Back-to-back Mac stays the course

Local golfer's steady game drives triumphant results in college and amateur play

The stage was set on the afternoon of July 20.

Hinsdale's Mac McClear, the defending Illinois State Amateur champion, was one stroke back heading into the decisive round of this year's state am at Bloomington Country Club. McClear had carded a 1-under 69 in the morning to put himself just behind the leader halfway through the marathon 36-hole final day of the event. After rounds of 69 and 68 the first two days, he felt good about his game.

"Heading into the tournament, I knew that if I shot four rounds in the 60s, it was going to be tough to beat," he said. "I played pretty good but just wasn't getting rewarded the way I hoped. I had to wait until the shots came and the putts fell."

His patience paid off in a stunning way, as McClear birdied five of the first six holes as well as the final two for a blistering seven-under 63 to retain the title with a five-stroke victory.

"If you're close to the lead, you keep doing the same thing because you must be playing well," McClear remarked. "36 holes in one day is a lot of golf. The fourth round I got off to a great start, and I knew If I just kept my head I'd do OK."

McClear became just the 11th player to register back-to-back wins in the 92-year history of the event, and he was one of only two in the 135-player field to not record an over-par round throughout the tournament.

This was simply the latest exploit in what's a been a remarkable 2023 for the recently graduated University of Iowa standout (see sidebar). On April 30, McClear earned co-champion honors at the Big Ten Championship at Galloway National Golf Club in New Jersey. It was the second time he finished atop the conference tournament's leaderboard after winning as a sophomore in 2021.

"That felt really good to get back to winning that tournament like that," said McClear, relishing the collegiate atmosphere. "Those are probably even more fun to win."

The lead-up to it, however, was a bit rough. During a practice round he was having trouble commanding his normally reliable tee shots.

"I was playing terrible. I one point I looked down at the face of my driver and saw it was cracked," he said.

Thankfully a technician for McClear's driver manufacturer was at the club and was able to screw on a new head. The next practice round proceeded much better, and McClear felt confident about his chances. But deteriorating weather conditions the first day tested everyone's mettle.

"I finished my round in 20th place, sat down and had lunch, and by the end of lunch I had moved from 20th to, like, fifth," he said.

A season-best 5-under 66 in the second round moved him into a tie for the lead with a 3-under 139 for 36 holes. But Mother Nature again intervened, forcing cancellation of the third and final round.

"It was just downpouring and the course wasn't even playable," McClear said. "It was a crazy turn of events. Fortunately it worked out for me."

With the title, his fifth overall as a Hawkeye, McClear became the first Iowa player to win multiple conference championships and has the most career individual victories by an Iowa player since 1976. He's also the 16th men's golfer to win multiple Big Ten Championships dating back to 1920.

McClear credits much of his success to a fresh putting approach he's worked on since the winter.

"I would say putting is not the strength of my game. When I do have the putter working, It does feel real good," he said.

He reflected on the lessons he learned at last year's state am, when he entered the final day with a considerable lead but had to hang on when not he didn't have his "A" game.

"It's so much golf, and you just have to keep your head down and do what you can," McClear said.

Oh, and the 2021 state am? He lost in a playoff.

"I've kind of developed a good pre-match routine through college," he explained. "I usually start with some stretching in the locker room, and I always go putt first to make sure my stroke is good. Then I go hit balls on the range for 10 to 20 minutes, really just trying to loosen up."

After McClear captured his second Big Ten championship, Iowa head coach Tyler Stith suggested McClear was just getting started.

"Without a doubt, Mac's resume speaks for itself. I promise you he's not done. He is always working to find ways to improve. He is calm under pressure and thrives in situations where other people struggle. Mac plays hard golf courses really well, which gives him a big advantage," he said.

McClear is currently showcasing his brand of poised golf at the 121st Western Amateur through Aug. 5 at North Shore Country Club. And his first-place finish at the U.S. Amateur qualifying event July 10 at Beverly Country Club means he'll be heading to Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado later this month to participate in the country's oldest golf tournament, whose past champions include Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

After using his last year of college eligibility to compete for the Hawkeyes next season, McClear intends to follow those legends into the pro ranks the summer of 2024.

"I'm used to the heavy schedule and heavy golf load. I've developed a really nice routine that helps me stay focused on what I have to do."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean