Len Ziehm On Golf

Streelman, Points, Donald are in FedEx Cup Playoffs — but for how long?

The busiest Chicago golf season in at least twenty years is approaching its climax. The BMW Championship is headed back to Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, next month and the Western Golf Association called on England’s Paul Casey to be the focal point of last week’s preview to the FedEx Cup Playoff event.

As per usual, the field at Conway Farms will be only 70 players and they won’t be determined until after the first two FedEx Cup tournaments. The series begins on Thursday with The Northern Trust, the new name for the New York stop. It’ll have the top 125 in the season-long FedEx point race, and the field includes three players with Chicago connects.

That trio – Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points and Luke Donald – will have to play well to stay in the competition after the first tournament. Streelman is No. 83, Points 104 and Donald 107. The top 100 in the standings after the New York event advance to the Dell Technology Championship Sept. 1-4 at TPC Boston and the top 70 after that tournament are eligible to play at Conway Farms from Sept. 14-17.

The 30-player Tour Championship concludes the series at East Lake in Atlanta from Sept. 21-24.

While Casey isn’t guaranteed a spot at Conway Farms, there’s a good chance he’ll be there. His game has thrived in both the Playoffs and the BMW Championship. Last year he finished in the top five in all four FedEx tournaments and he’s been runner-up to Dustin Johnson twice in BMW Championships – at Cog Hill, in Lemont, in 2010 and at Crooked Stick, in Indiana, last year.

“If you could make sure that (Johnson) is not in the field, that would be great,’’ deadpanned Johnson. “But I’m really excited. This (FedEx Playoffs) has built through the years. It’s a great time of the season to get hot, and I typically do.’’

Each of the four Playoff events offers a purse of $8,750,000, and then there’s a $10 million bonus to the overall champion after the Atlanta stop.

The FedEx Cup Playoffs started in 2007 and the BMW Championship is an outgrowth of the Western Golf Association’s Western Open. With fall dates it took a while for the series to catch on, and Casey still rates the four-tournament climax to the season in importance behind the four major championships and The Players Championship.

“The system is still being tweaked’’ said Casey, “but the players really enjoy (the Playoffs). It is now something which is really etched in our minds all season long and is very, very exciting for us.’’

And it’ll stay around for a while, since FedEx recently renewed its financial commitment to the series.

“That’s massive for us,’’ said Casey. “It shows what place it has within the golfing community with the professionals. It’s now very, very important to us.’’

The BMW Championship is just as important to the Western Golf Association, which uses the tournament as a major way to fund its Evans Scholarship program. The last time the BMW Championship was played at Conway Farms, in 2015, it raised $2 million for the charity.

This year’s tourney ends Conway Farm’s three-year run as tourney host. Medinah will be the site in 2019 after Aronimink, in the Philadelphia area, hosts next year.

Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s senior vice president for tournaments, announced some new features for this year’s BMW Championship. Reserved seating will be available beside the 18th green for the first time. Visitors will also be able to participate in the Top Golf Crush experience, the first time it’s been held at a PGA Tour event. Fans can compete for prizes in a five-ball challenge on the Conway practice range during the championship.

Here and there

The 95th playing of the Illinois PGA Championship concludes on Wednesday on Medinah’s No. 1 course.

Doug Ghim received a consolation prize after his loss to Doc Redman in the dramatic U.S. Amateur final on Sunday. The Arlington Heights resident was named to the U.S. Walker Cup team, which will take on a European contingent at Los Angeles Country Club next month. University of Illinois golfer Dylan Meyer is the third alternate for the 10-man U.S. squad.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. will conduct the 25th Illinois State Mid-Amateur Championship Monday and Tuesday (AUG 28-29) at Exmoor, in Highland Park.

Reaching U.S. Amateur final underscoreshow far Doug Ghim has come

Doug Ghim gets interviewed by Fox TV’s Holly Sonders after advancing in the U.S. Amateur.

Doug Ghim is already one of golf’s most inspiring players, no matter how his 36-hole championship match in the U.S. Amateur turns out on Sunday.

