Illinois flavor is lacking in this year’s Masters

The  88th playing of the Masters tees off on  Thursday, and like every other staging, it’ll trigger golf enthusiasm throughout the world.  The year’s first major championship is traditionally a sign of spring. The tour players are ready for a serious test after three months of tournaments of much lesser importance. That’s just the way it is —  every year.

This Masters, though, is an unusual one from an Illinois perspective.  The local highlight of tournament week at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club has already taken place – and it was provided by a pair of 9-year olds.

Emory Munoz, of Lockport, and Lucy Wiertel, of Oswego, were among the very select group of youngsters nation-wide who participated in Sunday’s Drive, Chip & Putt finals. Emory was one of seven participants to earn a return trip after making the finals in 2023.

There were 10 finalists in each age group at Sunday’s nationally-televised competition, and neither Emory or Lucy could match the feat of Northbrook’s Martha Kuwahara a year ago.  She was one of the champions.  This time Emory improved from ninth in 2023 to seventh this time, and Lucy was ninth in her age group. The chance to compete at Augusta National, though, gave both the thrill of a lifetime.

This was a special year for Drive, Chip & Putt, too.  The Masters field will include the first ever Drive, Chip and Putt participant.  Akshay Bhatia, who won the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open in a playoff last Sunday, was in the youth event in 2014.

Local tour players couldn’t wangle a Masters invite. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy was a winner on the PGA tour last season, and that usually merits an invite.  Hardy’s win came in a two-man team competition in New Orleans, however, and that didn’t merit his first spot in the Masters. Hardy, though, had his best finish of the season – a tie for 25th at the Valero Texas Open.

Wheaton’s Kevin  Streelman, a 45-year old tour veteran, didn’t make it, either.  He’s been slowed by a back injury suffered in February’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am and that’s hampered his play. His game may be be on the way back up, however, as he’s made three of five cuts since the injury, including the last two tour stops.

Streelman was in the news, too.  His first-round 64 at the Valspar Championship in Florida got him media attention, and the national media were intrigued by a new revolving ball marker that he introduced there.

The Masters has produced some Masters memories already for Streelman.  He won the colorful Par-3 Championship there in 2015 and played in five Masters. He made the cut in the last three appearances, from 2014-16,  with his best finish a tie for 12th in 2015.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim and Northwestern alum Dylan Wu are also PGA Tour regulars still hoping for the opportunity to make a Masters debut.

HERE AND THERE:  Tickets are already on sale for the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop.  It’ll be held July 3-7 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.  The tourney’s Birdies for Charities program started this week.  Since its debut in 1971 it has raised $174 million for local charities.

The Illinois PGA will hold its first Chicago area competition on Monday (APRIL 15).  It’s the Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble, a three-man team event at Mistwood, in Romeoville.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. season opens with qualifiers for the CDGA Mid-Amateur at Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, on April 22 and Sunset Valley, in Highland Park, on April 23.

 

 

Rahm still winless on LIV Tour but remains a Masters threat

 

Greg Norman, executive director of the LIV Tour, jokes with Jon Rahm. (Joy Sarver Photos)

 

MIAMI, FL. – Last year’s Masters was the first tournament where PGA Tour players competed against those who defected to the LIV Golf League.  The LIV guys got the better of that one.

Four current LIV players finished  one -two-three and a tie for fourth.   That spoke well for the Saudi-financed circuit that is now in its third season. Spain’s Jon Rahm will defend his Masters title this week at Georgia’s Augusta National. He won last year when he was still a PGA Tour member.

Rahm hasn’t won an individual title as a LIV member, but team he captains – Legion XIII – won its second title in five starts on Sunday on the rugged Blue Monster course at Trump Doral and Rahm contributed several key putts to that victory. At least that’s some momentum to take into this week’s Masters.

Knowing a four-stroke lead was slipping away in a tight team battle with Bubba Watson’s RangeGoats, Rahm touched more on a clutch putt he rolled in down the stretch rather than dwell on his individual play.

“I was just trying to two-putt,’’ Rahm said, “and the putt just kept going.  We won by one stroke, so obviously that putt meant more than I had thought it would.’’

