Beyond Sports: Pandemic Delays IWU Golfers' Repeat Glory
Illinois Wesleyan University had to wait a full year to defend its national championship in men's golf.
The Titans were the top-ranked program in NCAA Division III when the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of the 2020 season, just as the team was preparing to defend its 2019 title.
IWU would return the following season to take the championship again, finishing ahead of 15 other competitors earlier this month at the NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship in Wheeling, W.Va.
Senior Rob Weutrich from Normal said losing out on the 2020 season because of the pandemic made this year's title even more rewarding.
“You put a little more emphasis on taking advantage of the opportunity we had,” Weutrich said. “Being able to do that and repeat just showed the character of everyone on the team and the culture that we had to be able to work that hard and then to have everything pay off in the end.”
Weutrich and fellow senior Andrew Abel were the two Titans who participated in the finals in both championship seasons. Abel, a Geneva native, said the team had to improvise to stay connected and get in practice rounds before the season started.
“It’s huge. It’s still sinking in that we won again. It was kind of crazy,” Abel said. “It’s also a fun thing to talk about with people, too, after college because not too may people get to experience that.”
Weutrich added Wesleyan was able to gain a competitive edge because team members competed in more tournaments than most of their competitors did during the season.
“We were the most prepared team. We played the course in the fall,” Weutrich said.
Many golf programs played in fewer events because of pandemic restrictions.
Weutrich said the team had a “hiccup” in the fall involving a few positive cases, but the team was able to continue competing and was able to stay COVID free in the winter and spring.
Weutrich tied for 4th in individual scoring. Abel tied for 125th place. IWU junior Jimmy Morton finished 6th, while sophomore Ethan Wilkins placed 10th and Justin Park tied for 34th at the finals.
Weutrich and Abel also graduated from IWU this month and have moved on to internships. Weutrich majored in accounting. He has an internship at State Farm involving internal audits. Abel, a finance major, is interning with a wealth management firm in his hometown.
Both said their experience of finding success again after their dreams were delayed for a year will prepare them to be successful in the business world.
“As a team, we’ve gone through ups and downs and we’ve been able to overcome those things and win national championships, which definitely helps confidence,” Abel said. “It shows we are motivated and want to achieve our goals.
The golf title was the ninth NCAA national championship in IWU history.