Goecke, Illinois off to hot start in NCAA tourney

Credit: USGA Museum

Credit: USGA Museum

Tyler Goecke didn’t know what to expect in his first NCAA championship — other than he’d be facing the biggest challenge of his golfing life.

Managing his nerves would be just as important as managing his way around the course.

“I told myself before the week started, ‘I’m not going to come out here and play scared,’” he said.

“Obviously, there were some first-tee jitters. But this is the only shot I’m going to have at this. If I play well, that’s great. If I play bad, I’m going to go down swinging and give it my all.”

The Carroll High School grad is soaring through three rounds while playing as Illinois’ No. 2 golfer. He’s tied for seventh at 1-under-par 215 after posting scores of 73-73-69 on the North Course at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.

The Illini are in first after Sunday’s cut from 30 teams to 15. They’ve all but locked up a coveted spot in the eight-team match-play portion of the event.

They’re 2-under as a team and have a six-stroke lead over second-place Virginia. The eighth spot is expected to come in at around 20-over-par.

The final medal play round is Monday and will be broadcast on the Golf Channel from 6-10 p.m.

Match play will be held Tuesday and Wednesday with the Golf Channel also airing it from 6-10 p.m.

“We’ve had one through five (perform well) all week. That’s something we’ve struggled with all year. To figure that out now is great,” said Goecke, a Xenia product who starred at Wright State before transferring to Illinois for his fifth year of eligibility.

“A guy like Jackson Buchanan, who’s the (2024) Big Ten player of the year, for him to struggle at times this week and for us to pick him up has given us a lot of confidence.”

Illinois had won eight straight Big Ten titles before finishing second to Northwestern this year.

Illini freshman Max Herendeen won the individual title and is tied for fourth at the NCAA championship at 2-under, three off the lead of Ohio State senior Adam Wallin.

Buchanan has the highest total so far of the five starters (four scores count each day) at 6-over.

“We’re just playing as a unit. As individual as golf is, there’s still the energy you can feel on the team. We’re all focused on playing for each other,” Goecke said.

The Illini have qualified for match play eight times and posted their best finish in 2013 when they were runner-up to Texas.

North Carolina is in a battle to make the final eight and will need a strong round Monday to advance.

All-American Austin Greaser, a Vandalia Butler grad, has struggled through three rounds, going 10-over-par.

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