Curtis Malm won both player-of-the-year awards handed out by the Illinois PGA last year, and -- judging by what happened in the first of the section's four major championships of 2013 -- there's no reason to think he won't pull off another sweep this season.
Malm became the first player in 25 years to win back-to-back titles in the IPGA Match Play Championship when he defeated Doug Bauman 3 and 1 in Thursday's title match at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove.
In his fifth year as an assistant professional at St. Charles Country Club, Malm became the first repeat winner of the 62-year old tourney since Aurora's Bob Ackerman triumphed in 1987 and 1988.
"The format and golf course are absolutely perfect for me," said Malm, who turned pro a day after winning the 2000 Illinois Open.
He doesn't think he's as good a player now as he was then.
"I might be smarter," Malm said. "Back then I never had a negative thought. You just played golf, and I was playing pretty much lights-out. Now my game may be more diverse."
After coming up 1 stroke short of qualifying for U.S. Open sectional play on Monday, Malm stormed past six opponents over the next three days. His first four matches didn't last beyond the 15th hole.
All three matches played at Kemper on Thursday concluded on the 17th green. Malm beat Matt Slowinski, assistant at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn, in the morning semifinals, while Bauman ousted Ivanhoe's Jim Sobb. All four semifinalists were former winners of the tournament, and both matches were decided by 2 and 1 scores.
Bauman, a three-time winner, finished as the runner-up for the sixth time. In his 25th year as the head man at Biltmore in Barrington, Bauman started the final with 3 straight birdies. But Malm was able to overcome his opponent's 3-3-2 start.
"The putt he made (for birdie) at the No. 2 and his bunker shot (that set up a win) at No. 4 were huge," said Bauman. "I tried to put the pressure on him, but he didn't flinch."
Bauman, 56, is 21 years older than Malm,. Though consistently outdriven by his opponent, Bauman's 235-yard 5-wood to 18 feet at the par-5 11th was the shot of the match. It set up an eagle that put him just 1 down, but he left a shot in a bunker at No. 13 and missed a 3-footer for par that would have won No. 14.
Those letdowns enabled Malm to stay in command, and Bauman's tee shot at the par-3 17th went wide right, leading to a bogey that ended 2-hour 41-minute duel.