• • •
Team winner: Illinois (16-over 880)
Individual winner: Brian Campbell, Illinois (5-under 211)
Also moving on: 2. UAB (18-over 882), 3. Purdue (30-over 894), T4. Southern California (32-over 896) & T4. California (32-over 896)
Individual advancing: Taylor Pendrith, Kent State (2-over 218)
• • •
Illinois captures title
Much of the focus during NCAA regionals tends to be around the fourth and fifth positions on the leaderboard. Let’s be honest, this week is more about advancing than it is about winning. However, good form and momentum is a big deal this time of the year.
Illinois and UAB spent much of the week at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., battling for the top spot in the regional. UAB led Illinois by a single shot after both the first and second rounds. In the end, however, Illinois came away with a two-shot victory over the Blazers.
“Our program’s mindset is to try and win every tournament we play in. This week is no different and you have to come trying to win, not trying to qualify,” said Illinois coach Mike Small, who has now led Illinois to seven straight appearances in the NCAA finals.
This is the second consecutive regional victory for the Illini. Last year, they won as the No. 7 seed, this year as the No. 2 seed.
“This year’s team is far better than last year,” said Small. “This team has been in the top 10 all year long in every poll.”
After losing to Alabama in the championship match at last year’s NCAA Championship, the Illini have become a team that must be recognized when discussing national-championship contenders. Illinois has been ranked in the top 10 all season, and Small’s team ended the fall ranked No. 6. Illinois entered regional play ranked No. 8.
“We have a collection of team players that are really good and plan on playing well when they play,” Small said.
This team is well-prepared for the championship at Prairie Dunes. Illinois’ schedule has taken the team to difficult golf courses in their last three spring starts, from the Kampen Course at Purdue to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick and to Rich Harvest Farms this week.
Illinois’ Brian Campbell, who was the Big Ten Player of the Year, led wire-to-wire to win the regional with rounds of 69-70-72 for a 5-under 211 total. Campbell was four shots better than USC’s Anthony Paolucci.
• • •
UAB made the trip to Sugar Grove as the No. 4 seed, and was certainly deserving of that spot after completing the regular season with top-5 finishes in each of its 11 starts. At Rich Harvest Farms, however, UAB had to square off against some of the biggest names in college golf: California, USC, Clemson, Illinois and UNLV.
That made it hard for Alan Murray’s squad to get as much of the spotlight as it deserved.
“Smaller names in college golf always feel like they have a point to prove,” said Murray, who played college golf at Toledo and qualified for the 2001 and 2002 NCAA Championships. “You know you have to play well and we knew that coming in. It was just a case of figuring out the golf course and performing.”
An under-the-radar position may or may not have had any influence on UAB this week at Rich Harvest Farms. Regardless, UAB proved its worth in this field. It’s an experienced golf team with three seniors, one junior and one sophomore who proved they can compete on a tough golf course in extreme conditions (it snowed on Saturday).
And that they wanted to win.
“They are a little disappointed we did not win because that was the goal all week,” said Murray. “We are going to the NCAA finals and we are pleased to have a crack at winning a national championship.”
Something says this group should not be overlooked.
• • •
With a 77.29 scoring average, Rich Harvest Farms was the toughest of the six regionals. No team broke par and just two players finished under par for 54 holes. … Purdue will be making its first trip to the NCAA finals since the 2005 season … USC will be making its eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship … California will be entering the national championship with 17 team titles in its last 27 starts … Clemson, which struggled on the difficult back nine, finished in sixth place, just two shots behind Cal and USC. The Tigers have not advanced past regional play since 2010.