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Len Ziehm On Golf

Golf’s Hall Of Fame Deserves A Profile Boost

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The World Golf Hall of Fame doesn’t get the media attention that baseball’s Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., or football’s counterpart in Canton, Ohio, receive — and that’s a shame. It’s well worth a visit and some who were there in its first years will be quite impressed with what they’d see there now.I’m embarrassed to say that I never made the trek during my 40 years as a golf beat writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, but I did make it one of my first stops after that. The World Golf Hall of Fame, located in the World Golf Village resort on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Fla., is a must for the avid golfer and it’ll have some appeal for non-golfers as well.

The Hall opened in 1998, and top stars in the game have been inducted into the Hall since then. Unlike Halls of Fame in other sports, though, this is not simply a shrine honoring the careers of playing greats like Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. This one goes much deeper than that. No one star player, in fact, dominates the presentation.

If there was one individual that could be a focal point during my visit it was the legendary comedian Bob Hope. He was just a duffer — like most of us — but no one loved the game more than Hope did. His name has been on a PGA Tour tournament staged annually in California. That’s his official connection to golf, but he used the sport in various ways as an entertainer and that brought world-wide attention to the game.

Because of that, the Hall established a special exhibit, “Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memories,’’ in 2008. It amounted to a tribute to Hope’s life, not just his affection for golf. The exhibit consisted of more than 400 items, 300 vintage photographs and two hours of videos that stir fond memories of Hope’s career far beyond his forays into golf. The Hope exhibit wasn’t designed to be at the Hall permanently, but it provides an insight into what you’ll see if you go there — in addition to the golf basics. The Hall functions as a museum that tells the rich history of a sport enjoyed around the world.

The clubs and balls used the in the 1800’s start the evolution in equipment that has gotten quite high tech in recent years. Unlike baseball, football, basketball and hockey, golf has roots far beyond North America and the Hall suggests similar games were played around the world as early as the 1500’s.

The sport, as we know it today, dates to Scotland of the mid-1800’s and the exhibits from that era include a life-size picture of Young Tom Morris — generally acknowledged as golf’s first superstar who won all the big tournaments before dying at the extraordinary young age of 24.

No era is short-changed in your walk through the history of golf, but your tour isn’t all about the old days. The participatory offerings are outstanding.

You can putt on an artificial green designed to copy the shaggy surfaces of the 1880’s with wooden clubs and the balls used in that era. You can also putt on a replica of the slick, fast greens used in pro golf today. It’s on one of those that the Hall has — through use of video and special effects — created a fun competition for visitors that simulates the atmosphere on the last hole of big tournaments.

Golf simulators are also available, allowing visitors to experience some of the world’s most famous courses, and everything isn’t just indoors. Move outside and there’s a replica of the most popular hole in American golf — the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass with its island green. For $5 you can take a swing on that 132-yard hole and win a prize if you can keep your ball on the green. (I almost did).

If you want to stay outdoors there’s an 18-hole putting course that’ll hold your attention throughout and can be enjoyed by those who have never played on a regular course.

You’ll need at least three hours to walk through the Hall and will probably want to allow more time than that. For my group of golf aficionados it was almost a full day’s project.

Other options around the Hall are the diverse restaurants and other attractions of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, and the more modern day amenities in fast-growing Jacksonville.

If you want to play, World Golf Village has two 18-hole courses — The King and the Bear (designed by Palmer and Nicklaus) and the Slammer and Squire (designed by Sam Snead and Sarazen). It you want the ultimate test, TPC Sawgrass with fees in the $300 range depending on the time of your visit, isn’t far away.

Could Oak Brook’s Butterfield CC land BMW?

Conway Farms, the home course of world No. 1 Luke Donald, remains the consensus favorite to land the 2013 BMW Championship, but the Lake Forest layout isn’t the only private facility Western Golf Association officials have checked out for the next time PGA tournament golf returns to Chicago.

Cog Hill, the public facility in Lemont that has hosted the PGA Tour stop since 1991, remains in the running and other sites that have been given varying degrees of consideration include The Glen Club in Glenview, Merit Club in Libertyville, Chicago Highlands in Westchester and North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

And another most interesting contender surfaced last week when Butterfield Country Club officials revealed that a contingent of PGA and WGA officials had an eight-hour visit to their 27-hole layout in Oak Brook in late August.

