Flavin wins Illinois Open, completes the double

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 

Patrick Flavin didn’t win a penny at The Glen Club on Wednesday.

He won a place in history.

Flavin added the Illinois Open title to last month’s Illinois Amateur triumph at Calumet Country Club, becoming the second player to score the double in a calendar year, following David Ogrin’s achievement in 1980.

“A little more exciting (day) than I was trying to have,” Flavin said. “But it was a blast, and so rewarding to get the win at the end.

“To win both of them is crazy.”

Flavin’s 2-over-par 74 for 13-under 202 earned him a one-stroke victory over fellow amateurs Nick Hardy and Matt Murlick and low professional Brandon Holtz, all of whom landed at 12-under 203.

A Highwood resident entering his senior year at Miami of Ohio, Flavin led by six at sunrise, held that margin through three holes, but saw the lead evaporate thereafter. When Holtz rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th hole, they were tied at 13-under.

But for a thinned low punch hook on the par-3 17th that floated into the hay on the left, a position from which Holtz was fortunate to make bogey, the football gear salesman from Bloomington would have been in a playoff, or perhaps won the title outright. His 10-foot birdie putt to tie Flavin on the par-5 18th just missed.

As it was, Holtz’s exploits earned him the $13,886 first prize. (It had been announced as $15,250, but was revised downward several hours after play concluded after the value of amateur prizes were factored in.)

Flavin drew on the experience gained in winning the Illinois Amateur to keep his wits about him when Holtz opened the back nine with three straight birdies to cut the lead to two strokes.

“I was so nervous,” Flavin said. “I got these chills down my spine at the state am, and today, I knew it was going to happen, and I was ready for it. To walk off that last green with pretty much everybody I know out there, that was so cool.”

By the back nine, eight of his high school buddies – a.k.a. Flavin’s Fanatics – were following him around, along with his family, plus girlfriend Emily, his caddie on Monday. His brother Conor was on the bag the last two days.

He also had a confident strategy.

“I knew with that six-shot cushion (at the start) if I could make a bunch of pars, they were going to run out of holes,” Flavin said. “I did that.”

But not easily. A double-bogey on the par-3 fourth and a bogey on the sixth – his first of the week – saw Flavin skid to 13-under. His 15-foot birdie putt on the par-4 eighth was key, he thought, in keeping calm.

“It was dead-center, perfect speed,” Flavin said. “I knew when I made that, ‘I’ve got this, I can just play my game.’ Every putt was huge down the stretch, and I hit a lot of good ones.”

Flavin also made a brilliant par save on the par-3 11th from the left bunker, which was populated by ducks, to prevent a two-shot swing in the middle of Holtz’ birdie binge, but after both bogeyed the 13th, Flavin had a two-stroke lead on Holtz, defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr., and 2014 winner Brad Hopfinger. What had been expected to be a parade was suddenly a drag race.

Holtz made another push with birdies on the 14th and 15th, a 15-footer on the latter that tied him with Flavin. Both parred the 16th, and it was at this juncture that Hardy was making birdies on three of his last four holes to climb to 12-under 203 via a 4-under 68. Ahead of him, Murlick was sneaking in with a 5-under 67 for 203 as well.

But Flavin’s focus was on Holtz.

“On 17 tee, I walked by the scoreboard and saw it was just us two at the top, and that was nice to know,” Flavin said.

Flavin rolled his 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th just behind the hole, but Holtz’ bogey there gave Flavin the ability to play the par-5 18th as a three-shot hole. His 35-footer for birdie just missed.

“I thought it was in,” Flavin said.

Holtz thought his putt at the last, a 10-footer for birdie and a tie, was in as well.

“I tried to put a little pressure on him, but he played solid, making putts all over the place,” Holtz said of Flavin. “If you keep digging, you never know.”

Holtz goes back to his day job selling football gear to youth teams on Thursday. His competitors mostly go back to college.

