Illinois meets USC in NCAA Men's quarterfinal

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Monday, May 29, 2017

Illinois, which meets Southern California in Tuesday morning’s NCAA Championship quarterfinals, has a not-so-secret weapon for the match play competition.

Dylan Meyer, after all, is the current Western Amateur champion. He’s gone through the grind of 72 holes of stroke play to qualify, followed by the tenseness of match play.

His advice for his teammates is simple.

“One shot at a time,” Meyer said. “We don’t focus on score. You’ve just got to go out there and play your game. You can’t get ahead of yourself and you can’t really focus on your opponent. Play solid golf and keep putting pressure on them.”

Coach Mike Small agrees. He had to kick his charges – Meyer included – in the rump verbally late in the back nine of Monday’s windblown fourth stroke play round.

“We were leaking oil bad,” Small said. “Most of them had some cottonmouth, choking on themselves.”

Small explained that it was time to rev it up.

“They need to understand that this is a blessing, to have that opportunity to feel this way,” Small said. “You’re playing for your team, your brothers. Most people go through life in a funk. Their heart never raises, they’re just moping through it. To be able to test yourself, to feel the nerves, to get so worked up you can’t stand it, embrace that. That’s what athletics is.

“I think our team grew up a lot today.”

His players listened and reacted.

“You feel the vibe out there and the vibe wasn’t all that great,” Meyer said. “We had to do something to turn it around. He told us we had to get our stuff together, to put it in a ‘blank‘ way. We needed someone to get in our face.”

As a team, they had played the 15th and 16th in 7-over-par on Monday. They bounced back to play the 17th and 18th in 3-under, with Edoardo Lipparelli contributing his second eagle of a round of 4-over 76 via a sharp-breaking 25-footer on the par-5 18th, fellow freshman Giovanni Tadiotto rolling in a birdie at the last for an 80 – which ended up not counting – and Meyer canning a 15-footer on the par-4 17th after a brilliant approach in. Meyer bogeyed the last for 77, but the hay was in the barn by then, with Nick Hardy contributing an even-par 72 and Michael Feagles contributing a 76 before a supportive gallery decked out in orange and blue.

“That was the tournament for us,” Small said of the turnaround on 17. “Five guys played it in 1-under.”

They had played it in 11-over across the first three rounds, though Tadiotto hung up four of those squandered strokes via a quadruple bogey in the first round.

The Fighting Illini finished at 2-over 1154 after a final round of 16-over 304

Lipparelli said he allowed for three feet of break on his eagle putt. It tumbled in the left side of the hole.

“These pin positions were harder than the last few days,” Lipparelli said. “They’re putting the flags a little more tucked.”

He seemed ready for match play no matter who the foe would be.

“If you shoot a low score, you’re going to beat your opponent,” Lipparelli said. “Everybody has to do their business.”

That boils it down to the basics. Meyer was even more terse.

“Win,” he said. “Win at all costs.”

Illinois is seeded No. 3, USC No. 6. Lipparelli meets Sean Crocker on the 10th tee at 7 a.m., Tadiotto plays Andrew Levitt at 7:10 a.m., Hardy matches up with Rico Hoey (the top stroke-play Trojan, tying for sixth at 4-under 284) at 7:20 a.m., Feagles plays Cheng Jin at 7:30 a.m., and Meyer anchors the Illini against Justin Suh at 7:40 a.m.

The other quarterfinal matchups: 

No. 1 Vanderbilt, which finished at 13-under in stroke play, vs. No. 8 Nevada-Las Vegas, No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Oregon, and No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor. Illinois would play the winner of the Oklahoma-Baylor match should it advance to Tuesday afternoon’s semifinals.

Braden Thornberry of Mississippi won the individual title, scoring 11-under 277 with a final round of even par 72, to beat Mason Overstreet of Arkansas by four strokes. A trio of players, Scottie Scheffler of Texas and the Vanderbilt duo of Theo Humphrey and Matthias Schwab finished at 6-under 282. Meyer, at 4-under 284, tied for sixth.

Tim Cronin

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