Men's spring preview: Big 10

Men's spring preview: Big 10

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Men's spring preview: Big 10

Illinois head coach Mike Small has a saying: “Win tournaments in the fall, win championships in the spring.” The Illini took care of the first half of that statement. Now they’re focused on the latter.

Illinois, No. 17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is seeking a fifth consecutive Big Ten title, and it is doing so with a new cast of characters now that the core of Luke Guthrie, Scott Langley and Chris DeForest is on to pro golf.

Langley, the 2010 NCAA champ, and Guthrie will be on the PGA Tour this season, while DeForest has Web.com Tour status Not bad, considering all three turned pro less than two years ago. Illinois is one of three programs to have two players on the PGA Tour who turned pro in 2011 or later (Augusta State and Georgia are the others).

Illinois also is seeking an assistant coach after Zach Guthrie left the program to caddie for his younger brother, Luke Guthrie, on the PGA Tour. Small said he hasn’t determined yet if he will hire an assistant for the spring season, or wait until the summer.

The Illini are led by reigning NCAA champion Thomas Pieters, who’s No. 59 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and coming off a fourth-place finish at the Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic. “I think Thomas had a successful fall, considering it was his first since he won the NCAA Championship,” Small said. “He’s learning a lot about being a national champion. You go to an event and you know people are looking at you. You have to get used to that.”

Illinois began this season with victories at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate and D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate, but it was a fifth-place finish at the prestigious Isleworth Collegiate Invitational without Pieters in the lineup that may be most encouraging to Small’s team.

Two freshmen, Charlie Danielson (No. 76) and Thomas Detry (No. 122), are the Illini’s best-ranked players behind Pieters. Sophomore Brian Campbell is No. 138 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Detry teamed with Pieters to represent Belgium at the 2012 World Amateur Team Championship.

“Charlie came ready to compete in college,” Small said. “He didn’t come scared or intimidated.”

It was a good fall for a young team, but Small stressed that it can’t rest on the program’s past accomplishments. “We can be a good team, but we need to go out and earn it,” Small said. “There’s a lot of good teams behind us. If we don’t get better, we’re not going to have a chance to win the Big Ten and get to nationals.”

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Where it stands now

Top of the class: Illinois

Best player of the fall: Thomas Pieters, Illinois

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Past champions

2012: Illinois

2011: Illinois

2010: Illinois

2009: Illinois

2008: Michigan State

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Conference capsules

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