It also doesn’t hurt that Rahm has been solid, despite not winning by himself.  He’s the only LIV player to finish in the top 10 of all five tournaments of 2024. He tied for fourth Sunday, three strokes behind South African Dean Burmester and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.

Former president Donald Trump, LIV executive director Greg Norman and Trump’s son Eric enjoy the action around the first tee during the final round at Trump Doral.

Burmester took the individual title in a two-hole playoff, the third loss in extra holes  for the winless Garcia in LIV play. Burmester and Garcia played the regulation 54 holes in 11-under-par 205. Both failed to par the final holes, necessitating their playoff.

Now the focus is solely on the Masters.

If LIV shows as well at this year’s Masters it’ll likely be because of the players who weren’t  so impressive

Sergio Garcia (left) and Dean Burmester matched shots in a tense two-hole playoff.

 

 

 

LIV Tour will return to Chicago after all — but at a new site

Colorful banners are a big part of the atmosphere at LIV Golf events. (Joy Sarver Photo)

MIAMI, Florida – The Chicago area will have a major professional golf tournament this year after all.  The LIV Golf League is returning, but not at Rich Harvest.

Jerry Rich, owner of the Sugar Grove private club that hosted LIV events in 2022 and 2023, invited the fledgling Saudi-based circuit to return this year but has since decided it’d be best to give his club members a year’s break from the distraction that hosting a pro tournament usually requires from a host club.

Rich deemed the two LIV tournaments conducted at Rich Harvest successful, and they had high profile champions.  Australian Cameron Smith won the first event and Bryson DeChambeau was the champion last year. That added to DeChambeau’s Illinois success story that is starting to rival that of Hale Irwin.

Irwin, basically retired from professional golf now, won the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, the 1975 Western Open at Butler National and three Champions Tour events at Kemper Lakes.

DeChambeau won 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, the 2017 John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis and last year’s LIV event at Rich Harvest. DeChambeau can’t defend there.

Three LIV staffers at the circuit’s stop at Trump Doral privately confirmed that the circuit is returning to Chicago this year for one of the two season-ending tournaments on the circuit’s 14-event season.

“An announcement will be coming soon,’’ said one.

Both tournaments are considered majors for LIV players and will be played in September. Last event with a site on the 2024 schedule is at West Virginia’s Greenbrier Aug. 16-18.

Dates and sites for the final two events haven’ t been announced. One is the individual championship, the other the team climax to the campaign. One source at Trump Doral said the individual final would be in the Chicago area.

Both the PGA and LIV tours had Chicago tournaments in 2023.  The PGA isn’t scheduled to return until the President’s Cup is held at Medinah in 2026.

Meanwhile, both the PGA Tour and LIV conclude their competitive tuneups for next week’s Masters on Sunday. Leader of the LIV event after Saturday’s 36-hole stop  at Doral is Spain’s Sergio Garcia, a former Masters winner who has yet to win on the LIV circuit. He’s at 9-under-par 135.  Tied for second, two strokes back, are Talor Gooch, Tyrrell Hatton, Dean Burmeister and Matthew Wolff.

“This course (Doral’s Blue Monster) and Valderrama (in Spain) are the toughest courses we’ll play this year,’’ said Garcia.  “I’m happy to be out there and try to win tomorrow.’’

Picking the Masters winner is getting even more difficult

 It’s a golf tradition like no other.  The Masters – first of the year’s four major championships — is coming up next week.

That means for me – and many of you – it’s time to predict the champion.  That fun competition is much more difficult in golf than any other sport. I covered my first Masters in 1986 and am sure I entered winner’s pools for years before that.  My success record isn’t impressive – only two winners, Fred Couples in 1992 and Scottie Scheffler in 2022.

This year the prognosticating is more difficult. Blame the controversial LIV Golf League for that.  The three-year old Saudi-based circuit has its detractors, at least based on the mild hate mail that I usually receive when there’s a LIV mention in one of my pieces. Some even comes from friends who should know better.

Scheffler is the comfortable choice this year, what with his March wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship and a runner-up last Sunday in Houston. An excellent lead-in to the year’s first major by an excellent player.