Butterfield, always considered one of the area’s better private facilities since its opening in 1922, has never hosted a significant tournament. Now, though, its willingness to do that is changing following the most extensive renovations performed in recent years.

Hampered by drainage problems, Butterfield’s members went 22 months without use of their golf course while architect Steve Smyers supervised a project that included the creation of more than three acres of ponds, the moving of 280,000 cubic yards of earth, the removal of 500 trees and the planting of 300 new trees — all accomplished in difficult economic times.

Though reluctant to put a cost figure on the project, Butterfield grounds chairman Paul Moreschi said that “Not a blade of grass was untouched. … It had to be the most expansive renovation a private club has ever undertaken.”

Cog Hill’s 2008 renovation of the Dubsdread course that has hosted the BMW cost $5.2 million. Butterfield’s was significantly more than that. The three nines re-opened in June of 2010, and the membership was given time to adjust to a more challenging course. Not all liked it, but the new version has elevated Butterfield’s stature — a fact underscored by the PGA visit.

“Our old course was really pretty, but not as strong as Medinah, Beverly or Olympia Fields,” said Moreschi. “When you go through something this big, you want your course to stand up to those courses.”

Butterfield’s does, and the general membership appears receptive to hosting big tournaments now. Its tournament scorecard shows a course that can play a hefty 7,780 yards, though it’s played much shorter than that normally.

“To get that long there would have to be a big event,” said Moreschi. “That wasn’t high on our priority list, but I got the impression (the PGA visitors) liked it as a potential site for the BMW in the future. It’d be a compliment if we were asked.”

Smyers’ work was well-received in a similar, but much less extensive, renovation of Olympia Fields’ South course. Butterfield’s attractiveness as a tournament site is also enhanced by its central suburban location and its 27 holes, which would provide more space for tournament-related features.

First Super champion

Jerry Moody, an assistant professional at Rolling Green in Arlington Heights, captured the first Illinois Super Seniors Open at Pine Meadow in Mundelein. He shot 1-over-par 73, then defeated Joel Hirsch with a par on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.

Bill Erfurth, the former Skokie Country Club professional, shot 74 to miss the playoff by a shot. At 82 he was the oldest player in the field.

Did you know?

Alex Lederhausen, a senior from Hinsdale, became Northwestern’s first Big Ten player-of-the-week in women’s golf since 2007. She was honored for her fourth-place showing in New Mexico’s tournament . … Alan Hill, who had been first assistant superintendent at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale, is now the head superintendent at Klein Creek in Winfield. … The Chicago District Golf Association tournament season came to an end when the Central Illinois team beat its Chicago Area counterparts in the Prairie State Challenge at Midlothian and the Lost Duns team of Kevin Gratkowski and John Smollen won the Better Ball of Pairs title at Bull Valley in Woodstock last week. … Patrick Polvin of Indian Head Park won the Palmer Flight at the Golf Channel National Championship at PGA West in California. … Char McLear of McHenry, Tanya Olson of Naperville and Laura Carson of Lake Bluff are representing Illinois in the USGA Women’s State Team Championship in Savannah, Ga. The tourney, which had teams from all states except New Hampshire, started Tuesday and concludes Thursday. It’s the last tournament on the USGA calendar for 2011.

Ryder Cup captains like what they see at Medinah

Medinah Country Club, plagued by course conditioning issues last month, received glowing reviews as next year’s site for the Ryder Cup matches. Top players from the U.S. and Europe will battle on the club’s No. 3 course next Sept. 25-30.

The club and PGA of America celebrated the one-year countdown to the next Ryder Cup this week, with the captains of both teams lauding Medinah.

“I can’t imagine a better place for this,” said Europe’s Jose Maria Olazabal. “The facilities are extraordinary, and the last four holes will be very interesting. It’s the perfect host venue.”

“An incredible place to have a tournament,” said Davis Love III, the U.S. captain. “You look at that golf course every day, and it looks like a major championship is ready to happen.”

Conditions on all three Medinah courses deteriorated with heavy rains and extreme heat in July and August, but they’ve improved dramatically in the last two weeks.

“We made it through,” said superintendent Curtis Tyrrell. “Now we’re in excellent shape, and we’re confident where we stand. We’ll be ready for next year.”

Super Seniors set to go

There’ll be only 30 players, just seven of them professionals, in Wednesday’s first Illinois Super Seniors Open at Pine Meadow in Mundelein, but at least it’s a start.

The brainchild of Pine Meadow head professional Dennis Johnsen, the tourney was created for pros and amateurs 65 and older. Oldest to enter was Bill Erfurth, 82, the former head pro at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe. He won the regular Illinois Open in 1975 and became the first player to shoot his age in that event when he was 73.

Now he has his sights set on being the first champion of the Super Seniors event, but he’ll have to beat similarly established players such as pros Gary Groh and Steve Dunning and amateurs Bill Shean, Joel Hirsch and John Seehausen to do it.

Randy Hundley, the former Cubs’ catcher, is also among the entries who will begin play at 8 a.m.

The entry count didn’t disappoint Johnsen, who hopes both the Chicago District Golf Assn. and Illinois PGA will embrace the event in 2012.

“I consider it a success, because I’ve been told the first (U.S.) Senior Open only had roughly 40 players,” said Johnsen. “There is already talk of a Super Seniors Tour for pros and amateurs in future years.”

Tense times at Eagle Ridge

The Illinois PGA’s player-of-the-year might be decided at the last of the section’s four major tourneys — the IPGA Players Championship — next Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 3-4) at Eagle Ridge in Galena.

Assistant pros Rich Dukelow of Cantigny and Brian Brown of Naperville are one-two in the point standings, but looming behind them are Ivanhoe Club’s Jim Sobb, who has won four major titles in either regular or senior section events this year; Twin Lakes’ Travis Johns, last year’s player-of-the-year; and Glen Oak’s Matt Slowinski, already the IPGA Assistants player-of-the-year and runner-up in the IPGA Championship.

A long shot is Curtis Malm, the former Illinois Open champion who is now an assistant at St. Charles. He’s in his first year of eligibility for the player-of-the-year award.

While the bulk of the remaining available player-of-the-year points will be awarded at Eagle Ridge, the winner won’t be announced until two one-day stroke plays are completed later in the month.

Senior moments

Kewanee’s Tom Miler won last week’s 25th Illinois Senior Amateur at Effingham Country Club, depriving runner-up Tom Studer of Joliet from becoming the first three-time winner of the event.

Studer won in 2007 and 2008. Taylorville’s Dave Ryan finished third to clinch the Chicago District Golf Assn. senior player-of-the-year award for the third straight year.

The Illinois Women’s Golf Assn. also staged its 42nd senior tournament, with Chicago’s Mary Kay Thanos-Zordani winning by five strokes over Char McLear of McHenry and defending champion Roberta Sentel of Marion at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley.

Did you know?

Jason Rasmussen won the IPGA Assistants Match Play title last week, meaning all three of the section’s match play trophies for 2011 are at the Ivanhoe Club. Head pro Jim Sobb won both the regular and senior title. … The CDGA concludes its tournament season on Thursday with the Prairie State Challenge at Midlothian Country Club. It matches the top seniors from the Chicago area against their counterparts from Central Illinois. Tom Miler and Dave Ryan will be heading the Central Illinois team. … The Weekly Challenge Tour concludes its season with its Tournament of Champions on Monday (Oct. 3) at Bull Valley in Woodstock. … Neighboring Cary courses Foxford Hills and Chalet Hills, rivals at the start of the season, are now both managed by GolfVisions. Foxford is owned by the Cary Park District while Chalet Hills went into foreclosure. GolfVisions plans to preserve its value in preparation an eventual sale.

Interview With Len Ziehm, Golf Writer at the Chicago Sun-Times

A Light Hearted Golf Q & A Interview
By Golf Wisconsin’s Brian Weis

Below is an interview with Len Ziehm who is officially retired after 41 years at the Chicago Sun-Times, but still the paper’s golf writer. He also does a weekly column for the Daily Herald and monthly columns and features for Chicago Area Golf newspaper. In addition, he regularly contributes to the Chicago District Golfer magazine and Illinois PGA website. The following are a few traditional and non traditional golf centric questions that I love to ask influential people in the golf industry.

When did you start golfing and who introduced you do the game?
I was 11, and my mother took me out – first to a PGA tournament and then to play at Mission Hills course.

What is your current home course?
Stonehenge, in Barrington, IL.

To date, what is your proudest golf accomplishment?
Breaking par for the only time – 1-under 34 for nine holes at Chicago Park District’s Columbus Park course.

What is your biggest golf pet peeve on or off the course?
On the course it’s certainly slow play. That drives me crazy.

What is your favorite golf destination?
I’ve been to lots of goods ones, but Eagle Ridge and Grand Geneva are always excellent.

What course is on your bucket list that you have not played yet?
Brickyard Crossing in Indianapolis – played it just after it opened, but don’t remember it. I’m kind of in the mindset of going back to old favorites these days, and that one tops the list.

If you woke up tomorrow and could play one course you played before, where would you play?
Blackwolf Run, River course.

If you could change one aspect, rule or thing about golf, what would it be and why?
I’d upgrade the impression of nine-hole rounds and nine-hole courses. Fun golf doesn’t have to 18 holes on an 18-hole course. There are plenty of great nine-holers.

Dream foursome (living)?
Herb Gould, Gary D’Amato, Larry Williams, Barry Cronin.

Dream foursome (living or dead)?
All dead, I’m afraid – Reid Hanley, Phil Kosin, my Dad and my brother Rich.

18 Rapid Fire, Off The Cuff Questions

1) Hitting Long Drive OR Sinking Long Putt?
Long putt.

2) Having Round of Life OR Hole in One?
Round of my life.

3) Golfing at the crack of dawn OR twilight?
Twilight.

4) Hit a power fade OR power draw?
Power fade.

5) Beverage cart OR halfway house?
Halfway house.

6) Bathroom OR bushes?
Bathroom.

7) Hot dog OR wrap?
Hot dog, for sure.

8) Around the green, being in sand OR thick rough?
Thick rough.

9) Walking OR riding?
Walking.

10) Do you carry traditional 3 iron OR hybrid?
Hybrid.

11) Do you prefer long par 3 OR long par 5?
Long par 3.

12) Pants OR Shorts?
Pants

13) Palmer OR Nicklaus?
Palmer.

14) Beatles OR Elvis?
Elvis.

15) Play for fun OR play for money?
Fun, definitely.

16) Bump and run OR flop shot?
Bump and run.

17) Lay up OR gamble?
Lay up.

18) 18 holes OR 36?
18 nowadays.

Signs point to North suburbs landing BMW in 2013

An announcement won’t likely come for a few weeks, but the BMW Championship figures to be played in the north suburbs when it returns to the Chicago area in 2013.

The tourney’s 20-year run by Cog Hill Golf & Country Club figures to come to an end after complaints by three high-profile players. Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Luke Donald all were critical of the Lemont layout in one way or another during last week’s BMW, and their opinions carry weight with both the event sponsor and organizer, the Western Golf Association.

Donald, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, said WGA members have already consulted him about where to play after the 2012 tourney is held at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis.

“They’ve looked at a bunch of different courses, and they’ve come to me and kind of narrowed it down to a few,” said Donald.

One is Conway Farms Golf Club, a private facility in Lake Forest that includes Donald among its members. A Tom Fazio design, Conway has been a frequent site for big amateur events, but has yet to host a pro tournament. Donald is pushing hard for its selection.

“It’d be a great venue,” said Donald. “Obviously being a little more north of Chicago, it’ll attract a few more fans. The players will love it, and hopefully it goes there in 2013.”

Another possibility might be North Shore Country Club, a much older private facility, in Glenview. The WGA was impressed by its members’ support of this summer’s Western Amateur.

“(Conway) has more than North Shore,” Donald said.

Still another course possibly in the mix is the new Chicago Highlands course in Westchester. Its central location is a plus. John Baxter, managing partner of the facility, was at Cog Hill during the BMW and declared “I want this tournament.”

Chicago Highlands hasn’t been tournament-tested, but it has more available space for big-tournament necessities than Conway Farms or North Shore.

