Necks compete in Benbow Collegiate Tournament

Jacob VanZuiden, Sports Editor

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  • Kyle Irlbacker lining up for his chip shot.


  • Jackson Wetherbee chiping it on the green.


The Leatherneck golf team has begun to heat up while the weather back home has yet to do the same. On the heels of an encouraging team-effort, they will aim to show continued improvement in their game as they head South once again over spring break.

After a 10th place finish in their first spring action, The Purple and Gold were out to prove themselves at the Alabama State Spring Golf Kickoff. The team placed second in the tournament out of eight qualifying schools, falling just 12 strokes short of the grand prize as Alabama State grabbed first place in their own event. They managed a team score of 900 (+36) with everyone doing their part. Falling behind Western Illinois, in order, were Evansville, Arkansas- Pine Bluff, Chicago State University, Manhattan College, Alabama A&M and Morehouse College.

Butler University will be welcoming the Leathernecks for the Don Benbow Collegiate Tournament on March 11-12. The invitational will take place under the sunny skies of Jacksonville, Florida at the Blue Sky Golf Club.

The Purple and Gold will need to continue their recent elevated play with junior Kyle Irlbacker and senior Jackson Wetherbee leading the charge for them. The two standouts from the team’s last competition at Alabama State both took home All-Tournament honors after accumulating impressive individual scores and were a big part of Western’s top-two finish. Irlbacker finished tied for second-place individually after battling back in the last day of the event, ending with a score of 219 (+3). Wetherbee was hot on his tracks after firing a team-low 71 in the concluding round to finish at 221 (+5), good for fifth place overall.

After the conclusion of the tournament, interim head coach Lia Biehl Lukkarinen was eager to share her opinion in regards to her squad’s performance. She made it a point of emphasis that this team has come a long way since the 2018 fall season.

“I’m very proud of our team’s play at this tournament,” said Lukkarinen. “We have a lot of positives to take away from today. I was very happy to see Kyle play well after being injured most of the fall season. Jackson was able to bring it back today, shooting a 71 which was also nice to see. We have certain things as a team to work on and we are looking forward to seeing what we can do at our next tournament in Florida.”

For the upcoming Don Benbow Collegiate Tournament, the Purple and Gold will roll out a familiar starting-five. Beginning with Irlbacker and Wetherbee, the two will be joined by sophomore Wyatt Spier along with the freshmen duo of Cameron Karney and Parker Govern.

It’s gearing up to be a busy spring break for Western’s golf team with no shortage of action over the week-long period. After they conclude play in Jacksonville, they’ll make another trip to Savannah, Georgia where they’ll go head to head against Savannah State on March 14.

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