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Len Ziehm On Golf

Illinois Amateur: Iowa Golfers Rule Again

GLEN ELLYN, IL. — The Illinois State Amateur seems to be turning into the Iowa Invitational. At least over the last two year’s the big event for Illinois players ended up as a showcase for the University of Iowa’s golf program.

In 2010 Deerfield’s Vince India was a seven-shot winner of the State Am at Beverly Country Club. A year later two of his college teammates, Brad Hopfinger of Lake Forest and Chris Brant of Edwardsville, finished one-two in the 81st Illinois State Amateur at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn.

“That says a lot about the team we had there,” said Hopfinger, who got around the 6,741-yard Glen Oak layout in 12-under-par 272. Brant was four strokes back and no one else was under par, in part because of the unfortunate disqualification of perennial contender Todd Mitchell of Bloomington.

Leading through 36 holes, Mitchell finished third but then signed an incorrect scorecard. Hopfinger, his playing partner in the final twosome of the last two rounds, put him down for a four on the fifth hole of the final round when Mitchell instead made a five. Mitchell, who left the premises without commenting, had won the State Am twice and never finished worse than eighth in his previous nine starts.

Mitchell’s misfortune didn’t detract from a great final day for Hopfinger, who took the lead with a blistering 64 in the third round and never trailed.He made eight birdies in the morning round of the 36-hole finale, three of them coming on the final three holes. He never trailed after that en route to claiming the Louis T. Emmerson Trophy.

Brant, playing one group in front of Hopfinger, got within one stroke after 10 holes of the final round but his chances at winning ended when his 3-iron tee shot at the 225-yard par-3 16th sailed far right into thick rough, leading to a double bogey.

“I had a shot until then,” said Brant. “I hit a really, really poor golf shot. You can’t miss right of that green, but realistically I would have had to make par there and birdie the last two holes. Brad played very well. It was good to see him win.”

India and Hopfinger both used their fathers as caddies in their runs to the title.

“In the past that hasn’t always worked out too well,” said Hopfinger, but (his father) did it in the Trans-Mississippi tournament in Kansas this summer and I shot 66-66, so I thought I should try it again.”

India couldn’t defend his crown. The Big Ten player-of-the-year for 2011 was named to the U.S. team for the World University Games, so he spent the week competing in China.

“I wish he’d been here,” said Brant, who will enter his senior year at Iowa this fall while India and Hopfinger are moving on. India, Hopfinger and Brant played in the 1-2-3 positions for an Iowa team that finished 10th in the NCAA finals.

For Hopfinger, 22, the State Am was a great ending to his amateur career. Having failed to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, he entered the pro ranks slightly ahead of schedule. Three days after his big win at Glen Oak he was off to Lawrence, Kansas, and a Monday qualifier for a Nationwide Tour event.

“It meant a lot to get a win,” said Hopfinger, who got around par-71 Glen Oak in 71-68-64-69.

A week earlier Hopfinger made a solid showing in the Western Amateur at North Shore Country Club. He got through all 72 holes of the rugged stroke play qualifying there but didn’t make it to match play.

He was better in the State Am despite a slow start in the opening round, when wet conditions required the lift, clean and place rule to be put into effect. The 7-under 64 in the third 18 was Hopfinger’s low career competitive round. It was one stroke off the course mark set by Danny Mulhearn, who is in his eighth year as the club’s head professional.

Next year’s State Am at Kokopelli in downstate Marion represents a chance for an Iowa three-peat. Brant would be a strong contender if he has a solid senior season for the Hawkeyes.

“I don’t know my schedule, but I’d like to come back,” he said. “I would plan to play (the State Am) and the U.S. Amateur.”

Though it’s a year away, the next step after that seemed obvious — following Hopfinger into the pro ranks.