Points plans ahead

D.A. Points, the University of Illinois graduate who won his first PGA Tour event this year at Pebble Beach, didn’t qualify for this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. He was never a factor at the BMW, but is among many players who had no objection to the tournament returning to Cog Hill.

“But maybe that’s not in the cards,” said Points. “Everybody wants to move to the north side. I just hope they find some place that is a good depiction of what Chicago golf is all about. There’s probably 50 quality courses in the Chicago area that could host a tournament, but BMW needs space.”

Points feels that requirement rules out most of the courses except for Cog Hill, the sprawling Olympia Fields Country Club and Medinah Country Club, site of next year’s Ryder Cup matches.

“Olympia is pretty far south, so that might deter the Tour from going there, and Medinah always has got a plate-full (of big events),” Points said.

With his FedEx playoffs over, Points expects to finish his season with four tournaments in a row, beginning with the McGladrey and Disney events in the PGA’s Fall Series. He’ll wrap up his season with tournaments in Malaysia and China.

“I won this year, and that was a huge step,” said Points. “But I was disappointed the way the rest of the year went. I had one top-10 after that, and that’s not good enough.”

Did you know?

WGA president John Kaczkowski said BMW has donated more than $9 million to the Evans Scholars Foundation since replacing the Western Open in 2007. … The University of Illinois men’s team, ranked 13th nationally but without head coach Mike Small, tied with Notre Dame for eighth place behind champion Stanford in the Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invitational last weekend. Small was playing for the U.S. team in the PGA Cup matches against Europe’s top club pros in California. … Veteran club pros Gary Groh and Steve Dunning have joined Bill Erfurth, Joel Hirsch, Bill Shean and John Seehausen as leading contenders in the first Illinois Super Seniors Open at Pine Meadow in Mundelein on Sept. 28. Entry deadline for that event is Wednesday (Sept. 21). … The Illinois Women’s Golf Assn. finishes off its Senior Amateur Wednesday and Thursday at Oakwood, the Coal Valley course that once hosted a PGA Tour stop.

The Illinois PGA senior stars beat their Chicago District Golf Assn. counterparts 7-5 in the 22nd Thompson Cup matches at Chicago’s Ridge Country Club last week.

The IPGA has its sixth stroke play event of the year on Monday at Westmoreland in Wilmette. … The men’s Illinois Senior Amateur concludes Wednesday (Sept. 21) at Effingham Country Club and the CDGA’s 40th Husband-Wife Championship is Thursday at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale. … Last of the Weekly Challenge Tour’s four major championships is Saturday at Balmoral Woods in Crete.

Streelman’s PGA career on rise despite missing BMW

The PGA Tour’s BMW Championship will be heavy on Illinois talent when it tees off Thursday at Cog Hill in Lemont.

World No. 1 Luke Donald is fourth in the FedEx Cup point standings, with Steve Stricker eighth, Mark Wilson 17th and D.A. Points 49th.

FedExCup Top 10 leaders

Here’s a look at the point standings as the FedExCup moves to the third round with the Top 70 players advancing to the BMW Championship at Cog Hill in Lemont this week:

Rank, Player (Points) Money

1. Webb Simpson (4,711) $5,301,043

2. Dustin Johnson (3,814) $4,150,841

3. Matt Kuchar (3,124) $3,970,142

4. Luke Donald (2,875) $5,034,548

5. Brandt Snedeker (2,869) $3,336,895

6. Jason Day (2,357) $3,670,687

7. Nick Watney (2,291) $4,614,229

8. Steve Stricker (2,205) $3,816,785

9. Chez Reavie (2,088) $1,904,267

10. Phil Mickelson (2,040) $3,518,208

Local notables

17. Mark Wilson (1,748) $2,957,232

49. D.A. Points (1,055) $2,006,463

Did not advance to the third playoff event:

72. Kevin Streelman (770) $1,113,080

Donald went to Northwestern and Stricker and Points to Illinois. Wilson lives in Elmhurst and does the bulk of his practicing at Cog Hill.

One local, though, is notably absent from the 70-man field. Kevin Streelman, raised in Winfield, uses Cog Hill’s Dr. Jim Suttie as his swing coach. Streelman just missed the top 70, standing 72nd on the FedEx point list.

