Writing from Hawthorn Woods, Illinois
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Jim Billiter made a splash on his 29th birthday.
Then he won the 64th Illinois PGA Match Play Championship.
With a bogey.
In the final twist of a match with plenty of them, Billiter beat Brian Brodell for the title on the 21st hole – after hitting his tee shot on the par-3 third hole at Kemper Lakes Golf Club into the water.
He accomplished that with a bogey thanks to a saucy pitch shot to about seven feet from the cup, and courtesy of Brodell bouncing his 171-yard 7-iron tee shot over the green and then chunking his chip shot. That left him an even more treacherous par chip, which went 12 feet past the cup.
When Brodell failed to sink the bogey putt, Billiter stepped up and sank his.
Game over. Trophy presented. Winner delighted and dumbfounded.
“When I shanked it in the water, I thought it was over,” Billiter said of his full-out 8-iron. “But as soon as I saw him go long, I knew I had a chance. That’s a really delicate shot. I thought he’d hit it long and two-putt for a four.
“Then he gave me a little luck when he flubbed his first one. I figured we’d both make (four) and go to the next hole.”
Billiter’s 90-yard pitch from the drop area was sublime, and left him about seven feet. He drained it with brio.
“The whole day, I was nervous,” said Billiter, who closed out Prestwick’s Simon Allen 4 and 3 in the morning semifinal. “It’s emotionally taxing. Six rounds in three days, plus I played 36 on Monday (at two courses). It was exhausting.”
Billiter is an assistant at Merit Club in Libertyville. Brodell, 32, is in his first full year at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, after a stint as assistant men’s coach at Purdue following one at Wisconsin. He was sitting at the bar in the Kemper Lakes clubhouse after the match. There’s no truth to the rumor he ordered a boilermaker.
“That was a sad way to end it, and it would have been sad for him to end that way if he shanks it in the water and I (win),” Brodell said. “I had confidence in the chip, all of a sudden I flub-shank it, and the rest is history.”
It was a woulda, shoulda, coulda match – with the regulation 18 played in just 2 hours 40 minutes – from the start. Billiter was 2 up after two holes, but Brodell eagled the fourth hole and squared the match at the fifth.
Brodell led 1 up with a bogey at the eighth when Billiter doubled it – the reverse of the frantic finish – and then bogeyed the ninth, making the match square at the turn even though, with the usual concessions, Brodell had scored even par 36 to Billiter’s 3-over 39.
Brodell sank a 12-footer for birdie on the par-4 12th and remained 1-up until he bogeyed the par-4 16th. Billiter handed the lead back by plunking his tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th. Brodell smacked his tee ball to 15 feet and Billiter gave him the hole after hitting the back fringe with his third.
Billiter’s big tee shot at the last set up a 116-yard second, and he wedged it to eight feet above the hole.
“It was almost easier being down one, because I knew I could just swing hard, and the putt, I knew I could ram it in,” Billiter said.
After Brodell’s longer birdie putt missed, Billiter stepped up and sank his to force extra holes. Along the way, Billiter lipped out three putts that would have won holes. And Brodell was coming close from long range.
“They were all decent putts, so I was OK with that,” Billiter said of his close calls. “I had looks, but I was nervous and my putting was tentative all day.”
Routine pars on the first two holes brought them to the third tee, and the final surprise.
Brodell advanced to the title match with a 19-hole victory over the Glen View Club’s Kyle Bauer.
Billiter collected $4,000 for his effort. Brodell was awarded $2,000, as balm.
– Tim Cronin