Ghim, who grew up in Arlington Heights and ranked No. 5 academically in his graduating class at Buffalo Grove High School, was a 2 and 1 winner in his semifinal match with Theo Humphreys, a Vanderbilt University golfer, at famed Riviera Country Club in the Los Angeles area on Saturday. His opponent on Sunday is Doc Redman, the runner-up in the Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club two weeks ago.

Redman, from Raleigh, N.C., is a sophomore-to-be at Clemson. He defeated another collegian, Mark Lawrence of Virginia Tech, 1-up in his semifinal.

Both Ghim and Redman will elevate their profiles dramatically through their nationally televised duel (Fox Sports, 3:30 p.m.) in California. U.S. Amateur finalists traditionally get invitations to the Masters tournament and U.S. Open as well as other choice competitions.

That underscores how Ghim’s career in golf’s big-time golf is just beginning, and the way he got to this point is a story well worth telling.

Ghim’s father Jeff got him started in golf when he was six years old. Back then it was all about practicing, not scoring. Jeff had wanted to be a professional golfer himself, but three back surgeries ended that dream. He did, though, see considerable promise in his only son.

An invitation to play in the 2018 Masters is expected to be in Doug Ghim’s future.

The Ghims couldn’t afford the private clubs in the area. Instead father and son played the more affordable public courses, especially the Arboretum layout when twi-light rates were available. They weren’t above fishing golf balls out of water hazards at times, either. Jeff has been Doug’s only swing instructor and is his caddie at Riviera.

“I’m sure there was financial stress, but I think more than anything he wanted to see if I actually loved the game,’’ Doug told the assembled media after his semifinal victory on Saturday.

The answer was a resounding “Yes!’’ Doug loved the game and worked to get better throughout his high school years. He didn’t play for the school team after his freshman year because the Ghims felt there were better growth options in national junior tournaments.

He didn’t take the usual path to the pros by making a mark in the two biggest state events – the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open – either, but he still earned enough notoriety to land at a college with a top golf program. Though nearby Illinois and Northwestern also had strong programs, Ghim wound up at Texas a year after Jordan Spieth departed that school for the pro ranks after one college season.

Jeff was giving golf lessons at the since closed Golf Nation indoor facility in Palatine then and Doug’s signing announcement with the Longhorns was held there. Only two media members showed up. I know. I was one of them.

“I always felt pretty underrated,’’ said Ghim. “My decision to go to Texas was because I was going to be associating with incredible golfers. I knew every day I’d have to put my name and game up against theirs.’’

With Spieth gone, the main teammate to look up to for two years was Beau Hossler. In previous years Texas had such stars as Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. Now Ghim, at 21, is the man. Before his strong showing at Riviera he won the Pacific Coast Amateur so his game is peaking at a good time.

His final collegiate season may be delayed a few days because the U.S. Amateur champion gets an automatic berth on the U.S. Walker Cup team, and the U.S. Golf Association will pick nine others to play against the European team next month. Ghim looms as a good bet to make that team one way or another.

If he does win today he’ll be part of collegiate golf history. Another Texas student, Sophia Schubert, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur this year and no school has ever swept both the men’s and women’s titles at the national championship.

Ghim’s headgear at Riviera is also noteworthy. He wore a Masters cap during his semifinal match and will wear a Cubs’ cap in the final.

“I don’t take lightly how significant it is to be playing out there tomorrow and having a chance at being in the history books,’’ Ghim said. “ The great champions of this game all started here.’’

Now it’s his turn.

Ghim is only Illinois golfer to reach match play in U.S. Amateur

Nick Hardy, coming off playing the Western Amateur and Illinois Open back-to-back, was understandably tired last week – but not too worn out for one (or maybe two) more big events before he returns to the University of Illinois.

This week’s 117th U.S. Amateur in California presented a huge opportunity for both the Illini senior-to-be from Northbrook as well as Doug Ghim, an Arlington Heights resident about to enter his senior season at Texas.