“I was disappointed not to get in,” said Streelman. “I tried my best. I knew I had to make the cut in Boston (he missed by four shots at the Deutsche Bank Championship after rounds of 75-72), but I had a poor putting round.”

There’s no feeling sorry for Streelman, though. He’s already assured his fourth straight year with over $1 million in winnings and will play in three Fall Series events — Las Vegas, Sea Island and Disney World — to pad his winnings and, hopefully, win his first PGA title.

“I was disappointed not to get into Chicago, but I’ve got three more chances to win a golf tournament,” said Streelman. “It’s nice to have your job secure, but that’s not why I do it. I do it to win.”

You may be seeing more of Streelman before the Fall Series starts. He has been seen in Golf Channel commercials with Senior PGA star Tom Lehman promoting a mentoring program. That may lead into more TV exposure soon.

“I’m not sure where they’re going with that,” said Streelman. “We filmed three to four hours during the Colonial (tourney),” said Streelman. “Tom and I are close friends off the course and in Bible studies. He’s like a big brother to me.”

Pro-am changes

In past years the BMW Championship and its predecessor, the Western Open, staged the Chick Evans Pro-Am on the day before the tournament proper teed off. The Evans Pro-Am was moved to Monday this year, however, and Wednesday’s offering will honor the late Gardner Heidrick.

Heidrick, a Hinsdale Golf Club member, played in the first Evans Pro-Am in 1963 and was a participant for 30 years. The bigger of the pro-ams will honor Heidrick’s lifelong commitment to the Evans Scholars Foundation.

Wednesday’s final tuneup before the $8 million, 72-hole main event includes two celebrity-types: Adrian Grenier, one of the stars of “Entourage”, the HBO series that just ended its long run, and Ricky Berens, is a former U.S. Olympian in swimming.

Another U.S. Olympian, 17-year old table tennis whiz Grant Li, will take on some of the PGA Tour players in their last day of relaxation today. BMW has another new attraction planned for Saturday, when the Notre Dame-Michigan State football game will be shown on big screens on the 18th hole and at the first hole of Cog’s No. 2 course.

More honors for Dubsdread

Golf Magazine has included Cog Hill’s Dubsdread layout in its biennial list of Top 100 courses. Listed No. 89, it’s the first time Dubs has been so honored since the Rees Jones renovation of 2008.

“This is one of the industry’s toughest lists to get on because it combines public, private and resort courses,” said Cog Hill owner Frank Jemsek.

Dubs is the only public facility of the five Illinois courses on the list. Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton, is 15th, Shoreacres in Lake Forest is 36th, Medinah’s No. 3 course is 37th and Olympia Fields’ North course is 86th.

Did you know?

Luke Donald is designing his first course, called Ba Na Hills in Vietnam. … Top seniors from the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association will square off in the Thompson Cup matches on Friday at Chicago’s Ridge Country Club. … The new Illinois Super Seniors Open at Pine Meadow in Mundelein on Sept. 28 has already drawn entries from such notables as pro Bill Erfurth and amateurs Joel Hirsch, Bill Shean and John Seehausen. … The Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invitational is Friday through Sunday on Olympia’s North course. Illini coach Mike Small, who played in Monday’s Evans Pro-Am, won’t be guiding his team. He’ll be in California playing for the U.S. team in the PGA Cup matches against club pros from Europe.

The 25th Illinois Senior Amateur runs Monday-Wednesday at downstate Effingham Country Club. … The Weekly Challenge Tour visits Golf Club of Illinois in Algonquin on Saturday. … The U.S. Golf Association has issued a call for volunteers for the next U.S. Women’s Open, to be played at Wisconsin’s Blackwolf Run on July 2-8, 2012.

5 Questions With… Sun-Times Len Ziehm

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city’s most popular personalities on the spot with everyone’s favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled “5 Questions with…”

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it’s our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week – a man who defines the term “veteran sports journalist” – he’s been a fixture in the sports pages of the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years who has recently covered the Blackhawks and now the Fire, plus, his favorite passion – the sport of golf — for more years than he cares to mention – here are “5 Questions with LEN ZIEHM!”

