Crystal Lake’s Ethan Farnam pumped his right fist after sinking his birdie putt on the par-5, No. 18 at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville on Thursday, ending a sudden-death playoff and leading the 2017 Prairie Ridge graduate to his second consecutive Illinois State Amateur Championship title.
Farnam outlasted both Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Hinsdale’s Mac McClear in a playoff to become the first repeat champion since 2003. Farnam finished the three-day tournament at 13-under overall with rounds of 65, 68, 67 and 75 – and tied for first with Less (67-71-70-67) and McClear (65-72-70-68).
The tournament was not held last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Farnam called this year’s event “a real battle.”
“It’s sweet. I was very motivated to win it this year,” Farnam said. “You get all the press, ‘Oh, this is the kid to watch out for.’ And you always want to live up to the hype. Coming into it, I worked really hard. I was practicing a bunch.”
Farnam, Less and McClear all made pars on the first two playoff holes, while Farnam and Less made birdies on the third to knock out McClear and force a sudden-death playoff. Farnam wasted no time and won on the fourth playoff hole, rolling in a birdie from about 8 feet.
Less, a recent Northern Illinois graduate, placed runner-up. McClear took third, Lake Bluff’s Connor Polender (12-under) was fourth and Morton’s Tommy Kuhl (9-under) was fifth.
Farnam, a 6-foot-1 lefty, held a two-shot lead over the field after the second round Wednesday and extended it to six after shooting a 5-under 67 in Round 3. The St. Mary’s College of California fifth-year senior was unable to hold on from there, however, and was overtaken by Less and McClear on the back nine during Round 4, which also was played Thursday.
“At that point, I’m eating lunch thinking I’m just going to kill everybody,” Farnam said of his six-shot leader after three rounds. “I definitely had a little take-it-for granted aspect to it. The biggest thing was that I just kind of lost the ‘pedal down.’ I still had the end in sight, but felt if I just played golf, it would just kind of happen.”
The 18th was kind to Farnam all week long.
After recording 20 birdies and two eagles in the first three rounds, Farnam failed to make any birdies in the fourth round until the 18th, which earned him the last playoff spot. He had a birdie on the 18th in all four rounds and twice more in the playoff.
“It was my only birdie of the round and it was unbelievable,” Farnam said of his final birdie to get in the playoff. “It’s a par-5 with water on the right and you can kind of squeak it in between the water and the bunker. I kind of pull hooked one right into the water. At that point, I think I’m out of it.
“I’m taking my drop, dropped it to a perfect 6-iron distance, so I was at 192. I wasn’t even thinking, I was just kind of (angry) that I hit the bad drive, just make a good swing and finish off the tournament. I hit it to 1 foot, right at the pin, and everybody was going crazy. It was surreal.”
Farnam said he had a few nerves going into the playoff, but nothing he couldn’t shake.
“The playoff, I was definitely nervous, but it is no different than the first hole of the tournament,” he said. “It’s kind of the same feeling. You kind of just have to deal with it. ... Some people, honestly, it just makes them better.”
Spring Grove’s Jordan Hahn won the Illinois State Amateur in 2018, giving McHenry County the past three champions.
Farnam was a three-time Northwest Herald Boys Golfer of the Year and had two runner-up finishes at the IHSA Class 3A state tournament in high school. Farnam qualified for state all four years and competed at Northwestern as a freshman before transferring to St. Mary’s in Moraga, California.