I’m going in a different direction this year, though.  I’m predicting a LIV player will win – though you’ll have to read a few more paragraphs to find out who.

LIV has the numbers.  Last year, when the PGA Tour and LIV players gathered for the first time in a big tournament, the fledgling circuit had three of the top six finishers.  Brooks  Koepka and Phil Mickelson tied for second behind Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed tied for fourth. And now Rahm is a LIV member, too, but still without an individual victory on his new tour.

LIV has 13 players in this year’s Masters.  Twelve were exempt based on the club’s rules for determining  invitees.  Augusta National selectors also gave a special invitation to Joaquin Niemann. LIV players don’t get respect in the Official World Golf Rankings, a policy that greatly diminishes their significance.

Niemann, from Chile, beat the system with strong showings in two big non-LIV events, winning the Australian Open and tying for fourth in Dubai. He won two of the first four LIV events this year as well.

The LIV roster includes seven former Masters champions and has six players who are exempt from all four of the major championships.

I also like the fact that LIV, with only 14 tournaments in 2024, has one of its biggest ones the week before the Masters.  It runs Friday through Sunday on the Blue Monster course at Trump Doral in Miami.  Finding it on TV won’t be easy, but Doral is a former PGA Tour site.

“It’s the first big boy golf course that we’ve played this year,’’ said Koepka, who followed up his Masters runner-up by winning the PGA Championship last year.  “You’ve got to be able to ball-strike it (at Doral) and ball-strike at Augusta.  That’s why it’s such good prepare.’’

Seven LIV golfers have been the champion at 10 Masters. Mickelson won in 2004, 2006 and 2010 and Bubba Watson was the titlist in 2012 and 2014. Based on their play this year they don’t have a chance this time. Charl Schwartzel (2011), Sergio Garcia (2017) and Reed (2018) don’t have much of a chance, either, but defending champion Rahm and Dustin Johnson do.

Johnson won the Masters in 2020 with a record 20-under-par score.  The only drawback was that it was during the pandemic, the event was played in the fall instead of the spring and spectators weren’t allowed on the course.

In 2017 Johnson was playing his best golf, with three wins leading into the Masters, but he took a fall while in Augusta and withdrew from the tournament a day before it started.  That freak accident still haunts him.

“Without that I’d have two green jackets instead of one,’’ he said before a small media group last week. “I had a fantastic prep going into that week. I’ve never felt unbeatable but, when I’m on the course and playing my best, I don’t feel anyone can beat me.’’

At 39 he can still play.  He dominated the LIV season in 2022, tailed off last year but has a LIV victory this season and competing against his former PGA Tour rivals again is inspiring.

“The majors are the pinnacle of the sport,’’  said Johnson, “and there’s only four times we’re all together playing now. Maybe that makes them more special.’’

That’s good enough for me. I’ve got great respect for Johnson’s talent. I’ve picked him informally to win other tournaments over the years when he didn’t do it.  Now it’s the Masters, though, and DJ’s going to win this one.

 

These new golf books are well worth reading

 

 

In the last few years I’ve developed a side writing project.  Being a fairly voracious reader, I’ve been contributing book reviews to my social media outlets. By no means have these been limited to golf. I’ve written about books that I’ve enjoyed on a variety of subjects but have stayed away from reviewing the political ones.

Anyway, this time – and for first time – I’m touching on several books on golf topics.  There’s been quite a few quality golf books coming out recently, many written by colleagues who are friends of mine.  With the Masters closing in there is also a timely aspect to getting the word out on these books, so I’m including several in this report.

ARNOLD PALMER,  AMERICAN HERO – I love coffee table books, and nobody does them better than Martin Davis. Some of my writing buddies are contributors – Marino Parascenzo, Jaime Diaz, Adam Schupak, Alex Miceli  and Jeff Babineau – but there are many others.

Martin, who founded The American Golfer in 1990,  has edited or published 39 golf books, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the one he did on the Ryder Cup. He’s a great historian of the game and his latest book is filled with classic pictures of golf’s most charismatic and photogenic player. You don’t want to rush through this book.

Coffee table books are, by definition, big and this one may be the biggest in my collection.  It’s 370 pages in the large 11×14-inch format (and it weighs seven pounds).  Take it slowly, and you’ll savor the memories of  this most special individual who just happens to have been a champion golfer.

