By Ron Balicki, Golfweek
6 and 1. Those were the key numbers for Illinois when all the dust was settled at Blessings Golf Club at the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional.
Not only did the Fighting Illini earn their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA finals, they did so by winning the program’s first regional championship. With a closing round of 1-over 289, Illinois, coming off its fifth straight Big 10 Conference Championship, finished at 1-under 863 to overtake host Arkansas. The Razorbacks led by one going into the final round, but finished with a 5-over 293 and at 2-over 866.
“This is pretty cool,” said Illinois coach Mike Small shortly after the win. “It shows these guys are really buying into what we are trying to do at Illinois. This is a young team, but they showed a lot of maturity this week and when faced with adversity, handled it well. This was a total team effort and they came in here and took care of business.”
Sophomore Brian Campbell overcame an opening-round 77 to finish at 2-under 214, tying for second with freshman teammate Thomas Detry. Freshman Charlie Danielson tied for fifth at even-par 216, while junior Thomas Pieters, the reigning NCAA individual champion, tied for 10th at 219.
“To come in here with this quality field and win is very rewarding,” Small said. “This is another positive step in our program and hopefully we’ll keep progressing.”
For Arkansas and coach Brad McMakin, it was a bit of a bittersweet ending.
“There’s no doubt we really wanted to win, especially playing at home like this and having all these people come out and support us,” McMakin said. “Unfortunately, we came up a couple of shots short.
“Overall our guys played well all week and a very difficult golf course. But the good news is we still get to go to Atlanta and play for a national championship.”
Arkansas last advanced to the NCAA finals in 2011 and in 2009, the first year in which the event included match play, it finished runner-up to Texas A&M.