Len Ziehm On Golf

Sage Run’s drumlin will make a big impact on Michigan golf

The bridge to Sweetgrass’ island green is just one nice feature devised by architect Paul Albanese.

BARK RIVER/HARRIS, Michigan – Very few new golf courses are opening these days. That’s just a reflection of these economic times. One did in July in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, however.

The Paul Albanese-designed Sage Run is brand new. It’s no renovation built over an existing course. This one was created on previously untouched land as part of an $8 million renovation of the Island Resort & Casino, which is eight miles away and already had a quality layout – Sweetgrass – on its property.

Sage Run is no Sweetgrass, which was also designed by Albanese. It opened in 2008 and has blossomed into one of the very best courses in golf-rich Michigan. Sweetgrass, obviously more mature, is better now and Sage Run is different – not worse, just different. That’s the way Albanese wanted it.

“We didn’t want to force that,’’ Albanese said of the inevitable comparison of the courses. “They’re completely different properties. It’s like red wine and white wine – two different styles.’’

This is what a drumlin looks like. Sage Run’s big ridge is clearly a factor on the par-3 fifth hole.

Sweetgrass already has more than its share of aficionados – I’m certainly one of them – but golfers will be talking about Sage Run as soon as they play it for the first time.

Albanese brought a new buzz word to golf architecture – drumlins – when he unveiled Sage Run to a bunch of golf media people who were virtually unanimous in never having heard the term.

“It’s by no means unknown in the golf architecture world,’’ said Albanese. “A drumlin is a geological formation created by glaciers. A large ridge is a drumlin.’’

Albanese used a very large ridge when he designed Sage Run. It runs through the center of the 300-acre property and the holes go around, over and through it.

Getting around Sage Run is no walk in the park. The course has a rough, rugged look throughout.

Though golf architects may know the term Albanese has used a drumlin on only one of his previous courses – Mill Creek in Upstate New York.

“Drumlins aren’t everywhere. There aren’t a lot in the South but, they’re a great land form for golf,’’ said Albanese. “It gives you elevation change, and drumlins are usually above flatter land. They look like an upside down spoon, and they add a lot of character.’’

Leaders of the Potawatomi tribe gave Albanese thousands of acres on a typographical map to find a place to build a golf course, and he decided on this one.

Sweetgrass didn’t have drumlins. Neither did Tatanka, an Albanese creation in very rural Nebraska that was named Best New Resort Course by Golf Magazine in 2015.

The bridge leading to Sweetgrass’ island green runs right to the putting surface.

Albanese is believed to be the only Harvard educated golf course architect. A resident of Plymouth, Mich., he is partnered with Chris Lutzke, a former Pete Dye associate, in Albanese & Lutzke Golf Design. Though he is currently working on a course in Vietnam, Albanese has worked extensively with Indian tribes in the past.

Sweetgrass, Tatanka and now Sage Run were all projects done in conjunction with tribes and are part of casino facilities.

“Tribe leadership has wanted to utilize their people in building these courses,’’ said Albanese. “They want them to have a stake in building the golf course and take pride in it. It’s been amazingly successful.’’

Sweetgrass is in a class of its own, but there are similarities between Tatanka and Sage Run.

“Both have a more rough and rugged flavor. That came through at both courses,’’ said Albanese. “Conceptually we used the natural ruggedness of the terrain.’’

The clean look of this bunker at Sweetgrass’ No. 8 hole is in sharp contrast to the bunkers at Sage Run.

Low-Mow bluegrass was used for everything except the greens at Sage Run. The putting surfaces are bentgrass, but the tees are more noteworthy. Their concept is in keeping with the unusual focus on the big drumlin.

“We created teeing areas, not tee boxes,’’ said Albanese. “Tees are shaped to be flat, but we wanted to shape these like we shape greens. The tee areas have the same flavor of a green complex.’’

Sage Run plays 7,375 yards from the tips, while Sweetgrass’ maximum yardage is 7,275. Sage Run is also longer from the front tees – 5,231 yards compared to 5,075. Raters have visited Sage Run but not yet revealed its rating or slope numbers.

While Sage Run is the latest new thing in golf course design, Sweetgrass is every bit as memorable. A particularly interesting touch design-wise is the use of a bridge to the island green at No. 15. The bridge runs right up to the putting surface.

Sweetgrass has names for its holes – God’s Kettle (No. 2), Michigami (No. 4), The Serpent of the Flood (No. 5) and Trailing Arbutus (No. 9) are my favorites. They all point out the history of the area. Sweetgrass was the first plant to grow on mother earth and the Potawatami used it in making its medicines. Sweetgrass can also be found in the low-lying areas surrounding the course.

According to tribal lore, the other traditional Potawami medicines were cedar, tobacco and sage. The latter led to the naming of the new course as Sage Run.

Sweetgrass also has the replica of some fierce-looking eagles protecting the green at No. 13 and a wolf replica that blows in the wind is a feature on the No. 18 fairway to scare off unwanted intruders. Waterfalls are in view leading up to the double green that serves Nos. 9 and 18 with the casino and its hotel serving as a backdrop.

All in all, Sweetgrass and Sage Run both make for most interesting golf adventures.

The eagles, the wolf and the waterfalls are all part of the Sweetgrass experience.

