Illinois State's David Perkins leads Golfweek Conference Challenge

Danny Lawhon/USA TODAY Network

Illinois State's David Perkins leads Golfweek Conference Challenge

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Illinois State's David Perkins leads Golfweek Conference Challenge

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David Perkins is the steady Eddie of the Illinois State golf team.

The senior handles good breaks and bad breaks with equal levels of maturity and is tough to rattle.

It was tough for him to keep his eyes from bulging and a grin from escaping, though, after his closing birdie Monday at the Cedar Rapids Country Club’s 18th hole.

The 353-yard par-4 has the harshest green on the Donald Ross course, enough to cause hearts to skip a beat even from kick-in range.

“Sometimes, being on the green might not be your best play,” Perkins said. “It’s that severe.”

Golfweek Conference Challenge: Team | Individual | Photos

Indeed, Perkins’ 2-footer caught just enough of the left edge to roll to the bottom of the cup and cause that atypical reaction. It also sealed a bogey-free, 5-under 67 that gave the Redbird a two-shot individual lead after the second round of the 11th annual Golfweek Conference Challenge.

Combined with his opening 68, Perkins is at 9-under 135. Zan Luka Stirn of defending team champion Arkansas State is in second alone at 7-under.

Perkins has been building for an opportunity for his first individual collegiate win. He had four top-10 finishes as a junior, including a third-place effort at this past spring’s Boilermaker Invitational. The first-place pride has remained elusive.

Illinois State golfer David Perkins comes up short on his birdie putt on the par-5 15th hole at Cedar Rapids Country Club on Monday in the second round of the 11th annual Golfweek Conference Challenge. Photo: Danny Lawhon/USA TODAY Network

You wouldn’t have known it talking to him, though.

“I’m hitting my mid-irons really good,” he said. “Lots of greens, lots of fairways, lots of opportunities. … I’ve always felt strong about my iron game, so as long as I do well off the tee and stay out of my own way on the greens, I can do pretty well. I’ve made strides each season and have gotten better every year.

“Obviously, I’d like to win, but day-in, day-out consistency is important.”

Find 18 more holes of that level-headedness, and he could find himself in the winner’s circle.

“He knows how to respond versus react, and that’s so critical when you face challenges,” said his coach, Ray Kralis. “He’s ready for (a victory). It takes a little luck to win, but he keeps putting himself in there, which is really tremendous for us and thrills me as a coach.”

He’ll have no shortage of chasers. Keegan Bronnenberg and Joey Ranieri of Ball State share third at 5-under, and their work has the Cardinals in firm control of the team race.

Campbell’s Josh Hetherington is alone in fifth at 4-under, and C.J. Jones of Ball State is among another four golfers a half-dozen shots adrift.

Ball State had the best team score of the day (a 7-under 281) for the second round running to sit at 16-under overall, 11 shots clear of Arkansas State.

Campbell (2-under) is the only other school in red figures. Host Iowa is in fourth alone at 2-over, with five schools sharing fifth at 4-over in the Golfweek-organized event that pits 16 teams from 16 conferences against one another.

Tuesday’s final round is shotgun start at 10 a.m. ET.

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