Murlick fashioned his 67 with a holed-out bunker shot for birdie on the first hole, a holed-out fairway shot for eagle on the par-4 second, and three more birdies, offset only by a bogey at the third, a comeback that nearly shoved him into a playoff.

“I made good birdie putts on 14 and 15 that gave me some last-minute hope,” Murlick said. “I needed a couple more birdies.”

He went for the pond-guarded 18th in two from 190 yards, but ended up left of the green, and couldn’t made an up-and-down birdie.

“This was a great tournament for me,” said Murlick, heading into his sophomore year at Marquette. “Probably my best performance so far.”

Hardy recovered from a bogey on the par-5 14th with his birdie blast at the end to climb back into the scrap, parring only the 17th. He heads to the U.S. Amateur at the end of the week, hoping for a big finish to boost his Walker Cup hopes.

“I had a lot of good looks (at birdie),” Hardy said. “Looking back, I should have birdied 13, and 14, I lost two shots with a bogey. That’s a three-shot swing right there.

“I’m proud of the way I played this week, I just needed one more round. I’ve been knocking on the door for a win ever since I won (NCAA) regionals. I’m hoping U.S. Am is it.”

Sainz ended up in solo fifth in his title defense with a 3-under 69 for 11-under 204, with Hopfinger sixth via a 67 for 205. Eric Meierdierks (73) and teen Tommy Kuhl (67) tied for seventh at 8-under 207.

Around the Open

Amateur Greg Bauman had the round of the day, an 8-under 64 that vaulted him into a tie for ninth with Joo-Young Lee at 7-under 208. ... Seven of the top 12 finishers were amateurs. ... The field averaged 72.73 strokes on Wednesday. ... Thirty of the 51 players making the cut finished under par.

Tim Cronin


Flavin's 2nd 64 expands Illinois Open lead to 6

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Here, according to Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, is the secret to playing consistently good golf: “The biggest key is one shot at a time, like today.”

Today being Tuesday at The Glen Club, where he scored his second consecutive 64 in the Illinois Open, this one of the 8-under variety on top of Monday’s 7-under-par 64 at Briarwood Country Club.

Those back-to-back 64s not only add up to a gaudy 15-under 128 for the senior from Miami, but to a six-stroke lead over football equipment salesman Brandon Holtz of Bloomington and Web-com Tour member Eric Meierdierks of Wilmette in Flavin’s quest to add the Illinois Open title to the Illinois Amateur crown he pocketed last month.

The formidable duo of defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. and Walker Cup hopeful Nick Hardy are seven in arrears after matching 7-under 65s for 8-under 135, a score that usually leads this championship with a round to go.

“I’m playing really well and having a lot of fun,” Flavin said after his second bogey-free round in succession. “

He birdied his first hole for the second straight round and immediately felt at home. He felt even more comfortable after birdies on No. 5, 7 and 9 to go out in 4-under 32. Another quartet of birdies, including three straight on Nos. 14 through 16, followed to complete the 64. His total of 128 is four strokes lower than Sainz scored in the first 36 holes of his runaway 5-stroke victory last year. He led Christian Heavens and Brad Hopfinger by four strokes and won by five, and has a theory on how pressure could affect the leader.

“Get within three or two, and you’ll get in his kitchen sink a little bit,” Sainz said. “So go low, and see what happens on the back nine.”

Sainz thought his 65 could have been better, and not just because he splashed his approach on the par-5 18th into the pond.

“My proximity to the hole was really close,” Sainz said. “Tomorrow, I can’t tell myself I’m going to shoot 8-under. You can have opportunities, but that’s execution. With that big a lead, you have to start out well.”

Holtz’s 4-under 68 was punctuated by an eagle 3 on the par-5 14th, on which the big bomber from Bloomington had only 157 yards remaining for his approach and sank a 25-foot putt. He added a birdie at the last and goes into the final round in something of a Walter Mitty mood. He played for Illinois State, but basketball, not golf.

“It was always natural,” Holtz said of his golf, which included three years pounding the mini-tour trail before he decided to get a real job, selling helmets and other football gear to youth leagues for Riddell. “I’d be happy if I won, surprised. But you’ve just got to play good at the right time.”

