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updated: 1/22/2013 12:20 PM

Illini golfer Pieters to go pro this year

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  • Illinois golfer Thomas Pieters won the NCAA individual title as a sophomore last May. Pieters plans to turn pro after his junior season this spring.

      Illinois golfer Thomas Pieters won the NCAA individual title as a sophomore last May. Pieters plans to turn pro after his junior season this spring.
    AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Steve Sisney

By Daily Herald News Services

CHAMPAIGN -- Illini junior Thomas Pieters, the defending NCAA individual golf champion, will turn pro following the 2013 spring season, head coach Mike Small announced Tuesday.

Pieters, a native of Nijlen, Belgium, helped to lead Illinois to its fourth-straight Big Ten men's golf championship last season as well.

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"My experience at Illinois has been awesome and I feel like I have had a very good college career, but my dream has always been to become a professional golfer, and the time will be right after this season," Pieters said in a statement released by school officials. "I want to thank Coach Small and Coach (Zach) Guthrie for their incredible support and guidance over the past three years. I couldn't be where I am today without them."

On his way to becoming the 2012 NCAA individual champion, Pieters was Illinois' top finisher in seven of 12 tournaments in 2012 and was named a first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten. He placed in the top 11 at 10 events, including his first career title at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational. He had 16 rounds under par on the season, including shooting his career-best, 6-under par, four times. He also earned two Big Ten Golfer of the Week honors. During the summer of 2012, he played for the European team at the 2012 Palmer Cup, helping his squad win the event.

"Thomas has had a great career at Illinois and has a number of impressive accomplishments," Small said. "But it's time for him to move on with his career and enter the world of professional golf. I'm sure he will have a great professional career because of his talent, drive and work ethic. He has been a true pleasure to coach and I sincerely wish him the best."

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