Len Ziehm On Golf

Alfredsson notches another `Grand Slam’ in wrap-up to Senior LPGA season

Helen Alfredsson claims Senior LPGA trophy from Cook Company chairman Steve Ferguson.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – Winning a Grand Slam in senior women’s golf isn’t unusual. You just need to win two tournaments to do it.

England’s Laura Davies did it in 2018 and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson accomplished the feat on Wednesday when she captured the Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

Alfredsson won the first leg of the slam when she captured the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles, in North Carolina, in May. She was a three-stroke winner in the Senior LPGA on Wednesday in golf’s last major championship of 2019 on any of the pro tours.

“It was a great feeling to win the U.S. Open and get a USGA trophy,’’ she said, “but I was most pleased with being able to do it in the and,, and being the strongest then.’’

Alfredsson’s win at French Lick came on a frigid day when temperatures dropped 20 degrees over night and winds picked up. She was the only player to finish under par, completing the 54-hole test at 2-under 214. Juli Inkster was three strokes behind in what was basically a two-player duel throughout the final round.

Inkster started the final round with a two-stroke lead and struggled with a 76. Alfredsson posted a 70 and captured a $100,000 first prize from a $650,000 purse. Davies tied for 19th in her title defense and Nicole Jeray, a teaching pro at Mistwood in Romeoville and the only Chicago player in the field, tied for 36th among the 49 finalists.

There were some other notable developments. Dave Harner, the director of golf at French Lick Resort, confirmed that the tournament won’t be played on its unusual fall dates in 2020 – and won’t have live television coverage because of it. It’ll move to late July instead, meaning both of the senior majors will be played just a month apart.

The Golf Channel gave the inaugural Senior LPGA live TV coverage with its first staging in 2017, but there was a stipulation that the event be played on weekday dates in October. Bad weather and financial considerations led to French Lick opting to move the event to the summer months.

In another notable development Lee Ann Walker was assessed what might be the biggest penalty in golf history. Walker was assessed a 58-stroke penalty because her caddie had been lining up her putts and Walker didn’t step away before making her stroke. She learned of her infraction 23 holes into the tournament and wound up being given a score of 127 for the first round and 90 for the second.

Next year’s fourth playing of the Senior LPGA will be July 27 to Aug. 1. Instead of the Monday through Wednesday scheduling of the last three years the 54-hole event will run Thursday through Saturday after a practice round and two pro-ams kick off the festivities.

Alfredsson’s win was just part of an interesting wrap-up to Senior LPGA

Helen Alfredsson takes Senior LPGA trophy from Cppk Company chairman Steve Ferguson.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – The third playing of the Senior LPGA Championship was a weird one, and that was even before eventual champion Helen Alfredsson teed off in Wednesday’s final round.

Alfreddson eventually won the senior Grand Slam, which amounts to winning just two tournaments – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and Senior LPGA Championship. Laura Davies accomplished the feat last year, and Alfredsson completed her Slam on Wednesday with a three-stroke victory over Juli Inkster.

The temperature dipped more than 20 degrees and the wind picked up significantly on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, but Alfredsson finished the 54-hhole test as the only player under par. Her concluding 70 gave her a three-round total of 2-under-par 214 and earned her the $100,000 first prize from a $650,000 prize fund.

Other significant developments were unfolding as Alfredsson was working her way to the victory.

Even before the second round was history Dave Harner, the director of golf at French Lick Resort, confirmed that the tournament won’t be played on its unusual fall dates in 2020 – and won’t have live television coverage because of it.

Then, a few hours before the second round was over, Lee Anne Walker was alerted that she would be assessed a big number of penalty strokes because her caddie had been lining her up on her putts on the putting surface, and she did not step away before making her stroke. The infraction, repeated frequently over Walker’s first 23 holes, wound up as a 58-stroke penalty.

After a discussion the rules officials and Walker’s penalty numbers were added up her scores were 127 for the first round and 90 for the second.

Under new rules a player cannot receive a cash payment without posting a score. In finishing last among the 78 players in the Senior LPGA field Walker received $1,390.

Walker, even without the penalty strokes, was only a minor factor in the tournament standings but the change in scheduling for next season will have long-range effects.

“We just couldn’t take the weather any more,’’ said Harner.

Next year’s fourth playing of the Senior LPGA will be July 27 to Aug. 1. Instead of the Monday through Wednesday scheduling of the last three years the 54-hole event will run Thursday through Saturday after a practice round and two pro-ams kick off the festivities.

The tourney has had weather problems. Temperatures neared the freezing level during tournament rounds in 2018 and Wednesday’s final round of this year’s event began in 47-degree temperatures and never got more than five degrees warmer than that.

There was, of course, much more involved in the schedule change than just cold temperatures. The Senior LPGA went to October because that was the only way The Golf Channel would provide live coverage. That coverage was expensive — $860,000 for this year’s playing – and the viewership (estimated at 100,000 per day) didn’t meet expectations. The cost of the telecasts cut into the charity money that long-time beneficiary Riley Children’s Hospital could receive.

So, the tournament did what few events have done in the past – proceed without TV support – and that move was not met with much reluctance by the players.

“I’m excited about it,’’ said Jane Geddes, now into her fourth month as executive director of The Legends Tour. “(The new dates) will give us a nice stretch of tournaments, which we don’t have now and the weather will be better. Kids will also be out of school. It would be nice to have TV coverage, but we also know that it’s expensive.’’

Harner plans to line up streaming for coverage of next year’s final round.

