Billiter wins second IPGA Match Play in three years

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Writing from Hawthorn Woods, Illinois


Jim Billiter felt the pressure in Thursday’s final match of the 66th Illinois PGA Match Play Championship.

It’s tough being the new head pro at the place where the tournament is being played – that being Kemper Lakes Golf Club – and advancing to the final, and having members tooling around on carts rooting you on.

And making sure range balls are on the tee, coffee and donuts available, and oranges on the first tee as well.

All of that isn’t why he was 2 down to Danny Mulhearn of Glen Oak with five holes to play in the championship match. There was pressure there as well. In the end, Mulhearn may have felt it more.

Mulhearn bogeyed the par-4 14th while Billiter scrambled for par after overshooting the green by 10 yards. Billiter squared the match when Mulhearn three-putted the par-5 15th from the fringe, and took the lead with a routine two-putt par on the par-3 17th after Mulhearn’s tee shot ended up in a bunker.

“I didn’t have enough club to get back to the hole (203 yards distant) so I hit 5-iron to the middle of the green and bailed on it,” Mulhearn said. “I had a tough up-and-in there.”

Billiter and Mulhearn matched pars at the last – Billiter making a tremendous approach shot from a fairway bunker – which earned Billiter the 1-up victory and his second match play title in three years. He beat Brian Brodell of Mistwood in 21 holes in 2015 while he was representing the Merit Club.

Mulhearn sank birdie putts on the eighth and 10th holes to erase Billiter’s 1-up lead and take a similar advantage, but hit only two fairways on the back nine. Curiously, Billiter hit only one fairway on the back but scrambled like a wizard.

“Danny played very steady, which put a lot of pressure on me, because I hit some squirrely shots here and there,” Billiter said. “I was pretty fortunate to win this tournament. I didn’t have the swing quite figured out. I was working on a couple things, I’d shot 83 in Peoria. I was not on my game by any means. But the support of the members and staff really helped. I buckled down and tried to do my best for them.”

Billiter, who knocked off three-time champion Curtis Malm 2 and 1 in the morning semifinal, earned $4,800 for his week’s work. Mulhearn beat Garrett Chaussard 4 and 3 in his semifinal.

Mulhearn was also seeking a second IPGA Match Play title, to go with the one he earned over Bob Jan at Wynstone in 1998. He walked in that championship and he walked in this one as well, two matches a day for three days, while Billiter, who didn’t have a caddie, rode.

Tim Cronin

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