Illini golfers are awaiting another crack at that elusive NCAA title

Mike Small couldn’t compete in last week’s PGA Professionals Championship in Florida – which offers a spot in the field for the PGA Championship coming up in two weeks at Kiawah in South Carolina – for one good reason.  He’s a college coach first and foremost and his Illinois team had to win the Big Ten Championship again.

Though Small was prevented from winning a major individual title for the fourth time, his team got the job done, capturing the Big Ten title for the sixth straight year and 11th time in the last 12 at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.

And now comes the good part.

As  as successful as the Illini have been in conference play, they have yet to win the NCAA title and their path to it starts on Wednesday when The Golf Channel announces the regional assignments for the national championship.  The Illini are hoping to be assigned to a May 17-19 regional at Sagamore, in Noblesville, Ind. – a good steppingstone for them to get to the NCAA finals.

Whether they get their preferred close-to-home regional assignment isn’t all that important.  The Illini, enduring an 11-month layoff from competition because of pandemic concerns, still won five tournaments and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the 13th straight year.

“College golf is very thankful we could play this spring after being on the shelf for so long,’’ said Small, in his 17th season guiding the Illini. “Winning the Big Ten is always special for the kids. You try to get as many wins as you can.’’

Illinois has a fine indoor facility to use in the winter months but its outdoor course, formerly Stone Creek and now called Atkins, is undergoing a renovation.

“We’re adding 800 yards and redoing all the bunkers and greens,’’ said Small, who expects the work to be completed next spring.  The NCAA finals will be long over by then.

This Illinois team has two solid seniors, Michael Feagles, who won the Big Ten’s Les Bolstad Award for low scoring average this season, and Belgium’s Giovanni Tadioto, who has also been on four straight Big Ten Championship teams.

Adrien DuMont de Chassard, a recruit from Belgium who tied for second individually in the conference tournament, is waiting in the wings to lead next year’s Illini as are junior Tommy Kuhl and sophomore Jerry Ji, a recruit from The Netherlands. They formed a solid starting five throughout the Illini season.

BEST AT DUBS:  Chicago’s first of three local qualifiers for the U.S. Open was dominated by Brian Bullington, a former University of Iowa golfer from Frankfort, on Monday.  He scorched the famed Dubsdread course at Cog Hill, in Palos Park, with a 7-under-par 65.

Four others advanced to sectional play – Jeremy Nevius, of Mountainside, Nev., who shot 67; Elmhurst’s Jordan Less, who plays for Northern Illinois, who posted a 68; and Chicago’s Larry Blatt and Zach Burry, of Appleton, Wis., who carded 70s.  Blatt is a former University of Illinois player.

Cog Hill hosted one of 109 local qualifiers that feed into the finals at Torrey Pines, in California, next month. Cantigny, in Wheaton, will host the next Chicago local qualifier on Monday and the final one in Illinois will be May 17 at Illini Country Club, in Springfield. Most of the local survivors will bid for spots at Torrey Pines in sectionals in Ohio later this month.

HERE AND THERE: Two of the top Midwest golf resorts have named new head professionals.  Mike Weiler, former head pro at Wynstone in Barrington, has taken over at Eagle Ridge in Galena and Ryan Brown, who had been at Eagle Ridge, is now in charge at Grand Geneva, in Wisconsin.  Dave Hallenbeck, who has been at Grand Geneva in various capacities for 48 years ,  is now the resort’s ambassador while planning for his retirement…..Luke Donald, the long-ago Northwestern star and former world No. 1, snapped a streak of 10 straight missed cuts on the PGA Tour with a tie for 54th place showing in the Valspar Championship on Sunday……Brad Helms, one of the longest-running superintendents in the Chicago area, is retiring.  He’s been on the job at Palatine Hills for the last 39 years…..Abbey Daniel, of Covington , La., and Celine Herbin, of Doral, FL., were the survivors of last week’s qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open at Kishwaukee, in DeKalb…..Foxford Hills, in Cary, will host a Pars in the Stars tournament teeing off a 7 p.m. on Saturday.

 

GOLF/TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: World’s Largest 19th Hole is back at World Am

 

The World’s Largest 19th Hole always packs the house during the Myrtle Beach World Amateur

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur – always one of my favorite tournaments of any year – is adding three new divisions for its 38th staging this year. There’ll also be 70 flights and $100,000 in prize money, and Southwest Airlines has added 10 new non-stop destinations to help players get there.

That’s not the best news, though.

