BLOOMINGTON – Ben Sluzas has a new nickname: “Back-to-Back Ben.”
The Lockport Township junior captured the IHSA’s Class 3A individual title for the second straight year Saturday, his 3-under-par 69 at the Den of Fox Creek earning him a total of 4-under 140 and a one-stroke victory over Patrick Moorhead of Lake Forest.
Two of those 36 holes were key, and both came on Saturday’s final nine, the front side of the course. Sluzas eagled the par-5 fifth and birdied the par-5 ninth.
That makes it sound like a rousing victory, but, in fact, it was a struggle. He bogeyed the three holes in between, while Moorhead was making birdies on the 13th and 14th holes on the other side of the course. But Moorhead bogeyed the par-3 17th and could only muster a par after missing the green at the last, finishing at 3-under 141 with a closing 69. By then, Sluzas’ 140 had been on the board for a half hour, and he was warming up for a potential playoff.
“It’s crazy,” Sluzas said. “The first year meant a lot to me. This time, I was just trying to do the same thing. Just keep practicing, keep working hard and eventually, it could happen. It’s an amazing feeling to win again.”
Sluzas is the first back-to-back winner in boys 3A, and the first in any boys class since Luke Guthrie, then representing Quincy, won Class AA in 2006 and the new Class 3A in 2007.
“It’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Lockport coach Matt Eber gushed. “I’ve had about five coaches this weekend come up and say, ‘I love watching your No. 1.’ It’s a testament to him, his family, his work ethic.”
Some might pack it in after three straight bogeys. Not Sluzas, who said teacher Kevin Weeks of Cog Hill taught him as much about the mental side of golf as the technical side.
“I told myself, you’ve got nine more holes to give yourself a shot,” Sluzas said after a first nine that featured an opening birdie and eight straight pars. “Without Kevin, I wouldn’t be here. The teaching he’s brought to me is amazing.”
Said Weeks, “He’s a sponge. Whatever I ask him to do, he does. His game’s really matured. He showed mental maturity to bogey 6-7-8 and then birdie No. 9 to win.”
Sluzas made birdie putts of 15 and 30 feet, respectively, on the second and fourth holes, and then came to No. 5, a 521-yard test. He hammered a downwind 8-iron out of the rough from 200 yards to 15 feet and sank the putt for an eagle 3.
He had a shot. In fact, he was in the lead at 6-under. Then came the bogey string. His second on his last hole, a 5-iron against the wind, stopped short of the green, but a simple pitch to 6 feet and a solid putt for birdie gave him the margin he needed.
“I didn’t want to hit so much club I went over, so I was OK with being short,” Sluzas said.
Sluzas’ victory in 2018 was a one-round affair, because Friday’s round was snowed out. Repeating across the usual 36 holes silenced any critic who thought the 2018 title was a fluke.
Vincent Greci III was second in the Porter lineup at 11-over 155 via a Saturday 76, matching Sluzas’ eagle on the fifth hole. Brody McCarthy also fired a 76 for 14-over 158.
“That put me back on track,” Greci said of the eagle.
Lockport finished sixth overall, at 53-over 629. Lincoln-Way Central landed in ninth among 10 teams at 73-over 649. Lake Forest, at 25-over 610, won the team title by eight strokes over Glenbrook North.
Junior Sean Curran led the Knights’ squad with a 4-over 76 for 9-over 153.
“The course played dry,” Curran said. “It was fiery. Especially on the front nine, the ground was firm. There weren’t many highlights the whole weekend, except I birdied No. 10 both days. That was it. I struggled on the greens the whole week. It was frustrating. “It wasn’t what I wanted, but I can take a lot away from it.”
So can Sluzas, who can also look ahead to his senior year. Nobody in either the boys or girls competition, has won three straight IHSA golf titles.
Triple crown, anyone?