BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — From runner-up to Class 3A state individual champion, Hinsdale Central junior Kenneth Li feels pretty comfortable at the Den at Fox Creek, the home of the state tournament.
Li became Hinsdale Central’s fourth individual state champion after shooting a record 5-under par 67 at the Den while leading the Red Devils to their third consecutive team title and sixth overall. Combined with the girls team title at Hickory Point in Decatur on Saturday, Hinsdale Central became the state’s first large-class school to claim boys and girls team titles in the same year since Normal U-High in 2006.
Li’s 67 tied the Class 3A course records set by Quincy’s Luke Guthrie (2007) and Parker Freiburg (2008) for a single round at the state meet. He finished second to Glenbrook North’s Brian Ohr last season and became the first runner-up to state champion in back-to-back years since Rantoul’s Clark Smith won in 1998.
“The 67 means a lot to me,” said Li, who eagled the par-5 14th. “Obviously, this is a big tournament and to shoot that in the final round when I needed. That’s a great feeling.”
Li (73-67 — 140) said he missed a few opportunities to shoot a possible 66. His putt burned the edge of the cup at No. 10 and he left another birdie putt short on No. 17.
He started the second day one shot behind first-round leader Orion Yamat (72-73 — 145) of Maine East, who finished second. Li opened his round Saturday with two birdies while Yamat bogeyed No. 1 and birdied No. 5.
Li thrived at the Den at Fox Creek after playing his last four tournaments at Prairie Bluff Golf Club in Lockport. He shot 73, 71, 75 and 74 there.
“We talked about that,” Red Devils coach Jess Krueger said. “I told him, ‘You did not shoot good enough in tournaments [to win], but you played well. Keep at it, get down to the Den and see what you can do.’”
Hinsdale Central (585) beat New Trier (606) by a record 21 strokes for the Class 3A title. The margin of victory was the greatest for the large school class and equaled Rockford East’s win over Glenbard in 1945.
Brendan O’Reilly (75-72 — 147) placed third after finishing in second place for the Red Devils at both the regional and sectional.
Hinsdale Central seniors Billy Bizub (tied 12th, 76-75 — 151) and Brian Dolehide (tied 17th, 78-74 — 152) placed in the top 20 in their last tournament.
The Red Devils equaled St. Viator’s three Class 3A titles from 2007-09 and are expected to have four returnees next season.