The best news is that the World’s Largest 19th Hole will be back.  It’s one of the best parties in all of golf – four evenings at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center that’s open to all of the anticipated 3,200 participants. Last year, while the five-day tournament was held, the big party had to be canceled because of pandemic concerns.

Without the World’s Largest 19th Hole the World Am didn’t seem to many (including me) to be the World Am. Many of Myrtle Beach’s best dining establishments provide food, beverages of all sorts are plentiful, there’s entertainment of all sorts, exhibits and dancing. In short, it’s the most festive of post-round gatherings of any tournament, anywhere.

This World Am will be played Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 on 55 of Myrtle Beach’s best courses. It consists of 72 holes of net stroke play competition followed by an 18-hole playoff pitting all the division winners against each other.

There’ll be three new gross divisions – for women, men’s senior (50 and over) and men’s mid-senior (60 and over). The winners of the men’s open and men’s mid-senior will receive exemptions to the Dixie Amateur the women’s gross winner will get a pass into the amateur division of the South Carolina Women’s Open.

The women will also have two brackets – one for players 59 and under and another for seniors 60 and over.

There’ll also be a new site for the playoff for all group winners.  After eight years at the Barefoot Resort the climax to the competition will be contest at Grande Dunes. For more information check out PlayGolfMyrtleBeach.com

Welcome the Bootlegger — that’s the name for Forest Dunes’ new 10-hole short course.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?  A highlight of last year’s travels was a return to Forest Dunes, one of the very best courses in Michigan and a long-time favorite of ours.

Last year’s visit was planned around the opening of a 10-hole short course designed by Kieth Rhebb and Riley Johns. It measures but 1,135 yards but is a nice supplement to the well-regarded 18-holer designed by Tom Weiskopf, the highly innovative Loop (a Tom Doak design that can be played in two directions) and a big putting course.

Now the new short course has a name.  It’s called the Bootlegger, a nod to the history of the land Forest Dunes was built on.

GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES: Brickyard Crossing isn’t a new course, but it’ll always be a unique one.  The Pete Dye design has four holes inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was part of a a pre-opening preview arranged by Dye many years ago and have yet to visit a course quite like this one.

Now that course is going to get more of the attention that it has long deserved.  NBC Sports’ GolfNow technology and services is being added “to better manage operations and improve the guest book experience through enhanced tee time management, pricing, payments and marketing.’’

The upgrade isn’t lost on driver Conor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing.

“Brickyard Cross is a world-class course set against an incredible backdrop.. This partnership with NBC Sports and GolfNow only serves to enhance an already epic experience,’’ Daly said.

A REALLY GRAND OPENING: Any Jack Nicklaus course opening is something special, but at American Dunes it’s even more so.

The Grand Haven, Mich., course, which benefits the Folds of Honor, had some play last fall but the formal opening is coming up on May 2.  The project represents the vision and collaboration of Folds of Honor founder and chief executive officer Dan Rooney and Nicklaus, who donated his design team’s services to support the Folds of Honor mission.

 

Ten finalists named for next Illinois Golf Hall of Fame induction class

 

The first stage for selection to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame has been completed, and the 27 nominees have been whittled to 10.

Among the finalists are three long-time club professionals – Doug Bauman, of Biltmore in North Barrington; Bruce Patterson, of Butler National in Oak Brook; and Tim O’Neal, of North Shore in Glenview. The Illinois PGA is also represented among the finalists by instructor Gary Pinns, the only player to win the Illinois Open five times; and Mike Miller, the IPGA’s long-time executive director.

Prominent among the other finalists is Jerry Rich, creator of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove – a venue that has hosted the Solheim Cup, Western Amateur and Western Junior, the NCAA Championships and the Arnold Palmer Cup.  The Palmer event will be return to Rich Harvest in June.

Also in contention are Dr. Randy Kane, turfgrass expert for the Chicago District Golf Association; Dave Ryan, a Taylorville resident who has dominated the Illinois senior competition and won the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur; nationally-known swing guru Dr. Jim Suttie; and the late Phil Kosin, who founded Chicagoland Golf magazine and the Illinois Women’s Open.

Selections are made every two years. The first induction class into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame was in 1989, and the group now has 85 members. A state-wide selection panel will whittle the current finalists to between three and five on May 25, and the induction ceremony is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 1 at The Glen Club, in Glenview — the home of the Hall of Fame.

GHIM ON A ROLL: Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, padded his season bank account with a $62,943 payday thanks to a tie for 11th in last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans team event.  Ghim, partnered with Justin Suh, climbed four places to No. 70 in the FedEx Cup rankings and he can climb higher with another good showing in this week’s Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour, FL.

