Unless your name is Vince India the 69th playing of the Illinois Open will likely be an easily forgettable experience.
Annually the biggest tournament for Illinois residents, this year’s version was a weather nightmare. Heavy rains delayed the first and second rounds. The weather cleared for the third round, but it couldn’t start until second-round play at both The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods, was completed and the 264-player field cut to the low 50 and ties.
Only India went home satisfied. Patrick Flavin, the defending champion, was only so-so in his much anticipated professional debut, finishing in a tie for 30th place. Garrett Chaussard, winner of the Illinois PGA Match Play title – the section’s first of four major events for the season – missed the cut.
Brandon Holtz, the former Illinois State basketball player, who was a joint runner-up to Flavin last year, wound up solo second this time after making a costly bogey at No. 17 – a par-3 stretched to a maximum 220 yards. That meant Holtz had to make eagle at No. 18, a par-5 that – with the tees moved up – was a very reachable 460 yards. Holtz’ second shot stopped 18 feet away but the eagle putt he needed to force a playoff went left.
India became only the ninth player to notch victories in the state’s two major men’s events – the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. In addition to Flavin the other seven were David Ogrin, Bill Hoffer, Gary Hallberg, Gary Pinns, Mark Hensby, Roy Biancalana and Brad Hopfinger. Ogrin, Hallberg, Pinns, Hensby and Biancalana went on to play on the PGA Tour.
Hopfinger, now a regular on the PGA’s Web.com circuit, was India’s collegiate teammate at Iowa. India will be in the field for this week’s Web.com stop, the EllieMae Classic in Hayward, Calif. He caught an evening flight to make a 9:06 tee time today.
With only limited Web.com status, India has played in just seven tournaments this year, made two cuts and earned $2,964. He picked up $19,004 for his Illinois Open win.
Winner of the Illinois State Amateur in 2010, India was the runner-up in the Illinois Open in 2015 and hadn’t played in this tournament since, until this week. His play on the Web.com Tour has been hampered by back problems.
“I have a disc herniation in my lower back,’’ he said, “and I’ve been working on a lot of things so that I can play pain free. My health is better now, and I’m swinging the club better. My swing is coming back, which is great.’’
The alternate course for this year’s Illinois Open was Ravinia Green, where India was a long-time caddie growing up, and The Glen Club – the site of his second round as well as Wednesday’s final round – is near his home in Deerfield as well.
India finished his rain-delayed second round with an 8-uner-par 64 – the low round of the tournament — on Wednesday morning to get within one stroke of the lead entering the final 18. Making birdies on the first two holes, India established himself as a contender immediately and made a clutch two-putt birdie at No. 18 — the margin of victory over Holtz.
With rounds of 72, 64 and 66 India was at 14-uner-par 202 for the 54 holes. Holtz also posted a 68 in the final round to finish one swing back.
“It was a grind, but I did a good job for not being in this position for a long time,’’ said India. “I was playing here because I wasn’t expecting to play (the Web.com event) this week. I didn’t expect the sponsor’s exemption to the EllaMae, but that was really nice.’’
So was a most fortunate bounce on his last tee shot. India knew the ball hit a cart path running through the No. 18 fairway but didn’t think the carom would carry it as far as it did. He couldn’t immediately find the ball in the right rough, and when he did he had just 170 yards to the pin for his second shot.
“In the end the drive went about 400 yards, cartpath-aided,’’ he said. He put his second shot on the green, two-putted from 30 feet for birdie and then waited for Holtz to finish.
The last threesome lagged two holes behind India’s group most of the day but Holtz was in place for another shot at the title when he put his approach from 205 yards to 18 feet for eagle.
“I knew my putt had a chance, and I wasn’t going to leave it short,’’ said Holtz, who sells football helmets for a living. He was playing in only his third tournament of the year after finishing sixth in the St. Louis Metro Open and missing the cut in the Waterloo Open.
The final day had one other most notable incident. Jeff Kellen, a club pro in the Rockford area, resumed his second round at The Glen’s 17th hole. On the first swing of the day Kellen holed out for an ace. He wound up in fifth place.