Flavin reaches Western Am Sweet 16 in his farewell to amateur golf

Patrick Flavin’s amateur career is going to end with a bang after all. He earned a coveted place in the Sweet 16 of the 116th Western Amateur on Thursday at Sunset Ridge Country Club in Northfield and his professional debut at next week’s Illinois Open looks much more promising than it did a week ago.

“I learned a ton from last summer, when I won six of eight tournaments,’’ said Flavin, “but in this spring and summer I battled my swing. It was tough, but it was also important for me to go through both ends of the spectrum before I turned pro.’’

The Highwood golfer opted to remain an amateur after completing a solid collegiate career at Miami of Ohio rather than turn pro immediately. He wanted to defend his titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open and qualify for the U.S. Amateur before playing for money. That dream ended in a hurry.

Flavin burst into prominence when he became only the second golfer – and first since David Ogrin in 1980 – to win both the major state titles in the same year. He had a great senior year in college, too, and that led Flavin to make the debatable decision to delay turning pro.

That plan changed after Flavin missed the 36-hole cut in this year’s Illinois State Amateur and he failed to survive a qualifying session for the U.S. Amateur as well.

His golfing life isn’t so frustrating now. Flavin went through the 72-hole stroke play portion of the Western Amateur in 67-67-67-66, the last two scores coming in Thursday’s double round that determined the 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of the Western, which begins today.

“Making the Sweet 16 has always been a goal of mine,’’ said Flavin. “I put my head down and focused on myself and this course, and it paid off.’’

Flavin tied for seventh in the stroke play competition. His 17-under-par 267 was six strokes behind co-medalists Cole Hammer of Houston and Steve Stevens of Wichita, Kan. Hammer set a course record with a 10-under-par 61 in Thursday’s morning round.

Just getting into match play is a major accomplishment. It puts Flavin in the same category as Nick Hardy and Doug Ghim, Chicago stars who had slightly more impressive college records than Flavin. Hardy, who played collegiately at Illinois, qualified for the Sweet 16 three times and Ghim, who went to Texas, was once the tourney medalist. Both turned pro in June, immediately after college, without notching a win in the Western. Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are among the many top stars who highlighted their amateur careers with a Western win.

Now Flavin has the opportunity to do what neither of his long-time amateur rivals Hardy and Ghim could do before chasing the first-place check in the Illinois Open, which will be played over three days at The Glen Club in Glenview and Ravinia Green in Riverwoods beginning on Monday.

Sunset Ridge last hosted a major tournament in 1972, when Jim Jamieson covered 72 holes in 13-under-par en route to a six-shot victory. That score would have barely been good enough to qualify for the Sweet 16 this week..

The starting field of 156 players was whittled to 44 for Thursday’s 36-hole session. Seven Chicago area players were among the invited starters and only Flavin survived the first cut, which came after two rounds. It took a 5-under 139 score for the first 36 holes to qualify for Thursday’s double round.

Tony Romo, the former NFL star quarterback, also bowed out after playing the first two rounds in 74-78, 10 over par.

For the first time ever the match play portion of the tournament will be streamed live on The Golf Channel and NBC Sports apps. First round matches will be carried from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and quarterfinals from 3-6 p.m. today. Streaming times for Saturday’s semifinals are 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and the championship match will be carried from 1-5 p.m.