“As the tournament grows and the tour goes into more market places maybe being on TV would make more sense,’’ said Geddes. “Everyone always wants to be on TV, but is it really worth all that money to have eyeballs on that event? It’s almost $1 million. That’s the reality. We’ve been living with that on the LPGA for a long time.‘’

This year it was the last major championship for any of the pro tours. Next year the Senior LPGA won’t event be the last event of the year for The Legends. Geddes said a new event in Minneapolis will be played the following week, though she withheld details of next year’s sites.

The new dates put the Senior LPGA closer to the only other major for senior women. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open is scheduled for July 9-12 in 2020, at Brooklawn in Fairfield, Ct.. The next Senior LPGA will also come two weeks after French Lick’s other tour stop. The Symetra Tour’s annual tournament here is played on the resort’s Donald Ross Course.

As for Sunday Senior LPGA wrapup, Inkster started the day with a two-stroke lead but slumped to a 76. Most of her problems surfaced on the back nine, and they enabled Alfredsson to take control. It was a two-player duel most of the way.

Defending champion Davies tied for 19th and only Michelle McGann (69) shot a lower final round than Alfreddson.

“`I was a great feeling to win the U.S. Open (at Pine Needles in May) and get a USGA trophy,’’ she said. “but I was most pleased with being able to do it in the end, that I was the strongest then.’’

The Senior LPGA was the last of pro golf’s major championships of 2019 on any of the pro tours.

Last major of 2019 tees off today on French Lick’s Pete Dye Course.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – This may surprise you. One of America’s professional tours still has one of its major championships remaining in 2019.

The climax to The Legends Tour season is the third annual Senior LPGA Championship, to be played on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort from Oct. 14-16. It tends to get lost in the shuffle, and not just because it’s so late in the season. The Monday through Wednesday scheduling isn’t the norm, either, but it has enabled the circuit for women 45 and over to gain live TV coverage on The Golf Channel.

LPGA stars of the past had trouble finding tournaments until Jane Blalock created The Legends Tour in 2000. It grew slowly, but in the last few years these senior women received some long overdue signs of respect.

The Legends Championship became their premier event when French Lick’s hierarchy created it – along with a Legends Hall of Fame – in 2014. That championship is no longer held, having been replaced with a bigger and better version when the LPGA finally got involved directly with its senior circuit.

England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017.

The U.S. Golf Association, after three years of deliberation following an initial announcement, staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, IL. England’s Laura Davies won that one by a whopping 10-stroke margin to conclude an emotional week that was more important for the creation of the event than it was for who won.

Since then things have been quiet on the senior women’s front. The most notable development was Blalock’s departure as executive director of The Legends Tour and the hiring of Jane Geddes as the circuit’s chief executive officer. This could be significant down the road, but Geddes has been on the job only three months and hasn’t put her plans into effect yet. In fact, she hasn’t announced even announced any of them but says she has some significant things in the works for 2020 and beyond.

The big difference is that Blalock was both the head of The Legends Tour as well as its tournament promoter.

“Janie wore two hats,’’ said Geddes, who was asked by LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to take the job. “There was no governing body. I am the governing body, with no conflicts.’’

Blalock may still create tournaments for The Legends, but Geddes takes a broader approach for the circuit.

“I look on it as the Legends experience more than the Legends Tour,’’ she said. “We’ll have camps, travel trips. We don’t play (tournaments) week in and week out, but we can have pro-ams or challenge events, excursions or clinics. We’re a great group of women who bring great value. It’s fun to watch us play, and we have the ability to interact. That’s what my era does best.’’

Like Blalock, Geddes was a top LPGA player who has competed in both the Senior LPGA Championship and U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She took a different path after her full-time playing career wound down. Geddes spent time working for the LPGA, then – armed with a law degree — she left to become chief of staff in professional wrestling.

“It was very fun,’’ she said. “The wrestlers are sports actors. I was there four years, and it was a 24-hour job. I wanted to get back into golf.’’

So now she’s back, and how she transforms The Legends Tour next year will largely determine the circuit’s future.

For now, though, the show is all about the estimable Laura Davies and her supporting cast in the third Senior LPGA. The purse will be $650,000 with the champion receiving $100,000.

Davies won the second Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick last October and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson took the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open, played at Pine Needles in North Carolina in May, by beating Juli Inkster and Johnson by two strokes.

The Senior Women’s Open drew a crowd at Pine Needles that was comparable to the one it enjoyed at Chicago Golf Club, and a similar event is expected for a third run at French Lick. Hollis Stacy will be added to the Legends Hall of Fame before the tournament tees off and the field will undergo only minor changes from a year ago. Karen Stupples and Laura Baugh will compete for the first time with Stupples preferring to compete rather than stay in The Golf Channel broadcast booth.

Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick, has added two special exemptions — Lori Atsedes and Clarissa Child — after the scrapping of the on-site qualifying round. The starting field will be 78 players as opposed to the 81 scheduled to play last year. Only 80 eventually teed off.

Senior LPGA tourney at French Lick will conclude this year’s majors

The year’s major golf championships aren’t finished just yet. There’s still one to go.

Indiana’s French Lick Resort will host the third annual Senior LPGA Championship on its Pete Dye Course from Oct. 14-16. The 54-hole final event of The Legends Tour season has an unusual Monday through Wednesday schedule because that enabled the circuit for women 45 and over to gain live TV coverage on The Golf Channel.

England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017. The U.S. Golf Association staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. England’s Laura Davies won that one by a whopping 10-stroke margin.

