By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
Following an encouraging start to the fall season with a third-place finish in San Antonio, Baylor men’s golf will take on the toughest field of its season so far at the Fighting Illini Invitational, which begins Friday at Olympia Fields Country Club.
The Bears will play alongside 14 teams that are ranked or receiving votes in the latest Golf Coaches Association Poll. It will be the strongest field since the 2023 NCAA Championships, where Baylor was joined by 11 other teams.
“This is probably the best field we’ll see all fall and maybe the best field we’ll see until the postseason, and it’s on a championship-style golf course,” graduate student Luke Dossey said. “They just played the BMW championship that Viktor Hovland won on tour here in Olympia Fields. You play it and you know what area of your game you need to work on, because it exposes all your weaknesses. So I think we’re looking forward to it.”
Head coach Mike McGraw is “tenured” when it comes to the historic venue. The three-time national champion head coach attended the first tournament and has been every year for the last 17 years. For McGraw, the test of Olympia Fields is mirrored by no other course.
“It is definitely a big event, with so many great teams there and on a course that they play PGA Tour tournaments on,” McGraw said. “It’s my favorite tournament in college golf and one of my favorite golf courses in the world. So the guys do feed off of that. In fact, they probably have some inside jokes about Coach McGraw just loving this place so much.”
The green and gold owns experience at this course, as Dossey finished 12th in the tournament last year. Graduate student Johnny Keefer had professional success at Olympia Fields, and Trey Bosco tied for 17th last year.
Keefer will play out of the No. 1 position, while Dossey takes the No. 2 spot and Bosco plays at No. 3. However, two golfers will experience Olympia for the first time. Junior Zach Heffernan will play in the No. 4 position and sophomore Jonas Appel will fill out the lineup in the No. 5 slot after their accomplished performances to close out the previous tournament.
“We have a lot of course knowledge between me and Johnny and Trey and then Coach McGraw as well,” Dossey said. “He has been at this tournament forever. This is one of his favorite courses that we play. So it’s going to be a good test in a really good field. After making it to national championship last year, we didn’t perform the way we wanted to there, but I think that was also just motivation for us just to kind of show other people how good our team actually is.”
With momentum already building, the Bears look not only to put themselves in a position to win but also to fly back to Waco with a trophy.
“The improvement part will just be, once you get into contention again, if you’re able to do that up here in Chicago, to actually finish the deal,” McGraw said.
The three-day event tees off Friday morning and goes through Sunday.