Medinah’s Tee-K Kelly wins Illinois Amateur again

SPRINGFIELD, IL. – A year ago Naperville’s Ray Knoll and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy battled through four playoff holes before Knoll won the Illinois State Amateur title. Knoll couldn’t repeat this year, and Hardy didn’t win, either, but nobody played better than those two during this year’s final round at Panther Creek Country Club on Thursday. They were spectacular.

Tee-K Kelly, a Medinah member from Wheaton, won his second Illinois Am title in a three-hole aggregate score playoff with 18-year old Conor Dore of Chicago, but that result was somewhat overshadowed by the record rounds posted by college stars Knoll (Iowa) and Hardy (Illinois).

Hardy matched the course record of 6-under-par 65 but wound up third. For the final 18 holes Knoll was even better. He posted what’s believed to be the lowest round in the 85-year history of the Illinois Am – an 8-under 63 – and it included what’s believed to be the first albatross in the event’s history as well. Chicago District Golf Assn. officials couldn’t confirm the apparent milestones because much of the tournament data was lost in weather-related damage several years ago.

Knoll, who enters his junior year at Iowa in the fall, saw his title defense evaporate after shooting a 75 in the morning 18 holes of the 36-hole final day. Making six birdies in the first 11 holes in the afternoon, all from the four to 10-foot range, Knoll climbed the leaderboard but saved his best for No. 15, a 576-yard par-5.

“Going to the last round I knew I didn’t have a chance to win, but I was playing good and just tried to be aggressive,’’ he said. So, at No. 15 he blasted a “perfect’’ drive, then studied the possibility of going for the green with his second.

“I didn’t know what my yardage was because my rangefinder died when I was on the 10th hole,’’ he said. “I stepped it off from the 200-yard marker and found the yardage was 267 yards plus three more to the pin. I hit a high draw with my 3-wood and swung a little harder because that distance was a little out of my range.’’

Well, actually it wasn’t. His ball landed on the front of the green, bounced once and rolled into the hole. It was his second albatross, the first coming on a 6-iron shot from 191 yards while playing an informal round with his father at Hickory Ridge in Carbondale.

This one elevated Knoll to under-par status for the tournament and into a tie for sixth place. He wasn’t close to the front-runners — Dore, who enters his freshman year at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the fall, and Kelly, who won the title for the first time in 2013. They finished the regulation 72 holes at 9-under-par 275.

Dore, who ruled the Chicago Public League for three years while at Whitney Young, made three costly bogeys down the stretch – the first at No. 17 in regulation and the last two in the final two holes of the playoff. That made Kelly, a senior-to-be at Ohio State, the champion off his three pars in the extra session.