The wait was worth it for Dakun Chang.
It took four days and three extra holes, but Chang prevailed in the 2018 Illinois PGA Championship, beating Brian Carroll to capture the title in a three-hole playoff at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club. A pair of birdies combined with bogeys by Carroll on the first and third playoff holes gave Chang a 11-15 victory after they tied at 4-under-par 212.
“He had a rough first playoff hole, so I had to play smart,” Chang said.
For Chang, it’s his first state major, earned after he tied for third last year and tied for seventh in 2015, his first year in the Illinois PGA Section. Thursday’s triumph is an indicator he’ll be a threat for decades to come.
“I’d been in contention the last couple years, so this feels really good,” Chang said.
Chang, an assistant at Twin Orchard in Long Grove, won $11,200 along with getting his name on the Jim Kemper Cup. He dropped a six-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, the par-5 third, and one of similar length on the par-5 18th to close things out after Carroll’s last hope ended when his approach leaked left and found a pond.
“I had 295 in, so it wasn’t like I was going to get anywhere back by the pin, but I thought I could get close to the front edge and maybe make a long one or chip in,” Carroll said. “But I hammered it too far left.”
Chang, a 26-year-old native of Asheville, N.C., came into the storm-delayed final eight holes leading by two strokes, but bogeyed the 11th and 12th to fall behind Carroll, who birdied No. 11 immediately ahead of Chang.
“I had a rough start,” Chang said. “I just wanted to get back in my game plan, try not to worry about it too much.”
He steadied his game with a par on the 13th and climbed back into a tie for the lead with a six-foot birdie putt on the devilish par-4 14th after a tremendous approach shot from the right rough. He was 139 yards out and in a divot.
“That was a good shot,” Chang said, smiling.
Carroll was on his way to parring in, and Chang did the same on the last four holes, setting up the playoff. Carroll scored 3-under 69 in the final round, the first 10 holes of which were played on Wednesday before darkness, while Chang scored 1-over 73.
“The last three holes I had a lot of chances, but nothing fell,” Chang said.
Carroll, the head professional at Royal Hawk in St. Charles, was in the same situation. His birdie on No. 11 from six feet was followed by seven straight pars.
“I was four shots out coming into the third round,” Carroll said. “I got a little bit back yesterday, got one (birdie) to start the day but couldn’t get another to get to 5-under. I didn’t think 4-under was going to be enough. I thought 5-under at least. I was lucky enough to be in the playoff.”
His drive on the first playoff hole landed in the left fairway bunker, and things went downhill from there, but he grabbed his best finish in the section championship regardless.
“I’ve been trying to snag a major out here, and coming close,” Carroll said. “Semifinals in the match play this year before Chris Green knocked me out, a good first round in the Illinois Open two years ago. So I’ll keep playing good golf and see what happens.”
Curtis Malm of White Eagle in Naperville took third with a closing 1-under 71 for 2-under 214. Chris Ioriatti (70), Green (71) and Travis Johns (74) tied for fourth at 1-under 215. Ioriatti birdied twice on Thursday morning, Green birdied the last, and Johns, playing in the final pairing with Chang, missed on too many birdie chances for him to recount, and couldn’t get the double-bogey on the par-3 fifth on Wednesday out of his mind. His approach flew into the hazard.
“I didn’t deal with it very well,” Johns said. “I don’t mind making a bad score if I hit a bad shot, which I hit plenty of, but that one wasn’t bad. I just misjudged the wind.”
With Chang, Carroll and Mike Small already exempt into next year’s PGA Professional Championship, the next nine finishers made the field: Malm, Ioriatti, Green, Johns, Matt Slowinski, Steve Orrick, Roy Biancalana, Luke Hemelstrand and Tim Streng.
The unsung heroes of the week were the grounds crew, headed by superintendent Larry Flament. Working long hours in heat, cold and rain, they kept the course playable despite drenchings that flooded area basements and extended the championship to a fourth day.
The field averaged 75.35 strokes in the final round.