If either or both played well in the U.S. Am they could be playing for the U.S. in the biennial Walker Cup matches before their final collegiate seasons tee off. The Walker Cup is the most prestigious event in amateur golf, and 10 players will be named to the U.S. team by captain John “Spider’’ Miller after the U.S. Amateur concludes on Sunday at the famed Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.

Ghim played well in the tourney’s 36-hole stroke play qualifying, finishing in a tie for eighth, and advanced to match play. Hardy didn’t, and his Walker Cup hopes are solely in Miller’s hands.

The Walker Cup matches against a team from Great Britain and Ireland will be held Sept. 9-10 at Los Angeles Country Club and both Hardy and Ghim are serious contenders for selection. They were among 16 players invited by Miller to play the Walker Cup course four straight days in December. Neither were guaranteed spots on the team, though, so their play in the U.S. Am will likely decide whether they make the team or not.

Hardy played the busier summer schedule. Both were in the Western Amateur two weeks ago at Skokie Country Club. Hardy made the Sweet 16 match play qualifiers for the third straight year while Ghim didn’t. Hardy also tied for second in the Illinois Open, which started two days after the Western ended. Ghim skipped that event at The Glen Club and Briarwood Country Club.

“I’ve played a lot of golf, but I’ll be ready for the U.S. Amateur,’’ said Hardy. “Then, hopefully, there’ll be the Walker Cup. It’s definitely hard to get that out of your mind, to not think about it. Do I think I’m one of the top 10 amateurs in the country? Sure, but there’s a lot of great players with a chance to make the team. It’s out of my control.’’

Both were among the 312 finalists who had to survive 36 holes of stroke play competition on Monday and Tuesday to get into the 64-man match play competition that started Wednesday. Ghim was a shoo-in after shooting a 67 on Monday. Hardy, after opening with a 73, was eliminated after shooting a 76 in the second round and didn’t reach the stroke play portion of the tournament.

Neither did any of the other eight Illinois players in the field. It took a 4-over-par score to qualify for match play. Wheeling’s Brian Ohr missed a playoff for the final spots by one stroke, Blaine Buente of downstate Troy was plus-8 and Hardy, at plus-9, was five off the cut mark.

Geneva’s Tyler Isenhart, Chicago’s Charles Waddell, Plainfield’s Derek Mason, Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Rockford’s Kyle Slattery were at least six strokes behind Hardy and Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell was disqualified after posting a first-round 67 because he failed to sign his scorecard. The match play qualifiers, though, did include Dylan Wu — a collegiate star at Northwestern.

The tourney drew 7,149 entrants and most were eliminated in nation-wide qualifying rounds last month. The 36-hole champions match will be played on Sunday.

Billiter’s in the driver’s seat

Just getting to play in the Illinois Open could finally get Jim Billiter the Illinois PGA Player of the Year Award. He missed out in 2015 despite winning two of the section’s four major events – the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Championship – because club duties as an assistant pro at the Merit Club prevented him playing in the biggest event, the Illinois Open.

Billiter became head pro at Kemper Lakes this year and was low IPGA pro at this year’s Illinois Open with a tie for 13th last week. Already the IPGA Match Play champion again, Billiter opened a big lead in the Bernardi point race and the next major – the IPGA Championship, which tees off on Monday on Medinah No. 1. Billiter won the IPGA Championship the last time it was played there, in 2015.

“My boss (general manager John Hosteland) has been super supportive,’’ said Billiter. “Others have had to step up when I’m gone. I hadn’t played in the Illinois Open in 10 years, and I was glad to be back.’’

Here and there

The first round of the U.S. Amateur produced a shocker among the seven Illinois players in the field. Two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Todd Mitchell of Bloomington shot a 67, then left without signing his scorecard and was disqualified. Mitchell took the blame for his mistake via Twitter on Monday night.

David Inglis, the Northwestern men’s head coach since 2014, has signed a contract extension through the 2021 season.