Meierdierks, who recorded five birdies, including a pair of 20-footers, and one bogey, has played with Flavin for two days and will do so again on Wednesday, so he knows firsthand what he’s up against. 

“He’s making a few putts,” Meierdierks said. “It’s really fun to watch. He’s making the short ones and sprinkling in 15-footers.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep it under the hole. Not do anything stupid. I’ve had leads like that. You can win by 10 or start thinking.”

Hardy revived his game with a competitive-best 10-birdie outburst, but a double-bogey on the par-4 eighth and a bogey on the par-4 12th crimped his style. Still, firing a 65 pulled him into the tie for fourth.

“Patrick’s playing great; I’ve just got to go out and make birdies,” Hardy said. “Find my rhythm and make some putts.”

For Flavin, a steady round on Wednesday may be all he’ll need to complete the Open-Amateur double in the state, matching David Ogrin’s 1980 feat. For the rest, the chase is on, and the question is how low they would need to go. Some may stay up late pondering the question.

“I’ll sleep great,” Flavin said.

Those with six-stroke leads tend to do so.

Around the Open

Dakun Chang of Long Grove scored an albatross on the par-5 14th, but even with the 2 on his card, his 3-over 75 consigned him to a total of 10-over 153. He missed the cut (1-over 144) by nine strokes. Fifty-one players, 19 of them amateurs, made the final round. The total purse is $95,000, the first prize to be announced Wednesday. ... Andrew Godfrey of Homewood was on pace for a 63 until a double-bogey on his 16th hole, the par-4 seventh. ... The scoring averages at The Glen Club (73.38) and Briarwood (78.84) were reversed as the field shifted sites, the better half of the draw 5.46 strokes better.

Tim Cronin


Flavin jumps to the front in Illinois Open

Illinois Open R1 Gamer


Writing from Deerfield, Illinois

Monday, August 7, 2017

It must be catching, this pattern of successful players changing caddies.

First it was Phil Mickelson. Then Rory McIlroy.

Now Patrick Flavin. In July, with brother Connor on his bag, Flavin won the 87th Illinois Amateur.

Monday, Flavin fired a 7-under-par 64 at Briarwood Country Club to grab the first round lead in the 68th Illinois Open.

His brother was in Canada on a fishing trip. In Connor’s place was Patrick’s girlfriend Emily Young.

“She’s a good player, plays for Amherst in Division III,” Flavin said. “Both are awesome caddies.”

Flavin, a Highwood resident entering his senior year at Miami, is pretty good as a player himsef. His bogey-free tour of Briarwood in mostly calm conditions set the competitive course record, and was a stroke off the practice-round 63 scored by Brian Bullington on Sunday.

It earned him a one-stroke lead on Kemper Lakes head professional Jim Billiter, whose 6-under 65 came in the final group of the day and climaxed with a 35-foot birdie putt at the last.

“I bogeyed 17 and was like, let’s just get in with a par,” Billiter said.

It rattled in off the back of the cup, a fitting end of an eight-birdie day in what he said was his first Illinois Open appearance in a decade. Tournament play at Merit Club, his previous posting, always interfered.

Billiter jumped ahead of a pair of former winners, 2010 champion Eric Meierdierks and 2014 winner Brad Hopfinger, along with Bloomington’s Brandon Holtz, all of whom scored 5-under 66 to tie for third.

Amateur Sean Furman of Skokie is among a quartet of players tied for sixth at 4-under. His came in the form of a 68 at The Glen Club, the more rigorous of the two courses. The DePauw sophomore played four holes in the middle of his round in 5-under, including an eagle on the first hole, and survived a pair of double-bogeys.

The other 4-under tallies were 67s recorded by amateurs Matt Murlick, Zach Burry and Tommy Kuhl at Briarwood. All will resume their pursuit of Flavin on Tuesday.

