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Len Ziehm On Golf

Illinois-connected players go 4-0 in U.S. Amateur matches

Illinois coach Mike Small was delighted that four of his players were among the 312 qualifiers for this week’s 115th U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields Country Club. He was even more happy that two of them, Alex Burge and Thomas Detry, were among the winners in Wednesday’s first round of matches.

Both had to do it under difficult circumstances, too. The stroke play qualifying session couldn’t be completed as scheduled on Tuesday, so the 64 match player qualifiers didn’t know when their matches would begin.

“It was hectic,’’ said Burge. “I knew the first match would start at 9:45 so I got here at about 8:45 and just hung out with Detry and putted a little.’’

At 9:20 he was told he’d be teeing off against Sam Stevens, of Wichita, Kan., at 9:45.

Burge hit seven balls as a warmup, then played even par golf in demolishing Stevens 5 and 4. Detry’s match started 10 minutes later, and he had to work harder before ousting Matt Oshrine of Baltimore 2-up.

There were 12 Illinois players among the starters, four made it to match play and all won their first matches. Todd Mitchell, a two-time Illinois Amateur champion from Bloomington, was a 1-up winner over Josh Munn of New Zealand and David Cooke, the reigning Illinois Open titlist from Bloomington, beat Hank Lebloda, of Winter Springs, FL., 3 and 2.

Both will continue their bid to win the oldest championship in American golf on Thursday while Illini teammates Charlie Danielson and Nick Hardy were eliminated in the stroke play competition.

“I’m proud of all four of them,’’ said Small, an Olympia Fields member who will bring his team to the club for the Fighting Illini Invitational next month. “They all played well this summer.’’

Detry, who is from Belgium, spent his summer competing in Europe. Burge won the Chicago District Amateur after taking a redshirt season at Illinois.

“(Burge) has been with us for three national finals,’’ said Small, “and it was weird to redshirt a senior but a freshman (Hardy) came in and hit him beside the mouth a little and (Burge) needed to get better. Not every kid in college sports takes advantage of a redshirt year, but Alex did.’’

His final collegiate season will start as soon as the U.S. Amateur ends, which could be as late as Sunday if he reaches the 36-hole title match. Detry also hopes for a long run this week.

“This is a marathon,’’ said Detry. “It’s a very long tournament. I’ve got to keep playing my game. Anything can happen.’’

That was evident on Wednesday, when Cameron Young, of Scarborough, N.Y., knocked out defending champion Gunn Yang 3 and 2.