An orange army challenged John Deere green Friday as University of Illinois fans turned out to support the five golfers from what has become a Big Ten dynasty.
Steve Stricker is the headlining Illini, and D.A. Points is a two-time PGA Tour winner, but a trio of young players — Luke Guthrie, Scott Langley and Joe Affrunti — are signs of the school's most recent success.
The Illini men's golf team finished second in the NCAA tournament this year and claimed the school's fifth straight conference title. All of what one Illini backer called "wall candy" was on display at TPC Deere Run. Affrunti turned pro in 2004, while Guthrie and Langley earned their Tour cards last year.
"We're well-represented in the tournament, at least for today," Jim Maloney of Bettendorf said Friday.
Stricker led the blue and orange contingent at 9 under, followed by Langley at 7 under and Affrunti at 6 under. Points and Guthrie failed to make the cut.
Along with the two-round success at TPC Deere Run, another former Illini golfer, Thomas Pieters, just missed the cut at the European Tour's Scottish Open, said Dave Keeling, of Champaign, who stopped to say hello to Illinois golf coach Mike Small.
"We're awfully proud of the program," Keeling said.
Illini fans don't keep track of only Stricker, who has the highest profile. They are familiar with the younger golfers, too.
"Everyone is following Guthrie," said Barb Young, of Mahomet, Ill. "He's doing well this year. We're watching on Sundays."
Small, in his 13th season, hasn't just developed a top-notch program, but name recognition to match Alabama in football and Kansas in basketball. College golf has long been dominated by southern programs.
"We've got a brand name," he said. "It is nice to have a northern program beat the southern teams. It is great."
The program got a boost in 2006 with the opening of a year-round golf training facility, said Al Boehm of Champaign.
"That is attracting some golfers," he said.
The golfers are proud of their school. Guthrie has an Illini four-peat putter cover and includes Small and Stricker in his dream foursome. Langley has a navy blue head cover with a bright orange "I" on it. The media guide entry for Points states that he is an avid Illini fan.
Accompanied by athletic director Mike Thomas and football defensive line coach Greg Colby, Small drew a crowd Friday as he posed for pictures with fans in front of the Big Ten and NCAA trophies. That didn't surprise Jennifer Larson, assistant athletic director for sales and marketing.
"Everyone has been asking if Mike Small is going to be here," she said. "A lot of people were interested in seeing him."
Small is glad golf can provide some Illini excitement when it is the off-season for football and basketball.
"This is more attention for the Illini when it is summer and other sports are out of season," he said.