An 11-month layoff is no problem for Illini golfers

This year has been filled with changes for everyone, but some things never change.

The University of men’s golf team, for one thing. The Illini had their season halted in March by pandemic concerns, then came the cold weather in the Midwest. Eleven months after their last competition, however, the Illini didn’t miss a beat.

Coach Mike Small took his team to Florida for a warmup dual meeting against Illinois State, a 9-7 victory in a match play competiton on Feb. 6. Then came the first tournament – the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate in Alabama. Though Small has built a powerhouse at Illinois, the sharpness the Illini demonstrated there was beyond belief.

The Illini won last week’s 54-hole, 15-team event by 17 strokes and Illini senior Michael Feagles was the individual champion with rounds of 67-67-66, a 16-under-par performance that was the second-best in the history of the Illinois program.  Feagles went wire-to-wire to win  his title by eight strokes over teammate Jerry Ji.

“It was fun to get out and compete,’’ said Small. “These guys were to excited to play.  To see their excitement after what happened 11 months ago was just awesome.’’

Next comes the Louisiana State Invitational, which tees off on Friday with a stronger field than the one in Alabama. The busy February triggers a hectic spring for the Illini, who have events scheduled in Arizona and Georgia before playing back in the Midwest at tournaments hosted by Purdue and ;Ohio State in April.

“We’ve built a schedule that will test our team, both mentally and physically, and will prepare us to reach all our goals this season,’’ said Small.  The Big Ten tournament starts on April 30 and the NCAA tournament on May 17.

FLORIDA-BOUND:  Both the PGA and LPGA tours hold  tournaments in Florida this week. The PGA has a new site for the World Golf Championship’s Workday Championship.  It’ll be played at The Concession Club in Bradenton opposite the Puerto Rico Open.  Both tee off on Thursday. Neither Kevin Streelman nor Doug Ghim, of the current Chicago area tour players, will compete this week.

The LPGA, meanwhile, will be playing its first full-field event of 2021 — the Gainbridge Championship, at Lake Nona, near Orlando — beginning on Thursday. This one is most notable for Annika Sorenstam being in the field.  A Lake Nona member, the legendary Sorenstam is making her first tournament appearance in 13 years.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only LPGA member, will also be making her season debut at Lake Nona.

HERE AND THERE:  The Korn Ferry Tour opened its season in Florida last week with Northwestern alum David Lipsky finishing in a tie for 23rd and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Illinois alum Scott Langley in a tie for 34th.  The PGA’s satellite circuit doesn’t have another tournament until the Chitimacha Louisiana Open tees off on March 18…..Chicago golf lost one of its most inspiring figures with the passing of Coraine (Co) McArthur.  She was a long-time leader of the Women’s Western Golf Association, serving as its Foundation director for 40 years and winning its Woman of Distinction Award in 1998.The Kenilworth resident was 106 at the time of her passing….Kevin Streelman, long active with the PGA’s Player Advisory Committee, finished third in last week’s voting for that group’s presidency.   The honor went to Rory McIlroy…..SkyTrak Simulators have been added at the Cantigny Youth Links, in Wheaton…..Silver Lake, one of Chicago’s longest-standing public facilities in Orland Park, is now up for sale.  The 45-hole facility has been owned by the Coghill family since its opening…Heading the Illinois PGA’s list of 2020 award winners was Ruth Lake’s Mark Labiak, named Professional of the Year, and Glen View’s Chris Green, as Teacher of the Year….The IPGA Foundation, celebrating its 30th anniversary,  announced the kickoff to a $1 million capital campaign to raise funds for future programing.