LIFE ON THE GREEN – Ann Liguori has made a big impact in sports broadcasting and she’s been a dominant winner in the International Network of Golf’s annual Media Awards. Jim Nantz gave her a glowing forward in this book (Hatherleigh Press).

Ann has 12 chapters, each spotlighting a legend of the game from her own unique perspective. The subjects are far-reaching — an excellent mix of men and women, players and contributors to the game in other ways as well. The chapters  spotlight – in alphabetical order — Amy Alcott, Ben Crenshaw, Padraig Harrington, Bernhard Langer, Nancy Lopez, Jack Nicklaus, Dottie Pepper, Gary Player, Renee Powell, Annika Sorenstam, Jan Stephenson and Tom Watson. That should tell you how expansive Ann’s book is.

Because we’re awaiting another Masters I want to toss in an anecdote from a special section on that tournament.  It comes from the 1985 tournament in which Langer and Seve Ballesteros played in the next-to-the last pairing on Sunday, just ahead of Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange.

Langer and Ballesteros were great rivals in Europe and both, of course, were Masters champions but I wish I had been around to hear this exchange on the first tee.  Ballesteros turned to Langer and said “Good luck, and let’s make sure one of us wins and not the Americans.’’

Langer found extra meaning in the comment, as did I.

“No doubt about it,’’ said Langer.  “Even at the Masters, which is so individualistic, obviously (Seve) wanted to win it, but if he couldn’t then the next best thing was just to keep it away from the Americans.’’

 

THE LEGENDARY CADDIES OF AUGUSTA NATIONAL – The author, Ward Clayton, was the sports editor of the Augusta Chronicle from 1991 to 2000, and produced a 2019 documentary, “The Caddie’s Long Walk.’’

He’s more than qualified to write the most recent book on the black caddies at the home of the Masters.  Those bag-toters used such nicknames as Stovepipe, Burnt Biscuits, Skillet, Skinny and Marble Eye.  (Some of their real names were Carl Jackson, Willie Perteet and Matthew Palmer).  They witnessed some great moments, both public and private, in their days at Augusta National, and Clayton provides extensive updates on their lives along with historical photos.

 

AND JUST OUT:  The month of March also included the release of two other most promising books — “Rainmaker,’’ the autobiography of Hughes Norton, with George Peper (Atria Books) and “Drive, the Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods,’’ by Bob Harig (St. Martin’s Press).

It’s interesting that these two have come out within a few weeks of each other.  Norton was Woods’ first agent.  A tantalizing excerpt of the book has run in Golf Digest.   Harig previously authored the book “Tiger and Phil’’ and has been a leader in the ongoing coverage of developments involving the PGA Tour and LIV Golf League.

 

Scheffler, DJ have final tuneup events leading into the Masters

Scottie Scheffler (left) and Dustin Johnson are in the pre-Masters spotlight. (Joy Sarver Photos)

Dustin Johnson and Scottie Scheffler don’t play on the same pro golf tour any more, but their play will be intertwined over the next three weeks.

Scheffler needed a week’s rest during the Florida Swing’s conclusion at the Valspar Championship last week, but – being a Texas native – he’s playing this week in the Texas Children’s Houston Open.

A champion in both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship in Florida, he’ll be going for three wins in a row in Houston.  The last player to win three in a row? Johnson in 2017, but an asterisk is needed here.

One of DJ’s wins was in the World Golf Championship Match Play Championship. If Scheffler wins in Houston he’ll be the first to win three straight starts in stroke play since Rory McIlroy did it in 2014.

Johnson’s great run eight years ago led into the Masters. He was at the top of his game then but took a fall after arriving in Augusta  and withdrew the day before the tournament.  The freak episode still haunts him.

“I never felt unbeatable,’’ he said in an interview this week leading into the next LIV Golf League tournament April 5-7 at Doral in Miami, FL.  “But I always feel that, when I’m playing my best, no one can beat me.’’

He doesn’t look back at the injury at Augusta much,  but – when prodded — will say that without it “I’d have two green jackets instead of one. I had a fantastic prep that week.’’

