Q&A: Two-time UI Open winner Derek Meinhart talks this year's tourney

Q&A: Two-time UI Open winner Derek Meinhart talks this year's tourney

Derek Meinhart is a two-timer winner of the UI Open, including last year. The Eastern Illinois graduate is the vice president of Innovative Staff Solutions, an employment agency in his native Mattoon. News-Gazette copy editor JOE VOZZELLI caught up with Meinhart ahead of this weekend's event at the University of Illinois Orange Course:

What goes into picking which tournaments you play in?

There is a Mid-Am circuit in the U.S. It's 25 or older. Kind of a career amateur tour so to speak. I probably play in seven of those events a year, and then some state stuff. I'll play in the state amateur at Bloomington Country Club coming up here in July. I always play in the UI Open. Mike Wallner has been there pretty much the entire time. He's always accommodating, always taking care of me, so I always come back. The ultimate goal for me is to win the United States Mid-Am, and that deal is pretty sweet. The winner of the United States Mid-Am gets an exemption into the Masters, and as of this year, the U.S. Open. It's a really cool deal.

How much do you get to know the players on the amateur circuit?

That's the draw. You are competing against the same guys every year (at the UI Open). Tim Hoss Jr. has won it several times and him and I have went head to head a few times. I know I've lost to him a few times on the last hole. We see each other a lot. It makes it fun.

How did you celebrate last year's title?

It's always on Father's Day weekend. Win or lose, my family and I go out and eat in the Champaign area and just celebrate. Nothing too special. A win is always a good win. Being a father, it makes it that much more special. I definitely enjoy that day.

Of all the rounds you've played on the amateur circuit, do you have one that stands out above all the rest?

I had a round a couple of years ago at the state amateur in Springfield at Panther Creek. It was the second round and I shot a 65. I remember that day. Everything was just clicking and the putter was hot. That was the competitive record for the course. The funny part about that was it lasted 24 hours. A kid named Raymond Knoll shot 63 the next day. That was a fun day. I remember some of the shots from that round. I think the last five holes I hit 8 iron into the green every time. I rolled in a 30-footer on 17 to steal it. I am not a leaderboard watcher. I knew I was going low, but I didn't know where I was at. I was just in the zone of thinking one more birdie.

If you could pick any course in the world, what would be your dream one to play 18 holes?

No doubt, it would be Augusta. That's the hardest course to play on in America. I don't even know if I could put it into words what it would mean to play on that course. It would be a lifelong dream. That's what motivates me. It would be a treat. I've met and talked to guys over the years who have won the US Mid-Am and have played at Augusta and asked them, 'Hey, what was that experience like? What did you do?' I've picked their brains. And so, if my time ever comes, I'd be ready for it. It'd be awesome. I record the Masters every year and watch it all year long. It's one of my favorite weeks of the year.

Why have you decided to continue playing golf all of these years?

It's never been about the money. It's been about the experience. I've met great people ... tremendous people ... successful people. That's what this game is all about. I've always had a passion for it.

A look at who's teeing off when during the UI Open's first round:

7:30 a.m. — Bruce Kelso, Jeremy Klein and David Deschler

7:40 a.m. — Greg Cornwell, David Keenan and Tim Wheeler

7:50 a.m. — Scott Loos, James Leo and John Stoops

8 a.m. — Tom Pankau, Joe Hines and Rich Pankau

8:10 a.m. — Joe Harmon, John Yakle and Joe Yakle

8:20 a.m. — Tony Schaeffer, Chad Rienstra and John Malloy

8:30 a.m. — Jeff Trigger, Joe Thompson and Everett Krueger

8:40 a.m. — Justin McCoy, Brandon Haveman and Tim Hoss Jr.

8:50 a.m. — Wouter Brink, Jeff McGill and Jesse Satter

9 a.m. — Mike Tennant, Paul Dalbey and Mike Rorem

9:10 a.m. — Josh Borchardt, Mike Peters and Corbin Sebens

9:20 a.m. — Blake Wolfe, Christian Khachaturian and Zack Thorson

9:30 a.m. — Myren Salmon, Tom Wisecup and Ron Mason

9:40 a.m. — Don Thornton, John Laker, Rod Kleiner and Dick Rodeffer

9:50 a.m. — Mike Claypoll, Mike Swank and Sherfield Dawson

10 a.m. — Nick O'Dea, Duane Smith and Dustin Darling

10:10 a.m. — Tim Hoss Sr., Dan Magruder and Ronalde Johnson

10:20 a.m. — Thomas Green, Ross Henson and Noah Wright

10:30 a.m. — Todd Morre, Tyler Moore, Josh Weeks and Rob Payne

10:40 a.m. — Rick Hardyman, Keith Hardyman, Jim Burtch and Orlando Martinez

Noon — Alex Wallner, Alex Thorson, Mark Thorson and Brady Nelson

12:30 p.m. — Clayton Miller, Derek Meinhart and Nathan Meinhart

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