BIO: Len Ziehm has been a member of the Chicago Sun-Times sports department since 1969 covering hundreds upon hundreds of local and national sporting events, including the Chicago Blackhawks, soccer and, of course, golf. He was an assistant sports editor for eight years and combined writing with editing duties until going full-time as a writer in 1985. In addition, he’s been the Sun-Times beat man on Northwestern University sports (11 years), tennis (5 years), running and fitness (ongoing, covered the Chicago Marathon for 25 consecutive years, 1979-2004) and Illinois college sports for five years.

1) CSNChicago.com: Len, with golf’s crown jewel, The Masters, coming up this weekend, the entire world will no doubt be focused on the return of Tiger Woods. It goes without saying the enormous amount of pressure he will be under, but it has been stated one of the reasons he’s choosing his return to golf to take place at The Masters is the “controlled” atmosphere at Augusta National. Can you explain to us how this “controlled” environment at The Masters differs from other PGA Tournaments?

Ziehm: The big thing is the ticket policy there. The same people go year after year. It’s the toughest ticket in sports because so many tickets are passed on from generation to generation. That minimizes the number of fans who might create a disturbance. Masters crowds are also known for behaving themselves (at least to a large degree). The security at Augusta National has been fine-tuned over the years as well, so anybody who acts up gets removed from the grounds pretty quickly. It was clearly the best place for Woods to return to the tournament scene.

From the “pure golf fan” standpoint, though, it’s unfortunate that the year’s first major tournament will turn into a Tiger sideshow. I take strong issue with those sports fans (including some of our local columnists) who have contended golf is boring without Tiger. It isn’t. He grows the sport’s fan base, to be sure, much like John Daly has. If you’re really into the sport of golf, though — and I am — watching a PGA tournament is enjoyable and entertaining with or without Tiger playing.

2) CSNChicago.com: Speaking of Tiger, if he doesn’t perform well at The Masters and, even worse for him, fails to make the cut, do you think this will destroy his personal & professional state of mind going forward and “a follow-up question” if he does win this thing, do you think it will make the whole lurid sex scandal thing finally go away?

Ziehm: Nothing will make the “sex scandal” issue go away, ever. That’s now a sad but significant part of his history, a part that won’t be forgotten. In some circles, it’ll overwhelm the big victories he’s had and the extensive charity work he has done. That’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is. I don’t expect him to miss the cut or play poorly at Augusta. His concentration level is extraordinary — very much like Michael Jordan’s in his glory years with the Bulls — and Woods NEVER plays when he doesn’t feel completely well prepared. That is a big reason he’s competed as well as he has over the years; he ONLY plays when he’s prepared to win. The fact that he hasn’t played in any tournaments to get himself back in a competitive mode is a valid consideration when assessing his chances of winning but, in his case, it’s probably an overrated consideration. I don’t think, in the long run, that it’ll matter much that he hasn’t played in a tournament since 2009. Then again, I predict he WON’T win at Augusta, just compete well and get his golf career moving again.

3) CSNChicago.com: Let’s talk Blackhawks for a moment. Is it safe to say you would rank this year’s team, at least to this point, as the greatest Blackhawks team you’ve ever covered? If not, tell us which Blackhawks season you would rank at the top and why.

Ziehm: The way the current Hawks are playing since the Olympic break, I’d say last year’s team was better. It finished strong and played really well in the playoffs — much better than I and most others would have predicted. Time will tell whether the current Hawks regroup in time for a postseason run. At the moment, though, I think the emotion spent in the Winter Olympics by all those Hawks who participated has damaged the team’s chances as far as the Stanley Cup goes.

Overall, I’ve covered the Hawks for nine seasons. The first team (2001-02) had a great regular season, but was banged up when the playoffs started and was quickly eliminated. After that came some really sorry seasons and a lockout to boot. So, these last two seasons have really been invigorating. As for the Hawks’ chances in the upcoming playoffs, I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was before the Winter Olympics. In my mind, the goaltending question has never been resolved. Antti Niemi may look the better option now, but he is still a rookie without postseason experience. That’s going to be a factor down the road, I’m afraid. It’s also interesting to me how much the Hawks seem to miss Brian Campbell. He hasn’t been fully appreciated since signing his big contract with the Hawks, but they’d be much better off now if he was still on the ice.

