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Len Ziehm On Golf

Cooke’s Illinois Open win was an emotional runaway

David Cooke’s victory in the 66th Illinois Open was a run-away. His five-shot victory at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, was the biggest since Gary Hallberg’s triumph in 1977.

Though the tourney lacked suspense, it was loaded with emotion and another historical touch. Cooke was the first amateur to win the title since Brad Benjamin in 2009. Hallberg, who went on to a solid career as a touring pro, was also an amateur when he won at Elgin Country Club 38 years ago.

Cooke’s win, though, was more about family than it was about history. Last Dec. 23 he lost his younger brother Chad, a 20-year old basketball player at Charleston Southern. He passed away from an apparent heart disorder while playing in a pickup basketball game.

“He was a strong encourager of everybody,’’ said David Cookie. “I knew he’d want me to keep playing. I tried to focus on that and think about positives. I have great memories of my little brother. I wish more than anything that we could have him back.’’

Chad was occasionally David’s caddie in tournaments. His older brother Jay, 34, came from South Carolina to work as David’s caddie in the Illinois Open and they were followed by their parents, grandparents and other family members and friends who walked with them in the final round.

“It was an emotional win,’’ said Cooke, who will enter his senior year at North Carolina State in the fall. “It’s been a rough last year, and it meant a lot to me and my older brother that everyone was here.’’

Cooke grew up in Bolingbrook, and his family moved to Lisle several months ago. He had never led a tournament over night until he shared a one-stroke lead with Brad Marek of Arlington Heights heading into Wednesday’s final round of the Illinois Open.

“There were nerves on the first tee,’’ Cooke admitted, but they went away quickly when Cooke hit a pitching wedge from 144 yards to six feet and then rolled in a putt for eagle at No. 1. He made birdies on the next three holes as well and coasted from there.

Cooke had been in the next-to-the-last group in the final round of the Illinois Open in 2012 and 2013 but fizzled down the stretch. He didn’t play in the event last year and basically had only Vince India, a Web.com Tour player from Deerfield, as a challenger in the final round.

“David played great,’’ said India. “I certainly played fine. I shot 5-under, but what are you going to do?’’

Cooke shot 63 on Wednesday and finished at 16-under-par 199 for the 54 holes. India shot 67 but did claim the $12,500 check for being low pro.

“This win was a big motivator for me,’’ said Cooke. “It showed me I could compete with pros. It helps me know that I’m on the right path.’’

Cooke’s round wasn’t the best of the day. Early starter Matt Weber, an Indiana University sophomore from Hinsdale, posted a 62 to tie the course record but he finished in a tie for 13th place.