Johnson won his Masters in 2020, when no spectators were allowed on the course because of pandemic concerns. Now, with golf’s first major championship  three weeks away and Scheffler playing so well, Masters talk can’t be avoided.

After the PGA Tour stop in Houston that circuit has the Valero Texas Open opposite the LIV event at Doral.  Johnson will be one of 13 LIV players in the field at Augusta National. Last year the fledgling circuit had a good showing, with Brooks Koepke and Phil Mickelson tying for second behind Jon Rahm. Rahm has since left the PGA Tour to join LIV.

“Miami’s going to be a great week,’’ said Johnson.  “There’ll be a lot of guys grinding, especially those going to the Masters.’’

Johnson was LIV’s most important early signing and the dominant player in 2022 — the circuit’s first season when only eight tournaments were held.  He was the circuit’s leading individual and his 4Aces won the team title.

He wasn’t as successful in 2023 and at the conclusion of  the 14-tournament second season he was second to Talor Gooch in LIV career money, Gooch having earned $46.4 million and Johnson $44.4 million.  And that’s on top of the reported $150 million signing bonus Johnson received to leave the PGA Tour.

This season Johnson has one win in four LIV starts but couldn’t crack the top 20 in the last two in Saudi Arabia and China. He’s third in the tour standings behind Joaquin Niemann and Rahm.

Even with LIV not playing this week Johnson has had an eventful week.  His 4Aces team got a new general manager with the hiring of Chris Rosaasen.

“I’ve known Chris for many years, witnessing how he has built multiple successful brands,’’ said Johnson, the 4Aces captain and part-owner.  “Chris’  vision for the team aligns perfectly with what we aim to achieve.’’

Johnson, meanwhile, is taking aim at winning another Masters and says Doral will be “good preparation.’’

“Doral’s a fantastic golf course. It’s fair and tough, and it’s long.  You have to use all the clubs in your bag,’’ said Johnson, who has won events at Doral on both the PGA and LIV tours.

 

 

 

Malnati’s win at Valspar was a lifestyle-changer

Now Peter Malnati will stand out for more than just playing with a yellow ball. (Joy Sarver Photos)

PALM HARBOR, Florida — “Cinderella Story’’ is a term used way too much in the sports world. Peter Malnati certainly fit that description when he won the Valspar Championship on Sunday, however.

Here was a 10-year member of the PGA Tour getting his second victory nine years after capturing his first. In seven previous Valspars he had made the cut only once. He had played in only three major championships but now he’s expecting his first invitation to the upcoming Masters.

There was no reason to think Malnati could win the Valspar.  This season he missed four cuts in eight starts, shot 81 in the last round of The Players Championship the week before his win on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort and had only one top-10 – a tie for ninth at the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches, the first of the four events on the Florida Swing.

Until Sunday Malnati was notable mainly for being one of the few players to use a yellow instead of a white golf ball.  At least it seemed appropriate for a player with a colorful ball winning the “most colorful event on the PGA Tour.’’

There’s a lot more to Peter Malnati than being a PGA journeyman who finally ended a winless dryspell, however.  Malnati is a photogenic guy with an infectious smile. That’s a good thing, because he’ll likely be taking interviews for something more than being a PGA Tour champion in the coming weeks.

Malnati, 36, has recently been named one of six player directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board. He’ll be closely involved with the seemingly endless negotiations toward a merger of the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League.

Malnati was all smiles en route to his first win in nine years, but he also showed his serious side.

He didn’t make any political statements on that issue during his speech at the Valspar trophy presentation on the course, but he opened up a bit in a more in-depth session afterwards.

“I’ll say something in here that I didn’t say out there because I think it’s important and relevant,’’ said Malnati. “When my son Hatcher was born in 2019 I removed all my social media from my phone.  I don’t do social media anymore, and I’m a happier person because of it.  Not that it’s bad, social media isn’t bad.  But for me I didn’t use it particularly well because I always read comments and I wanted to use it to be interactive.  It wasn’t healthy for me, so I removed it.’’

The result is that Malnati doesn’t “know specifically what is being said about me, about the PGA Tour, about our sport in general.  But I know the direction that it has been going for the last couple years.’’

