Illinois golf struggled through 45 holes at the West Lafayette NCAA Regional. But during the final nine holes of the three-day tournament, Mike Small's team displayed the heart of a four-time defending NCAA Regional champion.
The Illini shot a team-best 6-over on Wednesday at a blustery Kampen Golf Course to finish in third place and advance to their 10th straight NCAA Championships appearance. The Illini will have a home state advantage at the NCAA Championships, which tees of Friday, May 26, at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
Nick Hardy led the Illini with a 2-under 70 and shared individual medalist honors with New Mexico's Andrej Bevins.
With wind gusts as high as 40 mph, the Illini shot low. Of the top-four Illini -- the NCAA takes the best four scores from each team's five players -- junior Dylan Meyer and Edoardo Lipparelli were the high scores with 3-over 75s. Freshman Giovanni Tadiotto carded a 2-over 74.
Illinois trailed fifth place -- the top-five teams from each NCAA Regional advance to the NCAA Championships -- by as many as six strokes midway through the round. But the Illini caught fire on the back nine. During the final six holes, the Illini made six birdies to five bogies.
Meyer, who struggled through most of the tournament, made birdies on 15 and 17. Hardy hit back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15 and hit three straight pars to finish his round and clinch the Illini's trip to Sugar Grove.
The Illini made their charge while other teams fell hard. Purdue and Florida entered the day tied for third, but the host Boilermakers shot 15-over on the day to fall to fifth While the Gators -- the No. 5 team in he country -- shot 24-over on the final day, falling to eighth place.
UNLV won the regional at 8-over, ending the Illini's four-year NCAA Regional title streak. Auburn (11-over) finished second, and New Mexico (16-over) and Purdue (18-over) also advanced.