Jim Sobb is a golf professional with a great record as a player as well

Jim Sobb’s playing record speaks for itself.

The 30-year director of golf at Ivanhoe Club won eight of the Illinois PGA’s four major tournaments, including the IPGA Championship three times. He also won nine of the section’s Senior majors, and this month he’ll go after his sixth title in the IPGA Senior Championship.

He has played in three national PGA Championships, five Western Opens, three U.S. Senior Opens and two Senior PGA Championships. In 2011 Sobb pulled off what may be his most outstanding accomplishment as a player when he swept the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Senior Match Play titles in back-to-back weeks. No other player has one that.

Now 62, Sobb has made more Radix Cup appearances (22) than any other IPGA member and – in the first year he was eligible – added the Illinois PGA Super Senior Open title to his resume.

Enough already?

Well, the remainder of the 2018 season presents a playing challenge that Sobb relishes – even though the first part of the campaign hasn’t produced a victory yet. There’s still enough big events left on the schedule for Sobb to make this year like most of the others, however.

Most notably, the IPGA Senior Championship is Aug. 13-14 at Merit Club, in Libertyville, and the IPGA Senior Match Play will be played Oct. 2-4 at Shoreacres, in Lake Bluff. Spring weather problems forced its postponement earlier.

Also, you can never count Sobb out of his favorite tournament, the Illinois PGA Championship. Though it’s been 18 years since he won the last of his three titles, he’ll be at Stonewall Orchard from Aug. 27-29 to give it another try.

Time usually takes a toll on a player’s abilities, but Sobb might be getting better with age.

“Maybe I am – by a little,’’ he said. “I continue to learn and manage my game better. There’s a lot to be said for experience.’’

What’s more surprising about this Sobb story is the fact that – despite all his playing success within the Illinois section — he never entertained thoughts of being a touring pro.

“I’ve always wanted to be a club professional. I’ve never looked beyond that,’’ he said. “I like being competitive, but (to be a tour player) you’ve got to devote yourself 365 days a year. I’m happy where I am.’’

Clearly there’s more to Jim Sobb than being a tournament golfer. He’s a lifetime Chicago guy with a unique family. His wife Tina has battled Multiple Sclerosis for many years, yet the Sobbs worked to put their two children through college. Son Ryan graduated from Birminham Southern and daughter Abbey from the University of Mississippi.

Sobb started playing golf at age 10 while growing up in Palatine. He played at Palatine Hills and Pebble Creek, a nine-hole course that is long gone, and caddied at Inverness before starting in tournament golf in the Northern Illinois Men’s Amateur Golf Association events organized by Mike Spinello. Now both Spinello and Sobb are members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

Even back then Sobb’s focus wasn’t just on golf. He was a very decent quarterback at Palatine High School, where he also played basketball and golf, but wasn’t a scholarship athlete when he headed to Western Illinois for college.

Sobb encountered one of the very best college coaches when arrived at Western. Harry Mussatto welcomed him to the team as a walk-on, and Sobb performed well enough as a freshman to earn a scholarship the next year.

After his days at Western Sobb held assistant professional jobs at Hillcrest, in Long Grove, and the now defunct Thorngate, in Deerfield, and landed his first head job at Chapel Hill, in McHenry, in 1983. He also was the head man at Highland Park Country Club before beginning his long run at Ivanhoe.

Rather than aspire to be a touring pro Sobb had another role model.

“I wanted to be like Gary Groh,’’ he said.

While Groh did play on the PGA Tour – he even won the Hawaiian Open – his career was built around his long stint as head professional at Bob O’Link, in Highland Park. Groh worked there into his 70s and competed successfully within the state ranks much like Sobb is doing.

The Ivanhoe job has offered Sobb some other growth opportunities.. He created a high school tournament, the Ivanhoe Invitational, and was – for the last three years – the host professional for a Web.com Tour event, the Rust-Oleum Championship. He’s also mentored several former assistants who now hold head professional jobs.

Such projects helped earn Sobb the IPGA Professional of the Year honor in 1995 and 2000, the IPGA Private Club Merchandiser of the Year Award in 1997 and the Bill Strausbaugh Award, for service to his fellow pros, in 2012. He also spent 10 years on the IPGA board of directors and he’s not done yet.

“I’m very comfortable here,’’ said Sobb. “I haven’t set a date for retiring. I feel great. I like to compete, and I love what I’m doing.’’

Illinois Open win puts Vince India in select state golf company

Unless your name is Vince India the 69th playing of the Illinois Open will likely be an easily forgettable experience.

Annually the biggest tournament for Illinois residents, this year’s version was a weather nightmare. Heavy rains delayed the first and second rounds. The weather cleared for the third round, but it couldn’t start until second-round play at both The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods, was completed and the 264-player field cut to the low 50 and ties.

Only India went him satisfied. Patrick Flavin, the defending champion, was only so-so in his much anticipated professional debut, finishing in a tie for 30th place. Garrett Chaussard, winner of the Illinois PGA Match Play title – the section’s first of four major events for the season – missed the cut.

Brandon Holtz, the former Illinois State basketball player, who was a joint runner-up to Flavin last year, wound up solo second this time after making a costly bogey at No. 17 – a par-3 stretched to a maximum 220 yards. That meant Holtz had to make eagle at No. 18, a par-5 that – with the tees moved up – was a very reachable 460 yards. Holtz’ second shot stopped 18 feet away but the eagle putt he needed to force a playoff went left.

