ATLANTA, Ga. — University of Illinois senior Alex Burge, a Bloomington High School graduate, and Baylor senior Laura Lonardi were named the first recipients of the Tom Cousins Award on Monday at a ceremony for the inaugural East Lake Cup.

Burge birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff Tuesday to beat Greyson Sigg and score the clinching point as the Illini captured the East Lake Cup by beating Georgia, 3-1-1, in the final. Earlier in the day, Illinois downed Southern California, 4-1, in a match halted by darkness Monday as Burge also won his match. 

The Cousins Award is named after philanthropist Tom Cousins — who helped revitalize the East Lake community and transformed it into a thriving neighborhood — and was established to recognize a male and female college player who excels in academics, is engaged in the community and has demonstrated an ability to overcome adversity. Burge and Lonardi were selected by a panel of golf industry leaders.

Burge completed his undergraduate degree in business management at Illinois earlier this year. He grew up with a father, Wilson, who was deaf and, as a young boy, found it difficult to develop a bond with his dad until golf became the reason they became closer and spent more time together.

“Golf changed my life, and continues to change my life because it introduced me to my father the way a young boy should be introduced, with patience and a willingness to listen and learn,” Burge wrote in an essay. “Golf introduced me to my hero.”

Burge is active in the local community. He participates in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and the Recycling for Families program, which distributes canned goods and other home goods to families in need in the Bloomington-Normal community.

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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