The Valspar was the first event canceled when the pandemic hit last March but this year it has one of its best fields ever.  Englishman Paul Casey is going for a three-peat but he’ll have to beat No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Justin Thomas,  Phil Mickelson and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker – all rare entrants into the event. All three Illinois PGA Tour players – Kevin Streelman, Ghim and Luke Donald – are also in the field and Donald (2012) and Streelman (2013) are past winners of the tournament.

A Chicago connection could be worthwhile in the Valspar, as Innisbrook has a Chicago owner (Sheila Johnson) and all four of its courses were designed by legendary Chicago designer Larry Packard.

HERE AND THERE – Fifty players will compete for two spots in the Chicago qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open tourney on Thursday (APRIL 29) at Kishwaukee, in DeKalb. The survivors advance directly to the June 3-6 finals at Olympic Club in San Francisco…..The first of the local qualifiers for the men’s U.S. Open is Monday (MAY 3) on Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Palos Park.  Eight-four players will compete for spots in sectional play….The University of Illinois men’s team notched its fourth team title of the season last week in Ohio State’s Kepler Invitational.  Coach Mike Small’s Illini team goes after its sixth straight Big Ten title and 11th in the last 12 years beginning Friday at Crooked Stick, in Carmel, Ind….Chris French, playing out of Aldeen, in Rockford, headed three players with Illinois backgrounds to survive the first cut in the 54th PGA Professionals Championship, which is in progress at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL.  French is in a tie for 36th place through two rounds and is nine shots behind leader Omar Uresti.  Dakun Chang, formerly Twin Orchard in Long Grove but now living in Jupiter, FL., and Andy Mickelson, director of golf at Mistwood in Romeoville,l are tied for 51st place  and are one stroke behind  French. The tourney ends on Wednesday…..Patrick Lynch, who recently retired after a long career as head professional at Cantigny, in Wheaton, is now the golf event manager at Bolingbrook….Patrick O’Donoghue is the new general manager at Deerpath, in Lake Forest.

 

 

 

Streelman, Frittelli form `Team Illinois’ in PGA team event

 

The PGA Tour’s most unusual tournament has an unusual pairing this week.

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is a two-man team event that tees off on Thursday at TPC-Louisiana, with teams competing at best-ball on Thursday and Saturday and using the alternate shot format on Friday and Sunday.

Played for the fourth time this week, it’s the only official team event on the PGA Tour schedule, and it also  includes a “Team Illinois’’ – well, sort of.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, the Chicago area’s premier PGA Tour player, is paired with Dylan Frittelli, the defending champion in the state’s only annual PGA Tour stop – the John Deere Classic. Frittelli, who played collegiately at Texas, had his professional breakthrough when he won the JDC at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis in 2019.

Frittelli hasn’t made his title defense yet because last year’s much-anticipated 50th anniversary of the event was canceled due to pandemic concerns. Now that milestone, together with Frittelli’s bid for a repeat title will be played from July 8-11. Both the JDC and the Zurich Classic were canceled in 2020 due to pandemic issues.

Streelman has a frequent competitor in the JDC, but never won it. Frittelli had never finished higher than a tie for 18th in a PGA Tour event until he won the JDC – a victory that stirred memories of another player who won for the first time in the Quad Cities.

Frittelli was a senior when Jordan Spieth was a freshman at Texas.  Their Longhorn team won the 2012 NCAA title. Spieth immediately turned pro, won the JDC twice along and eventually also captured the  Masters and U.S .Open in 2015 and the British Open in 2017.

“Jordan came in (to Texas) as the most highly recruit player,’’ recalled Frittelli in reflecting on his JDC win.  “He had a chip on his shoulder, and we pushed each other.  I beat him in more tournaments than he beat me at the college level.’’

Both are still Texans, Spieth residing in Dallas and the South African-born Frittelli in Austin. Frittelli had tried to play on both the U.S. and European tours, but the win at the JDC changed that. He’s now an American-based player. His pairing with Streelman for this week’s tourney was announced during last week’s RBC Heritage Classic. Both let good finishes slip away with shaky final rounds on Sunday.

Streelman finished with a 73 and tied for 33rd place in the Heritage.  Frittelli shot 74 on Sunday and dropped to a tie for 56th. Both are trying to improve their positions in the FedEx Cup Playoff standings.  Streelman is No. 70 and Frittelli No. 96.

Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, is No. 74 in those standings.  He didn’t fizzle on Sunday in Hilton Head, shooting a 66 to climb 22 spots to a tie for 33rd with Streelman.  Ghim will also play in New Orleans. His partner will be Justin Suh.

LIPSKY’S ON A ROLE:  David Lipsky may finally have landed himself a spot on the PGA Tour.  Now 32, the Northwestern alum has been the runner-up in the last two tournaments on the PGA’s satellite Korn Ferry Tour.

Now a Las Vegas resident, Lipsky climbed from No. 8 all the way to No. 4 on the Korn Ferry point list thanks to a 65 on Sunday that boosted him 21 places on the tourney leaderboard.  He just needs to stay in the top 25 to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2021-22 season.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, a Korn Ferry rookie, also had a strong tournament in finishing in a tie for fifth, but he remained No. 19 in the point standings.

HERE AND THERE: The Chicago District Golf Association has taken over sponsorship of Dave Lockhart’s Golf360 show on NBC Sports Chicago.  It’ll make its season debut on June 5 from Michigan’s Harbor Shores course…..Cog Hill, in Palos Park, has added Top Tracer technology and will soon add lights spectator seats to its driving range..…Heritage Oaks, formerly Sportsman’s in Northbrook, will offer Trackman on its range.  The facility, undergoing a major renovation, is targeted for a late-July opening….. Jeff Sluman, making a rare return to PGA Tour Champions after returning as a Chicago area resident, tied for 24th in last week’s Chubb’s Classic in Florida.

 

 

Return at Harbour Town could provide a big boost for Donald

This could be a big week for those who follow the Northwestern golf program.  Three former Wildcats’ stars return from a week off during the Masters to take on potential career-changing challenges.

Luke Donald, the greatest player in NU in NU history, will be on the comeback trail at a course that has been good to him in the past and David Lipsky and Dylan  Wu – stars of recent vintage – will be back on the Korn Ferry Tour with  PGA Tour cards hanging in the balance.

Donald, now 43, was the world’s No. 1-ranked player for 55 weeks in 2011 and 2012. Beset by long-time  back problems, he’s now ranked No. 577 after missing nine straight cuts on the PGA Tour but he remains hopeful.  Donald will be in the field at this week’s RBC Heritage Classic, which tees off on Thursday in Hilton Head, S.C., and he also figures to get a start in the Valspar Championship later this month.

If Donald is to regain prominence on the PGA circuit, April could be a key month. He has a great history at both the Heritage and Valspar events, and they could be a springboard in his comeback plans.

Donald never won the Heritage, but he finished second  three times and third twice on the Harbour Town Links course.  His last of 16 second-place finishes on the PGA Tour came at the Heritage in 2017.

His last PGA Tour victory came in 2012 at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course, the site of the Valspar Championship in two weeks. The event was called the Transitions Championship when Donald won there.

The last staging of the Valspar was at Innisbrook in 2019, when Donald finished in a tie for ninth. He seemed on the way back to regaining his top form then, but it didn’t happen and the Valspar was canceled in 2020 due to pandemic issues.

Born in England and now a long-time resident of  Jupiter, FL., Donald has  over $36 million in career tournament winnings since his graduation from NU in 2001.  He played on four European Ryder Cup teams and in 2011 became the first player to win money titles on both the U.S. and European PGA tours. He has remained close to NU and the Chicago golf community through his many charitable efforts.

In addition to Donald the other two Chicago-connect PGA Tour players —  Kevin Streelman and Doug Ghim – will return to action in the Heritage after sitting out Masters week.

UP-AND-COMING: On the Korn Ferry front, neither Lipsky nor Wu has approached the success that Donald did in his 18-year pro career after leaving Northwestern but they appear on the brink of making it to the PGA circuit. The Korn Ferry  sends its Top 25 to the PGA Tour at the end of the season and Lipsky is No. 8 and Wu No. 20 going into this week’s MGM Resorts Championship in Las Vegas.

Lipsky, 32, was a 2011 NU graduate and Wu, 24, finished up in Evanston in 2018. Lipsky had a shot at winning the last tourney on the Korn Ferry circuit two weeks ago but lost in a playoff to Germany’s Stephan Jaeger.  Wu has had two runner-up finishes on the PGA’s developmental circuit.  They have 16 tournaments left before The Top 25 is determined.