“I hit 17 greens, and had a lot of birdie chances,” Flavin said. “Pretty much had a birdie chance on every hole, a lot of 10-to-15 footers. But you can’t make ’em all.”

Flavin made seven birdies, a good enough percentage to jump ahead of the field. A birdie at his first hole, the 381-yard par-4 10th, and he was off and running. He birdied seven of his first 14 holes, then parred in, including a three-footer to assure his par 4 on his final hole, for a day that could hardly have been better.

“The key was getting off to a good start and having fun,” Flavin said. “And these greens, if you make a good roll, you’ll make your share.”

Flavin is bidding to become the second player to win the Illinois Open and Illinois Amateur in the same year, following David Ogrin in 1980. Only six players have done so at any time in their careers.

However, there’s work to be done. Meierdierks and Hopfinger have already held the trophy. Meierdierks, who played with Flavin, was also bogey-free, with five birdies splashed on his card, while Hopfinger had eight birdies, offset by a trio of bogeys.

“I really like Briarwood,” said Meierdierks, who has recovered from an elbow injury, during which he fell to 1,967th in the World Golf Ranking. “If you keep it in the fairway, you can score it.”

Meierdierks, taking the week off from the Tour, birdied Briarwood’s three par-5s and had a half-dozen 3s on his card en route to his 66.

Hopfinger has status on the PGA Tour’s Latinoamerica circuit, but it takes the summer off, so he’s been playing wherever he can, and has finished first, third and sixth in his last three starts.

“My game’s in good form,” Hopfinger said. “I was hitting it so close on my front nine I almost didn’t have to putt.”

He went out in 4-under 31 on Briarwood’s back nine, as did Flavin. 

That trio and most of the other leaders will be at The Glen Club on Tuesday for the second round, while the other half of the field tackles Briarwood. Those who make the cut – the low 50 and ties, and anyone within 10 strokes of the leader – will reconvene at The Glen Club on Wednesday for the final round.

Defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. scored 1-under 70, calling his day one where he “just didn’t hit it close enough to make a lot of putts.” Sainz, whose brace of birdies came on Briarwood’s 11th and 12th holes, is tied for 17th, joined by, among others, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, the Illinois senior whose schedule this summer has taken him from the NCAA Championship to the John Deere Classic to the Pacific Coast Amateur to the Western Amateur to now. The grind may be telling on him.

“I’m playing really good golf right now, but I’m dissatisfied with the results,” Hardy said. “I didn’t manage my emotions today. I didn’t handle my expectations well. But I think I’m close to a 6-7-under round.”

Dominic Scaletta, the 15-year-old from Inverness, scored 3-over 75 at The Glen Club, while at Briarwood, 72-year-old Gary Groh, on the other end of the calendar, birdied the first hole but settled for a 12-over 83.

Twenty-nine players broke par and another 12 from the field of 264 were at par, with Briarwood, at 74.51 strokes, playing 4.81 strokes easier than The Glen Club’s 79.32. The toughest day of all belonged to sponsor exemption Bradley Glass, an amateur from Deerfield who played The Glen Club and took 100 blows, including a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth and a 14 on the par-5 18th, the latter undoubtedly influenced by water.

Tim Cronin


Xiong outlasts Redman in 22-hole Western Am final

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Between them, Norman Xiong and Doc Redman may well win over $100 million on the pro tour. They’re that talented, and there’s that much money out there.

None of that lucre will be able to supplant the memory of their championship match for the Western Amateur crown on Saturday afternoon at Skokie Country Club. Xiong’s par on the fourth extra hole proved the difference in the longest overtime of the 115 championship matches.

“It could have gone either way,” Xiong said. “It was solid golf. To win this tournament, it’s such a long battle, stroke play followed by match play.”

“There were massive swings, and I guess I just slowly got momentum back on the back,” said Redman, who was 4 down at the turn but squared the match on the 17th and nearly won it twice after that.

