After posting a combined score of +13 in the individual stroke play event, the Fighting Illini head into match play at the East Lake Cup as the third seed. They will face the 2017 NCAA Champion Oklahoma Sooners, who holds the second seed after a +7 team performance in Monday’s qualifying stroke play round. Illinois faced Oklahoma in the semifinal round of the NCAA tournament back in May at Rich Harvest Farms, where the Illini lost 3-1-1 in their third consecutive final four appearance.
Looking for redemption after last season’s loss at nationals, here’s how Illinois stacks up against the defending national champions:
Dylan Meyer vs. Blaine Hale
Coming off last week’s win at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, Dylan Meyer looks to lead off Tuesday’s semifinal with a bang as he takes on Blaine Hale of Oklahoma. Hale was 2-1 in match play at NCAA’s, including a convincing 4&3 win over Eduardo Lipparelli in the semifinals. Meyer was 1-0-1 is match play at NCAAs, notching the only win in the semifinals for Illinois. This year, Hale is averaging 72.17 strokes per round (thru 12 rounds) while Meyer is averaging 71.17 strokes per round (thru 12 rounds).
Heading into this week after his win at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, Dylan’s mind was only on one thing...the team:
“It sucks. Yeah great, I won, but I didn’t finish the way I needed to for this team,” Meyer said after the final round. “I had to go ahead and finish it out, but I didn’t. And that frustrates me more than anything. I let these guys down.”
With Meyer trying to find his form after failing to find a Top-15 finish this season, the individual victory gave Dylan some much needed momentum heading into this week. Teammates Nick Hardy and Michael Feagles have noticed that Meyer is “back at it” and “has got his mindset back.” Look for Dylan Meyer to come out swinging early in the opening match.
Giovanni Tadiotto vs. Garett Reband
Heading into the East Lake Cup, Gio has consistently posted scores of +1 in his last three events. After failing to qualify for team competition in the inaugural event of the season, Tadiotto pushed his way into the starting five with a total score average of 72.25 thru twelve rounds this season. Gio was 1-1 in match play last May, and will face a new face to the Oklahoma Sooners in Garrett Reband.
Reband has played nine rounds so far this season, with four of them finishing in the 60’s. His scoring average is 70.22, and has cemented himself into the Sooner lineup for the 2017-208 season. This will be a tough test for Tadiotto, who has only posted rounds in the 60’s twice this season. A win here for Gio would really swing the momentum in Illinois’ favor.
Brendan O’Reilly vs. Riley Casey
The new face of Illinois golf has earned a spot in the starting lineup! (told you)
Brendan O’Reilly has played nine rounds so far this season, averaging 75.25 strokes per round. All nine rounds have been a learning experience for Brendan, as he has only posted one round under par and one round at par. He faces Riley Casey, who is averaging 71.17 strokes per round thru twelve rounds this year. The sophomore has posted three rounds in the 60’s, and will be a difficult opponent for O’Reilly.
As a young player, Brendan has been learning to keep his emotions in check and stick to his game plan. Playing in his first match play event as a member of the Illini, it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of a nationally televised event. Coach Small has talked at length about “putting guys in uncomfortable situations,” and Brendan will have his first chance to handle an “uncomfortable situation” in this event.
Nick Hardy vs. Grant Hirschman
A rematch of last year’s semifinal pairing promises to be a gem. Nick Hardy has undoubtedly been the best player in Illinois’ lineup this season, finishing as the top Illini player in three of four tournaments this season. Despite having a rough tournament last week, Hardy’s game is as good as it’s ever been. The senior brings a 1-0-1 match play record from NCAAs into this week, along with the best score in individual play at East Lake. Nick Hardy averages 70.58 strokes per round thru twelve rounds so far this season, with four rounds in the 60’s thru four events.
Hardy faces Grant Hirschman, who is playing at 71.08 strokes per round thru twelve rounds this year (along with four rounds in the 60’s). Hirschman was 1-0-2 in match play at the NCAA tournament last year, and will be a match Illinois must win to have a chance at advancing to the finals for the third consecutive year. Of all the guys ready to make that happen, it’s Nick Hardy.
Michael Feagles vs. Brad Dalke
After flushing a 7-iron to 3’9” on Golf Channel this past weekend, Michael Feagles looks to step into a more prominent role in the starting lineup as the anchor in Illinois’ semifinal match against Oklahoma. The sophomore is playing at a 71.67 average strokes per round rate thru twelve rounds this year, along with the second highest team finish average at 2.5 (tied with Dylan Meyer).
Feagles will face Okahoma’s ringer in Brad Dalke. Dalke posted a 2-1 match play record last season at the NCAAs, and is playing at a team best 69.50 stroke average thru twelve rounds this season. With eight rounds in the 60’s so far this year, Dalke is the heavy favorite heading into this anchor match. HOWEVER, Feagles has been known to catch fire with his putter. If he can make a few putts early and get in Dalke’s head, this could end up being the deciding factor in tomorrow’s semifinal match.
The Golf Course:
East Lake Golf Club - Atlanta, GA
*Note that the tournament rotation is reversed. Holes 1-9 play as holes 10-18 for tournament play.
Tee Times (All in CST):
Group 1: Dylan Meyer (ILL) vs. Blaine Hale (OU) - 11:45am
Group 2: Giovanni Tadiotto (ILL) vs. Garett Reband (OU) - 12:05pm
Group 3: Brendan O’Reilly (ILL) vs. Riley Casey (OU) - 12:25pm
Group 4: Nick Hardy (ILL) vs. Grant Hirschman (OU) - 12:45pm
Group 5: Michael Feagles (ILL) vs. Brad Dalke (OU) - 1:05pm
TV Schedule/How to Watch:
TV Coverage provided by Golf Channel
Semifinals (Tuesday 10/31) - 2pm CST Live/7pm CST Replay
Finals/Consolation Match (Wednesday 11/1) - 1pm CST Live/6pm CST Replay