Frankfort Golfer Small Finishes Sixth at Illinois State Amateur Championship
Mark Small finishes tournament with rounds of 71 and 73; Mokena's John Finnin nets a top-20 finish in the stacked field.
If Mark Small could redesign the Glen Oak Country Club in Glen Ellyn, he’d probably start by reconfiguring the 16th hole.
Small, who finished tied for sixth in this week’s Illinois State Amateur Championship at Glen Oak, didn’t hesitate Thursday in identifying the 16th hole as his nemesis.
“I bogeyed it every time. I just couldn’t survive that hole," he said. “For the tournament, No. 16 was set up as a long, 220-yard, par-3 hole.
"I didn’t have a club in my bag that fit that distance,” Small added. “So I had to work around some things, try to saw a 3-wood down or try to lay up to the front of the green and chip on. I decided to carry a third wedge instead of a 2-iron, and the 2-iron would’ve come in handy on that hole.”
On the other hand, Small birdied the par-4 15th hole three times in the tournament, including his final round, when he put his approach shot within 3 feet of the pin. That helped him finish that round with a 2-over-par 73. In the morning, he fired a 71.
“I’m just happy I survived the 36-hole walk,” Small joked. “I haven’t played 36 holes in a day and walked in 15 years or so. … It’s been a long time, and I just feel good that I was able to survive it and play decent—not great, but decent.”
Small finished the four rounds of the tourney 2-over par, 14 strokes behind Brad Hopfinger of Lake Forest, who came on strong Thursday with rounds of 64 and 69 to win the championship. Hopfinger and Chris Brant of Edwardsville, who finished second, were both members of the University of Iowa golf team that placed 10th in this year's NCAA tournament.
“I would say that today showed me my weaknesses, the kinds of things I need to work on,” Small said. “One of them is putting; one of them is driving the ball. But my iron play I thought was pretty good all week long. It wasn’t as sharp today as it was earlier in the week—maybe just fatigue.”
This was the last major tournament of the season for Small.
“This was it,” he said. “I’ve been practicing real hard for this event and I think it paid off. One of my goals was to finish in the top 10. … I haven’t been in the arena in a long time. So to get back in the arena and to finish in the top, I’m pretty happy about that.”
Finnin Finishes 19th
John Finnin, of Mokena, didn’t have a specific hole that gave him trouble in the tournament. Rather, it was a set of holes: the final five.
“I just couldn’t finish on them,” he said. “If you don’t hit the ball straight and you’re coming out of the trees, it’s not going to do you any good out here. You make those bogeys coming home and it hurts you. … Those last five holes, I played them 4-over and 3-over each round. That just takes you and puts you right out of the tournament.”
Finnin had better luck with the front nine.
“The front nine of the morning round was wonderful,” he said. “I shot 2-under par.”
Finnin finished that round with a 2-over-par 73. He carded a 75 in the afternoon to finish in a tie for 19th, one spot above where he started the day.
Like Small, he acknowledged that playing 36 holes in one day was a grind.
“The last four holes, I started coming over the top a lot,” he said. “I was losing my bottom half. I feel OK, but I was getting real tired there at the end. It’s the first time I’ve walked 36 holes in a long time.”
Finnin was hoping for a top-five finish, which would have put him on the Radix Cup team. Each year, the state’s best amateur golfers take on a team of Illinois PGA golfers in a best-ball tournament. Finnin has been a part of a number of amateur teams that have won the Radix Cup.
“It’s been a downer the last three years because I’ve always been on the Radix Cup team and always have done well in the tournament,” he said. “I was looking forward to doing well here and hopefully getting a top-five finish. That didn’t happen, but I played well.”
Finnin said his next big test will be trying to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. He’ll compete in a qualifying tournament later this month at Mount Hawley Country Club in Peoria.
“Hopefully, I’ll make that one and end the year up good,” he said.