WEST CHICAGO – Liam Creamer had the right approach on Monday when the biggest moments of his round demanded it.
The Marmion senior from Geneva uncorked superb approach shots both on the 18th hole to force a playoff and then on the playoff hole to earn one of the final two downstate berths from the IHSA Class 3A St. Charles East Sectional at St. Andrews Golf & Country Club.
St. Charles North’s Daniel Shepherd and St. Charles East’s Max Kelly were the only other area players to advance to the state tournament on Friday and Saturday at The Den in Bloomington.
Creamer was part of last season’s Cadets team that advanced to the 2A State Tournament as a team but, with Marmion bumping up to the largest class this year, Creamer is the lone Cadet back for a central Illinois encore.
“It’s a great feeling just to prove to myself I could play with everybody out here in the 3A division,” Creamer said.
After shooting a 41 on the front nine, Creamer rallied but still was in precarious position on the final hole of regulation. His tee shot on 18 nestled into what he described as “a really deep divot,” but a terrific 6-iron second shot enabled him to two-putt for par, which advanced him to a four-way playoff for the final two of 10 individual qualifier spots.
On the playoff hole – hole No. 1 – the left-handed Creamer drew appreciative murmurs from a large pack of spectators when his sand wedge approach from about 105 yards out curled within five feet of the pin. He made his birdie putt, the only one of the playoff quartet to birdie the hole.
Creamer was part of the last group of the sectional, and said the minimal down-time before the playoff was “definitely an advantage.”
Bartlett’s Ryan Wolfe was the other survivor of the one-hole showdown, while Geneva junior Nate Desens was eliminated from the playoff despite putting in from the fringe for a bogey. Desens’ tee shot on the playoff went well left into the rough, and he was in unenviable positions the rest of the hole.
“I’m happy I was able to shoot a good enough score to make it to a playoff,” Desens said. “It would have been nice to make it to state but making that putt [on the playoff hole], that was great.”
Desens led the way for Geneva, which struggled to a 328 team score. St. Charles North (324) was similarly disappointed on the team front after winning conference and regional titles but Shepherd (74) finished tied for second among individual qualifiers.
Shepherd eagled the par-5 10th to surge within even par but he said he had a good vibe about his prospects long before then.
“I kind of felt like I knew that from the start,” Shepherd said. “Not in a cocky way whatsoever but I had confidence because I played well here at conference and my game has been pretty good recently. I knew I could do it, it was just a matter of teeing the ball in the ground and making it happen.”
Shepherd was a combined 4-under par on the three par-5s. His eagle on No. 10 came despite spraying his tee shot onto the 11th fairway.
North coach Rob Prentiss said Shepherd might have the lowest per-round average in program history. Shepherd became the first North golfer to qualify for the state tournament since 2003, Prentiss said.
Fellow North standout Raghav Cherala, the reigning Chronicle Player of the Year and the medalist at regionals, failed to advance with an 81, which was North’s second best score.
“We were hoping to have a good day as a team and perhaps be the first [North] team to get downstate but we’ll get over that disappointment and we’ll be excited for Dan being the first guy to get down there in nine years,” Prentiss said.
St. Charles East (317) finished fifth out of the 12 teams at the sectional, best among the local trio but 16 strokes behind sectional champion Hinsdale Central and 13 strokes behind Lyons, which placed third to earn the final advancing team spot.
Kelly, a senior, was the bright spot for the Saints, going 1-under par on his final five holes to shoot a 77 and narrowly avoid the playoff. Kelly needed a rally to earn his first downstate berth after shooting a 42 on the back nine, where he started his day.
“I wasn’t nervous about blowing up because I was already high, score-wise, so I was just being aggressive,” Kelly said. “I thought it might be my last chance and I just hoped I did well and hoped it was enough.”
Teammate Kyle Jacobs (79) was one stroke off the playoff cut while East’s James Thompson (80) and Luke Molloy and Brad Riva (81 each) also flirted with contention.
Batavia’s quartet of individual qualifiers – Jon Hvasta (83), Danny Ritchason and Billy Zwick (85 each) and Peter Rudd (88) – fell short of state qualification, as did Creamer’s fellow Marmion individual entrants, Luke Hoss (85) and Brett Koskinen (86).