WGN’s Dan Roan, always the king of Chicago media golfers, outdid himself last week. He shot 63 at Chicago Highlands in a round that included a hole-in-one.
PGA Champions veteran Chip Beck has appearances scheduled on Sunday at Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, and Monday, at Eagle Brook in Geneva on behalf on behalf of Arcic Golf.

John Ramsey and Chadd Slutzky won the Chicago District Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Wynstone, in North Barrington, even though they had to overcome holes-in-one by their opponents in both semifinal and final matches.

Flavin joins Ogrin in a prominent place in Illinois Open history

Patrick Flavin belts his tee shot on No. 1 at The Glen Club as ace photographer Nick Novelli zeroes in.

Patrick Flavin was hoping that his six-stroke lead going into Wednesday’s final round of the 68th Illinois Open at The Glen Club, in Glenview, would be enough to get him through the final 18. It wasn’t.

Flavin wasn’t as sharp as he was in the first two days, when he shot a pair of 64s, but he regrouped in the final three holes and took advantage of one bad swing by playing partner Brandon Holtz to become the first player in 37 years to win the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year.

David Ogrin, who grew up in Waukegan, managed that feat in 1980 and went on to a solid career on the PGA Tour. Flavin, who grew up not too far away in Highwood, knew nothing about Ogrin but was glad to share a place in history with him.

“Walking off that final green was awesome,’’ said Flavin, about to enter his season year at Miami of Ohio. “I knew I was playing good golf, but to win both tournaments in the same year is far above my expectations.’’

Patrick Flavin adds the Illinois Open trophy to the one he captured at the Illinois State Amateur.

Only seven players have won titles in both of the major tournaments for Illinois residents. Just Ogrin and Flavin did it in the same year, and the only other amateur to win both at one time or another was Bill Hoffer, who never entered the professional ranks. Others to win both titles, but not in the same year, were Gary Hallberg, Gary Pinns and Mark Hensby, all of whom spent at least one season on the PGA Tour, and Brad Hopfinger, who finished in sixth place on Wednesday.

Flavin took the Amateur at Calumet Country Club last month when he edged Jordan Hahn, a University of Wisconsin golfer from Sugar Grove, by one stroke. That tournament was a two-man duel. Flavin had more competition in the Open, which draws the best club professionals and a smattering of pro tour players in addition to the leading amateurs.

The three-way tie for second included two amateurs getting ready for college — Matt Murlick of Marquette and Nick Hardy of Illinois – and Brandon Holtz, a former Illinois State basketball player turned mini-tour golfer.

That trio finished one stroke behind Flavin’s 13-under-par 202 total for the 54 holes. Murlick made a charge early, holing a bunker shot for birdie on the first hole and 155-yard 9-iron second shot at No. 2 for eagle. Hardy made a belated charge after a disappointing bogey at the short par-5 fourteenth, making three birdies on the last four holes.

Holtz was the most serious challenger. He made birdies on five of the first six holes of the back nine to wipe out Flavin’s big lead from the start of the day.

“Once it got tied up that kicked me in the butt,’’ said Flavin. “That gave me a sense of urgency, to stop playing defense and just go get it.’’

Flavin didn’t exactly get offensive, but his game steadied and three finishing pars was enough after Holtz hit a horrible tee shot at the par-3 seventeenth. It landed in deep rough, and Holtz was lucky to make bogey.

“I had gotten some momentum, but on that tee shot we were fortunate to find that ball,’’ said Holtz, who was the surprise of the tournament though he did finish in a tie for 16th last year.

“I always thought I could play,’’ said Holtz, who sells football helmets to youth groups for his regular job and has played golf for money only four years. “I know I can play, and I had a blast. I have no regrets.’’

With Flavin still an amateur, Holtz, from Bloomington, took the first-place check of $13,886 from a total purse of $95,000. Defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. finished in fifth place, two strokes behind Flavin.

No Illinois Open for Small; he’s back in the PGA Championship

Mike Small has been prominent on the Illinois golf scene for years, either as a player or as the coach of the University of Illinois’ powerhouse men’s team.

