Farnam stuns Perkins to take Illinois Amateur

Writing from Wheaton, Illinois

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ethan Farnam wasn’t out of it starting the final round of the 89th Illinois Amateur, but he wasn’t in it either.

He was four strokes behind 36-hole leader David Perkins of East Peoria, the Illinois State standout who had won the CDGA Amateur last year and was runner-up in that this year. 

Engrave the Louis Emmerson trophy?

Not quite.

Farnam, like everyone else, failed to pressure Perkins, going around Cantigny Golf’s windblown Woodside nine in even-par 36. Perkins, after a birdie on No. 2 expanded the margin to five strokes, was 10-under. Then Farnam bogeyed No. 3 and trailed by six.

Hand out the trophy?

Not yet.

Then golf happened. Farnam, a 20-year-old Crystal Lake resident whose 63 a fortnight ago set the course record for the revamped Crystal Lake Country Club, nibbled at Perkins’ heels. A deuce at the par-3 eighth, where Perkins bogeyed for the second time in three holes. A four at the 600-yard par-5 11th.

Still, Perkins led by two with six holes to play. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. And on the fourth hole of the Lakeside nine, the par-3 13th for the tournament, no less, where a bunkered tee shot led to a thinned sand wedge that sailed over the green, and was followed by a bad chip.

“I was lucky to make a four-footer for double,” Perkins said.

And Farnam was more than lucky. Amidst Perkins’ chaos, Farnam rolled in an improbable 70-footer for birdie.

The three-stroke swing put Farnam in the lead by one. After a 6-foot birdie at the par-4 14th, he led by two, and kept that margin the rest of the way, scoring 3-under 69, the day’s best round, for 8-under 208 to capture his first Illinois Amateur. Perkins, who closed with a 75, shared second with Jordan Less of Elmhurst, who birdied four of the last five holes en route to a 70.

“I came back without him losing a ball, and I thought that was the only way I had a chance,” Farnam said. “But I started lighting it up with my irons. Hit a bunch close.”

Plus made the cross-country birdie on the 13th, one of five birdies in his last 11 holes.

“That big swing on 13, that’s just momentum,” Farnam said. “David just happened to catch the bunker shot a little thin. A crazy swing, but I felt I took it in stride well.”

For Perkins, whose bogey-free first 36 holes included seven birdies and an eagle, the double-bogey was an unrecoverable body blow.

“I wouldn’t say I lost my cool, but I definitely let that hole get to me a little bit,” Perkins said. “I hit it in the upslope of the bunker, didn’t hit a good shot, flubbed my next one. With him making the 60-footer, it’s just demoralizing.

“I missed a lot of putts and had a couple bad swings.”

At least three times, including on the par-3 17th, Perkins left a potential birdie putt a couple of feet short. Those were killers as much as the fateful double on the 13th.

Farnam won the Illinois Junior at Makray Memorial four years ago and beat many of the same players he knocked off Thursday, including Perkins and Less, in that affair. He spent one year at Northwestern without a scholarship, then transferred to St. Mary's (Calif.).

“It’s definitely a step up from the state junior, but as a progression from college, it almost feels like the same level,” Farnam said. “It’s really good to feel that growth. It feels nice to be atop the leaderboard, that’s for sure.”

The plan was to play 36 holes, as is traditional, on Thursday, but Wednesday night the extreme heat advisory prompted CDGA officials to drop the fourth round. As it turned out, the thunderstorms that rolled through at daybreak and persisted delayed the third round until 1:30 p.m., so it would have been 54 holes, hot or cold.

In the end, the heat was bearable. And Farnam was hottest of all.

Tim Cronin

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