DEERFIELD, Ill. – It must be catching, this pattern of successful players changing caddies.
First it was Phil Mickelson. Then Rory McIlroy.
Now Patrick Flavin. In July, with brother Connor on his bag, Flavin won the 87th Illinois Amateur.
Monday, Flavin fired a 7-under-par 64 at Briarwood Country Club to grab the first round lead in the 68th Illinois Open.
His brother was in Canada on a fishing trip. In Connor’s place was Patrick’s girlfriend Emily Young.
“She’s a good player, plays for Amherst in Division III,” Flavin said. “Both are awesome caddies.”
Flavin, a Highwood resident entering his senior year at Miami, is pretty good as a player himself. His bogey-free tour of Briarwood in mostly calm conditions set the competitive course record, and was a stroke off the practice-round 63 scored by Brian Bullington on Sunday.
It earned him a one-stroke lead on Kemper Lakes head professional Jim Billiter, whose 6-under 65 came in the final group of the day and climaxed with a 35-foot birdie putt at the last.
“I bogeyed 17 and was like, let’s just get in with a par,” Billiter said.
It rattled in off the back of the cup, a fitting end of an eight-birdie day in what he said was his first Illinois Open appearance in a decade. Tournament play at Merit Club, his previous posting, always interfered.
Billiter jumped ahead of a pair of former winners, 2010 champion Eric Meierdierks and 2014 winner Brad Hopfinger, along with Bloomington’s Brandon Holtz, all of whom scored 5-under 66 to tie for third.
Amateur Sean Furman of Skokie is among a quartet of players tied for sixth at 4-under. His came in the form of a 68 at The Glen Club, the more rigorous of the two courses. The DePauw sophomore played four holes in the middle of his round in 5-under, including an eagle on the first hole, and survived a pair of double-bogeys.
The other 4-under tallies were 67s recorded by amateurs Matt Murlick, Zach Burry and Tommy Kuhl at Briarwood. All will resume their pursuit of Flavin on Tuesday.
“I hit 17 greens, and had a lot of birdie chances,” Flavin said. “Pretty much had a birdie chance on every hole, a lot of 10-to-15 footers. But you can’t make ’em all.”
Flavin made seven birdies, a good enough percentage to jump ahead of the field. A birdie at his first hole, the 381-yard par-4 10th, and he was off and running. He birdied seven of his first 14 holes, then parred in, including a three-footer to assure his par 4 on his final hole, for a day that could hardly have been better.
“The key was getting off to a good start and having fun,” Flavin said. “And these greens, if you make a good roll, you’ll make your share.”
Flavin is bidding to become the second player to win the Illinois Open and Illinois Amateur in the same year, following David Ogrin in 1980. Only six players have done so at any time in their careers.
However, there’s work to be done. Meierdierks and Hopfinger have already held the trophy. Meierdierks, who played with Flavin, was also bogey-free, with five birdies splashed on his card, while Hopfinger had eight birdies, offset by a trio of bogeys.
“I really like Briarwood,” said Meierdierks, who has recovered from an elbow injury, during which he fell to 1,967th in the World Golf Ranking. “If you keep it in the fairway, you can score it.”
Meierdierks, taking the week off from the Web.com Tour, birdied Briarwood’s three par-5s and had a half-dozen 3s on his card en route to his 66.
Hopfinger has status on the PGA Tour’s Latinoamerica circuit, but it takes the summer off, so he’s been playing wherever he can, and has finished first, third and sixth in his last three starts.
“My game’s in good form,” Hopfinger said. “I was hitting it so close on my front nine I almost didn’t have to putt.”
He went out in 4-under 31 on Briarwood’s back nine, as did Flavin.
That trio and most of the other leaders will be at The Glen Club on Tuesday for the second round, while the other half of the field tackles Briarwood. Those who make the cut – the low 50 and ties, and anyone within 10 strokes of the leader – will reconvene at The Glen Club on Wednesday for the final round.
Defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. scored 1-under 70, calling his day one where he “just didn’t hit it close enough to make a lot of putts.” Sainz, whose brace of birdies came on Briarwood’s 11th and 12th holes, is tied for 17th, joined by, among others, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, the Illinois senior whose schedule this summer has taken him from the NCAA Championship to the John Deere Classic to the Pacific Coast Amateur to the Western Amateur to now. The grind may be telling on him.
“I’m playing really good golf right now, but I’m dissatisfied with the results,” Hardy said. “I didn’t manage my emotions today. I didn’t handle my expectations well. But I think I’m close to a 6-7-under round.”
Dominic Scaletta, the 15-year-old from Inverness, scored 3-over 75 at The Glen Club, while at Briarwood, 72-year-old Gary Groh, on the other end of the calendar, birdied the first hole but settled for a 12-over 83.
Twenty-nine players broke par and another 12 from the field of 264 were at par, with Briarwood playing 4.81 strokes easier.