His feelings about the influx of bigger money, smaller field events seemed clear.  That concept has a downside.  On the Florida Swing the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches and Valspar weren’t weren’t signature events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship.

The API had a $20 million purse and The Players $25 million.  The Cognizant was at $9 million and the Valspar at $8.4 million. That’s a big discrepancy.

“We don’t have tournaments to play in if we have communities that think these tournaments don’t matter,’’ said Malnati. “I just want them to know that every event on the PGA Tour matters because it matters to the community where you play, and we’re going to make a difference. That  was something I felt like I needed to say.’’

Malnati won’t take a week off to celebrate his win.  He’ll tee it up in the $9.1 million Texas Children’s Hospital Houston Open this week. After that comes the $9.2 million Valero Texas Open.

Those are the lead-ins to the Masters, first of the year’s major championships with a hefty purse that won’t be announced until the week of the event, and the $20 million RBC Heritage Classic.

Malnati can play in all of them now.

“That’s really important,’’ he said.  “We put an emphasis – and I think rightfully so – on getting the top players in the world to play together more often. I have work to do to consider myself in that group.’’

Malnati found a swing that works after some years of struggling on the PGA Tour.

 

Malnati an emotional winner at Valspar tourney

Peter Malnati uses a yellow golf ball to win the Valspar tourney. (Joy Sarver Photo)

PALM HARBOR, Florida — The winners at PGA Tour events are frequently emotional, but Peter Malnati was in tears immediately after his last putt dropped at the Valspar Championship on Sunday.

Malnati, 36, won his second title nine years after his first.  He had qualified for only three major championships and never made it to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

This year he had four missed cuts and only one top-10 finish while doubling as a recently-named Player Director on the PGA Tour Policy Board. That has put him in the forefront of the complicated negotiations over the proposed merger with the Saudi-based LIV Golf League.

While that’s a time-consuming extra job Malnati had been better known as one of the few players to use a yellow golf ball.  He switched from white to yellow balls because one of his sons “liked them.’’

“He’s gotten over it now,’’ said Malnati, holding one son while fighting back tears during his first post-round televised interview.  “But it still makes me think of him.’’

Malnati, along with his wife Alicia, attended the University of Missouri before Peter turned pro in 2009. They have two sons – Hatcher and Dash. They were more in the spotlight at the Valspar, which offers an unusual opportunity for players to put what they want on their caddy’s bibs.  Malnati chose honor his sons.

Keith Mitchell started the day with a two-stroke lead on Malnati, who was in a three-way tie for second.  Mitchell faded to a 77 in the final round while Malnati shot 67 and won by one stroke over Cameron Young. Malnati posted a 12-under-par 272 for the 72 holes and earned $1,512,000.

“That moment of winning a tournament and have your family come out on the green, the big hugs and all that, that’s something I’ve seen other families have and that has been my dream,’’ said Malnati.  “ There’s been a lot of stretches in golf over the last nine years when I wondered if I’d ever have that experience. It feels completely surreal.’’

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who led the tournament after Round 1 and was tied for the lead after Round 2, shot 73-72 on his weekend rounds and finished in a tie for 28th with, among others, Northwestern alum Dylan Wu. It was Streelman’s best finish of the season. Defending champion Taylor Moore tied for 12th.

 

Mitchell masters Snakepit to lead third round of Valspar

Kevin Streelman, PGA Tour veteran from Wheaton, got off to a fast start in the Valspar Championship before cooling off in the third round. (Joy Sarver Photo)

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The story lines in the first three tournaments of the Florida Swing were certainly different than the one developing in the last one.

The most notable things in the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches, which opened four PGA Tour events in March, was a name change for the tournament (it has been the Honda Classic for decades) and a first-time winner in Austin Eckroat.  Scottie Scheffler ruled the next two, dominating the Arnold Palmer Invitational and making history in becoming the first repeat champion in The Players’ 50-year history.

Concluding the Swing was the Valspar Championship, played on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. The emergence of veteran players in contention seemed the theme for a while.

