BRADENTON, Fla. -- Day 1 of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship did not see many participants finish south of par. In the morning session, no team would combine to finish below a core of 72, as Georgia led the way sitting at an even 288. The afternoon session saw one team cross the finish line below par, and it was led by a spectacular performance.
Fourth-seeded Illinois is a team composed of golfers that would make many jealous. The Illini have three of the Top 30 golfers in the nation in a lineup featuring Thomas Detry (seeded No. 26), Brian Campbell (No. 19) and Charlie Danielson (No. 16). Their experience and talents have propelled the Illini to new heights in an already successful program.“We are best friends,” Detry said. “We do everything together, so we have a great atmosphere. It is very competitive, but very friendly and we are always having fun. It is a culture that Coach [Mike] Small taught us.”
There was no competition. While Campbell (E) and Danielson (+2) were not at all bad on Friday, it was Detry’s day to shine. The junior from Belgium came out and set the tone for the day by eagling the third hole. He would hit a road bump later in the front nine, bogeying consecutive holes.
“I have always struggled to get back into the zone,” Detry explained about his past experiences. “After a bogey, I get a little mad.”
Detry would nearly sink a birdie on the ninth, but after settling for par, Detry had had enough. He came out and fired off four birdies in a row to begin the back nine.
“I bogeyed those two holes in a row, but they were two tough holes. So it was no big deal -- I go on. I hit that great shot on nine and almost made birdie there. [On] 10, 11, 12, 13 -- I hit two close ones and then made two good putts. That’s how you make four birdies in a row, it just comes pretty quickly.”
One advantage that the Illini had was familiarity with Concession. The tough course, full of long fairways and fast greens, had been giving teams trouble since the first tee shot at 7 a.m. For the Illini, however, it was a bit different.
“We played here two years ago for the Big Ten Match Play, so we are familiar with the course,” Detry said. “It’s a course that you have to stay patient. You’re going to hit good shots and you’re going to be in trouble, that’s for sure. You’re going to miss putts on these greens.”
Detry finished the day four under, tied only to USF freshman sensation Claudio Correa. Correa was actually having the performance of a lifetime after eagling his 12th hole to get to seven-under, forcing a tie atop the leaderboard between the Bulls and Illini. Correa would bogey his 14th, 15th and final hole, tying him with Detry for the best performance of the day. The Illini would take the lead heading into Day 2.
The Illini are no strangers to the finals. This is their eighth consecutive trip to the Championships, which means that Danielson, Campbell and Detry have been through this routine three times together. This time they are seeded the highest in Illinois history, and they don’t want to let that opportunity slip away.
“Two years ago, we had no expectations, so we just came in here [Atlanta in 2013] and had fun,” Detry said. “We finished second in the nation. This year we have some more experience, so expectations are probably a little higher. We’ve been practicing hard all year, now is time to have fun and let it all release. I think we need to just have fun and enjoy the moment.”