HERE AND THERE: The Golfers on Golf Radio Show begins its 31st season on Saturday  in a new  time slot – 4 p.m. –on WCPT (820-AM).  Rory Spears, Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger return as the hosts….After two seasons at Illinois Noah Gillard has transferred to Indiana.  From Greenwood Ind., Gillard won the Indiana Amateur and Indiana Amateur Match Play titles in 2020….Mistwood, in Romeoville, will host its Pick Your Pin Scramble on Saturday and will also be the site of the Illinois PGA’s first in-state event of the year, the Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble on Monday, April 19….The popular Friday Night Fish Fry at White Deer Run, in Vernon Hills, will continue through April and May…..Entries are already closed for the first two events on the Chicago District Golf Association schedule, qualifiers for the CDGA Mid- Amateur Championship on April 26 at Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, and April 28 at Palatine Hills….As for now the June 11-13 Arnold Palmer Cup, an international team event coming to Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, will be closed to the public because of pandemic concerns.

 

 

A 10-under 60 on Korn Ferry Tour shows Hardy is ready for the big time

This week’s golf focus will be entirely on the Masters. No other pro tours are playing, and the Chicago influence at Augusta National will be minimal. Kevin Streelman, Doug Ghim and Luke Donald – the PGA Tour members with Chicago connections – didn’t qualify.

Sunday’s Drive, Chip & Putt national finals staged at Augusta National did have two Chicago qualifiers – Reese Wallace of South Barrington and Logan Keeter of Northbrook.  Reese finished sixth and Logan eighth in the 10-11 age division.

There is one recent round to celebrate, though.  On Sunday Northbrook’s Nick Hardy shot a sizzling 60 in the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour’s Emerald Coast Classic in Sandestin, FL.  With nines of 30-30, Hardy was 10-under-par on the par-70 Raven Golf Club course.

Hardy, 25, is a rookie on the Korn Ferry circuit, which is a direct feeder to the PGA Tour.  The top 25 on the circuit’s point list at the end of the season get PGA Tour privileges for the 2021-22 season and Hardy stands 19th at the moment.

Sunday’s round was by far the career  best for the University of Illinois graduate.  His previous low on the Korn Ferry circuit was a 63. The hot round enabled Hardy to climb 47 places on the leaderboard in the final 18 on Sunday, as he finished in a tie for 17th place.

On the all-important point list, though, he moved up only one spot – from No. 20 to No. 19 in the battle for next season’s PGA Tour cards.

Germany’s Stephan Jaeger, who won the Emerald Classic,  finished eight shots ahead of Hardy.  Jaeger, who was at 14 -under for the 72 holes, needed an extra hole to get the win. He got it when Northwestern alum David Lipsky made bogey on the first hole of a two-man playoff.  That made Jaeger’s par good enough for the victory, his sixth on the Korn Ferry circuit.  In 2017 he captured the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe.

Hardy, though, got a big boost from his hot round.  Since the season resumed in February he had struggled a bit, making the cut in two of three tournaments prior to the Emerald Coast Classic. He  finished down the leaderboard in both and dropped two places on the point list.

Prior to the resumption of Korn Ferry play, however Hardy survived two of three Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour events and made his chances on the more lucrative premier circuit count.  He won the final spot in a three-man playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January and then tied for 14th in the main event, which meant a $113,850 payday.  He also Monday qualified at Phoenix and tied for 42nd after a 68-67 start. The money earned in those events help his bank account, but not his Korn Ferry standing. He’ll have to keep playing well to keep his spot in the top 25.

Lipsky (No. 8) and Dylan Wu, another Northwestern alum who is No. 20,  are also in good position to move up to the next level. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger, at No. 30, is also close to advancing to the PGA Tour with 19 Korn Ferry events remaining. The next is the MGM Resorts Championship, which tees off in Las Vegas on April 15.

The Korn Ferry’s annual Chicago stop,  the Evans Scholars Invitational, begins its four-day run at The Glen Club in Glenview on May 27.

 

 

 

Ex-Illinois Open champ Saenz gets another shot at the PGA Tour

This week’s PGA Tour event, the Valero Texas Open, is the last stop before next week’s Masters and it has some unlikely names in the field.

From the national stage there’s Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler.  Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, was a late entry.  Apparently feeling the need for another competitive tuneup after failing to contend in last week’s World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson will playing in the Texas stop for the first time since 2015.

Fowler also needs to play well if he’s to keep his streak of Masters appearances alive.  He has played at Augusta every year since 2010 but isn’t qualified for this year’s event yet.

Carlos Sainz Jr., the 2016 Illinois Open champion, will also get back in a PGA Tour event after several years of trying.  He played on the circuit in 2015 but lost his playing privileges for failure to meet money-winning standards. Now he’s a club professional in Houston.

Sainz, who set an Illinois Open scoring record with his five-shot victory at Royal Fox in St. Charles, competed on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour and also played with limited success on the Canadian and Latinoamerica circuits before entering the club professional ranks last year. He proved he could still play, winning the title in his Texas PGA section to get a spot in the Valero Texas Open.

Born in Chicago and growing up in Elgin, Sainz attended Larkin High School and had great success in the Chicago area before making a run at the big tours following his collegiate days at Mississippi State.  Before his hot tournament at Royal Fox six years ago Sainz lost an Illinois Open title in a playoff and won the now defunct Chicago Open in 2013.

His best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for ninth in the Sanderson Farms Classic but he last played regularly on any of the pro tours since 2018 when he missed the cut 11 times in 21 events on the PGA’s Korn Ferry circuit.

BROADCASTING CHANGE:  The Golfers on Golf Radio show was to open its 31st season on Saturday but the host Rory Spears said the show has  opted to move in a new direction from previous Chicago golf show broadasts.

Virtually all have been weekend morning shows over the years, but Golfers on Golf will be an afternoon attraction. It’ll  take a 4 p.m. time slot on WCPT (820-AM) on Saturdays, starting on April 17. Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger return as co-hosts with Spears.

“We could have started the season earlier with a return to our previous station (WNDZ, 750-AM) but the response was overwhelmingly positive to our move to WCPT in 2020, so we decided to stay there in 2021,’’ said Spears.  “This also allows us to keep most of our production crew together and gives us the opportunity to reach a bigger audience, as we’ll be live during the third rounds of PGA Tour events or major championships.’’

STREELMAN SITS: Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, the best of the Chicago area PGA players, decided against taking one more shot at a spot in the Masters in Texas.  He reached the Sweet 16 of last week’s Match Play event before losing to eventual champion Billy Horschel.

His reward for reaching th quarter-finals was $189,000, and that pushed Streelman  over the $1 million mark in winnings for the 2020-21 season. He’s 60th on the season money list and No. 56 in the Official World Golf Rankings.  The top 50 after the Valero Texas Open qualify for the Masters.

Despite Streelman’s absence, the field in Texas includes three players with Illinois connections – Doug Ghim, Luke Donald and D.A. Points. Former world No. 1 Donald missed his eighth straight cut on the PGA Tour in last week’s secondary stop in the Dominican Republic. Ghim, in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, didn’t compete last week.  He had brief third-round leads in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players events before final round of 81 and 78 dertailed his chances. Points, a PGA Tour veteran, is in the field on a medical exemption.

HERE AND THERE: Golf Now! Chicago is now available in both print and digital versions.  Publisher Cheryl Justak is marking the 19th year for Chicago’s premier golf destination guide…..The first Augusta National Women’s Amateur, played in 2019 before the pandemic, had three Illinois players in the field.  The second version tees off on Wednesday without any.  It’ll be strong, though, with 28 of the top 30 in the women’s amateur world rankings included in the 85  who will complete the 54-hole event on Saturday as the first attraction of Masters Week…..Like the ANWA, the Drive, Chip & Putt national finals weren’t held when the Masters was last played in November.  The 2020 finals will be staged on  Sunday with Reese Wallace of South Barrington and Logan Keeter of Northbrook representing the Chicago area.

 

Match Play might help Streelman get into the Masters

This may be the best week of this golf season. At least those who love match play competition will feel that way.

The World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play tees off on Wednesday on  the Pete Dye-designed Austin Country Club course in Texas, .and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is in the elite 64-player field. Every player has matches on the first three days.  Then the winners of the 16 four-man groups settle the championship in weekend matches.

With Doug Ghim and Luke Donald not qualified for the event Streelman is the lone player with Chicago ties in the field, and he may be facing his last chance to qualify for the Masters – the first major championship of the season.  It tees off in two weeks at Georgia’s Augusta National.

Streelman will probably have to win either this week or at next week’s Valero Texas Open to get into the Masters field.  A win will get him in, and so will a ranking in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Streelman has struggled to crack the top 50 since the last two tournaments of the 2020 portion of the PGA Tour’s wrap-around season.

He goes into the Match Play at No. 58 in the rankings and the top 50 after the Valero Texas Open make it.

Streelman has had his chances to get the high finish that would propel him up in the rankings.  Last week he was done in by the fearsome Bear Trap – the three-hole stretch on holes 15-17 at PGA National, the Florida site of the Honda Classic. Two are par-3s and the other a par-4, and they may be the toughest stretch on the PGA Tour – at least they were for Streelman last week.