India became only the ninth player to notch victories in the state’s two major men’s events – the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. In addition to Flavin the other seven were David Ogrin, Bill Hoffer, Gary Hallberg, Gary Pinns, Mark Hensby, Roy Biancalana and Brad Hopfinger. Ogrin, Hallberg, Pinns, Hensby and Biancalana went on to play on the PGA Tour.

Hopfinger, now a regular on the PGA’s Web.com circuit, was India’s collegiate teammate at Iowa. India will be in the field for this week’s Web.com stop, the EllieMae Classic in Hayward, Calif. He caught an evening flight to make a 9:06 tee time today.

With only limited Web.com status, India has played in just seven tournaments this year, made two cuts and earned $2,964. He picked up $19,004 for his Illinois Open win.

Winner of the Illinois State Amateur in 2010, India was the runner-up in the Illinois Open in 2015 and hadn’t played in this tournament since, until this week. His play on the Web.com Tour has been hampered by back problems.

“I have a disc herniation in my lower back,’’ he said, “and I’ve been working on a lot of things so that I can play pain free. My health is better now, and I’m swinging the club better. My swing is coming back, which is great.’’

The alternate course for this year’s Illinois Open was Ravinia Green, where India was a long-time caddie growing up, and The Glen Club – the site of his second round as well as Wednesday’s final round – is near his home in Deerfield as well.

India finished his rain-delayed second round with an 8-uner-par 64 – the low round of the tournament — on Wednesday morning to get within one stroke of the lead entering the final 18. Making birdies on the first two holes, India established himself as a contender immediately and made a clutch two-putt birdie at No. 18 — the margin of victory over Holtz.

With rounds of 72, 64 and 66 India was at 14-uner-par 202 for the 54 holes. Holtz also posted a 68 in the final round to finish one swing back.

“It was a grind, but I did a good job for not being in this position for a long time,’’ said India. “I was playing here because I wasn’t expecting to play (the Web.com event) this week. I didn’t expect the sponsor’s exemption to the EllaMae, but that was really nice.’’

So was a most fortunate bounce on his last tee shot. India knew the ball hit a cart path running through the No. 18 fairway but didn’t think the carom would carry it as far as it did. He couldn’t immediately find the ball in the right rough, and when he did he had just 170 yards to the pin for his second shot.

“In the end the drive went about 400 yards, cartpath-aided,’’ he said. He put his second shot on the green, two-putted from 30 feet for birdie and then waited for Holtz to finish.

The last threesome lagged two holes behind India’s group most of the day but Holtz was in place for another shot at the title when he put his approach from 205 yards to 18 feet for eagle.

“I knew my putt had a chance, and I wasn’t going to leave it short,’’ said Holtz, who sells football helmets for a living. He was playing in only his third tournament of the year after finishing sixth in the St. Louis Metro Open and missing the cut in the Waterloo Open.

The final day had one other most notable incident. Jeff Kellen, a club pro in the Rockford area, resumed his second round at The Glen’s 17th hole. On the first swing of the day Kellen holed out for an ace. He wound up in fifth place.

After an array of upgrades historic Tam O’Shanter is thriving again

Six decades ago the Tam O’Shanter Country Club in suburban Chicago was among the most famous golf courses in the world. It was owned by George S. May back then, and May was a man far ahead of his time when it came to golf promotion.

Tam O’Shanter opened in 1925. May took ownership in 1937 and hosted his first tournament, the Chicago Open, in 1940. He liked the results, and the next year he created his own tournament – the All-American Open – which offered, for that era, unprecedented prize money for the best men and women golfers. The legendary Byron Nelson was the men’s champion four times in a five-year stretch and notched win No. 10 in his unprecedented 11 victories in a row there in 1945.

The All-American Open grew into the World Championship in 1946. It lasted until 1957, with the likes of Gene Littler, Lloyd Mangrum, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias teeing it up for – by far — the biggest purses in golf. None of those players had the longlasting impact on golf that Lew Worsham did, however.

In 1953, in the first nationally-televised golf tournament, Worsham holed a 104-yard wedge shot on the final hole of the World Championship for an eagle and a one-stroke victory over a stunned Chandler Harper. The drama provided by Worsham’s shot captivated golf fans and triggered the sport’s rise in popularity as both a participant and spectator sport.

May eventually had issues with the PGA Tour over player entrance fees and discontinued his tournament in 1957. He died in 1962 and the Western Open resulted in the return of the PGA Tour to Tam O’Shanter in 1964 and 1965. That was the last hurrah for Tam O’Shanter’s glory days.

May’s family sold the club to developers late in 1965 and they turned much of the land into an industrial park, closing the course in the process. Now Tam O’Shanter is a nine-hole municipal course owned by the Niles Park District. Only about one-third of the land from the Tam O’Shanter of the May days is still used for golf and the clubhouse burned down long ago.

This story does not have a sad ending, however – not by a long shot.

The Niles Park District purchased what was left of the golf course and salvaged a nine-hole course that opened in 1974. It struggled for survival for nearly four decades but now, following a year-long course renovation project, Tam O’Shanter isn’t just surviving. It’s thriving.

