Sophomore Charlie Danielson fired a 2-under-par 70 in the final round to share medalist honors and the Fighting Illini pulled even with Minnesota late in the round, but the Gophers pulled out a four-stroke win to end the Illini’s five-year run as Big Ten champs. Gopher freshman Jose Mendez shared medalist honors with Danielson at 1-over-par 289 for the 72-hole tournament at the par-72, 7,152-yard Pete Dye Course.
Illinois finished in second place at +38 overall after posting a 1-under-par 287 – the second-best team round of the tournament – on Sunday, but Minnesota’s final-round 290 was enough to earn its first title since 2007 as the Gophers finished at +34.
Danielson’s victory pushes Illinois’ string of Big Ten medalists to four in a row, joining Luke Guthrie (2011-12) and Thomas Pieters (2013). He also earned the Les Bolstad Award with the lowest season stroke average among Big Ten golfers at 71.07, the best mark in five seasons.
“We rallied early and played pretty good golf for most of the day,” Illini head coach Mike Small said. “But congratulations to Minnesota; they played great. They didn’t open any cracks for us to sneak into today.”
Illinois’ players with counting scores played the final two holes 3-over-par, while Minnesota’s wrapped up the last two at -1. The Illini had battled back to tie the Gophers atop the leaderboard when senior Jonathan Hauter parred the difficult par-3 16th and Minnesota’s Alex Gaugert bogeyed it. But Illinois made just one birdie after that – Hauter’s on the par-5 18th after a brilliant chip to two feet – and had three bogeys and a double-bogey.
“We fought back and tied for the lead, there, with a couple holes to go,” Small said. “And I’m proud of my guys for that, I really am. But if this was a basketball game, we made too many turnovers at the end with three bogeys and a double, including a couple three-putts in there over the last three holes. That’s not going to win you a tournament. We didn’t have our best all week but we competed really well for the most part, but just lost it a little bit at the end.”
Danielson had an impressive round on Sunday, as his 70 was the second-best single-round score of the tournament. He started hot, rolling in birdies on the first two holes. But bogeys on the par-3 4th and par-3 8th left him at even par at the turn. Meanwhile, Mendez, his playing partner for the day, played a clean front nine with one birdie to stand -1 and hold a four-shot lead over the Illini sophomore.
Danielson fought back, though, notching a birdie at the par-4 10th and making par at the 11th. On the par-4 12th, Danielson made par while Mendez bogeyed. At the par-3 13th, Danielson rolled in a right-to-left 30-footer for birdie and picked up two more shots when Mendez bogeyed the hole, tying the pair for the overall lead at +1.
They each birdied the par-5 14th then on No. 15, Danielson’s second shot went right and landed in the hillside rough 35 yards from the hole. But he chipped it to within 15 feet and drained the putt to save par as Mendez also parred the hole. On 16, Danielson had a 50-footer that he nearly rolled in for birdie before tapping in for par. Mendez then bogeyed the par-3 16th to give Danielson a one-shot lead heading down the stretch.
Both golfers parred the tricky par-4 17th and on 18, Danielson’s chip from in front of the green landed well right into a bunker. He chipped to 20 feet but couldn’t sink the par putt, as he bogeyed the hole. Mendez was able to get up-and-down for par to pull even with Danielson and share medalist honors.
“I’m proud of Charlie,” Small said. “(Being the) Big Ten champion is a big deal. It’s something he’s going to have the rest of his life. He keeps getting better, he works harder than anybody else on our team and he deserves this. He wants to see how good he can be. He’s really worked on his mental game and his emotions, and that really helped him today.”
Also for the Illini, sophomore Thomas Detry posted a 1-under-par 71 on the day to finish tied for 12th at +12. Junior Brian Campbell joined him tied for 12th thanks to a final-round 73 (+1). Senior Jonathan Hauter posted his best round of the tournament with a 1-over 73, finishing tied for 20th at +15, and sophomore David Kim tied for 46th at +24 after a final-round 78 (+6).
Illinois will learn its destination for NCAA Regionals Monday at 9 a.m. CT on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. Regional sites are Sugar Grove, Illinois; Columbia, Missouri; Raleigh, North Carolina; Auburn, Alabama; San Antonio, Texas; and Eugene, Oregon. Regionals will be held May 15-17, with NCAA Championships taking place May 23-28 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments,” Small said. “We have to get better at some things. I don’t think we’re clicking on all cylinders right now. The potential is there to have a good run, but if we play like we did here, it’s going to be tough to make it to the NCAA finals. But next up for us is final exams and we need to take care of our classroom work. Once we do that, we’ll get back on the golf course.”