In the first round of the Honda Streelman made bogey on all three holes of the Bear Trap. That put him in trouble, but he made eagle at No. 18 to salvage a 69 and get back into contention. In Round 2 he made a double bogey at No. 15, in the third he had a bogey at the 16th and on Sunday he made bogey at the 17th and added to his problems with a finishing bogey on the par-5 18th.

During his four rounds on the three-hole stretch Streelman made just two birdies, so he was 5-over-par on those holes and the bogey to finish the tournament was a killer, as it dropped Streelman into a tie for 36th place.

The Match Play represents a good opportunity  to bounce back, though.  Streelman will battle three foreign players – Norway’s Victor Hovland, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger – for the the group’s spot in this weekend’s Sweet 16. At No. 53 Streelman has the highest seed in that group.  Hovland, playing the tournament for the first time, is No. 13, Ancer No. 27 and Wiesberger No. 43.

Sunday’s champion gets $1.82 million from a $10.5 million purse and the last-place finisher receives $35,000.

HERE AND THERE:  Luke Donald will compete in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship,  the PGA Tour’s alternate event in the Dominican Republic this week, while Doug Ghim is taking the week off…The Golfers on Golf Radio show will begin its 31st season on April 3 on WNBZ (750-AM)…Foxford Hills, in Cary, has scheduled its Spring Scramble for April 3….Lohman Quitno Architects will begin a $2.5 million renovation of Abbey Springs, in Fontana, WI., in August….Troon Golf has been named to manage Atkins Golf Club in Urbana, the home course of the University of Illinois teams that was formerly called Stone Creek….The Patriot Education Classic has been scheduled for June 1 at Aurora Country Club.

 

 

 

 

Ghim may be closing in on his first PGA Tour victory

Doug Ghim is making progress as a PGA Tour rookie, no doubt about that.

The 24-year old who grew up in Arlington Heights and attended Buffalo Grove High School before graduating from the University of Texas made the cut in five of his six tournaments in 2020, his best finish being a tie for 14th in the Bermuda Championship.

Most of the top players  competed only spaaringly in those fall events of the PGA’s wrap-around 2020-21 season, but Ghim has been up to their challenge in the 2021 events. In the first seven of those he made the cut in five and had his best finish – a tie for fifth in the American Express Championship in January.

The last two weeks have been more revealing, however.

While his finishes haven’t been great Ghim has learned what it’s like at the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard.  He made it to that lofty position in the third round of both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.  His time at the top in both Florida stops was limited, but at least he got there.

Now Ghim’s problem is staying in contention. Getting in the hunt on “moving day’’ hasn’t been a problem, but finishing the job in Sunday’s final round has.

In the API at Bay Hill he was leading for only a few minutes, and in last week’s Players he was in command for only a few holes. At Bay Hill he got into contention by shooting a 65 in the third round but followed it with  a horrendous 81 in the final round.  The result? A drop of 29 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for 36th.

The strongest field of the season was on hand last week at The Players, and Ghim came charging on Saturday with a 68 after shooitng a 67 on Friday . He gained the lead on the 14th hole before surrendering it before the day was out to Lee Westwood, the runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill.

Ghim wound up with Justin Thomas as his final round playing partner.  They went off in front of the final twosome – DeChambeau and Westwood.  The moment was not lost on Ghim.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m 257th in the world (rankings),’’ Ghim told the media members gathered around him after the pairings were announced.  “To be associated with that (leaderboard pairing) is an honor and it’s a dream come true.  It’s definitely something that I always thought I could get to, and I’m just grateful to have the chance.’’

The next day Ghim learned, again, how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.  He shot 78 and dropped 26 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for 29th.

His two runs at the top of the leaderboard helped Ghim enjoy good paydays –$42,981 at Bay Hill and $96,125 at The Players – but the checks could have been much larger had Ghim held his game together when the pressure was the greatest.

Ghim didn’t look ahead after he held sole possession of the lead with four holes left in Round 3 at The Players.

“My goal was to get to the clubhouse, post a good number, be around the lead,’’ said Ghim.. “ Having the lead is great but it really, really doesn’t matter until you walk off the 18th hole (with it on Sunday).’’

While most of the tournaments on the PGA Tour have been played without fans, there were noticeable galleries the last two weeks. Ghim, whose parents are from Korea, was paired South Korea’s Sungjae Im the first rwo rounds.

“There was some confusion of who was who when I  played with Sungjae, and that was pretty funny,’’ said Ghim, “but it was great to have the fans back.  It was great to have my first Players be with fans.  It’s just not quite the same experience without a fan base.’’

A year ago The Players event was canceled after the first round when pandemic concerns exploded. More fans will likely know who Ghim is this week when the circuit moves to another Florida stop — the Honda Classic, at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.

As was the case after Bay Hill, Ghim took Sunday’s final round struggles in stride and felt he learned something watching playing partner Thomas  come from behind to grab the victory.  He congratulated Thomas in a tweet after the tournament.

“It was an honor to see it unfold, and can’t wait to draw back on the experience.  Looking forward to being in a similar experience soon,’’ tweeted Ghim.

For the first time this season three Chicago PGA Tour players – Ghim, Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald  — will be in the same event.

 

 

Staples turns PGA National’s Squire course into 27 unique new holes

Architect Andy Staples is turning the 18-hole Squire course in a unique par-3 and a short 18-holer.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – PGA National, long one of the world’s top golf resorts, is about to undergo a major change – one that will broaden the golf options for visitors to the long-time home of this week’s. Honda Classic.

That PGA Tour stop has been a fixture on The Champion course since 2007. Jack Nicklaus designed the layout, noted for its fearsome three-hole stretch on the back nine known as The Bear Trap. PGA Tour players generally feel it’s the toughest course they play on their annual Florida Swing, and they’ll take another competitive look at it beginning on Thursday (MARCH 18).

Some attention will also be paid this week to what’s happening a few yards away from The Champion. Andy Staples, an Arizona-based architect who grew up in Wisconsin, is putting the finishing touches on two courses that are being built over what was The Squire, a design by George and Tom Fazio that opened in 1983.  One will be a nine-hole par-3 course that is being built over what had been the Nos. 1 and 18 holes of The Squire.  The other 16 holes of the Squire are being transformed into a shorter 18-holer. Staples calls the project a “re-imagination’’ rather than a renovation.

“These courses will have new names and the complex will be completely re-branded,’’ said Staples, who hopes the new courses will give PGA National something that has been missing at The Champion and its other three 18-holers – The Palmer, The Fazio and The Estates.

The nine-holer is scheduled to open in April, the new 18-holer in August or September.  Their new names have not been announced. The Squire, closed for over a year, was a 6,750-yard layout.  The new 18-holer will play at 5,744 yards.  Staples was hired to do the project without a face-to-face meeting with any representatives of Brookfield Asset Management, the resort’s owner. Those preliminaries were all handled on line.

“I had said, `You’ve got the difficult golf.  You can get your brains beat out in playing The Champion, then come out here (to the nearby new courses) and actually like golf,’’ said Staples. “The greens (on the new courses) will be challenging, but they’ll be a completely different offering than the tough golf you get on the other courses.’’

The par-3 course will have no set tee markers.  One hole is designed to be played with a putter or with a rescue club chip. The real eye-catcher, though, will be the designated No. 5 hole.  Players will be encouraged to tee off out of a bunker, and their 50-yard shot to the green is partially over water.

Greens will be regulation size with lots of pin positions available. Some of the pin locations will have a funnel effect.

“I don’t want to call them hole-in-one holes, but….’’ said Staples. We’ll leave it at that, but he promised that each green will have a difficult pin location as well.

There’ll be no rough on either course and the 18-holer will have 25 bunkers, whereas a typical Florida course has at least 60 or 70. Carts will be available on the new 18-holer, but the shorter course is walking-only.

Not only is Staples in a bunker, it’ll also be a tee on his new par-3 layout.

“I don’t care if they don’t wear shoes there,’’ said Staples.  “It’s meant to be a casual round.’’

The Squire was known as “the wettest, slowest course’’ on the property.

“They’d put the members out there when all the other courses were filled,’’ said Staples, “but it was always a popular course because it was short, and more friendly to the average golfer.’’

So why the change?

“Our No. 1 goal was to make the owners successful and to help players find a golf course that they’ll want to play over and over again, and bring a friend.’’ said Staples.

Brookfield ownership was all for the concept. Staples was introduced to the project in 2019 and hired in October of that year.  Construction began in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was starting. The ensuing lack of play then made construction easier.

“That was an incredible blessing,’’ said Staples, “but it was also an indication that the people who own the place wouldn’t let something like that get in the way.  They said it was a good time to do it, even though – at that point – we didn’t know what would happen to the golf market, if anyone would play golf at all much less the 30-40 percent more than are now playing.’’

Rock walls are a trademark of the first par-3 layout at PGA National.