Fayetteville: Illinois' Danielson fires career-low 65
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Charlie Danielson came into this year’s NCAA Fayetteville Men's Regional playing in the No. 5 spot for the Illinois team.
But after Thursday’s opening round at Blessings Golf Club, the freshman from Osceola, Wis., not only was the No. 1 finisher for the Fighting Illini, but held the top position among the 75 players in the field.
With a college career-best, 7-under 65 – besting the 67 he shot last fall at Olympia Fields – Danielson took a two-shot lead over Corey Conners of Kent State and Jordan Niebrugge of Oklahoma State.
“I just felt confident today from the very start,” Danielson said. “I just kept grinding and got the job done. I was straight off the tee, hit approach shots close and made the putts I needed to make.”
Danielson made seven birdies without any bogeys. He said only one of those birdie putts was more than 15 feet – a 20-footer on the 17th hole (his eighth of the day). He missed only one green, that coming on the sixth hole, but easily got up and down.
“The golf course is tough, but I think it fits me well, fits our whole team well,” Danielson said. “Yes, it’s a challenge but a lot of fun to play.”
Starting on the back nine, Danielson made birdies at Nos. 12 and 14, then closed out his first nine with three birdies at Nos. 16-18. He added another at No. 5 and finished off his stellar day with a birdie at No. 9.
Not bad for a guy who might have even been borderline making the traveling squad.
After a solid fall season in which he posted four top-25s, including a T-7 and a T-10, Danielson struggled this spring with no top-15 showings. His final three starts showed a T-56, 73rd and T-25.
“I worked hard and really wanted to prove I can play,” he said. “I really wanted to be on the team coming here. I knew my game was coming around and I was getting close.”
Illinois coach Mike Small said Danielson’s performance was a huge boost for his team, which finished the day 6-under 282 and with a three-shot lead over defending NCAA champion Texas.
“When your first guy out of the box plays like he did, that’s a huge boost,” Small said. “All the guys see that and that gets them encouraged and fired up.”
Concerning Danielson, Small, a quality player as a PGA pro in his own right who recently advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying, said, “Charlie is a very strong and very talented young player. Right now he’s still learning about the game and about himself. Once he catches up with himself he could be awesome.
“He has a huge desire to see how good he can be,” Small added. “He’s really learning to manage his fame and is really growing as a player.”
For Danielson, who had just four previous rounds in the 60s this season, he’s not getting too far ahead of himself.
“I came here with the team and we’re here to win as a team,” he said. “I have the same goal I had when we started today, to do my best and to do what I can to help get our time to the (NCAA finals) tournament.”
And, after the first round, both Danielson and the Fighting Illini are traveling on a road that will hopefully take them to Crabapple Golf Club outside Atlanta to finish off the season.