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BY-RORY SPEARS, Director of Content and Creation. Follow Rory on Twitter @GogBlogGuy, Linkedin and or Facebook.

TRAVIS JOHNS rallies to win the 97th and or 98th Illinois PGA Section Championship, depending on which historical records you wish to accept.

Ruth Lake Country Club head golf professional Mark Labiak, with 2019 IPGA Section Champion Travis Johns.

IT WAS OVER, then it wasn’t. In golf where no lead is safe. 12-time IPGA section champion Mike Small got a dose of just that.

While champion Travis Johns a teaching professional at Medinah Country Club, had to figure it out for himself over the last few holes. The fact he was actually winning, came as a surpise to him.

Johns along with playing partner Garrett Chaussard, the teaching professional at Skokie Country Club thought something was up when they reached the 15th tee. Both of them thought someone hit the water on the par 3, 14th hole. They were so right. Going splash and making his second double bogey in a row, was Small. And at that point Small’s lead was gone for good.

2019 IPGA Section Champion Travis Johns drives the green on the par 4, 10th hole. To begin his back nine comeback. Photo by Nick Novelli.

Ruth Lakes par 4, 10th hole was the turning point. The dogleg right around water played differently for Johns and Small. Johns went for the green off the tee. It’s a full water carry of 268 yards, playing into a strong 2-club wind. As Johns put it, it was playing more like 286. Johns ripped a drive that landed just over the pin, and rolled 25 feet past the cup. Johns missed the eagle putt, but tapped in for birdie.

But Small’s approach landed in a bunker just short right of the green. His lie wasn’t great from a rake mark. His third shot barely found the front right fringe. Two putts later, his bogey 5 started a very unlike Mike Small run. Small’s back nine starting at ten was bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey, double bogey, and then a bogey on 16.

Mike Small hits his drive on the first hole, in the second round.

Runs like that don’t happen to Mike Small, especially in a tournament that some pro’s call the Mike Small Invitational. After the second double-bogey on 14, several players had a chance to win, and maybe none of them knew it until after their round was over. The only two players that had a clue they could win were Brian Carroll from the Hawk Country Club, and Andy Mickelson from Mistwood Golf Club. Playing with Small, they were shocked Small couldn’t get off the bogey train.

Some might feel that it would have been fitting for Carroll to win. He has been close before, with several top 3 finishes. In fact it was Carroll who had a two-shot lead on Monday, after a brilliant 5 under par 66 in Round 1. But rains wiped out Carroll’s round, as the IPGA ordered a do-over on Monday night.

But as Small made bogey’s, Johns added birdies on 13, 14 and 15. And Chaussard the reigning two-time IPGA Match Play Champion, had birdies on 13 and 15. Both he and Johns were having their own little match play event, until they got swarmed by the arriving media and photographers on the 15th green. At that point they knew they were close, but never grasped that Johns was alone in first place, and Chaussard was in second place. But both players turned up the concentration level at that point and dug in. Johns and Chaussard both had birdie putts on 17 and 18, but both settled for pars.

But in the end, those pars were good enough when Small, Carroll and Mickelson couldn’t rally in the closing holes. White Eagle Country Club professional Curits Malm played steady golf for two days with a pair of 71’s, and moved up for a three-way tie for fifth.

Click here, to hear interviews with Champion Travis Johns, Mike Small, runner-up Garrett Chaussard, and Brian Carroll.

Defending Champion Dakun Chang had the low round of the day, with a 68. But all it did was earn him a tie for 9th with Mistwood’s Chris Ioriatti. Both Chang and Ioriatti qualfied for the National Club Professional Championship. Joining them will be Carroll, Mickelson, Malm, Johns, Chaussard, Chris French from the Aldeen Golf Club, and Julian Thompson from Ravina Green. Small was already exempt as a past champion. But with the new early dates for the event in 2020, he might not be able to compete. Because of his coaching duties at Illinois.

For Johns the win gives hime 3 IPGA Major Championships, he only needs the Illinois Open for the career Grand Slam. Johns earned the winners check of $12,000, with Chaussard getting $8,500 for his second place finish.

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About Rory Spears

Rory spent over 8 years growing up working at Rob Roy Golf Club in Prospect Hts.IL, then two years at Chevy Chase in Wheeling. He has covered golf in Chicago since 1986. Rory was one of the initial members of WSCR all-sports radio Chicago and covered golf there for 5 seasons, before moving on to work for ESPN/Sportsticker and ESPN Radio. In addition to hosting Golfers on Golf Radio on WCPT AM820 Chicago, he writes for both the Chicago District (CDGA) Magazine, and formerly Chicagoland Golf. Rory has played over 525 courses in 39 states, and rates golf courses. He does golf course management and communications consulting, within the golf industry.