Illini sophomore Voois wins first career event

Apr. 22—URBANA — Ryan Voois' approach shot on the 16th hole at Atkins Golf Club sailed over the green during Sunday's final round of the Fighting Illini Spring Collegiate. The Illinois sophomore couldn't get up and down and bogeyed the 480-yard par-4 hole.

Voois found himself in almost the exact same situation a hole later. Maybe even worse after his 6-iron on the 216-yard par-3 17th flew the green with a slight pull for good measure.

The pin placement was in the back of the green, so Voois was short-sided. He also had a downhill lie in the rough.

"Basically just dead," Voois said. "Coach was just saying, 'Get creative. Get your mind out on the target and just feel it out. Be an athlete. Figure something out.'"

What Voois figured out was a well struck, low trajectory chip shot that settled near the pin. The Ladera Ranch, Calif., native saved par on No. 17 and stuck his approach shot on No. 17 to 7 feet for a two-putt par and the first win of his college career. Illinois also captured the team title at its own event for the second straight season.

Voois finished at 1-under 212, one stroke ahead of Michigan State's Ashton McCulloch, while the Illini ended the 54-hole tournament at 12-over 864 with the runner-up Spartans 10 shots back of Illinois.

"That was one of the best up-and-downs I've ever made," Voois said about his par save on the 17th. "Going into 18 tied for the lead and going into 18 with a one-shot lead is a big difference. A one-shot lead you can, not protect, but you don't have to play as aggressively as if you were tied for the lead.

"With that one-shot lead I was able to hit iron off the tee. I was trying to just hit a 50-degree onto the middle of the green and got a big bounce up there pretty close to the hole. It was nice to have that one-shot lead and not have to stress too much over that putt."

Illinois coach Mike Small said Voois' chip to get up-and-down on No. 17 was a 1-in-30 or 1-in-40 type shot. Probably the only shot he could have made to save par. Small would have preferred, though, if Voois hadn't sailed the green on consecutive holes down the stretch.

"It kind of gets you flustered as a coach a little bit when he hits it over greens with the lead. You don't hit it over greens, period. All in all, I'm happy for him. He gets that first win. Now, he's got one, and hopefully he can start winning things bigger and better."

Voois best finish before Sunday's win was a pair of ties for fourth place at the Flyer Invitational last October in Dayton, Ohio, and the Hal Williams Collegiate in early February in Mobile, Ala. Those top fives also came with some struggles both last fall and this spring.

"He's a sophomore on paper, but he's really a freshman," Small said. "He didn't play much last year on that stacked team we had, so he's learning as he goes. He's been learning all year.

"He had a good streak in the fall and played good. Then he had a rough streak this spring and didn't play very well. We kept playing him and playing him because he's young and he's got some potential. He's been in the lineup nonstop all year, and he's starting to figure it out."

Voois shot his best round of the season in Saturday's first round at Atkins Golf Club with a 7-under 64 to set the event record. He immediately followed that with a 5-over 76 in the second round during the 36-hole day.

"It's hard, but I was telling myself (Saturday) night I've got my bad round out of the way," Voois said about bouncing back Sunday where he shot a 1-over 72 to close out his win. "I was freed up to play good golf and tied for the lead with one of my good buddies and teammates. I was excited to go out there and battle again. I was positive and optimistic.

"It definitely proves to myself that I can do it and I can compete with some elite players in college golf. It was a great win for the team, as well. Fourth win of the season and gives good momentum going into Big Tens next week."

Illinois freshman Max Herendeen, who shared the 36-hole lead with Voois, shot a 3-over 74 on Sunday to finish tied for third. Jackson Buchanan shot a 1-over 72 in the final round and tied for seventh with teammates Jerry Ji and Piercen Hunt, who were playing as individuals. So was Timmy Crawford, who tied for fifth after an even-par 71 on Sunday. The Illini's fourth counting score Sunday was Tyler Goecke's 3-over 74, which rounded out his tie for 53rd. Ethan Wilson was the other player in the lineup and shot a 6-over 77 Sunday to finish tied for 26th.

"We won the tournament, but we didn't close like we want to close," Small said. "(Sunday) was not a pleasant day from that standpoint, but we had a big enough lead."