SAMMAMISH, Wash – The No. 9-ranked Fighting Illini men’s golf team closed out a season-opening victory Sunday, besting a loaded field at the Sahalee Players Championship behind a runner-up finish by true freshman Max Herendeen in his collegiate debut for the Orange and Blue.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys came out and started the season,” head coach Mike Small said. “I think our guys did a good job of keeping their composure with the course playing so tough. I’m proud of the way the new guys have bought in to what we do, and it is great to see that show through in the results. The team has worked hard the last three weeks to prepare, and to come out and execute in the first tournament of the season, against a field as strong as this one is impressive.”
Illinois finished as the only team to card an under-par score for the event, which featured 11 programs ranked or receiving votes in the first GCAA Coaches Top-25 poll of the season. The Illini posted a 54-hole team score of 863 (-1) to win by eight strokes over No. 2-ranked Arizona State, and 11 shots ahead of host Washington. No. 18 Arizona and 23rd-ranked Duke rounded out the top 5 of the team standings at 12-over and 16-over, respectively.
Herendeen, who grew up just minutes from Sahalee Country Club in Bellevue, Wash., impressed with a 5-under 211 in his first collegiate event. Following an opening 74, he shot an 8-under 64 in Round 2 to vault to a one-stroke lead entering Sunday’s finale. A clutch approach shot and the ensuing birdie putt on the final hole of regulation forced a playoff, where he was narrowly edged out by ASU sophomore Preston Summerhays for medalist honors and a PGA Tour sponsor’s exemption into this week’s Fortinet Championship.
Herendeen was one of five Illini – including individual competitor Timmy Crawford – to card top-25 individual scores. Junior Jackson Buchanan, the runner-up for the individual title at the 2023 NCAA Championship at Grayhawk last May, finished six shots of Herendeen’s pace in a tie for fifth at 217 (+1).
Tyler Goecke and Crawford, also making their Illini debuts as graduate transfers from Wright State and Loyola Chicago, respectively, matched sophomore Ryan Voois with scores of 221 (+5) to finish tied for 21st. Voois was competing in just his sixth collegiate event, and only the second of his career in the Illini’s scoring lineup. Senior Piercen Hunt tied for 46th in the 72-player field with a 54-hole score of 228 (+12).
Illinois hosts another of the season’s most prestigious collegiate events, welcoming 14 peers for the 17th annual OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational at famed Olympia Fields Country Club. Contested on the Par-70, 7,310-yard North Course, the event annually offers a demanding but fair early-season test that attracts one of the best fields in collegiate golf.
Programs in the 2023 tournament field have combined to account for 17 of 24 spots in the NCAA Championship match play finals since the current format began in 2009. In addition to each of the last five national title winners – Florida (2023), Texas (2022), Pepperdine (2021), Stanford (2019), and Oklahoma State (2018) – the Illini also welcome Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Purdue.
All 15 of the programs in the field competed in the 2023 NCAA Regionals last May, including 11 that advanced to stroke play at the NCAA Championship and seven of the eight squads that closed the season in match play vying for the championship trophy at Grayhawk. The field boasts 14 teams that are ranked or receiving top-25 votes in the first GCAA Coaches Poll of the season.