The course renovation was performed by the Illinois-based Lohmann Quitno architectural firm. Drainage was improved and new tee boxes, bunkering and cart paths were installed. Signage on the course was also upgraded as the course was given a more classic look. Only two holes – No. 1, a par-4, and No. 6, a par-3 that had been No. 16 on the old course – are left from the original 18-holer. The renovated nine-holer plays just 2,457 yards from the tips.

No. 1 is now the longest hole, at 404 yards, and the rotation calls for six par-4s and three par-3s. It’s nothing fancy, like the Tam O’Shanter of old, but players have been turning out in steady numbers since the renovated course re-opened in June.

“We weren’t really trying to preserve the course, just bring back the style it had from the old days,’’ said architect Todd Quitno. “It was more about function and maintenance than it was about history. We wanted to preserve the golf course for a long time, and to do that we had to make it more maintainable. It was about acknowledging that this course had a long history and giving it a long future.’’

That was just fine with manager Peter Dubs, who attended golf camps at the course when he was 14 years old and held part-time jobs there before becoming a full-time employee 11 years ago following his college graduation. Chris Urgo, the director of instruction, also progressed from part-time to full-time staffer during a similar time frame.

What had once been a failed, very small driving range was converted into the outdoor portion of the Golf Learning Center. The facility is heavy into youth work and draws about 1,000 pupils annually.

Immediately after the Niles Park District opened the course the pro shop was operated out of a trailer. Then an Italian restaurant was added, but it didn’t work out very well. Since 2003 the Howard Street Inn sports bar-restaurant, which adjoins the pro shop, has been a busy year-around facility – not just when golfers are on the premises.

While the new nine-holer only faintly resembles May’s carnival-like 18-hole version, the history of that place hasn’t been forgotten. A big history wall fronts the No. 1 tee and the learning center includes an array of photos and memorabilia from May’s big tournaments.

Nine-hole rates range from $19 to $21 for non-residents and on-line reservations are being taken for the first time. Though power carts are available, the course is ideal for walking.

No reason to think Small won’t make it win No. 13 in IPGA Championship

The Illinois PGA Championship has been Mike Small’s personal playground for nearly two decades and there’s no reason to think that the 96th playing of the tournament this month at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake should be any different.

The University of Illinois men’s coach has won the IPGA title a record 12 times, his first coming in 2001 and his last in 2016. The tournament has had 19 other multiple winners, but none have come close to Small’s dozen.

Johnny Revolta, the long-time Evanston Golf Club head pro and winner of the 1935 PGA Championship, took six titles from 1936-47. Bill Ogden, the section’s dominant player when he ran the shop at North Shore Country Club, was a five-time winner from 1953-72. Recently retired Gary Groh, who did his time at Bob O’Link in Highland Park and was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame last year, captured four titles between 1983-2002.

Jim Foulis, part of the Foulis clan that played big roles at Chicago Golf Club, Olympia Fields and Hinsdale in the earlier years of Chicago golf, also had four wins in the IPGA Championship but Groh was the only one of those four to go head-to-head with Small.

Small won his first IPGA title in 2001 at Kemper Lakes, Groh beat him in a playoff the next year on the same course and Small then ran off eight championships in a row. He also won four more times in the last seven years, and he’ll be coming off one of his best summers of tournament play when the 54-hole shootout returns from Aug. 27-29.

Thanks to sponsor exemptions, Small had no trouble getting into PGA Tour Champions tournaments and took advantage of his invitations. Thanks to two top-10 finishes he squeezed into the top 70 on PGA Tour Champions’ Charles Schwab Cup money list and that got him into one of the 50-and-over circuit’s major events – the Constellation Senor Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.

Small needed to hole a chip shot on his last hole of a tournament in Madison, Wis., to crack the Senior Players field. Once in, he earned a share of the first round lead and stayed in contention most of the way before finishing in a tie for 10th place. That earned him his biggest paycheck as a tournament player — $67,200. (His previous best was $57,200 for a tie for ninth in the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open in 1998).

The Senior Players concluded on July 15, and Small has a big August as well. He has a spot in one more PGA Tour Champions event – the 3M tournament in Minnesota Aug. 3-5. Then he’ll bid for a record-tying fifth win in the Illinois Open Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club and Ravinia Green and wrap up his tournament season in the IPGA Championship. It ends on the day classes resume at the University of Illinois.

When the last putt drops at The Glen Small will go back to his day job, as coach of the powerhouse Illini men’s team that will be reloading following the graduations of stars Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy.

Despite his summer successes Small has no goals as far as tournament play goes.

“If I still have fun doing it, if I still get nervous and still get a little anxiety, that’s good,’’ he said. “I’ve had a heckuva run. Golf has been very good to me. If I can do this for three or four more years and still be competitive I’ll do it. If I’m not competitive I won’t.’’

Small was certainly competitive over the last four months. He posted two 66s at Exmoor in his run at the Senior Players title and wasn’t surprised by his lofty status there. He fell t that it all boiled down to getting more chances to compete.

“The last few years I haven’t done that much,’’ said Small. “I’d play one week, then have two or three off, then play another one. This year I’m playing three, four weeks in a row. I don’t usually do that. Ever, really.’’