4) CSNChicago.com: You’re now on the MLS/Chicago Fire beat for the Sun-Times. What are your thoughts on this year’s team and does the absence of an international superstar like Cuauhtemoc Blanco hurt the Fire come playoff time?

Ziehm: The Fire have done some interesting things over the years, and the recent decision to go with two VERY young, inexperienced goaltenders ranks right up there with those I’d question. Unless it was purely a salary question (which the club won’t admit to), the decision to drop Jon Busch less than a week before the season started doesn’t make any sense. The Fire should be able to replace Blanco from the competitive side. Chemistry goes a long way in soccer, and Frank Klopas should be able to put together a lineup that can win eventually. It might not be as entertaining without a superstar, though, and right now the Fire doesn’t have one (Brian McBride certainly was one in his prime, but he’s 37 now and could well be playing his last season).

I like the addition of Collins John. He’s going to score a lot of goals. I also like the new coach, Carlos de los Cobos. I’m amazed at how quickly he’s learned English. When he was first hired, I wondered what the Fire management was thinking. The head coach has to be a communicator with the media and fans, as well as his players, and that’d be awfully hard to do in Major League Soccer without being conversant in English. De los Cobos comes from a different background than virtually every other coach in MLS, having been successful in the Mexican league first and with the El Salvador national team more recently. He has some adjustments to make in coming to MLS, which is much different than other leagues around the world for a wide variety of reasons. My suspicion is it’ll take a good portion of the season for him to get his team (and himself) tuned in to the task of winning. I expect a slow start but, hopefully, a strong finish that will get the Fire into the playoffs. Hiring de los Cobos was, in many ways, a risky move and dropping the proven, popular Busch was as well. Under a recent rule change (announced last week) the Fire can now sign as many as three designated players — top stars whose acquisitions won’t severely affect the MLS salary cap. If the Fire, without a designated player since Blanco left, moves in that direction my prognosis of the season ahead could change quickly.

5) CSNChicago.com: As mentioned earlier, you truly define the term “veteran sports journalist” for your four-plus decades of rock solid local sports coverage. With that said, now that traditional sports journalism is changing in this new digital age, what adjustments, if any, have you made in events you cover for the Sun-Times?

Ziehm: Interesting question. In many ways, things are much better now. Information gets out more quickly and comes from a broader array of sources. While print space in newspapers is shrinking, space to pass on information, analysis and opinion via the Internet is unlimited. All that’s a good thing. I do feel the personal touch in journalism is getting lost, and that’s not good. One-on-one interviews aren’t as frequent or as fruitful as they once were. So, in some ways the job has become easier, but in some ways it’s become harder as well. I guess, to give you a more concise, specific answer, we’re now more into notebooks and columns than we are into straight game reports. That varies from sport to sport and event to event, though. It’s an interesting transition period that we’re all going through.

BONUS QUESTION CSNChicago.com: Back to golf a two-part question: who’s the most famous person you’ve ever golfed with and what’s your personal best 18-hole score to date?

Ziehm: OUCH! Best golf score was 83 many, many years ago at the Bonnie Dundee course in Carpentersville. I’ve been within a stroke one way or the other of a 19 handicap for years, so that tells you my abilities as a player. But I have had a hole-in-one (not many can say that) and have three career eagles spread over a 48-year period. I guess — if nothing else — that shows my interest in golf hasn’t been of a fleeting nature. I’ve played in a lot of pro-ams over the years and, without question, the best player I’ve played with was Kenny Perry at the 2007 BMW Championship at Cog Hill. He was a very nice guy, as well. A few years back I played a couple of informal rounds with Michael Jordan at Lakeshore Country Club. So, he was probably the most famous person I played with. I’m just grateful for the chances I’ve had to play with lots of interesting people, famous or not so famous, over my years on the golf beat.

Golf, as well as beat coverage of it, has changed dramatically over the years. I remember covering my first Western Open, at Olympia Fields in 1968, we’d conduct interviews over a small table with Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer having a beer or cigarette while fielding questions from five or six reporters. I recall another time, not at a tournament, when Sam Snead held court for a few of us at Beverly Country Club and offered one interesting anecdote after another — some of them of an off-color nature. Now, to put it mildly, interviews with the big-name players are much more crowded, chaotic affairs that I’m sure will reach new heights now that Tiger Woods is back in action.