Illini Burge wins UI Open
SAVOY — The latest University of Illinois Open champion didn’t have extravagant celebratory plans on Sunday night.
“I need to clean my apartment,” Alex Burge said with a laugh, “but I’m pretty tired.”
Tired from a near-perfect day on the University of Illinois Orange Course. Burge turned in a 7-under-par 65 on Sunday to hold off Derek Meinhart by 2 strokes and claim his first-ever UI Open title with a 10-under 134.
“You never expect to shoot that number,” Burge said after his bogey-free round consisted of 11 pars and seven birdies. “You hope to shoot something low, but it’s fun to do it. There’s a lot of pride with winning it. A lot of great names have won it, and it’s got a great history. To come out and get it done, that’s exciting.”
The Illini senior-to-be can find some space in his apartment for the hardware he won Sunday. He became the first current player from coach Mike Small’s program to win the UI Open since Clayton Parkhill achieved the feat in 2010.
The 22-year-old from Bloomington has more summer tournaments lined up, all in an effort to make sure his game is in top form by the time the fall season arrives for Illinois.
“Summer is the time for you to get better individually and really start to do things,” Burge said. “It builds your confidence. You just play and get as much competition as you can so you can come back in the fall ready to get after it.”
Burge got after the Orange Course often on Sunday after he entered the day tied with Meinhart at 3-under.
A 10-foot putt for par at No. 2 kickstarted what became an enjoyable afternoon for Burge, who drained a 30-foot putt for birdie at No. 5. Burge’s final birdie happened at No. 14, and he ended his round with four pars to keep Meinhart and Mahomet-Seymour product Seth Trolia from making a late charge.
“Really you try to just not even think about (leading),” Burge said. “You just have to go out and play your game. You’re playing the course really. If you start to think about what other people are doing, it makes it so much tougher. I tried to make it as easy on myself as I could.”
Burge hooked two of his final three tee shots, finding the rough on both occasions. But he rallied with nice approach shots to the green and his putter didn’t fail him late.
“It just shows me I’m learning how to finish tournaments and finish rounds off,” Burge said. “I did a really good job of just taking it one shot at a time. I didn’t hit my wedges that well until the back nine, but I just stayed patient.”
Patience is something Meinhart, a former Parkland standout, has dealt with before at the UI Open. Sunday’s runner-up finish was the fourth for the 36-year-old from Mattoon at the event since 2007 after he carded a 67 to close at 8-under 136 for the tournament.
“I had not played with him before, so I’m not sure where his game has been, but obviously, he showed he has a lot of capability,” Meinhart said. “Every time I tried to get on him, he’d pour one in on top of me. The holes had to look like a basketball hoop or something for him. He never let me catch him, and he didn’t make any mistakes.”
Trolia, a senior-to-be at Bradley, playing with Burge and Meinhart in the final group, finished third after shooting a 3-under 69. Trolia shot 5-under 139 for the tournament.
“I think I struck the ball OK,” Trolia said. “I wish I would have made a few more putts, but (Saturday), I made my fair share. Overall, I hit the ball well.”
Trolia was one of five golfers to finish under par for the tournament in a field tournament director Mike Wallner called one of the strongest ever assembled.
Five-time UI Open champion Tim Hoss Jr. and former Parkland standout David Keenan both finished tied for fourth at 142.
While Meinhart ideally wanted to win the tournament, he’s more than OK with a player the caliber of Burge pushing the rest of the field.
“I love it when guys like that come play,” Meinhart said. “That’s who I want to play against. I want to play against the best in the area.”