgian players like the idea of a known commodity.
"For all Belgian golfers, the first university that comes to their mind is Illinois because two Belgians who are successful actually went there," Tadiotto said. "That's how you link the University of Illinois to a good golf university."
Dumont de Chassart has a close relationship with Detry, who told him all about Illinois.
"I was really excited to come here," Dumont de Chassart said.
He thinks more players from his country are on the way.
"I hope so," Dumont de Chassart said.
Tadiotto and Dumont de Chassart were in the starting lineup for Friday's first round of the NCAA championships at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark.
It did not go well.
Playing on a warm, windy day, they both opened with 8s on the Par 5 10th hole. "Snowmen" are awesome in the winter, but not so cool on your scorecard.
Tadiotto had another triple bogey on his back nine and finished with a 10-over 82. Dumont de Chassart was 3 shots better with a 79.
Freshman Tommy Kuhl, starting in place of injured Bryan Baumgarten, tied for the team lead with a 4-over 76. He matched regional champion Michael Feagles. Champaign's Varun Chopra opened with an 8-over 80.
Overall, Illinois stands in 24th place after the first day with a 23-over 311. The Illini return to the course early today for the second round. The team needs to finish in the Top 15 after three rounds to play Monday's final 18 for a shot at the match-play quarterfinals that are set to start on Tuesday.
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at email@example.com.