MEDINAH, IL. — The 92nd Chicago District Amateur took an unusual twist. The championship match was played on a different course than all of the preliminary competition, but no one was complaining.
Medinah Country Club played host to the tournament, and the 36-hole stroke play qualifying competition was to be played on its Nos. 1 and 2 courses. The match play portion, to determine the champion, was scheduled for just the No. 1 layout, with the club planning to keep the famed No. 3 course rested for the 2012 staging of the Ryder Cup matches.
After the stroke play qualifying for the 47 finalists, however, Medinah officials offered No. 3 for the final match. That layout had undergone another major renovation since hosting the 2006 PGA Championship in preparation for the Ryder Cup.
“It’s in the best shape it’s ever been in during my eight years here,” said director of golf Mike Scully. “Curtis (Tyrrell, Medinah’s director of grounds) has done a terrific job.”
Scully thought the chance to play No. 3 would be “an incentive” for the 16 players left in the tournament, and he was right. Though neither of the finalists had ever played the No. 3 course, both welcomed the change in venue for their 36-hole showdown in the oldest amateur tournament in the Midwest.
“I didn’t care if I’d seen the course or not,” said Bloomington’s Kyle English, who emerged the champion. “Playing Medinah No. 3 was very special. It was in perfect shape and had perfect greens. We got a little preview of the Ryder Cup. It was a lot of fun out there.”
Runner-up Andy Mickelson, from Lockport, agreed.
“I was excited when the chance (to play No. 3) came up,” he said. “It was awesome. I loved playing that golf course. I don’t get a chance to do something like that very often. It was a thrill, an absolute treat.”
English, 20 and a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Mickelson, 29 and the merchandise manager for a Lisle packaging company, waged one of the most competitive finals in the tourney’s rich history. English, 2-down with four holes to play, fought back to force extra holes and then won it with a par when the players played the course’s No. 1 hole for the third time.
That hole wasn’t friendly for Mickelson. He put all three of his approaches in the same front bunker, making bogey on the first and third attempts at the 383-yard par-4. The second was telltale.
“It’s a tough golf course,” said Mickelson. “You had to be so exact, so precise. In the playoff, if I’d hit my (approach) just a yard further it’s two feet from the pin instead of going down into the bunker.”
Instead, Mickelson ran his bunker shot five feet past the cup and missed the par-saver. English two-putted for par from 15 feet and the 8 hours 42 minutes of competition were over.
A month earlier Mickelson and English were in a duel for the Joliet Amateur title.
“We played in the last group and were in a playoff there, too, but I was able to beat him,” said Mickelson. “He’s a tough player. He’s younger than I am and hits it further than I do, so I’ve just got to find a way to get it into the hole.”
Mickelson did that until the very end. English was 2-up after three holes, but Mickelson won three times between holes 4-7 to take the lead. He was 2-up after another good stretch in the afternoon round before English mounted his comeback. He was 1-down after making birdie at No. 16 and a par on 18 was good enough to win that hole after Mickelson slipped on a 6-iron approach, leaving him a 90-yard third shot on the par-4. English was left 70 yard for his third after his drive found a bunker, but he saved par from five feet after Mickelson missed from six.
The switch in courses worked against Mickelson, who made 11 birdies in winning his quarterfinal and semifinal matches the day before on the No. 1 course.
“I felt really comfortable on No. 1. It had the same look as Joliet Country Club, where I’m a member,” said Mickelson. “It was a solid test of golf and neutralized the bombers, being 6,800 instead of 7,200 like No. 3. But I would never have given up the opportunity to play No. 3.”
Mickelson, who qualified fifth, eliminated medalist John Watson IV of Conway Farms 3 and 2 in the semifinals. Watson paced the 16 match play qualifiers with a 5-under-par 138 over the Nos. 1 and 2 courses. English, who plays out of Crestwicke Country Club and and tied for 11th in stroke play qualifying, eliminated No. 2 seed Casey Pine of Prairie Vista 2 and 1 in the semis. English’s three matches prior to the final all ended on the 17th hole.
The four semifinalists qualified for the 81st Illinois Amateur, to be played at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn from Aug. 9-11.