Davies also won last year’s second Senior LPGA at French Lick last October and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson took the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles, in North Carolina, in May. Those players, along with American Juli Inkster, loom as the favorites for the year’s final major at French Lick. A $650,000 prize fund will be on the line with the champion getting $100,000.

Beth Daniel, (left) was one of the LPGA’s top stars in her heyday and a former Solheim Cup captain. She won’t be competing at French Lick, but she recently received the coveted Woman of Distinction Award from Cece Durbin of the Women’s Western Golf Association. (Rory Spears Photo)

Since last year The Legends have undergone a change in leadership. Jane Blalock, who founded the circuit in 2000, stepped aside and Jane Geddes assumed the role of chief executive officer three months ago. Geddes, who still competes on the circuit, won the last of her 11 LPGA titles at the 1991 Chicago Challenge, which was played at White Eagle, in Naperville.

Illinois Open changes

White Eagle, which has just undergone a major renovation by architect Todd Quitno, will be the primary site of next year’s Illinois Open. According to published reports White Eagle will replace The Glen Club as the primary site of the tournament finals with nearby Stonebridge the secondary site.

Dates have not been announced but officials from both White Eagle and Stonebridge confirmed the site change, according to the reports.

Here and there

The Illinois PGA will have a representative in next year’s Senior PGA Championship at Michigan’s Harbor Shores course. Roy Biancalana, of Fresh Meadows in West Chicago, tied for 22nd at the Senior PGA Professionals Championship last week at Barton Creek, in Texas, to earn his spot at Harbor Shores.

The Women’s Western Golf Association presented its Woman of Distinction Award to Beth Daniel and Hollis Stacy will be this year’s lone inductee into The Legends Hall of Fame at French Lick when the ceremonies are held prior to the Senior LPGA Championship.

Vince India and Brad Hopfinger, winners of both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open and competitors on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, switched to the PGA Latinoamerica circuit last week in Ecuador. India tied for 10th and Hopfinger tied for 46th. Patrick Flavin, also a winner of both of Illinois’ top tournaments, tied for 32nd and is fifth on the Latinoamerica season money list.

Chris French and Jim Sobb scored big wins as the Illinois PGA’s tournament season wound down. French, playing out of Aldeen in Rockford, won the IPGA Players Championship at Crystal Tree, in Orland Park, and Sobb took the Super Senior Open at Makray Memorial, in Barrington.

The all-star team from Cog Hill, in Lemont, is in the national finals of the PGA Junior League for the fourth straight year. The finals run through Monday (OCT 14) at Grayhawk, in Arizona.


A most memorable moment for Joy and me at the Illinois Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, with my daughter Heidi and grandson Sterling at The Glen Club on Oct. 18, 2019.

The big night was Oct. 18, 2019, at The Glen Club in Glenview, IL. That’s when I was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

First order of business to get ready for that big event was to prepare a speech and, I’ve quickly learned, that wasn’t so easy.

My first effort far exceeded the prescribed time limit, so I gave a shorter version that night. That version, though, didn’t touch on everything I wanted to say. This is the underrated version:

Being inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame was a big deal to both me and my family. There aren’t many family members left, but my daughter Heidi and grandson Sterling are here from their home in North Carolina and my sister Julie and brother-in-law Joe came in from Wisconsin. Joy’s son Brian and daughter-in-law Molly didn’t come so far, but they’re with us tonight while celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary, and Joy’s other daughter-in-law, Violet Sarver, also was on hand.

For me there’s some symmetry involved in tonight’s event. In 1989 I gave the induction speech for the first inductee into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame – Chicago Golf Club creator C.B. MacDonald. Now, to be inducted myself, makes this night all the more special.

I also want to say how happy I am to be inducted in the same class with both Emil and Carol. I only wish Carol could be with us. Though she was already in the World Golf Hall of Fame she told me in our last meeting how special it would mean for her to be in the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame as well, and now she’s getting her wish. As for Emil, our friendship goes back a long, long way. In fact, Emil’s brother Lou gave me my first golf lesson way back when I was 11 years old and Emil has been a good friend for all these 50-plus years.

The plaques and photos on the walls of The Glen Club make it official. Emil Esposito, Carol Mann and I all worked in different areas of golf but now we’re all members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

I’ve found that Hall of Fames can be interesting things. In 2004 the Illinois State Soccer Association put me in its Hall of Fame even though I’d never played on a soccer team. In golf it’s a little different. I’ve played a lot of golf, just not very well. My handicap has never dropped below 16. Obviously my role in these things is through journalism and – call it a lack of ambition if you want – but writing about sports for newspapers (and some magazines, too) is the only job I ever wanted since my years in junior high school. Indeed I’ve been a lucky guy.

I’ve always been proud to be a member of the media ranks, and golf is a big reason for that. Though I covered a lot of things in my 50-plus years in the newspaper-magazine field, I always felt that golf wrote well. Sometimes the story lines were so captivating that the stories seemed to write themselves.

Take my first U.S. Open – a rainy Sunday at Oakmont in 1973 when a skinny kid from California that no one had much heard of at the time – his name was Johnny Miller – shot a 63 to win the tournament. That’s still the low score posted in a major championship.

And then there was my first Masters in 1986. That coincided with Jack Nicklaus’ last of a record six wins in that tournament. Never – before or since – have I experienced the electricity in the air when Nicklaus was playing the back that day.

While I’ve covered lots of tournaments around the country I’ve been basically a Chicago guy, and there was plenty going on here. I got an up-close look at a rousing victory by the U.S. women in a Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms and a devastating defeat by the U.S. men in a Ryder Cup at Medinah. I also reported on the first U.S. Open decided in sudden death, but my reporting wasn’t limited to tournament play.

I’ve been around to see the opening of such great golf facilities as Kemper Lakes, Cantigny, Conway Farms and Rich Harvest Farms and witnessed the creation of a much-needed event that has now survived 25 years – the Illinois Women’s Open. Needless to say, I’ve got lots of good memories and met lots of interesting people — most of whom I consider friends — along the way.

From the Chicago front My most memorable finish by a champion came in an LPGA event that is no longer held. Martha Nause, trying to chase down Laura Davies in the final round of a 1991 tournament known as the Chicago Sun-Times Shootout, finished birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle to win by one at Oak Brook Golf Club. She got the win by holing out from 100 yards out on her last shot to win by one shot. Hard to top that finish!

Then there was my best performance by a local player. There have been a lot of good ones, but none can match Nick Hardy’s 28-under-par finish in a 10-shot victory at the 2016 State Amateur at St. Charles Country Club.

I’ve reported on great Chicago performances by — among many others — touring pros Hale Irwin, Nick Price, Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb and local stalwarts Joel Hirsch, Gary Groh, Steve Benson, Jim Sobb and Mike Small on the men’s side and Kerry Postillion and Nicole Jeray on the women’s front.

Indeed I’ve been a lucky guy.

My story in golf starts in the early 1970s when Jim Mullen, the sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, declared me the paper’s golf columnist. I was the youngest person in the department by quite a bit at the time, and the golf beat then amounted to reporting on just the bigger local tournaments, but golf was evolving and the golf beat quickly exploded. In a matter of just a few years I was reporting on tournaments around the country.

It was very exciting to be a part of that, but – 41 years later – I was looking forward to a fun retirement. I had a game plan. Joy and I would travel extensively, reporting on basically golf destinations for various publications, and I’d dabble in the then relatively new world of golf websites as well.

Then Doug Ray, the publisher of the Daily Herald, came into the picture. For some reason Doug didn’t think that I was quite ready to ride into the sunset, and I’m glad he felt that way. It’s been both a pleasure and an honor to write for the last 10 years for a newspaper that has been seriously committed to covering our great sport.

The website venture has worked out pretty well, too. My daughter Heidi put together the first version of lenziehmongolf.com as Sun-Times retirement closed in, and the site has grown through the years. We now have eight partner sites around the country and Joy and I have visited 47 of the 50 states in the course of our travels, missing only Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming. The only problem is that now I feel more people might be more interested in Joy’s photography than in the pieces that I’ve been writing. So be it.

Making a Hall of Fame isn’t just about reminiscing, though. Mainly, it’s about appreciating what you’ve been given and I wanted to use this night to single out some special people – the media colleagues that I’ve worked with the most over the last 50 years.

The media wing of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame isn’t very big yet. In 30 years there’s only been four media members inducted, me being the fifth – and I’m the first to go in in 14 years. This very nice honor that has come my way couldn’t have happened without the friendship and support of these people.

First, from the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame selection process, there’s Rory Spears, Tim Cronin, Ed Sherman and Nick Novelli.

From the Western Golf Association, Gary Holaway and I have worked together on various projects basically since Day 1.

The golf beat was growing fast when I was at the Sun-Times, and I eventually needed a writing partner. Barry Cronin was my first one, and he’s now been the media relations director of the John Deere Classic for over 20 years. Barry owns a special distinction in golf. During the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes he witnessed lightning wiping out my computer moments after I’d finished writing the main story for the Chicago Sun-Times. That led to my old meltdown in my 50-plus years in journalist — not a pretty site.

From the Daily Herald, in addition to Doug, working with sports editors Tom Quinlan and Mike Smith has been a delight. At Chicagoland Golf I’ve enjoyed a similar relationship with publisher Val Russell.

Friends at the golf organizations have also played a big role – Bill Ibrahim and Palmer Moody at the Illinois PGA; Rich Skyzinski, Matt Baylor and Casey Richards at the CDGA; and Susie Wagner at the Women’s Western Golf Association.

From the fascinating world of golf websites, four of my eight partner sites are Chicago based. In addition to Tim’s Illinois Golfer and Rory’s Golfers on Golf, it’s been great having support from Cheryl Justak’s Golf Now! Chicago and Dave Lockhart’s LinksVideo.

And, I also want to mention three friends who are no longer with us but haven’t been forgotten – Reid Hanley, golf writer for the Chicago Tribune; Phil Kosin, who created both Chicagoland Golf and the Illinois Women’s Open; and Mike Spellman, my first golf-writing partner at the Daily Herald.

For me it’s been a great run – and it’s not over yet! Thank you all for sharing in this great night.

Q-School is sure to bring a dramatic ending to golf’s 2019 season

The year’s biggest golf championships are over. Now comes the hard part.

There’s another side to professional golf that contrasts sharply with what your see on television screen. It’s called Q-School, and it’s the main path to get to most every one of golf’s pro tours. Some lucky ones have gotten to a pro tour without going to Q-School – but not many. Win a lot of money fast or win a tournament right after turning pro and you could get a tour spot but few – very few – have been able to do that over the years.

For the men, there’s no Q-School for the PGA School anymore. The young hopefuls begin their quest for a tour card at the Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com) Tour Q-School. It’s the best path to the PGA Tour, but first you’ve got to earn your berth on it through three stages of qualifying school. It’s a bit complicated on how it all works.

As of this printing Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim was trying to play his way onto the PGA Tour via the Korn Ferry Tour Playoffs. He finished in the top 75 on the Korn Ferry money list and that got him into the three-tournament playoff series. The top 25 in those playoffs get PGA cards for 2019-20, and Ghim came through when it counted the most, finishing in 23rd place to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2019-20 season.

Ghim was one of the lucky ones. What happened to two other Chicago area players who competed on the Korn Ferry Tour this season was painful – excruciatingly painful. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger and Deerfield’s Vince India just missed a spot in the Korn Ferry Playoffs. Hopfinger was No. 79 and India No. 85 on the season point/money list.

For India his life changed in a heartbeat. The 2018 Illinois Open champion got hot in the last regular season tournament in Portland, leading after two rounds and contending well into the back nine. He just needed a par on the final hole to get into the Korn Ferry Playoffs, which would have assured him at least a return to that circuit next year and a top 25 finish would make him a PGA Tour player.

Instead, India made double bogey on the last hole. It dropped him out of the Korn Ferry Playoffs and left him with two stages of Q-School just to play on the circuit again.

Hopfinger and India were college teammates at Iowa and toiled on the Web.com/Korn Ferry circuit for several seasons just looking for the break that would change their lives. The possibility is still there, so is the pressure.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, meanwhile, is just starting that challenge. Hardy couldn’t have done much more as an amateur. He was a mainstay on great teams at Illinois for four years. He earned coveted Sweet Six berths in three Western Amateurs. He qualified for multiple U.S. Opens, made the cut in several PGA and Korn Ferry Tour events after landing sponsor exemptions and set a scoring record in winning an Illinois State Amateur.

Still, when Q-School came a few months after his collegiate eligibility expired at Illinois, Hardy wasn’t quite ready.

“In the first stage I was 20-under, but in the second I missed by two shots and made bogey on the last two holes,’’ said Hardy. “I was that close.’’

So one of the greatest amateurs to come out of the Chicago ranks in years was left scouring for tournaments in between practice sessions at the Merit Club, in Libertyville, in his first year as a professional.

“I put myself in a tough situation without a place to play,’’ he said, “but I learned a lot. That’s what I wanted to do – play Monday qualifiers and see what I could do. It’s really not easy. I made a few but didn’t do any good in those tournaments. Still there were a lot of positives.’’

Hardy qualified for the U.S. Open again. He won mini-tour event in Oklahoma, which paid $20,000, and he was runner-up in the Illinois Open.

“I had my moments, but there are some things in my game that I need to address,’’ he said. “It’s just one-two things that I need to address to play with the best in the world.’’

The primary one, Hardy believes, is wedge play. His college coach, Mike Small, went through the same process as a young player and he gave Hardy some good counseling.

“Coach told me you can’t just try harder in golf,’’ said Hardy. “Golf is like baseball. You give your full effort but that one thing – step back, be softer – I’m fighting that every day. That’s just who I am. Every golfer has their things about them. You give your best effort but – just by playing harder – doesn’t get it done.’’

Now older and wiser, Hardy is ready to try again.

“I believe in myself. I’m not worried about the competition,’’ said Hardy. “I’m just worried about myself.’’

Bolingbrook’s David Cooke, who won the Illinois Open for the second time last month, is another facing a playing dilemma but his is different than Hardy’s. Cooke has full playing privileges on the European PGA Challenge Tour, a stepping stone to the European PGA Tour. That’s the path that current world No. 1 Brooks Koepka took to get where he’s at now.

Cooke isn’t sure that’s what he wants to do. Last year he could have played a full schedule on the Challenge Tour but didn’t. Recently married and backed by a sponsorship agreement with Wilson, Cooke is preparing for a return to the European Q-School in November.

Other options include the PGA Latinoamerica circuit. Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, the 2017 Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open champion, and Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly, a two-time Illinois State Amateur winner, have done well there while awaiting their chance at Q-School. Hardy said those tours are an option.

“Hopefully I’ll get my (Korn Ferry) card this fall, but all options are open. My plan for this fall is to play full-time on the Korn Ferry Tour next year. I’m very optimistic.’’

The finals of the Korn Ferry qualifying school are Dec. 12-15 at a site that hasn’t been announced.

Coaching change triggers excitement for NIU men’s golf team

I hate writing season-ending columns, mainly because – for me – the golf season never ends. One season just blends into another.

This time, though, there are some subjects that need to be addressed – one big one in particular. Northern Illinois University has a new men’s golf coach, and this hiring could reverberate throughout the college golf world.

John Carlson was hired after the Huskies’ season ended. Tom Porten had been the NIU coach the last 10 seasons and Carlson will retain Porten’s assistant, Andrew Frame, as the “associate head coach.’’

Carlson has been at Minnesota since 2010. He was head coach through 2017 and director of golf the last two seasons. The Gophers’ shining moment under Carlson came at the Big Ten Championships in 2014 when they took the title and became the only school other than Illinois to rule the Big Ten since 2009.

The NIU teams will continue to use Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, as their home course and RHF owner and NIU alum Jerry Rich, who was involved in the interviewing process for the new coach, gave his blessing to Carlson. Rich called him “ideal’’ for the job.

Carlson in turn voiced his appreciation for “the opportunity to develop champion student athletes using the world class facility at Rich Harvest Farms.’’

The Huskies will open the 2019-20 season at the Badger Invitational and that’ll be a homecoming of sorts for Carlson. He was a four-year letterman on the Wisconsin golf team.

Carlson has two returnees who are coming off successful summer seasons. Senior-to-be Jordan Less won the 100th playing of the Chicago District Amateur and sophomore-to-be Tommy Dunsire teamed up with his brother Scott to win the Chicago District Amateur Four-Ball title.

A FEW OTHER things need to be addressed before we close the curtain on 2019.

First, Medinah Country Club needs a defender for the way its No. 3 course was treated by the PGA Tour stars at last month’s BMW Championship. They found the course easy pickings, and no club member anywhere likes to have his course viewed that way. In Medinah’s case, the weather conditions were ideal for scoring and – let’s face it – the players are that good.

I like the comment from champion Justin Thomas on that subject: “It doesn’t matter what course it is. You give us soft, good greens and soft fairways and we’re going to tear it apart. It’s just how it is.’’ I like his bluntness.

Second, a longstanding appraisal of courses in golf-rich Michigan has Arcadia Bluffs and Forest Dunes generally standing head and shoulders above the others. Now that I’ve played them both I can weigh in on that matter. Arcadia has beautiful views on the water and eye-catching mounding throughout, but I’m not so sure it’s the best course in Michigan. I’m not sure Forest Dunes is, either. There’s just too many good courses in that state to concede anything to those two.

Third, it’s good that the Western Golf Association and BMW came to a last-minute agreement on a contract extension to host the FedEx Cup Playoff event. Still, a lot of questions still need answers. Where will the event be held after Olympia Fields hosts in 2020? Will the rotation of sites in and out of the Chicago area be reinstated? (For the record, I hope not).

Fourth, the Illinois PGA is going to have a tough time finding an alternate course for the Illinois Open that stands up to Ridgemoor, this year’s choice. The Chicago layout, which is rich in history, was the best-received alternate layout for the finals since the IPGA expanded the field and went to the two-course format for the finals.

Fifth, scheduling-scheduling-scheduling. Just once I’d like to see a season schedule without any notable tournament conflicts in 2020. This year there was just one – the Illinois Women’s Open and Women’s Western Amateur were played at virtually the same time. It can’t be that hard to put them on different dates.

Sixth, I’m reluctant to delve too deeply into the Oct. 18 Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inductions, since I’m blessed to be involved in them. However, I must express my regret that one of my fellow inductees, the late, great Carol Mann, won’t be with us. Carol was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame years ago but still wanted to be similarly honored in her home state. I know, because she told me in one of her last visits. Carol announced the players during the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when it was played at her former home club, Olympia Fields, in 2017.

Seventh, there’s another big event that’s close to my heart coming up the week before the Hall of Fame inductions. It’s the Senior LPGA Championship, which will be played at not-so-far-away French Lick Resort in Indiana. There were no big championships for senior women until this classy resort stepped forward. First came The Legends Championship, a major that grew into the Senior LPGA Championship. Along with both came the establishment of the Legends Hall of Fame, which is housed at the West Baden Springs Hotel on the outskirts of French Lick. Then came television coverage of the big tournament, albeit on weekdays in the fall. The U.S. Golf Association eventually created a U.S. Senior Women’s Open, but these women who did so much for the growth of the game deserve much more.

Eighth, and I’m promoting this – I admit it. The International Network of Golf is a unique group in that it brings the media together with the golf industry. It’s different than the other industry groups and has a very special event coming up from May 31-June 3, 2020. It’ll be the 30th anniversary of the ING Spring Conference, and it’ll be held in Valley Forge, Pa. My friends in all phases of the golf industry could benefit by attending and should put it on their calendars.

And finally, to bear out my contention that the golf season is long from being over, check out the tournament schedules of the Illinois PGA and Chicago District on their websites. The IPGA is busy with tournaments through Oct. 21 and the CDGA will go strong until Oct. 7. Also note that the Illinois Women’s Golf Association will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Senior Championship Sept. 10-12 and it’ll be in the Chicago area this time — at Bolingbrook Golf club.

Ghim overcame his nerves to earn PGA Tour card

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman will have Chicago area company on the PGA Tour next season. Doug Ghim, former Arlington Heights resident and Buffalo Grove High School graduate, has earned playing privileges for the circuit’s 2019-20 campaign.

Ghim did it by finishing in the top 25 money winners in the Korn Ferry Tour Playoffs, a three-tournament competition matching the top players on the Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com) circuit and the PGA Tour players who failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

For Ghim it came down to the last putt on Monday in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship at Victoria National in Evansville, Ind. After making a bogey on the 17th hole Ghim needed a par on the 72nd hole of the tournament to secure his card on golf’s premier circuit. He got it by getting up and down from a green-side bunker. It gave him a tie for 19th in the tournament and the No. 23 spot in the playoff standings.

Ghim’s elation after that last 10-foot putt dropped was captured on video and passed along widely on social media. He broke down in tears while leaving the green, then tweeted “IT HAPPENED.’’

Given time to reflect, Ghim admitted the pressure was intense.

“I’ve never felt nerves like that before,’’ he said. “To have it all come down to one putt is pretty surreal.’’

Given the solid amateur career that Ghim had, his qualifying for the PGA Tour in his rookie season as a touring pro shouldn’t be a surprise.

Though playing high school golf only as a freshman, he earned a scholarship to collegiate powerhouse Texas and was a mainstay for the Longhorns for four seasons. Working with his father Jeff as his swing instructor, Ghim preferred to play in the bigger junior tournaments around the country rather than be limited to high school events. He competed very rarely in Illinois as an amateur and that decision paid off.