Played before a gallery that reached 600 at some points, the match was replete with splendid shots, long putts falling in, and a few that edged the cup. Both players felt both the pressure of playing for the second-oldest title in American amateur golf, and experienced the joy of being in the middle of the battle.

It was 19-year-old Redman’s uncharacteristically short drive on the 22nd hole, Skokie’s fourth, a 441-yard test, that undid him. The duo had matched pars on the first two holes – Xiong lipping out a potential winner on the 19th and Redman lipping out a winning putt for the second time in three holes on the 20th – and traded birdies on the par-5 third, Xiong sinking his from 18 feet. Now Redman had 173 yards remaining from the left edge of the carpet-like fairway. Xiong was 49 yards ahead of him on the same line, with a greenside bunker threatening both.

“It was an in-between yardage for me, and I was trying to hit a draw, which I’m not very good at, and it didn’t work out well,” Redman said, revealing perhaps the only flaw in his game.

The shot ended up two feet short of the green on the right side, with the cup sitting on a ledge back left. He was over 100 feet away, while Xiong dropped his approach 12 feet away.

Redman was still 12 feet short on his first putt, and after Xiong rolled his birdie attempt close, Redman missed, ending a dramatic duel.

“I don’t think I really made anything today, in this match or the first (semifinal) match,” Redman said. “But I’m not complaining. It was awesome to be out there and compete. Everyone loved it. I loved it.”

Xiong, an 18-year-old from Canyon Lake, Calif., entering his sophomore year at Oregon, became the 25th medalist to also win the championship, and the 13th to do so in the Sweet Sixteen era.

No Western Amateur final match had ever gone three extra holes, much less four. But Redman, reeling after Xiong went out in 3-under 32 to put him 4 down at the turn, battled like a tiger, Clemson sophomore or otherwise. Still 3 down with four holes to play, Redman won the 15th with a birdie and the next two holes via Xiong bogeys, squaring the match on the 17th green when Xiong conceded a par putt of about three feet after missing his own par putt. The gallery, having seen Xiong concede a 2 1/2-footer on the previous hole, gasped before dashing to the 18th tee.

“They weren’t too long,” Xiong said. “They were simple putts. I don’t someone would miss them, and if they did, I don’t want to win a hole like that.”

“It was very nice of him,” Redman said. “That showed the whole day. We don’t want to win on gimmicks. We want to play great golf.”

Redman lipped out a 20-foot putt on the 18th hole for the victory, then conceded Xiong’s four-footer, a return act of sportsmanship that sent the match to the 19th hole.

“That was tough,” Redman said of his miss. “It was a great putt, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

“It was super nice of him to give me that putt,” Xiong said. “It was longer than any putt I gave him. I think he was the only guy in the field who’d do that.”

The turnaround came about when Xiong’s accuracy on approaches wavered and Redman’s became sharper. Xiong hit every green in regulation on the front side and was 3-under. Redman, after hitting only six greens in regulation on the front, hit all nine in regulation on the back and was rewarded with a 4-under score. Both hit three of four in extra holes, but the one Redman missed was costly.

“I got off to a really bad start the first few holes, but I knew I was still playing really well and if I could play how I had, maybe I could get a few holes back,” Redman said. “I did. I stuck to my game plan, never pushed anything. I think we both played great.”

Redman was 5-under across 16 holes in his 3 and 2 semifinal victory over Cameron Champ, while Xiong had to come back from 2 down with seven holes to play to oust Derek Bard, 2 and 1. He did so by making only one birdie down the stretch, with Bard bogeying the 12th, 13th and 17th holes, the last to give away the match.

Both Xiong and Redman are in the U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in a fortnight, while each hopes to make the USGA’s Walker Cup team. Xiong said he’d lunched twice with U.S. captain Spider Miller over the course of the week. Redman is more of a longshot, but he had plenty to take away from playing eight rounds in five days,”

“I played awesome in stroke play, and that’s very encouraging,” Redman said. “To hang tough and beat some really good players here, and then to hang tough and come back from 4-down against Norman, I’m right up there with the best of ‘em." 

