Dylan Meyer earns bittersweet win at Isleworth but gets back on track

USGA/Chris Keane

Dylan Meyer earns bittersweet win at Isleworth but gets back on track

Men

Dylan Meyer earns bittersweet win at Isleworth but gets back on track

Final scores

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Accountability has been lacking in the Illinois program most of this fall.

The Illini, an annual national title contender, had dropped to 35th in the 2017-18 Golfweek/Sagarin college rankings, and head coach Mike Small could tell his crew wasn’t at full intensity.

“It’s been a work in progress to get our focus, our determination and our purpose to where it needs to be,” Small said.

Illinois had to encounter another hardship Tuesday, entering the final round of the loaded Tavistock Collegiate Invitational with a two-shot lead and keeping a comfortable cushion late only to see it all fall apart at the end.

The team was cruising to a wire-to-wire win – a margin of a few shots – until sophomore Giovanni Tadiotto (who would finish T-21 at 1 over) went bogey-double bogey at 16 and 17.

But they were still fine until an even more baffling sequence. Senior Dylan Meyer, who played nearly pristine golf the whole week and was looking to go wire-to-wire in his own individual victory, went bogey-double bogey in that stretch as well.

Meyer’s third-shot approach at Isleworth Golf and Country Club’s par-5 17th was a lackluster effort short and slightly left. Facing a delicate 15-yard shot up a steep fairway slope to a front pin, Meyer attempted a lob shot and tried to hit it harder and more aggressive than what he thought was needed.

“It was about an inch or two away from being really good,” Meyer said.

The ball landed about a yard in front of the green, barely bounced forward, almost paused briefly and then rolled back down the slope, leaving Meyer a farther shot for his fifth.

He pitched on from there and two-putted for double bogey – and suddenly Illinois was one shot back. A par at the last ensured Illinois tied for second at 5 under. (California pulled off the comeback win at 6 under).

Even with the late slide, Meyer came out on top in the individual race. The senior had opened 67-66 to enter the day with a six-shot lead, and three birdies and 12 pars in his first 15 holes Tuesday (moving him to 14 under) showed he had no intent of giving it up.

The finish dented his final margin to two, but he still won in posting a 72 to place at 11 under.

It’s a victory versus a stacked field (seven top-20 teams played) for a player looking to find his form after plummeting from an end-of-season No. 11 ranking in 2016-17 (when he won three times) to a current No. 249 early this season (where he had yet to have a top-15 finish until Tuesday).

Meyer took no consolation in that.

“It sucks. Yeah great, I won, but I didn’t finish the way I needed to for this team,” Meyer said. “I had to go ahead and finish it out, but I didn’t. And that frustrates me more than anything. I let these guys down.”

But if there’s any sign the tough-minded Illini are back, well Meyer’s mindset may just be it.

Meyer felt he was not exempt as a culprit in the team’s lack of intensity earlier this season. But he and the crew have gotten back down to business.

Coaches implemented five workouts per week (up from three) after a rough fifth-place showing late last month at the Bearcat Invitational and there seemed to be progress in the team’s focus.

Meyer himself seemed more engaged.

“In practice, I’ve seen him really get after it the last week or so,” said Michael Feagles, who placed T-11 at 2 under.

It showed all week. Small had bemoaned his team’s penchant for unforced errors this fall, and those ultimately sunk the Illini late.

Yet, Meyer’s refusal to bask in his individual win is certainly a practice in accountability. And it’s possible bad luck played a part in his fourth shot at 17, but he’s owning an error in judgement.

“The second shot (a lower-running strike) I hit from down there is what I should’ve done the first time for the situation (the team) was in,” Meyer said.

Illinois is still winless this season and will hope to avoid a fall shutout next week at the East Lake Cup (the team’s final event before the spring).

But it will do so with one of its leaders back to his former self.

“I think he’s got his mindset back,” said Nick Hardy, who finished T-51 at 8 over. “It looks like the old Dylan for sure.”

Meyer is well-known for his extrovert personality – just go to his Twitter account (@DJ_DFunk), it won’t take long to notice – and his ability to make people laugh.

But he also boasts a thoughtfulness and an inclination for discourse.

He’s fully immersed studying political science at Illinois and often voices his thoughts on political current events publicly.

“He’s really intelligent and he loves what he’s studying,” Feagles said. “He keeps us all informed, the whole team.”

Meyer watches Fox News almost every day and finds himself often in spirited debates with one political science professor, a challenge he welcomes as he hopes to augment his arguing skills and further build his knowledge.

He’s also not one to debate lightly, as Meyer does his homework.

“I’m the weird kid that reads the legislation,” Meyer said, with a smile.

Meyer will try a professional golf career after his senior season but plans to run for some form of public office in Indiana (his home state) if that doesn’t work out.

But in between those ambitions, Meyer indeed still has time to get in some good humor.

The senior has openly courted rapper and singer Nicki Minaj on social media and she was mentioned this summer in a Meyer press conference at the John Deere Classic (his PGA Tour debut).

He put out a Twitter poll in July, inquiring what Minaj song should be his ringtone. “Anaconda” won out, and that’s been his ringtone ever since.

Anywhere he goes, Meyer gets recognized as the kid who likes Nicki Minaj.

“I guess that’s the kid I’m going by now,” Meyer joked.

Hardy, who’s roommates with Meyer, says his friend brings a funny memory every day.

Meyer is a master of impressions (of Small and President Donald Trump, in particular), but his funniest one may not be a voice but an action.

Sometimes in practice, Meyer will do an impression of an “old grandpa” swing: Waddle up to the ball, set himself in a super wide stance, take the club halfway back, hit it (a runner that’ll go maybe 30 yards) and push up his glasses afterward.

But Meyer picks his spots. He’s dialed that impression back this season.

“I’ve done it a few times, but not as much as I have in the past because we’re not winning,” Meyer said.

After all, Meyer is at his best when he sticks to Illinois’ high standard for accountability.

With Small, the message doesn’t change.

“He wants to just get to business most of the time, which we need to do this week,” Meyer said.

The Illini faithful can take heed: The old Dylan Meyer is back.

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