SILVIS, Ill. – The Lewis-Clark State College men's golf team will tee it up with the NAIA's best starting Tuesday when the 66th annual NAIA Men's Golf National Championships begin at the TPC Deere Run Golf Course.
For the Warriors, this is nothing new. The LCSC men have won the Frontier Conference regular season title 10 times in the last 14 years, including the last three. The conference title automatically qualifies the team for the national tournament
What's different this year is the Warrior men only have one returner from the five who participated in the national tournament a year ago. Combine that with the course, which is the host to the PGA's John Deere Classic, and the wetter and colder than normal winter and spring in Lewiston, Idaho, and it's hard to know what to expect from the Warriors.
"The team is really excited and it's always nice to be playing in the last tournament of the season," LCSC coach Drew Reinland said. "Everyone's game has rounded into form nicely coming into this week."
Senior Chris Lien is the team's lone returner and is having a solid senior season. He won the conference's Player of the Year award based on his nine rounds in conference play, and also claimed individual honors at the conference tournament last month in Tempe, Ariz., with a 1-under-par 215 for three rounds. Three teammates also earned all-conference honors in junior Brandon Barnes (who was second in the conference tournament at 218), freshman Shaun Harpin, and senior Taylor Smith. Hunter Weitze, a sophomore, will round out the Warrior squad.
The Warriors will be among the second group that will tee off Tuesday afternoon. The weather forecast is calling for a high of 87 but with increasing winds throughout the day that are expected to reach 20 mph. Temperatures are supposed to be in the 80s all four days of the tournament, but scattered thundershowers and wind are scheduled for Wednesday.
Weather could make the course even tougher. The par-71 layout features 7,066 yards and a 74.8 rating. Winds are expected to be at least 15 mph every day.
"Keeping the ball in the fairway on this course is the key to success," Reinland said. "Approach shots from the fairway are relatively forgiving but the rough is very punishing on this golf course."
The field consists of 156 players and 21 teams, which includes 13 teams that automatically qualified and another eight that received at-large berths. Also, 11 individuals earned entries into the event.
In the team competition, each school has five golfers but only the top four 18 hole scores from each day count as the team score. After the first three rounds are played, the field is cut in half for the final 18 holes.
Oklahoma City is the defending national champion and will join last year's runner-up British Columbia as the first group off the tee on Monday morning.
The Warriors' best finish in the tournament was fifth place in 2011.