August 3rd 2015 - LONG GROVE, Ill. – The numbers were astounding. An aggregate score of 199, 16 under par for 54 holes. A total of 128 for the final 36 holes.
All were records, all set by 22-year-old David Cooke, who won the Illinois Open by five strokes on Wednesday at Royal Melbourne Country Club. That matched the largest margin of victory by an amateur, equaling Gary Hallberg’s success in 1977.
But there was someone missing on Wednesday, as there has been since Dec. 23, when Chad Cooke, David’s younger brother, died while he and David were playing a game of pick-up basketball in the western suburbs. A heart disorder was the cause.
“It’s been an emotional few months,” Cooke said at the trophy ceremony. With older brother Jay on his bag and his parents tagging along for the round, Cooke made Chad proud with a final-round 9-under-par 63.
“Chaddie the caddie, my dad said when I don’t have a caddie in my college events,” Cooke said. “It’s been really difficult. We’ve been helping each other out. But he was a strong encourager of everybody, and so I knew if it was up to him he’d definitely want me playing. I tried to focus on that, think about the positives.
“We had a lot of great memories, me and my little brother, and I wish more than anything I could have him back.”
Cooke, a Lisle resident who entering his senior year at North Carolina State, beat Web.com pro Vince India (11-under 204), who collected the $12,500 first prize, by five strokes and Bloomington’s Matt Miller (10-under 205) by six. Rich Dukelow of Evergreen Park would have finished tied for fourth at 5-under 210 after his final round 71, but signed for an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified. The miscue of signing for a 4 on the last hole when he scored 5 cost him $5,166.67.
Instead, he got nothing and Eric Meierdierks and Gary March, the two others at 210, earned $5,750 each.
Dukelow discovered the mistake and told the scoring department.
“You can’t be a cheat,” Dukelow said between puffs on a cigarette.
The only snag in Cooke’s round came on the 17th hole, where he airmailed his approach over the green and into the junk behind the hole. After his drop, he knocked a couple of leaves off a branch taking a practice swing, but was ruled not to have violated a rule against improving his swing because the practice swing was well away from the ball.
“I talked to Trey (Van Dyke, a rules official), he was the one who helped me drop, and he said it was OK as long as it wasn’t on the intended path,” Cooke said. “And it was only a couple, three leaves.”
Cooke, who bogeyed the 17th, would have won regardless of a penalty, so solid was his game. He opened with an eagle and two birdies, then birdied the fifth and eighth holes to go out in 6-under 30. He built a four-stroke lead over India at the turn and could coast from there.
“There were some nerves on the first tee, and I was just trying to get off to a good start,” Cooke said. “I was trying to take advantage of the first hole since it was changed to a par 5. I had a good yardage and figured I could go straight at it.”
He did, drilling a 144-yard pitching wedge to six feet and dropping the putt for an eagle. That broke the overnight tie with Brad Marek, who birdied. Cooke didn’t stop there. Really, he didn’t stop until he was in the clubhouse, scattering nine birdies in all, including a curling six-footer at the last for the 63, a stroke off the course record.
“It was definitely nerve-racking, the first time with an overnight lead in a professional event,” Cooke said.
Cooke was not only the winner and low amateur, he was the low amateur by 13 strokes, that far ahead of Lincolnshire’s Jack Watson.
India, able to play because the PGA Tour’s stepping-stone circuit had the week off, played with Cooke and knew he’d have to go lower than the 67 he posted.
“I’d have had to shoot 11-under (61) to win,” India said. “I didn’t get in trouble all day and shot 5-under.”
His goal is the PGA Tour, but at 26 he still wants to win a state title.
“This one has eluded me,” India said.
Amateur Matt Weber, out in the day’s third group, fired a 10-under 62 to match the course record set by David Lawrence on Monday, when the course was set up as a par 71. For Weber, a Hinsdale resident who will be a sophomore at Indiana, the day was a dream round. He birdied six of the first seven holes, turned in 7-under 29, and ended up with birdies on 11 of the first 15.
Yes, 59, golf’s magic number, entered his mind.
“I was trying to just not worry about it too much,” Weber said.
His last birdie, on the par-5 15th, came about when he rolled in a putt from five yards off the green. But a lip-out on the par-5 17th and a closing bogey when he missed a curling six footer for an up-and-down forced him to settle for a 62 and an eventual tie for 13th.
For his part, Lawrence rebounded from Tuesday’s 80 at Hawthorn Woods with a 2-under 70 to finished tied for 9th at 2-under 213.