This week it’s as a player – even though he’s not making his usual run at an Illinois Open title. Small has won that event four times and needs another to tie Gary Pinns’ record of five tournament titles. This year presented a good chance to get No. 5, too. The tourney, which concludes today (WEDNESDAY) at The Glen Club in Glenview, is on the same course that Small captured his previous four titles.

Small believes it’s his first Illinois Open absence since 2000, when an elbow injury prevented his participation. He has a good reason for being a no-show, though.

On Thursday Small tees off in the year’s final major, the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina. He understandably opted for the three days of preparation at Quail Hollow while the Illinois Open was in progress

“My first PGA since Oak Hill (2013),’’ said Small. “I’m looking forward to playing well.’’

No reason he shouldn’t. Small, 51, has been in eight previous PGA Championships and was the low club pro in 2007 at Southern Hills, in Oklahoma, and again in 2011, at Atlanta Athletic Club. This year’s appearance, though, is something special. It’ll be Small’s first appearance in the event as a senior.

Small will be paired with PGA Tour regular Jason Kokrak and Satoshi Kodaira, a four-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, in the first two rounds at Quail Hollow.

In his 17h season coaching the Illini, Small has the rare ability to blend playing with coaching. This year he played in three PGA Tour Champions events and tied for 43rd in the U.S. Senior Open. He got into the field at Quail Hollow by tying for third in the Professional Players National Championship in Oregon, an event he won three times between 2005 and 2010.

In a final tuneup for the PGA Small won the 36-hole Illinois PGA Senior Championship by six shots at Merit Club in Libertyville. That won’t be his last tournament locally, though. He will go after his 13th title in 17 years in the Illinois PGA Championship Aug. 21-23 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Five days later classes begin in Champaign, and Small will focus on coaching again.

U.S. Amateur up next

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, the stars of Small’s current Illini team, will be in the field at next week’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera in Los Angeles. That event tees off on Monday with a big Chicago contingent among the entries.

Like Meyer and Hardy, Arlington Heights resident and Texas standout Doug Ghim figures to be among the leading contenders for the title. All are in the top 50 in the world amateur rankings.

Six others from the Chicago area survived qualifying tournaments. Wheeling’s Brian Ohr was medalist at a session at Midlane, in Wadsworth. Northwestern’s Dylan Wu, Derek Mason of Plainfield and Tyler Isenhart of Geneva advanced through an elimination at Village Links of Glen Ellyn; and Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Chicago’s Charles Waddell went out of the area to earn their berths.

Ogrin could get company in Illinois Open record books

This could be really big.

Just six players have won titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, and only David Ogrin swept both tournaments in the same year. That was 37 years ago.

Today Ogrin, who continued on to a solid career on the PGA Tour, could get some company. Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, a senior to be at Miami of Ohio, takes a six-shot lead into the final round of the 68th Illinois Open at The Glen Club in Glenview.

Flavin is well aware of the importance of playing one more great round. He checked out Ogrin’s feat on the Illinois PGA’s website on Monday night “to entertain myself.’’ That came after he shot a 7-under-par 64 on the Briarwood course in Deerfield, the companion course for this year’s championship, in the first round. He matched that score on the tougher Glen Club layout, in Glenview, on Tuesday to open his big lead.

The 264-player starting field for the Illinois Open finals were cut to the low 51 after the first 36 holes, and the survivors will start teeing off at 8 a.m. today at The Glen, where all eyes will be on Flavin.

“I know there’ll be pressure, but I’m playing real well and having a lot of fun,’’ said Flavin. “It’s awesome to be in this position.’’

Flavin’s performance in the Illinois State Amateur suggests he’ll be tough team beat, even though the competition will be stiffer. He birdied his first five holes en route to a 63 in the Amateur at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood, before losing the lead in Round 2 when Jordan Hahn shot a course record 61. Flavin then came from four shots behind to beat Hahn playing head-to-head in the final 18.

“I learned a lot from the State Am as far as the pressure,’’ said Flavin. “I know I can handle the pressure.’’