He went into the last round at Exmoor with the attitude that “I’ve got nothing to lose.’’

“My golf swing has got to get better and more consistent. It leaves me sometimes, so I’ve got to work on that,’’ said Small, and that mindset will be the same whether he’s playing against the best on the PGA Tour Champions or the best in the Illinois PGA.

Small has won five of his IPGA titles at Stonewall – in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2014.

Though it might not seem like it, Small doesn’t win the Illinois PGA Championship every time. His run of eight titles in a row was snapped by Frank Hohenadel, now the head professional at Mistwood in Romeoville, in 2011 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Steve Orrick, of Country Club of Decatur, was the winner at Stonewall the following year before Small bounced back to win three of the next four years.

Jim Billiter, now the head pro at Kemper Lakes, beat him in a return to Medinah in 2015 and Indian Hill assistant Adam Schumacher was the winner when the tourney returned to Medinah last year. Small tied for sixth in that one.

Over the years there have been six players who finished second to Small in the IPGA Championship on more than one occasion. Fresh Meadows’ Roy Biancalana, back in the section this year after taking a break from golf altogether, was a runner-up in 2003, 2004 and 2007. Cantigny’s Connie DeMattia was second in 2004 and 2005. Orrick, in addition to his victory, was a runner-up in 2008 and 2014 and Medinah’s Travis Johns was a runner-up in 2010, 2013 and 2016. They’ll all be ready to do battle with Small again.

August will also go a long way in determine the IPGA Player of the Year. Only one of the four major titles have been conducted so far, Skokie’s Garrett Chaussard winning the Match Play title at Kemper Lakes in May. Two more, the Illinois Open and IPGA Championship, will be held in August.

PGA Tour schedule for 2018-19 will require some fresh thinking

I did enough venting about this year’s tournament schedule in our last issue. Then – wouldn’t you know it? – the PGA Tour made its plans for the 2018-19 wrap-around season official. There’s lots of food for thought when you analyze that one.

Just knowing the PGA Tour dates isn’t enough to project how our next golf season will be received. The schedules for the USGA, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions, Web.com Tour and local attractions organized by the Western Golf Association, Illinois PGA and CDGA have to be factored in as well.

Still, having the schedule for the world’s premier tour available well in advance is most helpful and – from the overall standpoint – I like what I see. Locally I’m not so sure.

The key dates for Chicago area fans are July 8-14 for the John Deere Classic and August 12-18 for the BMW Championship. Despite massive shuffling of the PGA Tour schedule, the JDC remained in its spot the week before the British Open. While not every tournament organizer would be happy with that place on the calendar, it’s worked out well for the JDC.

Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director, had a stroke of genius back in 2008 that is still paying big dividends. Rather than make the expected increase in prize money back then Peterson opted to hire a jet that would take players directly from the JDC to the British Open site. That enhanced the players’ view of the tournament and Peterson has continued with that offering every year since then.

Quad Cities was always a friendly place for the pros during tournament week and now – if indeed they wanted to go to the British – they could make the trip with less travel hassles and for a greatly reduced rate. Suddenly the John Deere Classic looked a lot more attractive. Louis Oosthuizen even opted to play there immediately prior to making his British title defense in 2011.

Now for the BMW Championship, the situation isn’t so rosy. The event remains a part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, though the season-ending series has been reduced from four tournaments to three. The BMW is the second one, when the survivors will again be whittled from 70 to 30 for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, in Atlanta.

The BMW, scheduled for Aronimink in Philadelphia this September, returns to the Chicago area at Medinah No. 3 in 2019. Chicago’s best tournament venue last hosted a PGA Tour event when the Ryder Cup matches were played there in 2012. A return to Medinah is always nice, though the club’s membership isn’t thrilled about losing at least of week of play on their top layout during the busiest part of its golf season. The club agreed to host the tournament when it was held in September.

Also, not to be ignored, is the fact that BMW’s contract to sponsor the tournament concludes after the 2019 event. As of this printing there’s no hint of a contract extension being in the works, and the Western Golf Association has no site booked beyond Medinah.

Chicago clubs willing to give up their course in August won’t be as plentiful as the number that would be agreeable in the fall. So, the event is somewhat in limbo.

Also a cause for concern is the status of the PGA Championship. It’ll end its long fall run at Bellerive in St. Louis this month, then move up to May 13-19 in 2019. The move will help the PGA (my prediction, though not all pundits agree) in the form of visibility but May dates will also make it difficult to get that major championship back to Chicago – or any place in the Midwest –in future years. Why would the PGA want to risk scheduling its premier event in an area with dubious spring weather?

In its fall dates the PGA has been the one major that has been receptive to coming to Midwest venues. In addition to Bellerive, that tournament was played twice at Medinah since 1999 and also had two stagings at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in that period. In case you didn’t know, no major championship (USGA, PGA of America, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions) has been scheduled in Chicago in the future. Last month’s Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor will most likely be the last for quite awhile – and that’s a shame.

While other tournament dates for next year haven’t been announced, the closest major will be the U.S. Senior Open, which is scheduled for the Warren Course in South Bend. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, played at Chicago area courses (Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes) the last two years is headed for Hazeltine, in Minnesota, in 2019.