Stewart Cink, 50, and Kevin Streelman, 45, played in the final group in Saturday’s third round.  Cink has making his 19th appearance in the tournament, one off Brian Gay’s record 20, and made his 500th cut on the PGA Tour.  Another veteran, Lucas Glover, was in the tourney for the 19th time and was one shot off the lead after 36 holes.

Streelman led solo after shooting a 7-under-par 64 in the first round and was in a five-way tie for the lead after the second.

He had won his first PGA Tour event on Copperhead in 2013, so that seemed a good place for him to get a much needed career boost.

And it was – for a while.

Hampered by a back injury suffered while hitting a shot out of the rough in California’s Farmer’s Insurance Open in February, Streelman made only one cut – a tie for 32nd place in Puerto Rico —  in his first six starts of 2024.

His luck changed when he got to Copperhead, though. Streelman led solo after shooting a 64 in Thursday’s first round and was tied with four others for the 36-hole lead.

Paired with 50-year old Stewart Cink in the final group on Saturday, Streelman got off to a great start, two-putting for birdie on the par-5 first hole. After that, it wasn’t much of a day. His third-round 73 dropped him into a tie for 18th entering Sunday’s final round.

Streelman wasn’t much in the mood to talk about it afterwards, but he didn’t rule himself out of contention, either.

“I’ve just got to attack,’’ he said.  “I was only 2-over (on Saturday) and I’m 6-back.  I’ve just got to focus on golf on the range and tighten things up.’’

With that he headed for the range in hopes of challenging for the lead on Sunday. Keith Mitchell owns it at 10-under-par 203.  Mitchell owns a two-stroke lead on Seamus Power, Mackenzie Hughes and Peter Malnati.

Mitchell finished birdie-birdie-eagle to cap off a 7-under 64. He holed a 7-iron from 190 yards for his eagle to conclude his spectacular finish on Copperhead’s famed finishing holes, dubbed the “Snake Pit.”

“I looked up and something flew in my eye, so I looked away and never saw it come down and land,’’ said Mitchell of his last shot of the day.  “It’s an elevated green, so I wasn’t going to see it go in anyway, but I didn’t even see it come down next to the flag.’’

Defending champion Talor Moore is tied for 34th and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim tied for 55th.  Sam Burns, who won the tournament in 2021 and 2022, and reigning British Open champion Brian Harman were among those missing the cut when the weather-delayed second round was completed early Saturday.

 

 

Jekyll Island transformation honors the club’s rich history

The iconic clubhouse turret at Jekyll Island is the backdrop for croquet players in their  traditional white attire. (Photos by Joy Sarver)

BY LEN ZIEHM

JEKYLL ISLAND, Georgia – State parks are a big thing in Georgia, with one in particular standing out — an old place with a sparkling new look.

Needless to say Jekyll Island isn’t your ordinary state park.  There are 600 residents on the island, located on the outskirts of Brunswick off the Intracoastal Waterway near the bigger cities of Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, FL.

Jekyll offers a lot of things – a 22-mile bike and hiking trail, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the Summer Waves Water Park, The Wharf (a most memorable fun waterfront restaurant), the most enchanting Driftwood  Beach, tennis, croquet and fishing centers, horse stables, a campground, a wide variety of lodging and gift shops and 63 holes of golf.

What Jekyll is really all about, though, is history. There really isn’t another place like it.

Those 63 holes of golf are enticing, but they aren’t part of this report. This is to report on a $25 million renovation that touched most areas of the property.

Director of sales and marketing Kevin Baker has been on the Jekyll scene for over 10 years.

“ There was a Master Plan put into effect 10-12 years ago,’’ said Kevin Baker, director of sales and marketing for the Jekyll Island Club Resort.  “That included a Convention Center and Beach Village, but it feels different here now because the majority of the big construction is done. A lot of things were completed last year and the Master Plan is pretty much complete now. Just little bits and pieces are still being upgraded.’’

A look back at what Jekyll Island was shows how far it has come.  Fifty of the weathiest families in America combined efforts to create what was considered “the richest, most exclusive and most inaccessible club in the world.’’

It opened in 1888 and because a playground for the rich and famous.  Its early members were J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Joseph Pulitzer, William Vanderbilt and Marshall Field. The club became known as a “Southern Haven for America’s Millionaires.’’

