WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Illinois men's golf team found a way.
The Illini started the final round at the West Lafayette Regional five shots back of fifth place, the cutoff to advance to the NCAA Championships. When the day was over, the Illini posted the best team score of the day +6 to finish third, punching their ticket to the next round. It's the 10th straight year the Illini will compete at the NCAA Championships.
"The Illini golf way is just finding a way to get it done no matter what, no matter the conditions," Illinois junior Nick Hardy said. "Every team that's come through the past decade has found a way."
Things didn't look good though, after nine holes. The Illini were down as many as seven strokes from the qualifying mark. Momentum started to swing Illinois' way thanks in large part to junior Dylan Meyer. The Evansville, Ind. native birdied 15 and 17, a long par 3 playing into the wind.
"It's one of those things where the guys behind you hear that your birdied that hole," Meyer said. "It's a hard hole, they're like, 'Alright, we can birdie it too'. It kind of gives that sense of optimism."
But the anchor all day was Nick Hardy. He was Mr. Consistency throughout his round and the tournament. The Northbrook native had three birdies and only one bogey on the card, garnering him individual medalist honors with two others.
"(I) had the mindset of, 'I'm not going home' and I just told myself this is the most important thing in your life right now," Hardy said.
Illinois head coach Mike Small said it was Hardy that got his team ready to go coming into Wednesday.
"His leadership last night after the round and the way he spoke to the media and the way he handled practice after the round and the way he went out and played today was, I told the team, that was inspirational to see that and to take them on his shoulders and do what he did," Small said. "That was huge."
Now the Illini head home. The national finals are at Rich Harvest Farm in the Chicago suburbs, May 26-31. Illinois is hoping for some home state advantage, much like Oregon has last year when the Ducks knocked the Illini out in the match play round.
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