BLOOMINGTON — A couple new lakes appeared at Prairie Vista Golf Course on Saturday morning thanks to heavy overnight rain that flooded the bunkers.
Kyle English thought his hopes of repeating as Bloomington-Normal Match Play Tournament champion were all wet as well.
“The big thing being 3-down with five to play is putting pressure on him,” said English.
English did that and also benefited from a couple Brandon Holtz mistakes to force sudden death. English sank a 25-foot birdie putt for a halve on the 19th hole and then won it on No. 22 to prevail in the longest recorded championship flight semifinal match in tourney history.
“I struggled with the putter early,” said English. “I’m glad I found it at the end.”
English advanced to Saturday’s 36-hole final against qualifying medalist Adam Havens. After hitting his approach shot on No. 1 a foot away, Havens kept attacking the pins and came away with a 3 and 2 victory over Mike Cushing.
“Today knowing you have to play well kind of relaxes me. You can’t let off,” said Havens, who had six birdies. “You know you’re not going to be able to make pars and win holes against Mike. I was able to do that in some of the other matches.”
Saturday morning’s round will begin at 8 o’clock, with the afternoon session slated for 12:33 p.m.
English might have felt like he played 36 holes on Saturday. But he was glad to do it.
The tourney, previously known as the City Tournament, started in 1920. It was played at medal play a couple times before going strictly to match play in 1955. The previous longest semifinal match was 20 holes, the last in 2001.
When English hit his drive into the water on No. 13 and suffered a bogey, Holtz was cruising along with a 3-up advantage.
“He hits it about 350 yards straight every time,” said English. “I didn’t feel I could win three holes on him the way he was playing.”
English got some momentum by sinking a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to cut Holtz’s lead to 2-up. English made a crucial 15-foot par-saving putt on the 15th and then won No. 16 when Holtz hit an errant drive into the tall fescue grass and made bogey.
But there was nothing English could do when Holtz faced an 8-foot uphill birdie putt at the 17th to win the match.
English survived when Holtz left the putt short. Then Holtz chunked a 6-iron off the tee on No. 18 into the water, allowing English to win the hole with a par and force overtime.
“I had been hitting 5-iron all week (off No. 18),” said Holtz. “I was thinking the wind was behind us and hit a 6. That’s where I screwed up. I should have taken a nice easy swing with the 5-iron.”
Holtz appeared back in control when he stuffed his approach shot on the first playoff hole 2 feet away. English knew what that meant.
“It was either make it or go home,” said English, who buried his long putt right in the middle.
Both players parred the next two holes before English reached the par-5 fourth in two. Holtz couldn’t convert a long birdie putt and conceded English’s 12-footer for eagle and the match.
“He hit some good shots, but I just flat out gave it to him not being mean about it,” said Holtz. “I messed up, and he played good the last few holes and never gave up. Kudos to him.”
Havens never lost a hole against Cushing and went 4-under through 16.
Cushing seemed to have an opening on the par-3 No. 8, knocking his tee shot 8 feet away. But Havens ran in a 15-foot birdie putt and Cushing missed. That gave Havens a 2-up lead. He bogeyed Nos. 11 and 12, but Cushing did, too.
Havens won the match with birdies on Nos. 14 and 16.
“I didn’t play bad at all. I just got beat. That happens,” said Cushing. “My short game wasn’t really sharp, but he made six birdies. I just couldn’t hang.”
Havens, a Prairie Vista regular who advanced to his first final, hadn’t been as sharp in his first three victories as he was in qualifying when he shot 66 a week earlier.
“I was much more confident with my swing,” said Havens. “I don’t know. Saturday mornings I seem to hit the ball pretty good.”