Getting back to the PGA Tour, the schedule will have only 46 tournaments compared to the 49 in the 2017-18 campaign. There’ll be two new evens in the Midwest, both in the two weeks leading into the John Deere Classic. Detroit finally gets back on the circuit with the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club from June 24-30 and the Minneapolis area gets still another boost to its golf profile with the 3M Open coming to the Twin Cities from July 1-7. This season the area had a Champions Tour event under that sponsorship.

The main goal of the revamped schedule was to enhance attention on the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Now, instead of September, they’ll be completed on Aug. 25. That means the climax to the golf season won’t be encumbered by competition for attention from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the Stanley Cup or NBA playoffs.

Golf’s majors will also be better spread out in the new schedule. The Players Championship, which should have been designated a major years ago, will move back to March and Florida weather should be acceptable that early in the year. Then there’s a major a month – the Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and British Open in July. That’s an ideal lead-in to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

And, there will still be tournament golf played after those playoffs. The PGA Tour slate for 2019-20 will begin a week or two after the President’s Cup (not yet officially scheduled) is played.

Hammer’s Western Amateur win was one for the ages

This week’s Illinois Open will be hard-pressed to duplicate the drama provided in the Western Amateur, which concluded on Saturday with one of the most dramatic championship matches in the event’s 116-year history.

Cole Hammer, an incoming freshman at the University of Texas, was 4-up on Alabama senior-to-be Davis Riley with eight holes to play at Sunset Ridge Country Club, in Northfield. One of the most prestigious titles in amateur golf wasn’t assured for Hammer, however, until Riley’s final putt from the fringe of the 18th green slipped past the cup.

The win enabled Hammer to join the ranks of golfing greats Chick Evans, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as Western Amateur winners. Woods and Hammer are among the five players to win the tournament as 18-year olds.

Though the final was filled with drama, the star of the show all week was Hammer. He set the Sunset Ridge course record with a 10-under-par 61 and was co-medalist with a tournament record 23-under-par 261 in the 72-hole stroke play-qualifying portion of the most grueling competition in golf.

All the stroke play heroics did was get Hammer in the Sweet 16 for the two-day match play portion that decided the overall champion. Two of Hammer’s four matches went to extra holes and all reached the 18th green. He got through them with the help of his mother Allison, who made a rare tournament appearance as his caddy.

By comparison Riley played 11 less holes in his first three matches than Hammer did, but the champion showed no ill effects from the very physical ordeal that included his last two matches being played in 90-degree plus heat.

“I was fine, and to win with my mom on the bag meant the world to me,’’ said Hammer. “I had adrenalin going just because it was the finals of the Western Am, and there’s no bigger championship in amateur golf.’’

He may change his tune in tune weeks. Both Hammer and Riley are qualifiers for the U.S. Amateur at California’s famed Pebble Beach before they join their college teams.

Hammer, who was the third-youngest qualifier for the U.S. Open when he made it in 2016, had an especially long day on Saturday. His morning semifinal match with Californian Brandon Wu went 20 holes before Wu cracked, conceding a five-foot putt and the match to Hammer on the second extra hole after his own play deteriorated.

Riley, meanwhile, led all the way in his 4 and 2 semifinal win over Tyler Strafaci, of Davie, FL. Riley was cooling off in the clubhouse for 40 minutes before Hammer finished off Wu.

A 60-foot eagle putt at No. 7 was the highlight of Hammer’s fast start in the championship match. He got to 4-up before Ralston won Nos. 11, 12 and 16 to get to 1-down with two holes left. They both failed to connect on good birdie opportunities at the par-3 17th and both missed birdie chances from almost the identical spot at the 18th while the walking gallery of several hundred fans roared with every shot.

All of Hammer’s matches were tough ones. He advanced to the final day of the Western with a 2-up win over Georgian Spencer Ralston in Friday’s quarterfinals. Ralston had come from 2-down after nine holes to eliminate the only local player to reach the Sweet 16, Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, 3 and 2.

Flavin makes his professional debut on Monday when he begins defense of his Illinois Open title. He has a 9:20 tee time at Ravinia Green in Riverwoods and is paired with Brandon Holtz, the former Illinois State basketball player who was last year’s runner-up, and 2016 Illinois Open champion Carlos Sainz Jr.

“The Illinois Open is a little different than the Western Amateur,’’ said Flavin. “The Western has the best field in amateur golf but you have to play well on two courses in the Illinois Open. I’m really looking forward to that. It was such a big game-changer for me last year, winning my first pro event as an amateur.’’

Flavin and his partners have a 2:10 p.m. tee time at The Glen Club in Glenview on Tuesday before the 156 starters are whittled to the low 50 and ties for Wednesday’s final round at The Glen.

Did Patrick Flavin attempt a `Mission Impossible?’

Last year Highwood’s Patrick Flavin did something very special, winning both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. No player had won both in the same year since David Ogrin did it in 1980.

This year Flavin will try to do something even more special. He’ll try to repeat in both. No player has ever done that.

In fact, Ogrin, who became a journeyman on the PGA Tour with a victory in the LaCantera Texas Open in 1996, is the only other player to capture the two major state titles in the same year. Flavin became the eighth to own titles in both events, the other six having done it in different years.

