NCAA tourneys could provide a bonanza for Illini, NU

The collegiate golf season reaches its climax in the next three weeks, and it could go down as one for ages as far as Illinois schools are concerned.

Both the men’s and women’s teams at Northwestern qualified for the NCAA tournament and the Illinois men’s squad looms as one of the favorites for the national title again. Coach Mike Small’s Illini are ranked No. 2 in the national polls and Emily Fletcher’s NU women are No. 8 in the women’s poll.

Fletcher’s team is already qualified for the NCAA finals after last week’s rousing 18-stroke victory at a regional elimination at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Small’s Illini are the top seed in the men’s regional that starts on Monday at Blackwolf Run’s Meadows Valley Course in Kohler, Wis.

In addition to the 13 teams competing, the 10 individual invitees there include Tee-K Kelly, the Ohio State senior and Medinah member who won two of the last three Illinois State Amateur titles, and Miami of Ohio sophomore Patrick Flavin, who is from Highland Park.

Northwestern’s men’s team is the No. 9 seed in a regional at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. All the regionals are contested over 54 holes and the top five teams and low individual at each regional qualifies for the national finals at Eugene Country Club in Oregon. The women compete at Eugene from May 20-25 and the men from May 27-June 1.

Illinois is a No. 1 regional seed for the second straight year and an NCAA qualifier for the ninth straight year on the men’s side. The Illini, ranked behind only Texas nationally, will be seeking their fourth straight regional title at Blackwolf Run.

The NU women earned at least a share of the Big Ten title in three of the last four years but the regional title was the first ever for the Wildcats, be it the men’s or women’s teams. Freshman Janet Mao shared individual honors at Shoal Creek, and that was an encouraging sign that Fletcher’s team is peaking at the perfect time. The regional marked only the third tournament where Mao’s score counted towards the team total.

Knoll tops first U.S. Open elimination

The U.S. Golf Assn. reported that 9,877 players entered the U.S. Open and the elimination process has begun for next month’s finals at Oakmont, in Pennsylvania, Ray Knoll, the 2014 Illinois Amateur champion from Naperville, carded a 4-under-par 68 to win the first Illinois local qualifier on Monday at Village Links of Glen Ellyn.

Knoll, who plays collegiately at iowa, was one stroke better than Tim Streng who teaches at Northwestern’s Wildcat Academy. NU sophomore Dylan Wu was a stroke further back but all three – along with Patrick Duffy and Kyle Kochevar – advanced to sectional play.

Another regional was held at illini Country Club in Springfield, with Bloomington’s Kyle English and former Illinois State basketball player Brandon Holtz sharing low score honors with 2-under-par 69s. Mini-tour player Kurt Slattery of Taylor Ridge, also made it to sectional play. Once again Chicago won’t have a sectional elimination. The closest will be in Ohio, but qualifiers from the locals can opt for sectional berths in any area.

Here and there

Despite a lengthy weather-related suspension of play on Tuesday the 65th llinois PGA Match Play Championship is scheduled to be completed as scheduled on Thursday at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer.

The Chicago District Golf Association’s second Mid-Amateur Championship has a Monday-Wednesday run at Lake Shore, in Glencoe.

The women’s teams from Illinois Wesleyan and Aurora are in the NCAA Division III finals this week. The tourney, which started on Tuesday, concludes on Friday at Bay Oaks in Houston.

The Illinois PGA will hold its next stroke play events on Monday at Westmoreland, in Wilmette.