Trent Wallace NCAA Men's Golf

Illinois State sophomore Trent Wallace follows through on a drive earlier this season. Wallace will play in the NCAA Championship later this week.

COURTESY ISU ATHLETICS

NORMAL — Trent Wallace turns 20 years old on Thursday. He's got big plans, too, thanks to a present he gave himself last week.

"There's no better way to spend my birthday than playing Rich Harvest Farms," he said.

The Illinois State sophomore golfer will be playing his practice round for the NCAA Championship in Sugar Grove, which starts Friday in the western Chicago suburbs.

Wallace is believed to be the first ISU men's golfer in the national finals since D.A. Weibring led the Redbirds as a team in 1975. Samantha Richdale qualified for the NCAA Women's Championship as an individual in 2004.

"It's something I never dreamed of," said Wallace. "It's surreal for me."

Wallace earned his spot in the field during the West Lafayette (Ind.) Regional at Purdue's Kampen Golf Course. He was the 36-hole leader at 6-under-par before 30 mph gusts in the final round resulted in a 7-over-par 79 that left him seventh.

However, Wallace claimed the spot for the low individual not on a qualifying team by a stroke. 

"He really battled and gutted it out," said ISU coach Ray Kralis. "Golfweek had (West Lafayette) ranked as the toughest regional. To go up against that field was a tremendous confidence boost for him."

There are 30 teams and six individuals in the 156-player field at Rich Harvest Farms. There will be a cut after Sunday's third round to the low 15 teams and nine individuals not on those teams for a final round next Monday.

"I want to make it to that fourth round. I want to make the (54-hole) cut," said Wallace. "I just want to hang with the best of the best."

Kralis is confident Wallace can do just that, especially if he duplicates his performance in West Lafayette.

Wallace's wedge game from 85 to 110 yards was sharp, especially in the first two rounds. He also had only two 3-putts in the 54 holes, both on the final day.

"If I put myself in a certain (yardage) number there was a good chance I was walking away with birdie," said Wallace.

Anyone who has ever played golf competitively knows confidence usually is about 90 percent of the battle. While Wallace was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference medalist, clearing the regional hurdle can't be underestimated.

"From a confidence standpoint he feels why not, let's go do this, we have nothing to lose, so let's go compete and get after it," said Kralis. 

Kralis has taken ISU to tournaments before at Rich Harvest Farms, including the regional in 2007. However, Wallace has never played the par-72 course which can be stretched to 7,600 yards.

"I heard it's a beast. It's just as hard or harder than the course we played at Purdue," said Wallace. "You've got to expect it to be as hard as it gets. It's the biggest golf tournament in college. They're not going to put us on an easy golf course."

While the University of Illinois, making its 10th straight finals appearance, figures to be the fan favorite, Wallace should have his own gallery.

Rich Harvest Farms is about an hour from Wallace's hometown of Joliet. His father, Bryon Wallace, is flying in from Florida to watch and will be joined by numerous friends and family.

Kralis believes Wallace also should be helped by another factor.

"The beautiful thing about having it in Illinois is we're playing turf conditions he's grown up on and is similar to," said the ISU coach. "We'll have bent grass fairways and putt on greens where the turf complexes he'll be familiar with."

Wallace said his effort at Purdue "showed I belonged with" the best college golfers in the country.

"I learned I can hang with all the players I know because how good they are ... to see how good they do and all the high rankings they have," he said.

Kralis wants Wallace to enjoy the NCAA experience, but also to be competitive. 

"There's another chapter to write and I know how I would like to write it, and I think he's capable of doing it," said Kralis.

​Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @pg_benson

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Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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