Ogrin, now 60 and the director of the Alamo City Golf Trail in San Antonio, Tex., won the Illinois State Amateur at Crestwicke, in Bloomington, and the Illinois Open at Bloomington Country Club. He turned pro shortly after taking the double, and that made it impossible for him to defend his Amateur title in 1981.

Flavin, though, isn’t in any hurry to play for money. Despite completing a solid career at Miami of Ohio, where he won eight collegiate tournaments – four in his senior season, Flavin opted to spend the summer as an amateur. His tentative plans called for turning pro for the Web.com Tour qualifying school in the fall.

“Staying amateur was a no-brainer for me,’’ said Flavin. “It was incredible to win the state Amateur and state Open last year and to repeat is a huge goal of mine, though I know the fields will be strong.’’

His title defense in the 88th Illinois State Amateur will come July 17-19 at Bloomington Country Club, where Ogrin completed his then unprecedented double. Flavin’s defense in the 69th Illinois Open comes from Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods. The last putt of his Open win last year came at The Glen.

Just repeating in either tournament has been a rarity. There hasn’t been a repeat champion in the Illinois State Amateur since Todd Mitchell in 2002-03 and only five others have won back-to-back since the tournament went to a stroke play format in 1963. Illinois men’s coach Mike Small was the last to repeat in the Illinois Open. He won three straight titles from 2005-07 and was only the fourth player to win that tournament in back-to-back years.

Flavin took both his titles last year by one-stroke margins, but the Amateur was more difficult as Flavin had to overhaul Jordan Hahn, a University of Wisconsin golfer from Sugar Grove, in the 36-hole final day. In the Open Flavin owned a six-stroke lead entering the final round but former Illinois State basketball player Brandon Holtz pulled into a brief tie for the lead on the back nine.

In the end Flavin was one swing better than Holtz and two college stars, Nick Hardy of Illinois and Matt Murlick of Marquette.

Flavin has already tested the professional ranks, when he went through qualifying for the Canadian PGA Tour while retaining his amateur status. In addition to the two state tournaments his summer schedule includes the Western Amateur, starting July 30 at Sunset Ridge in Northfield; the Sunnehanna, in Pennsylvania; the Northeast, in Rhode Island; and the Trans-Miss, in Ohio. All are invitationals. He’ll also enter the U.S. Amateur.

Those tournaments will provide more seasoning for Flavin, though his play over the last year suggests he doesn’t need much of that.

“My game is solid now,’’ he said. “I know I can play at the next level.’’

Sunset Ridge is back in the tournament spotlight for first time since 1972

It’s been quite a while since Sunset Ridge had had a moment in the sun tournament-wise.

The private club in Northfield hosted the Western Open in 1972. While Sunset Ridge hosted Illinois PGA stroke play events, U.S. Golf Association qualifiers and high school tournaments in subsequent years, it has been without such a high-profile event for 46 years. The dry spell ends when the 116th Western Amateur takes over the course from July 30 to August 4.

This is an interesting time for both Sunset Ridge and the prestigious tournament it will be hosting.

When Sunset Ridge hosted its Western Open the club had just finished a massive expansion and renovation project. With the club’s 50th anniversary approaching, it was awarded the tournament as a gift from both the Western Golf Association and PGA Tour. Long one of the circuit’s most popular stops, the Western had not been played on Chicago’s North Shore for 44 years until Sunset Ridge landed it.

After that tournament it’d be another 41 years before another North Shore club would host a Western Open. (Actually, the return came when the WGA brought its BMW Championship – the successor to the Western – to Conway Farms in Lake Forest in 2013).

As far as the Western Amateur goes, the Sunset Ridge visit will bring a brief halt to the tournament’s stagings in Chicago. The WGA held the event at Point O’Woods, in Benton Harbor, Mich., for 28 years until deciding on a rotation of Chicago clubs beginning in 2009.

With one exception (2013, when the Alotian Club in Louisiana hosted) the tournament has bounced around some of the best Chicago private venues for eight of the last nine years. Skokie hosted twice with North Shore, Exmoor, Beverly, Rich Harvest Farms and Knollwood all getting a shot before Sunset Ridge gets its turn.

The tourney will take a two-year hiatus from Chicago after Sunset Ridge plays host. The Western Am returns to Point O’Woods in 2019 and then goes to Crooked Stick, in Indianapolis, in 2020. A return to the North Shore is assured, though, with Glen View the site in 2021 and Exmoor in 2022. Glen View was the site of the very first Western Amateur in 1899.

Sunset Ridge will be hosting for the first time and – based on what happened in its lone Western Open – the world’s best amateurs will be facing a tough challenge. In the 1972 Western Open only 14 players finished under par and just one clearly mastered the course. Jim Jamieson led wire to wire, posting rounds of 67, 69, 68 and 67 to win by six strokes over Labron Harris.

Jamieson’s 13-under-par 271 total triggered his only win on the PGA Tour but it was part of a brief hot streak for the golfer from downstate Moline, Ill. He had tied for sixth in the 1971 Masters, tied for second in that tournament a few months before his Western win and then tied for third in the 1973 PGA Championship.

Western Amateur contestants will find Sunset Ridge on the short side; it’s only 6,752 yards from the back tees. Bill Diddel, a prolific Indiana architect, designed the original course. He has 160 courses on his resume, and Sunset Ridge was one of his first. In addition to the ’72 Western the Women’s Western Open was played there in 1936 and the Western Junior the following year.