Ghim made the U.S. teams for both the Walker Cup and Arnold Palmer Cup matches and a runner-up finish in the 2017 U.S. Amateur earned him a berth in the 2018 Masters tournament. Ghim didn’t let that opportunity get away, either. He was low amateur, finishing in a tie for 50th place, and brought home some coveted crystal by making three eagles during the tournament.

After finishing up at Texas he turned pro, moved to Las Vegas and earned a berth on the Korn Ferry circuit through its three-stage qualifying tournament last fall. His play during the regular season, though, wasn’t noteworthy. He had a tie for third in Colombia in the second tournament of the season in February and two top-10s in June but was only No. 52 on the point list at the conclusion of the regular season.

That left him out of the top 25 who gained automatic PGA Tour cards for the 2019-20 campaign, and he was trending in the wrong direction entering the season-ending playoff series. He had three missed cuts to conclude the regular season but was steady in the playoff events, finishing tied for 23rd and tied for 37th before his nail-biting finish on Monday.

Chances are Ghim won’t get much of a rest before the next PGA Tour season begins. It’ll tee off on Thursday with A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier event in West Virginia. While most of the established PGA Tour players will compete only sparingly for the rest of 2019, the young players will want to get their seasons off to a good start.

The fall events will provide a chance for Ghim and the other Korn Ferry Tour graduates to get into a series of big-money tournaments and earn FedEx Cup points before the top stars return full-time.

Want the best golf options in Michigan? Head to the north

Thanks to a series of expansions Crystal Mountain Resort has created the look of a village plaza.

THOMPSONVILLE, Michigan – The state of Michigan is loaded with great golf courses. That’s no secret.

With over 800 public facilities in the state, it might be challenging to find the right area for the best courses – but fear no more. Northern Michigan is that spot. You can’t go wrong there.

In 2013 course operators in that area made a bold claim, declaring their terrain “America’s Summer Golf Capital,’’ and very few have disputed it. The “Capital’’ now includes 10 resorts and 33 courses, most within 45 minutes of each other. And membership does not include nearby Arcadia Bluffs, billed by many as the state’s best course, or Arcadia South, the new companion course to the Bluffs.

“Most of the members have been pretty consistent,’’ said Brian Lawson, director of public relations at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. “Us, Manistee National, Grand Traverse Resort, Treetops, all the Boyne resorts, LochenHeath — have been there from the beginning. A few others have been in and out, but we’re always looking to expand.’’

No. 17, a downhill par-3 on the Mountain Ridge course, may be Crystal Mountain’s most popular hole.

The “Capital’’ started as basically a website, and it still is without a headquarters location. Golf packages, however, can be booked on the website, www.americasgolfcapital.com, and Charley Olson is available as the group’s marketing administrator.

Here are the golf options provided in America’s Summer Golf Capital:

BAY HARBOR — Four courses are available in the Petoskey-Charlevoix area – Bay Harbor, The Quarry, The Links and Crooked Tree.

BOYNE HIGHLANDS — Located in Harbor Springs, this resort has 72 holes plus a par-3 course. The 18-holers are The Heather, Arthur Hills, Donald Ross Memorial and Moor. The Heather was named National Course of the Year for 2019 by the National Golf Course Owners Association.

BOYNE MOUNTAIN – Located in Boyne Falls, this resort has the Alpine and Monument layouts.

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN – Another two-course facility, this one offers Mountain Ridge, home of the Michigan Women’s Open for the last 17 years, and Betsie Valley. A lot has been happening at Crystal Mountain. We’ll get to that later.

FOREST DUNES – This well-regarded resort is Roscommon is in expansion mode. In addition to its established Tom Weiskopf-designed layout Forest Dunes has a unique reversible course, called The Loop, and a putting course. A par-3 course is under construction.

GRAND TRAVERSE – Located in Acme, this resort’s Bear, Wolverine and Spruce Run courses have been popular for years. The Bear is a Jack Nicklaus design.

A sunset view of Grand Traverse Bay from the Cherry Tree Inn is something special.

LOCHENHEATH – Steve Smyers designed the lone course at this location, which is located on Grand Traverse Bay in Williamsburg and its minutes away from downtown Traverse City.

MANISTEE NATIONAL – Canthooke Valley and Cutter’s Ridge are both par-71 layouts located in a beautiful forest setting.

SHANTY CREEK – Cedar River (Tom Weiskopf) and The Legend (Arnold Palmer) have well-known designers on this site in Bellaire. The other courses there are Schuss Mountain and Summit.

TREETOPS – The Gaylord hotspot has five courses, among them The Premier – the only Tom Fazio design in Michigan. Rick Smith designed both the Signature and Tradition courses and Robert Trent Jones Sr. provided The Masterpiece. Treetops also features Threetops – one of the best par-3 layouts in the U.S.

TULLYMORE — This resort in Stanwood has two great 18-holers – the Tullymore and St. Ives layouts.

Many of these places started as ski resorts and still thrive in the winter months because of their slopes and chairlifts. Golf, though, has been the heart of summertime activity there for over 50 years and each year there’s something new at one place or another to entice golfers.

The new rooftop bar (above) has been a big hit at Crystal Mountain this year. The view from it (below) is stunning. It showcases the fire pit and game area with the ski slopes as a backdrop.

Our latest of many trips to Northern Michigan focused on Crystal Mountain. That’s been where most of the action has the last four years. Our last visit was in 2015, and we hardly recognized the place upon our return. That’s what a $12 million expansion and the hiring of a quality course superintendent can do for a place.

