SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Illinois had an up-and-down day on Friday at the NCAA Championships.
The Illini ended up at 5-over 285 through 18 holes and in a tie for ninth place with 12 of the 30 teams still on the Raptor Course at the Grayhawk Golf Club.
Adrien Dumont de Chassart had the top showing for Illinois on Friday, as the fifth-year senior carded two birdies on his final nine to finish at 2-under 68. He was tied for sixth.
Dumont de Chassart started fast (three birdies in five holes) but slipping back to even par after a bogey on the par-4 first hole (his 10th of the round).
Jackson Buchanan (71), Tommy Kuhl (72) and Piercen Hunt (74) rounded out the Illini’s scoring players on Friday. Buchanan was tied for 32nd, while Kuhl was in a tie for 52nd and Hunt was tied for 92nd on the leaderboard.
The stroke play portion of the national tournament continues through Monday. The top-15 teams make it past the Sunday cut before the field is whittled down to eight teams after the conclusion of Monday’s final stroke-play round.
The top-eight teams then advance to the match play quarterfinals, which take place on Tuesday.
Illinois is nearing the finish of its opening round. And the Illini have lost some ground on the leaderboard.
Mike Small’s team is in seventh place alone at 2-over par. Four teams are leading at even par with Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Texas Tech all on that number.
Adrien Dumont de Chassart’s birdie on the par-5 fourth hole moved him back into red figures on Friday, with the Illinois fifth-year senior the team’s top player on the course at Grayhawk Golf Club. Dumont de Chassart is 1-under through 13 holes.
Illinois has reached the halfway point of its opening round at NCAA Championships.
The Illini are at even par as a team, with Alabama and Mississippi State both leading the way at 1-under overall. Illinois is tied with four other schools in third place, and 11 teams are within two shots of the co-leaders.
At the turn, Jackson Buchanan is having the best round so far for Illinois with the sophomore at 2-under through 11 holes on the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club. Buchanan has eight pars, one bogey, one birdie and one eagle for his round.
LIVE SCORING: Updates from Friday’s action can be found here
The Illini are off to a strong start at the NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., leading the pack and one of five teams under par.
URBANA — Mike Small refers to Illinois as a blue blood in college golf. Proudly. Rightly, too.
The Illini haven’t just dominated the Big Ten with eight straight conference championships and 13 since 2009. They’ve been one of the top teams nationally throughout that entire run. Small is in his 23rd season as coach. When the Illini tee off Friday morning at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., they’ll be his 16th team to play in the NCAA Championships.
The success at that level runs deep, too. Illinois has a pair of individual national champions in Scott Langley (2010) and Thomas Pieters (2012) and has qualified for match play seven times since 2011.
“I take a lot of pride in being in seven match plays,” Small said. “That’s seven College World Series in baseball. That’s seven Elite Eights in basketball. I like being in the game often. So if I keep getting back to the game and being in it and having a chance, that’s what I live for. That’s the fun part of it.”
Illinois’ best result at the NCAA Championships was a runner-up finish in 2013, which was the start of a five-year streak of match play appearances. The Illini reached the national semifinals — the Final Four to borrow another basketball phrase — in three consecutive seasons from 2015-17.
What Illinois doesn’t have yet — what Small doesn’t have yet — is a national title. That’s what this year’s team is chasing, and these Illini might have as good a shot as any of their predecessors. Adrien Dumont de Chassart, a finalist for the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award, ranks fourth in the Golfstat player rankings. Tommy Kuhl is eighth. No other team has two players in the top 10.
Dumont de Chassart and Kuhl played as freshmen in 2019 on an NCAA Championships qualifier and were central figures of the 2021 team that reached match play and finished tied for fifth at Grayhawk.
“How competitive are we and how bad do we want this national championship?” Kuhl said was the team’s mindset heading into this year’s championship event. “I think all of us want it very bad. The experience being there playing at the highest level of college golf for a national championship definitely helps. We kind of know what to expect when we go out there.
“We’ve talked about it since the beginning of the year. This is our goal. We’ve got one more shot at it to bring it home for coach and this program and then me, Adrien and (fellow fifth-year golfer Matthis Besard) hopefully go out on a high note.”
Kuhl said the Illinois golfers want that national title as much for Small as for themselves. They understand they’re the ones on the course that have to make it happen — and Small reiterates its players that win championship — but the Illini are playing for their coach, too.
“The legacy coach has here — everything he goes through to get us ready physically and mentally every single day — he puts all his time and effort into this program,” Kuhl said. “It’s actually pretty incredible to see what he deals with on a day-to-day basis to manage everything. I’d love to get this national championship for coach. He deserves one for sure.”
Small isn’t basing his worth as a coach — or how his career might be perceived — on a national title. He wants one. That’s clear. But it’s not the end-all, be-all of his time leading Illinois.
“I’m as competitive as anybody, and I want to win the whole thing,” Small said. “I think it would be great. But I’m not going to judge my career and I’m not going to feel any different if we don’t. … Sure, I’d like to win. I’d like to win anything I do, but if we don’t win it — ever — I’m OK. I really am. We’ve got a second and a bunch of thirds and a bunch of fifths. That’s pretty good.”
Small is more interested in what a national championship win would mean for his team. They’re who he wants it for. Not himself.
“They’ve got a whole life ahead of them to have that and be proud of that,” Small said. “I’m trying to do this more for them than me, honestly. … I’m a coach who comes from the standpoint of players win championships. They hit the shots. I think coaches are important, but the guys know how I feel about this. This is their game. This is for them. This is not a coach’s game.”
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