WINDERMERE, Fla. – One round remains in one of the year’s premier events, the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, and there’s an unlikely team contending for the title in spite of the absence of its top player.
Illinois, No. 32 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is in second place, just three shots behind No. 1 Cal, which is seeking its fifth consecutive victory to start the season. Illinois is contending in spite of the absence of NCAA champion Thomas Pieters, who is sitting out the event after playing the World Amateur Team Championship.
Illinois, at 6-over 582, is ahead of six teams ranked in the top 11 in the Golfweek rankings: No. 2 Texas, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 New Mexico, No. 8 Alabama, 10th-ranked Vanderbilt and No. 11 LSU. The Illini will play in the Isleworth Collegiate’s final threesomes with the top two teams in the country: Cal and Texas, which is tied with Florida for third place at 7 over.
“You have to be very disciplined on this golf course,” said Illinois head coach Mike Small. “ You have to be or you’ll get beat up. This is a big test for our young guys, to apply what we’ve talked about. They’re playing within themselves, not trying to be someone they’re not. They’re not making mistakes after mistakes.”
Brian Campbell, a sophomore from Irvine, Calif., is T-5 at 1-under 143 (71-72) and leading the way in Pieters’ absence. He’s four shots behind Cal’s Michael Kim, the 36-hole leader. Campbell’s play on Isleworth’s final two holes was unconventional, but it added up to 1 under and was enough to move Illinois into second place with one round remaining.
He topped a 3-iron some 30 yards on the par-5 17th hole, leaving himself some 240 yards to the hole. He hit hybrid to 40 feet and two-putted for par. A poor drive on the 477-yard, par-4 18th hit a tree left of the fairway, leaving him with 260 yards for his second shot. His 3-wood shot landed short of the green and rolled down a slope, stopping some 12 feet from the hole, which was tucked on the right side of the green behind a large bunker. His birdie putt went in on the last roll, giving him an even-par 72 Monday.
“We’re the kind of team that fights out every last shot,” Campbell said. “We don’t let bad shots get to us. We just come right back. It’s about playing solid golf, nothing special.”
The Illini’s performance is even more impressive, considering the young lineup it has here. Three freshmen – Charlie Danielson, David Kim and Thomas Detry – are in the starting lineup, as well as Campbell, a sophomore, and senior Mason Jacobs. The Illini are the only team at Isleworth with all five of its players in the top 30.
Danielson is T-12 after shooting consecutive 73s. Detry, who teamed with Pieters to represent Belgium at the World Amateur Team Championship, is in 17th at 3-over 147, while Kim and Jacobs are tied for 28th at 5 over.
Illinois started its season with two consecutive victories – at the Wolf Run and D.A. Weibring invitationals – but those fields pale in comparison with the one gathered this week outside Orlando. The Illini also were 10th in their own Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Intercollegiate, where Pieters and Detry were absent from the lineup while representing Belgium at the World Amateur Team Championship.
Pieters is absent again, but that’s not stopping Illinois from beating the best teams in the country.