BLOOMINGTON — The rain began to come down heavy during the final nine holes of the 88th Illinois State Amateur Championship on Thursday at Bloomington Country Club.
Coincidence or not, but Jordan Hahn of Spring Grove was cruising to the title before his comfortable lead began slipping away. Suddenly, the Wisconsin senior was faced with a 6-foot par putt on No. 18 to avoid a playoff with Rob Wuethrich of Bloomington.
"Obviously I made it more interesting than needed to be, but overall I can't complain," said Hahn.
Hahn calmly sank the putt to grab the title he nearly captured a year earlier. Hahn's final-round 71 gave him a 3-under-par 277 total to edge Wuethrich, an Illinois Wesleyan sophomore who stayed in the hunt by making his own 10-foot par putt on No. 18.
"Who would have thought I would get into playoff potential? I'm thinking almost like match play that he's going to make it," said Wuethrich, who shot a final-round 70. "I'm happy I also got up and down (on 18) to get solo second and to be in that position."
Charlie Nikitas of Glenview fired 67, the best in the fourth round, to finish third at 279. Mike Henry of Bloomington almost proved a 50-year-old can beat the kids after shooting 71-281 to tie for fourth along with Illinois State senior Trent Wallace of Joliet (75) and Daniel Gorman of Rockford (70).
Wallace shot 68 in Thursday morning's third round to share the lead with Hahn heading into the afternoon. But a five-hole stretch with three bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine in the final round proved Wallace's undoing.
Logan Stauffer of Bloomington fired his third straight 70 to finish alone in seventh at 282. Parker Wisdom of Bloomington, a 17-year old Central Catholic High School senior, shot 68 and tied for 16th at 287 to earn an exemption into next year's tournament at Catigny Golf in Wheaton.
"I knew if I put up a good round I could get in there," said Wisdom. "It was very tough this morning. I felt like I was hitting good shots, but was not clicking."
The 6-foot-8 Hahn was clicking when he birdied Nos. 7 and 8 in the afternoon to reach 6-under and take a five-shot lead. Memories of last year, when he lost a four-stroke lead in the final round, never entered his mind.
However, bogeys by Hahn at Nos. 10, 15 and 17 put Wuethrich back in the chase. Playing two groups ahead of Hahn, Wuethrich birdied Nos. 14 and 17.
"I like playing in the rain, so I might as well take that as an advantage for me and hit the same shots I've been hitting," said Wuethrich.
Hahn appeared to still be in control.
"I knew when I got to 16 that I had a three-shot cushion and the next two holes would be hard to give that away, but somehow I did," he said. "I hit poor tee shots on the last two, which put me in trouble."
Wuethrich, playing in only his second State Amateur, almost became the third Bloomington golfer to win the tournament, joining Mike Milligan (1974) and Todd Mitchell (2002-03).
"I was kind of playing for the team (IWU) and playing for my teammates back home and proving D-III athletes are still good and we're still up there with everyone else," said Wuethrich.
When Henry sank birdie putts on Nos. 5 and 6, he was within two strokes of the lead. However, he failed to get another birdie in posting his second top-five State Am finish in his hometown after tying for third in 2005 at Crestwicke Country Club.
"My legs were starting to give out on me a little bit and you started seeing me miss right a little bit, but it was only a couple swings," said Henry. "I kind of muscled up and hit a few decent shots coming in. I'm just thrilled to have a chance."
Stauffer, 25, went under the radar most of the week, which didn't bother him in the least.
"I really wanted to play 36 on the last day and see what I did there," he said. "I kind of came in with low expectations and definitely surpassed them how I played."
Mike Cushing of Bloomington and Tyler Weaver of Normal each shot 73 in the final round to tie for 22nd at 290, a stroke away from being exempt for next year.