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One-on-One with Illini Golf at the Illinois Open

We had chance to walk 8 holes with Nick Hardy, and talk with him, his family, and Alex Burge after the round.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As a golfer, there are many things you need to do in preparation for a tournament; one of the most important may be arranging your accommodations for the week.  Knowing that Illini senior Alex Burge is from Bloomington and the Illinois Open is being held in my hometown of Lake Zurich near sophomore Nick Hardy, there was one pressing question I was determined to have answered.  Was Alex crashing on Nick Hardy's couch this week?

"Oh, of course!  They've got me in the basement where it's cold and dark," joked Alex.

According to Nick's mother, Kim, they are housing Alex in the basement with a full bed and TV set-up.  While conditions may be cold and dark, it's a step above making the two hour drive north every day.  Plus, a full bed is always a better option than crashing on your buddy's couch.

I asked both Hardy and Burge the same question, and both were smiling ear to ear when it was brought up.  You could certainly tell that the two were not only teammates, but good friends as well.  Both played in back-to-back groups yesterday afternoon at the Hawthorn Woods Country Club, with coach Mike Small playing two groups ahead of Hardy's.  With chemistry like that, there's no question why this isn't just your average golf program.

Coach Mike Small has turned the University of Illinois Golf program into a consistent national powerhouse that has produced NCAA Champions and multiple PGA Tour-caliber players since he took over in 2000.  His rules for summer tournaments are non-existent if you ask any of the players.

"Just stay active and compete."  Both Nick and Alex mentioned that they play in events during the off-season to keep their games fresh and their mental tenacity sharp.  That was nowhere more evident than when Hardy made the cut at the 2015 US Open in June.

"When I first qualified I was really excited to have the opportunity to play in our national tournament,"  Hardy said in an earlier interview with FightingIllini.com.  "I was excited to compete against the best players in the world. As a competitor, you want to play against the best."

Both Nick Hardy and Alex Burge, along with two other Illini players, will have that opportunity as they have qualified for the US Amateur, held this year at Olympia Fields just east of Joliet.  Don't count out Alex Burge either, as he's coming off of a match-play championship of his own in the 96th Chicago District Golf Association Amateur.  The event mirrors the same format the Illini will face individually in the US Amateur, and Burge will take the experience he's had and use it to his advantage.

"We're familiar with [Olympia Fields] and have had success there, and plan to use that experience to our advantage."

It's clear that these guys want to win and compete in every event they play in.  That alone is a trait that fans love seeing in their favorite teams/athletes and certainly has proven to be effective.  Well maybe that and a well balanced diet.

"Last week, we brought home a Lou Malnati's pizza and Nick took down at least half of it," admitted Nick's father, John.  "Then I caught him not an hour later making himself a PB&J sandwich!"

It was a pleasure to chat with Hardy's parents while walking the back nine with them.  While the Illinois Open may be just out of reach for both the two Illini, you really can never count them out of any event.  Whether it's during the NCAA Championships, or a National Tournament, these guys sure know how to play the game.

Thanks again to John and Kim for chatting with me yesterday, and a big thanks to Alex and Nick for talking after a tough day.  You've got plenty of support across Illini nation, and we're looking forward to watching you in a month at the US Amateur.  Keep it in the short grass!

*****

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