The layout used for this year’s Western Am was created during a renovation by Libertyville architect Rick Jacobson in 2004-05. The course record of 62 was posted by Eric Meierdierks, the 2010 Illinois Open champion who played briefly on the PGA Tour.

As usual, the Western Am will offer one of the most physically challenging events in golf. It starts with 72 holes of stroke play to determine 16 qualifiers for the match play climax to the event. Those who go at it at Sunset Ridge will be hard-pressed to match the drama created last year at Skokie when Norman Xiong, a sophomore at Oregon, needed 22 holes to overcome Doc Redman, then a freshman at Clemson, in the title match.

They played the longest final in tournament history, and it was only the 13th time that the championship match went extra holes. Xiong was also the medalist, and he was the 25th player to lead the stroke play and go on to win the title.

Redman bounced back from the loss to win the U.S. Amateur later in the summer, beating Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim in the final. Xiong, Redman and Ghim all wound up as members of last year’s winning U.S. team in the Walker Cup matches.

McCarron makes his first major title defense at Exmoor

Scott McCarron may be a battled-hardened mainstay on PGA Tour Champions, but he anticipates a unique feeling when he opens play in the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.

“It’ll be the first time I’ve defended a title in a major,’’ said McCarron, looking ahead to the July 12-15 tournament – the first senior major played in the Chicago area since Olympia Fields hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 1997. “I’m sure there’ll be a few more butterflies on the first tee. This will be our best field of the year.’’

McCarron, 52, was no slouch on the PGA Tour. He won three times, two coming in the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta in 1997 and 2001. He lost three other titles in playoffs, had top-10 finishes in the Masters (1996), U.S. Open (1997) and PGA Championship (1997) and compiled $12.6 million in winnings.

Like so many players, however, he found his comfort zone on the circuit for players after they turned 50.

“I was competitive for a long time on the PGA Tour, but I was playing in the Tiger Woods era, and Phil Mickelson was winning a lot, too,’’ said McCarron. “Here (on PGA Tour Champions) it fits my game better. I come out to make birdies starting on the very first hole. I wish I had that attitude when I was on the PGA Tour.’’

Another factor is what McCarron calls “the numbers deal….on the PGA Tour there were 156-player fields. It’s 81 now.’’

That made a big difference once McCarron turned 50 in 2015. He won his first two titles on PGA Tour Champions the following year.

That was a good season, but nothing like the one he experienced in 2017. He started that year by winning the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla., in spectacular fashion. Needing a birdie to force a playoff on the par-5 finishing hole at the Broken Sound North course, McCarron went for the green with a 7-iron second shot from 186 yards.

“Normally my 7-iron is for 170, but I was pumped,’’ he said. The approach stopped six feet from the cup, and McCarron rolled in the eagle putt to claim the first of his four wins of that season. He went on to lead PGA Tour Champions in both birdies and eagles for the season.

“I was having such a blast,’’ he said. “I never realized how good golf could be until I got here. It’s been so much fun. Jack Nicklaus told me he made a mistake by not playing more on our tour.’’

While McCarron also would win the Dick’s Sports Goods Open and Shaw Charity Classic last year, his crowning moment came in the Constellation Senior Players at Caves Valley in Maryland when he overcame a six-stroke deficit in the final 18 holes to edge Brandt Jobe and Bernhard Langer by one shot. Posting an 18-under-par 270 total for the 72 holes, McCarron claimed his first win in a major on any tour.

“I tried a lot on the regular tour,’’ he said, “but this one feels the same, even if the accolades aren’t the same. To us it’s a big deal because it gets you into The Players Championship.’’

McCarron was looking forward to his appearance at the PGA Tour stop at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass last month (MAY), calling it “a special perk,’’ but he didn’t plan on testing himself against the game’s top young stars any other time.

“I don’t want to play on the regular tour if it conflicts with our (Champions) tour. I want to support PGA Tour Champions,’’ he said.

That sentiment is understandable, especially given McCarron’s background. He didn’t jump into right into professional golf after attending college at UCLA. He worked with his father in a family clothing business for four years first. Then he attended an event for the 50-and-older tour, the Raley’s Senior Gold Rush in his native California, in 1991.

That triggered his return to golf. McCarron decided to build a long putter in his garage and he was a serious contender in the U.S. Mid Amateur that year using the putter that he built. He went on to win his three PGA Tour titles with a more sophisticated version of the same club, and his career grew from there.

Last year was his best yet. He compiled 14 top-10 finishes, finished second in the Charles Schwab Cup standings and earned $2,674,195.

Though McCarron was without a win through April in 2018 he did come close. His best was a tie for second in the Toshiba Classic, which was one of his four top-10 finishes in the first eight tournaments. After the runner-up showing in the Toshiba Classic McCarron signed on with Tour Edge, the Batavia-based club manufacturer, as one of its hybrid staff players.

As good as McCarron has been in recent years on PGA Tour Champions, his most noteworthy round was one that came 24 years ago and can’t go unmentioned. Then 28, t McCarron made two holes-in-one in a seven-hole stretch at Alameda Country Club in California. They were also his first two career aces.