Jason Farah, formerly at U.S. Open site Oakland Hills, took over superintendent’s duties in 2014 and Crystal Mountain’s Mountain Ridge and Betsie Valley courses have never looked better.

Greg Babinec, Michigan’s Golf Professional of the Year in 2018, has also factored into the golf upgrades. He spent 11 years at Arcadia Bluffs and has now been at Crystal Mountain for the last nine. In addition to serving as host professional for the resort’s biggest golf event, the Michigan Women’s Open, Babinec made a noteworthy executive decision in the last year.

The Mountain Ridge course may have been the only one in the country to have its first hole designated as the No. 1 handicap hole. Players didn’t like that, so now the No. 1 handicap hole is No. 13 – a long tough par-4 – and No. 1 has been dropped to No. 6 on the scorecard for handicap purposes.

That’s just a fun detail for what’s been going on at Crystal Mountain. After a series of cottages were added a much bigger deal was the expansion of the Inn at the Mountain. Because of it a pedestrian-friendly village plaza has emerged as the centerpiece of the resort.

“We doubled the size of the Inn and added 25 new hotel suites,’’ said Lawson. A rooftop bar, which is also used for receptions, also has opened. All the rooms are themed after local or national attractions.

The bottom line is, Crystal Mountain has even more options than it had four years ago and can entice a wider variety of visitors. It now has – among other things — Michigan’s only alpine slide, a water park, a climbing wall, 14 miles of bicycle trails, the Michigan Legacy Art Park and facilities for pickleball, tennis, kayaking and Disc Golf. The Wild Tomato is great for breakfast and the Thistle Pub & Grille in Kinlochen (where the pro shop is also located) has lunch and dinner menus.

“We’re different things to different people,’’ said Lawson. “We’re a family resort, a golf resort, a spa, a ski resort. And, they almost all require separate marketing plans.’’

Want to go off-site for other attractions? There’s the Iron Fish Distillery, which is also in Thompsonville, and Mawby Sparkling winery in Suttons Bay. If you want to stay away from the resort there’s wide variety of lodging available in Traverse City. We used the Park Place Hotel and Cherry Inn & Suites on our stop.

If you’re looking for non-golf activities in Northern Michigan, David Wallace’s Iron Fish Distillery, in Thompsonville, and the Mawby Sparkling winery, in Suttons Bay, are interesting diversions.

New Yorker Welch is Myrtle Beach’s latest World Champion

William Welch of West Islip, N.Y., claimed the World Champion trophy at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Course.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — August is the biggest month of the golf season – and not just because big professional events like the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs are contested then. The PlayGolf Myrtle Beach.com World Amateur Handicap Championship was different but every bit as impressive.

Staged for the 36th time on 55 courses in this South Carolina golf mecca, the World Am wasn’t just older than any of that month’s tour events, it also had more players. Many more, in fact..

The entry count hit 3,215 from 49 states (only Alaska was missing) and 20 countries. There were 161 international participants with Canada leading with 51. The internationals traveled approximately 500,000 miles to get here. As far as the U.S. states are concerned, South Carolina led with 312 players and Florida had 307.

Though multiple courses were used, organizers claim the World Am is “the world’s largest single-site tournament’’ – the “site’’ being the general Myrtle Beach area.

The player coming the farthest was likely Steve Muller, who lives in Brisbane, Australia. Muller and his wife Karen were 24 hours in transit to get to Myrtle Beach for the first time.

Muller learned about the World Am via a Google search in January and made travel plans even before the tournament was accepting entries. He believes his home club in Australia, called Carbrook, is the only one with sharks in its ponds but Australia’s `Great White Shark,’ Greg Norman, has never played there.

Australians Steve Muller and wife Karen enjoyed their first taste of the World Am.

So, why did Muller enter?

“It’s golf, so why not?’’ he said. “Nobody from my club had heard about it but there’ll be at least four from there here next year.’’

The World Am had more winners than the August pro events, too. In addition to the 67 flight winners, there was an overall champion – William Welch of West Islip, N.Y.,’ a Gross Division winner – Christopher Reina of Frisco, TX.; and a Senior Gross Division titlist – Steve Humphrey of Ocala, FL.

Welch shot a net 69 (gross 85) to win the Flight Winners’ Playoff at the Barefoot Resort’s Dye Course. That made Welch the 2019 World Champion. Reina shot a 75 to win the Gross Division and Humphrey a 76 en route to an eight-stroke victory in the Senior Gross Division.

The World Am is never about winning, though. It’s about participation, fun and socializing, but there’s of golf played. Myrtle Beach’s biggest event consists of 72 holes on different courses for players in nine age groups, and there’s also a “Just for Fun’’ division. The handicap procedure is strictly supervised, and that’s a big reason for the event’s annual success.

Not to be forgotten regarding this event’s popularity is the World’s Largest 19th Hole, a nightly feature at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The big party featured music, food and beverages from a variety of Myrtle Beach restaurants and appearances by various Golf Channel personalities.

Tournament director Scott Tomasello called the World Am “a bucket list event for recreational golfers.’’

“It is more than just a tournament to our players,’’ said Tomasello. “It’s an event. From what happens on the course to the World’s Largest 19th Hole, the World Am becomes part of the annual calendar for our players.’’

This year’s version was blessed with great weather. Thirty-three courses hosted play each day and 55 used for at least one round. The World’s Largest 19th Hole, staged nightly in a 120,000 square foot area of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. included a 70-exhibitor golf expo and featured attractions included billiards legend Ewa Laurance.

Next playing of the World Am will be Aug. 31 through Sept. 4 of 2020.