Illini men could contend for NCAA golf title again


Mike Small has had better teams than his current one at the University of Illinois.  Several of them, including last year’s veteran squad, even came close to winning the NCAA title but couldn’t finish the job.

The current Illini did make it to the NCAA finals, which begin a week-long run on Friday (MAY 24) at LaCosta in Carlsbad, Calif., despite being dethroned as Big Ten champions by Northwestern  two weeks ago.  That ended a record eight-year conference  title run by the Illini, but they bounced back in a hurry.

Last week Small’s 17th Illini team won the NCAA’s Stanford Regional, the sixth such title under Small’ direction.

Northwestern, meanwhile, saw its season come to an end with the Wildcats finishing 12th in the 13-team North Carolina Regional, but Notre Dame will join Illinois at LaCosta after finishing third in the Texas Regional.

Illinois, though ranked No. 18 nationally and seeded third in its regional,  dominated the field at Stanford, winning by eight strokes over top-seeded Florida State. The Illini qualified for the NCAA finals for the 15th time in the last 16 years.

“This is just another step and progression in our yearly goals,’’ said Small. “We’ll enjoy it as a team, then get ready for the next piece of the puzzle.’’

Max Herendeen, a freshman, won his first collegiate tournament by leading wire-to-wire at Stanford.  He finished the 54-hole regional at 13-under-par 197 and became the fifth Illinois golfer to claim medalist honors at a regional.  Brian Campbell, now on the Korn Ferry Tour, won twice and Nick Hardy, Michael Feagles and Luke Guthrie also took titles.

“Max keeps improving and growing,’’ said Small. “He handled himself like a champion.  He hit it really solid, but the way he handled his emotions and focus is what made it fun to watch,’’

Illinois had three players in the top 10 at Stanford, and that balance bodes well for the team’s chances for another run at the national title.

“We had a total team effort from top to bottom (at the regional),’’ said Small. “Illinois golf has always prided itself on each man doing his job and this was a perfect example of that. This shows what’s possible when we play from strength and play solid, fundamental golf.’’

IN MEMORIAM: The Chicago golf community  lost two of its most popular members recently with the passing of Ed Posh and Bill Berger.

Posh, from West Chicago, was the first head professional at Village Links of Glen Ellyn and served in that post until 1995 when he assumed emeritus status.   Upon his retirement a scholarship fund was established in his honor and 118 students have benefitted from $1,240,000 in grants over the years.

Berger, from Franklin Park, was a lifetime member of the PGA and former touring professional.  He had been a co-host on the Golfers on Golf Radio show for the past 16 years. Posh was 94 and Berger 87.

HERE AND THERE:  Thomas Detry, the Belgian golfer who played for Illinois from 2012-16, tied for fourth in the PGA Championship at Kentucky’s Valhalla on Sunday. Andy Svoboda, the new head professional at Butler National in Oak Brook, couldn’t keep his early-season hot streak going at the PGA.  He missed the 36-hole cut there but was named to the PGA Cup team.

The first championship of the Chicago District Golf Association’s 111th season concludes today (WEDNESDAY) when the ninth CDGA Mid-Amateur’s title match is played at Elgin Country Club.

Long-time Chicago area club professional Tim Govern has been named the new head pro at Rolling Green in Arlington Heights.

Chicago-connected tour players Luke Donald and Doug Ghim survived the PGA’s 36-hole cut.  Former Northwestern and European Ryder Cup captain Donald had missed the cut in all four of his starts this season until finishing tied for 68th  at Valhalla.  Ghim, from Arlington Heights, tied for 35th – his best finish in a major championship since turning pro in 2018.