Burge in contention at UI Open
SAVOY — At just about every turn during Saturday’s opening round of the 61st University of Illinois Open at the Orange Course, everyone was asking about that one guy.
“How’s Burge doing?”
“What’s he at now?”
“Any idea how Burge is doing?”
They were inquiring about Alex Burge, a senior-to-be and top-five player on Mike Small’s Illini golf team, which finished as NCAA runner-up in 2013 and made it to the Elite Eight this past spring.
“I could feel it a little bit,” Burge said of the attention he received playing in his first UI Open. “You just have to focus on your game, put your head down and play one shot at a time and make it as boring as you can.”
The Bloomington native gave to onlookers plenty to talk about early on a hot, sun-splashed day, sandwiching an eagle and a birdie around a par during his first three holes to stand at 3-under early on.
Burge would finished at 3-under 69 to sit tied atop the leaderboard with 2011 UI Open champion Derek Meinhart entering today’s final round.
“It was good. Obviously, you like to get off to hot starts. When you get off to hot starts, you have to forget about it and keep going forward,” Burge said. “It’s easy to get comfortable and just stay there. The start was good. I made a lot of birdies today, I had six birdies. I just need to cut out a couple mistakes.”
Burge and Meinhart lead by 1 stroke over Seth Trolia and David Keenan, who each shot 70.
Tom Wilkes Jr., the 1995 champion, and Tim Hoss Jr. are 2 back after each shooting 71.
Even Hoss, a five-time champion of the UI Open and the winner last year, was a bit star struck with Burge, one of his playing partners Saturday.
“I’ll be honest, I was sweating it a little bit. I know he’s a good player,” Hoss said. “I hung with him, I suppose. It was good, it’s good to play with guys who can beat you and push you.”
The UI Open is the second tournament Burge has played in since he dropped the deciding match at the NCAAs to Stanford’s Cameron Wilson on the 18th hole last month at Prairie Dunes in Kansas.
“It was a tough loss, obviously, but those are things we learn from as a team,” he said. “We just came up a little short again this year.”
The setbacks hasn’t slowed his game as he won an Illinois State Amateur qualifier last week in Bloomington.
The UI Open provides another opportunity to fine-tune his game.
“I love the competition; I love playing,” Burge said. “I’m here a lot of the summer, so I figured I might as well come out and play. It’s a fun event to play in.”
Hoss, the only five-time champion in the event’s history, is in familiar position.
He trailed by 2 strokes entering the final round last year before he fired a 67 on Sunday to win by 3 strokes.
A similar effort might be necessary to make it six titles in a star-studded field that includes six former champions.
“You can’t win it the first day. I feel OK,” Hoss said. “(Today) I’m going to have to light it up a little bit because there’s a lot of good guys at the top.”