Courtesy of Chicago District Golf Association
Crystal Lake's Ethan Farnam
(Crystal Lake) willed himself to victory Thursday at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, as the 22-year-old topped Jordan Less
(Elmhurst) and Mac McClear
(Hinsdale) in a four-hole playoff to defend his title and win the second-consecutive playing of the Illinois State Amateur Championship.
The triumph puts Farnam in exclusive company, as just 15 other players have won the event multiple times, nine of which were in successive championships.
“It's awesome,” Farnam said of his triumph. “Everyone was congratulating me for the first one, and it's been so long, and to just reaffirm that you're still here and that you're still one of the better players in the state and in the nation.”
Farnam, the Saint Mary's (Calif.) College senior, held a two-shot lead heading into Thursday's 36-hole finale over Oak Lawn native Jake Hennessy (Oak Lawn). A third-round 67 expanded Farnam's lead to six over Tommy Kuhl (Morton) in what appeared to be a runaway finish.
After a quick break for lunch, Farnam was faced with adversity for seemingly the first time all week. His front-nine 39 to open the final round stirred thoughts of dejavu from Farnam's come-from-behind win over David Perkins in 2019, as the field was closing in. The lone bogey on the closing nine at No. 16 caused the defending champion to dig deep as he was chasing a new leader in 2019 CDGA Amateur Champion, Less, and McClear, the 2021 individual champion.
Just when Farnam appeared to have lost his grasp on the Championship with a tee shot on the 72nd hole that cruised through the fairway and into the water, full trust in his game proved to be pivotal.
“I got way too greedy on the drive [on No. 18] and it just went straight through the fairway and into the water,” Farnam said. “At that moment it definitely crossed my mind that it was over, that I was going to have to do something unbelievable, and I did. I hit one of the best shots I've ever hit. I hit 6 iron to one foot on the last hole to get into the playoff.”
Farnam, joined by Less and McClear, trekked to the Championship's 16th hole to play a three-hole aggregate playoff before altering to a sudden-death format, if necessary.
The trio shared pars on each of the first two holes before McClear's 80-plus foot putt got away from him en route to a par, eliminating the rising junior at Iowa out of competition in what was his first major tournament playoff.
“I've never been in a playoff at a big tournament like this before, so it was definitely a learning experience,” McClear said. “I felt like I handled it really well, but just hit a mediocre shot into the par-5 there, and a bad putt, but I'll definitely take away from that experience and hopefully be better next time.”
Playing the par-5 18th hole for the third time in the last five holes, Farnam and Less caught slight trouble off the tee, abolishing the opportunity for either to seek the flagstick with their second shots.
“Me and Jordan both hit really good drives,” Farnam said of the 76th hole. “I thought mine was really good, his was good, and we both ended up one-inch screwed.”
Farnam punched out of the bunker and proceeded to get up and down for birdie, rolling in a 10-foot putt with an emphatic fist pump. Less, meanwhile, found the left corner of the green, but three-putted to a flagstick located on the other end of the putting surface.
“I had to lay up and that was more-or-less a lay-up by him with a 70-foot putt,” Farnam. “Like I said, I hit a decent wedge and the putt was huge. I read it, kept my head down, end-over-end. It's just the simple stuff in those moments and I trusted it.”
As familiar of a feeling as it was for Farnam to hoist the Louis L. Emmerson Trophy as Illinois' top amateur golfer, this win felt different for the
“It was definitely a little different feeling,” Farnam said. “This one feels so much better; a lot more confidence gained from this and it was definitely a way harder challenge. Before it was kind of handed to me by David [Perkins]. He was a good player, and still is. This one is so much different. I had it and was just slowly letting it slip. There was a good three hours where it was just slowly draining away from me. To keep at it and pull it off, it's so good.”
For the other runner-up in Less, it's on to the professional ranks as the recent graduate of Northern Illinois University utilized one last State Am as a final tune-up before heading to Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School.
“Everything about the CDGA has been awesome,” Less said when asked why he chose to delay his professional career. “They've certainly helped me grow my game and I just wanted one last CDGA event.”
Continuing to wear all emotions on his sleeve, Farnam admitted another unfamiliar feeling following the victory.
“I'm proud of myself, I rarely am to be honest,” Farnam stated. “I'm always so hard on myself, but today I got mad and had emotions, but got over it and dealt with it super well today.”
Proud he should be as his wire-to-wire, back-to-back win at Mistwood Golf Club will forever be cemented in Illinois State Amateur golf glory.