With no roads available, those fortunate few arrived by boat and moved around the island in carriages.  Electricity was available on the island before it came to most of the rest of the country. Life was good.

The club had a big clubhouse facing a swimming pool that was 10 feet deep throughout. The Grand Dining Room and Alexander’s lobby bar (named after clubhouse designer Charles A. Alexander)  were the most popular hotspots.

Residents could design and build their own homes or cottages, and they all had different tastes.   The variety of architectural looks added to the beauty of the place.

In addition to the Jekyll Island Club Resort hotel there were 12 cottages back in those days, and three were addressed in the recent renovation. The biggest was the Crane Cottage, built in 1917 by a member who made his fortune in the plumbing industry.  It had 20 guest rooms and 17 baths.  In the renovation it was reduced to 13 guest rooms but remains an almost weekly site for weddings.

The San Souci Cottage was the first condominium ownership concept in the United States.

The San Souci Cottage, built in 1896, was the country’s first condominium.  J.P. Morgan devised the shared ownership concept, but that’s  just one of a series of milestones at the island. The Federal Reserve System got its start at a secret meeting there in November of 1907, when the club was largely empty, and the first transcontinental phone call was also made from Jekyll in 1915.

Everything was wonderful – until it wasn’t.

The Great Depression started the club’s downfall and World War II speeded up the process.  Members were afraid that German submarines would invade the local waters and they sold their places in droves, bringing an end to what Jekyll calls its “ Club Era.’’

From 1942 to 1948 the place deteriorated slowly and the furniture used by the rich and famous was left in the homes and cottages. It was all taken to a central location in the 1950s as the former owners didn’t want to take it with them.

The Grand Dining Room in the Jekyll Island Club will resume evening dining this spring.

In 1948 Jekyll went public and was declared a State Park. The old buildings were used by visitors, and some of the old furniture was brought back, but  the flavor of the good old days was missing until recently when 200 guest room at the Jekyll Island Club were upgraded.

“Every single guest room was completely renovated,’’ said Baker. “More color was brought into the rooms.  In the past everything was painted white.  The exterior of the buildings hasn’t changed, but now the colors in the rooms really pop. We maintained the historic rooms.  It was a modern take on history. It’s been more like a coastal eclectic look while honoring the past.’’

The rooms have all been tastefully done following a series of ownership changes. All have fireplaces, and the Grand Dining Room was completely renovated and is serving breakfasts and Sunday buffets.  Dinner dining will resume in the spring.

The renovated rooms have a coastal eclectic decor with hand-painted murals as the focal point.

“By no means is it modern, but it’s very historic.  That’s why people come here,’’ said Baker. “Luxury and style were elevated to a level that it should be.  The guest rooms are now at the level of comfort and style of the luxury hotels, but what makes us special is our history.’’

That is in the spotlight at the Mosaic Museum, which is also the base for daily guided tours.  The tours are great, but visitors can check out all parts of the island on bicycles.  They’re readily available and can go places where automobiles can’t. Boat trips are also available.

Beautiful sunrises are a regular occurrence from the suites at the Ocean Club.

You don’t have to stay in the cottages or the historic hotel.  There’s plenty of other lodging  that includes Marriott, Hilton,Westin, Holiday Inn and Days Inn  properties

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an especially interesting attraction, and it is given extra promotion with stuffed turtles (available for purchase) available in every guest room.

Beach Village gives the island a major attraction entirely separate from the Historic District. Beach Village features the oceanside Eighty Ocean Kitchen and Bar at the Jekyll Ocean Club and a splash pad has been added for youngsters. The Village is also loaded with shops, which makes it an ideal spot to take a relaxing stroll.

Churches are in abundance, too, starting with the Faith Chappel that opened as an interdenominational church for members in 1904. It now offers an Episcopal service and there are also Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

One thing that you can’t miss are the magnificent trees. The one that stands out is a Plantation Oak.  It’s the biggest and oldest – estimated to be about 350 years old – on the property but there are other eye-catching ones, too.

This Plantation Oak is the oldest and biggest of the majestic trees adorning Jekyll Island.