Fighting Illini Invitational filled with top teams from across the country

Minnesota finished second last weekend at the Gopher Invitational.

When the men’s golf team heads to Illinois this weekend, they will face some of the toughest competition they will see all year.

The Gophers will compete in the Fighting Illini Invitational at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Champaign, Ill. The tournament will begin 7:30 a.m. Sunday and conclude Monday afternoon.

The country club boasts such tournament champions as Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus and the winner of the 2003 U.S. Open, Jim Furyk.

This weekend’s tournament might rank among the top at Olympia Fields before all is said and done. Numerous nationally ranked teams hope to leave Illinois with the No. 1 ranking.

Defending national champion and top-ranked Oklahoma State along with No. 2 Georgia Tech and No. 4 Arizona State will join Minnesota at the Invitational.

That gives this weekend a lot of potential for the Gophers and coach Brad James.

“The best teams in the country will be at one of the best tournaments we’ll be in all year,” he said.

The Minnesota team traveling to Illinois this weekend will be slightly different from the one that competed at last weekend’s Gopher Invitational.

Leading Minnesota will be two seniors, Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner. Both performed well in last week’s tournament, in which Minnesota finished second, five strokes behind Stanford.

La’Cassie finished third overall with a 1-under par 215, while Turner tied for seventh.

Junior Clayton Rask also will head to Champaign this weekend. As an individual in last week’s home tournament, Rask finished ninth.

“It would have been nice to help out the team and get a win,” he said. “But it is a good thing to get the younger guys some experience.”

Sophomores Victor Almstrom and Patrick Datz will golf for the Gophers at the tournament as well.

Almstrom had a solid tournament last weekend, finishing 11th. Datz tied for 36th as an individual.

The final spot on Minnesota’s roster went to freshman Ben Pisani, who will play in just his second collegiate tournament this weekend.

Although Pisani struggled last weekend, tying for 48th place, coach James is still trying to get his recruit from Down Under comfortable at the University.

One thing Pisani needs to get used to is the Midwest weather. With a cold and cloudy weekend forecast, the Gophers might have to play in their second-straight poor-weather tournament.

La’Cassie knows how the weather can affect a round.

“The wind definitely makes it tougher,” he said. “You need to take it into account on every shot.”

But it will take more than unpleasant weather to stop Rask and the Gophers on their quest to return to the NCAA championship for the second-straight year.

“When we play like we know we can, I think we can contend with anyone,” he said. “We’ve got guys that can go low.”