Illinois golfers win Big Ten men's championship

John Supinie

The Illinois men's golf team is celebrating the end of a long dry spell, but the Illini are already looking ahead to NCAA play.

Illinois rolled to its first Big Ten Conference men's golf championship since 1988 by winning the three-day, 72-hole tournament Sunday by 13 strokes in a dominating performance that hints of bigger things to come this spring.

Illinois earned the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The regional assignments will be announced Monday.

"I knew on No. 15 that it looked pretty good,'' coach Mike Small said. "We were leading by 15 or 16 shots at that point. I've always been a Big Ten fan and a Big Ten player. It's a big deal to win it. We've come so close. It was pretty hard there for a while. It's nice to leave one of these feeling happy.

"We had three seconds and a third in the last few years. We couldn't finish it off. This shows we're a strong team, and we've won seven times this year.''

The Illini were 13-over par on the Blue Course at Penn State University. Minnesota finished second. Indiana was third, 18 shots back. Sophomore Chris DeForest, of Cottekill, N.Y., shot a 2-over-par 286 to finish third. Junior Matt Hoffman, of Thornill, Ontario, Canada, placed seventh at 4-over par. Freshman Luke Guthrie, the Illinois Class 3A state champ in 2007 as a Quincy High School senior, was ninth at 6-over.

"I don't think this is the end of anything at all,'' said DeForest. "We have a great opportunity the next couple of weeks to improve and come together more. I think we can play great at the regionals and NCAAs and really show what some of the Big Ten teams have to offer. I think we'll finish strong.

"We don't care if we're on the radar or not. We know we can compete with those (perennial powers). That's all that matters.''

The 81-team NCAA field will be distributed among six regional sites. Regional play is May 14-16. The top five teams at each regional advance to the NCAA championship is held at Inverness Country Club in Toledo on May 26-30.

"Coach is really proud of us,'' DeForest said. "He's really glad. He had some good teams when he first started coaching that had the opportunity and didn't quite finish. We're glad to finally get the Big Ten championship.''

Northwestern's Eric Chun shot a 1-under 283 to win the individual conference title.

Big Ten Conference men's golf championship at Penn State

Par 71

Team scores

(Par 1,136)

1. Illinois 1,149; 2. Minnesota 1,162; 3. Indiana 1,167, 4. (tie) Ohio State and Penn State 1,170; 6 Iowa 1,172; 7. Northwestern 1,177; 8. (tie) Purdue and Michigan 1,179; 10. Wisconsin 1,183; 11. Michigan State 1,210.

Illinois scores

(Note: Top four scorers used on each 18 holes.)

T3  Chris DeForest  76  70  69  71 -- 286 

7 Matt Hoffman 72  69  72  75 -- 288 

9 Luke Guthrie 72  75  72  71 -- 290 

T17 Zach Barlow  73  77  77  68 -- 295 

T17 Scott Langley 75  74  71  75 -- 295