LONG GROVE, Ill. (Sept. 17, 2014) — After 36 holes of the 28th Illinois State Senior Amateur Championship at the Royal Country Club of Long Grove, Tremont's Ed Whitaker was deadlocked in a four-way tie for second at 3-over par, three shots off the lead.
Eighteen holes later, he was still at 3-over. The only difference? He was in first by four shots, and the winner of the Earl R. Liff Trophy.
After finishing with a 72 on Wednesday, the best round of the day, Whitaker nervously awaited the finish of the lead group, which included Ted Pecora, Paul Hindsley and Tom Miler. However, the trio carded scores of 82, 78 and 76, respectively, leading to Whitaker's comfortable win.
“I was shocked,” Whitaker said on learning about his large margin of victory. “I really didn't think that would be the case.”
While the rest of the field struggled, Whitaker managed the tricky layout perfectly, carding one birdie and six pars on the final seven holes.
“I was just trying to keep the ball in play, and I did,” Whitaker said. “I hit all the fairways. I missed some putts that I thought I could have made for birdie, but I was hitting it close enough where I didn't have a lot of pressure on myself.”
Despite Whitaker's steady play, it was actually Hindsley with the lead through 15 holes on Wednesday, as he stood at 1-under par for the afternoon and 2-over for the championship. However, the Northfield native bogeyed the 16th and carded a 7 on the par-3 17th after hitting his tee shot in the water. He rebounded with a par on the 18th, however, to lock up a second-place finish.
For Whitaker, the victory represents an elusive accomplishment that is a highlight of his long golf career. In 2012, he finished tied for third in this event, two shots behind Miler, after similarly holding the clubhouse lead with one group to go. Whitaker claims his game was peaking heading in to last year's event, but he threw out his back and was unable to participate. A 77 at a rainy Blackberry Oaks qualifier secured him a spot in this year's championship by a stroke, setting the stage for one of his biggest victories to date.
“Because of the field and being the state tournament…I've won a lot of tournaments in Central Illinois, but when it's the state, that's a big deal,” Whitaker said. “This may be the pinnacle of the wins that I've had.”
Danny Brown shot a final round 73 to finish in sole possession of third place at 8-over par. Miler and Fred Lukasik finished tied for fourth after shooting final-round 78s. Pecora, who led after each of the first two rounds with a pair of even-par 72s, closed with an 82 and finished T8.
Defending champion Dave Ryan, as well as Vance Antoniou and Ted Zurkowski, withdrew due to their participation in last weekend's U.S. Senior Amateur Championship in California.
The low 20 scorers and ties earn exemptions for next year's championship.