Around Skokie

The title match was not only the longest in history – no other championship test had gone more than two extra holes – but matched the fifth-longest of any round since the move to 18-hole matches in 1961. It was the 13th championship match, and second in three years, to go to extra holes. ... Including concessions, Xiong was 5-under over 22 holes, Redman 3-under. ... Doc is Redman’s given name, and he said he wasn’t named after anyone in his family. ... Each finalist played 145 holes, 73 in match play. ... The gallery of some 600 for the championship match was the largest since the Western Am returned to courses in the immediate Chicago area in 2009. They accorded Xiong and Redman a long ovation at the end of the match. ... Crowds for stroke play – mostly following CBS announcer and erstwhile Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo – were also strong, and even the galleries for Friday’s matches were healthy. ... Next year’s Western Amateur is at Sunset Ridge Country Club, about three miles away, followed by Point O Woods in 2019, Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., in 2020, and the Glen View Club in 2021.

Tim Cronin


Champ playing like his name

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Friday, August 4, 2017

As quarterfinal matches go, Friday’s Western Amateur showdown between Cameron Champ and Joaquin Niemann at Skokie Country Club was about as good as it gets.

Both players were in this year’s U.S. Open, with Champ finishing in a tie for 32nd.

Niemann, an 18-year-old Chilean heading into his freshman year at South Florida, is the world’s top-ranked amateur. Champ, who will be a senior at Texas A&M, could be a pro by this time next year.

Given that U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller watched the competition closely, the showdown could have been for a berth on this year’s team, along with a spot in Saturday’s semifinal. It could be argued that both deserve a spot.

Miller had to be impressed with both players, but especially Champ, who showed a delicate touch chipping and uncanny accuracy putting to go with his prodigious drives.

The bomber from Sacramento dispatched the rail-thin Chilean, 3 and 2, with a mixture of all of the above, earning the right to play Doc Redman on Saturday at 8:15 a.m.

“I just grinded it out,” Champ said. “I wasn’t driving it well. Kind of squirrely.”

Champ is a tough judge. For example, take his drive on the 557-yard par-5 11th, which zigs left, then right. To mortals, this is a three-shot hole. To Champ, it’s a 381-yard belt straight over a copse of trees behind bunkers guarding the dogleg on the left side of the fairway. From there, with 176 yards to go, Champ smacked a 9-iron onto the left side of the green.

That play displayed not only his brute strength, but his smarts. Niemann, who is also silly long, hit it about 330 off the tee and poked a hybrid into the bunker guarding the right side of the green, and the hole.

Champ, saying he is “a little more aggressive” in match play compared to stroke play, aimed away from the hazard with his second, since Niemann had already found the bunker. It paid off with 40-foot two-putt birdie to Niemann’s par save, and a 3-up lead. One-up at the turn, Champ had also birdied the par-4 10th.

Niemann cut the gap to 1-down with Champ’s double-bogey of the watery 12th and his own birdie of the 13th, but could get no closer. Champ won the 13th with a birdie, hey halved the par-4 15th with birdies, Champ doing so with a flop wedge from the gunch after a 330-yard drive. Champ closed his foe out with a two-putt par on the par-3 16th.

“The 15th hole was the best hole I played all day, hitting the flop shot to 15-18 feet,” Champ said. “That was the key to the match.”

He sank his birdie putt after Niemann had rolled in a 20-footer on the same line.

For the match, Champ was 3-under, Niemann even par, with the usual concessions.

Redman came from 1-down to beat Min Woo Lee of Perth, Australia, 3 and 2.

Derek Bard, the 2015 U.S. Amateur runner-up, will play medalist Norman Xiong in the opening semifinal at 8 a.m.. Bard scored a 2 and 1 victory over Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand in a match with only five halved holes to move on, while Xiong, of Canyon Lake, Calif., was forced to the 18th hole by Brendon Jelley before his matching bogey was good enough for a 1-up victory. Xiong’s birdie on the par-4 17th was the difference.

Tim Cronin