The win at Calumet got Flavin into last week’s Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club, but he failed to make it into the Sweet 16 match play qualifiers who battled it out for the championship. Flavin didn’t have his best game at Skokie, but he did as soon as the Illinois Open teed off two days later.

Last year he tied for 12th when the Illinois Open finals were held at Royal Fox and Royal Hawk, two St. Charles courses. With the tourney’s move to two layouts much closer to his home Flavin accumulated 15 birdies in 36 holes without making a bogey.

His biggest problem going into the final round at The Glen may be in choosing his caddie. His older brother Connor was on the bag at Calumet but wasn’t available at Briarwood on Monday so Flavin’s girlfriend, Emily Young, took on caddie duties. A college player at Amherst, she had a job commitment on Tuesday so Connor took over.

Flavin isn’t sure who will be on the bag when he goes after the Illinois Open crown against a field that includes the state’s best club professionals and a smattering of younger players on the brink of making it on the pro tours.

One of those, Wilmette’s Eric Mierdierks, was Flavin’s playing partner in the first two rounds when Flavin posted a 36-hole score of 15-under-par 128.

“He’s making his putts. It’s been fun to watch,’’ said Mierdierks, who won the Illinois Open in 2010 and is currently on a brief break from the Web.com Tour.

Mierdierks and Bloomington’s Brandon Holtz, a former Illinois State basketball player who didn’t play collegiate golf, are tied for second at 9-under 134. Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr., the defending champion, overcame a water ball on the last hole to shoot 65. His playing partner, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, made 10 birdies and will play with Sainz again in the final round. They’re tied for fourth, seven strokes behind Flavin.

Tuesday’s play also included a rare albatross by Dakun Chang, a pro at Twin Orchard in Long Grove. He holed a 5-iron second shot from 205 yards at the par-5 14th but failed to survive the 36-hole cut.

Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort is approaching two milestones

Not many resorts have courses as colorful as The Brute and Highlands at Grand Geneva.

With the big tournaments held recently at Erin Hills and Whistling Straits and the opening of Sand Valley, it may seem that luster could be off the Wisconsin golf destination that started all those good things. Don’t you believe it, though. Grand Geneva is doing just fine, thank you.

Dave Hallenbeck, director of golf at the Lake Geneva resort, has seen it all in his four decades there. He’s impressed with what’s gone on in golf throughout Wisconsin as well as what’s gone on at his home base.

“Blackwolf Run (Kohler), The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (a Jack Nicklaus design in Sheboygan Falls), Erin Hills, Sand Valley. These are world-class golf properties that I never would have expected in Wisconsin. Geneva National has been very successful. They have a wonderful facility over there,’’ said Hallenbeck. “Keeping up was our biggest challenge.’’

But Grand Geneva has more than kept up with what’s been going on around the Badger State, and that goes for neighboring Illinois as well. The resort is an easy drive from all parts of the Chicago area and its courses are well-known to players from that area.

Coming up in 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the resort and the 25th anniversary of its ownership by Marcus Corporation. Both milestones are meaningful, because no Wisconsin destination has the history that Grand Geneva has, and that’s all been beautifully chronicled in a coffee table book, “A Grand Tale: The History of Grand Geneva Resort,’’ published by Nei-Turner Media Group.

Grand Geneva director of golf Dave Hallenbeck has a prize possession — one of the original golf bags from the resort’s days as the Playboy Club.

The building of the Playboy Club-Hotel started it all. It was completed in 1968 and brought visitors by the droves to Lake Geneva. Hugh Hefner was, of course, the man behind that.

Hallenbeck arrived during the Playboy days – for the first time. At age 19 he was a lifeguard at the Playboy Club’s swimming pool – one of the first heated outdoor pools anywhere.

Now 63, he returned after college to work as an assistant under the late head golf professional Ken Judd 40 years ago. Golf wasn’t part of the equation when Hefner started the Playboy Club. Skiing was available when the resort opened. Golf arrived shortly thereafter when architect Robert Bruce Harris designed The Brute – a course way ahead of its time when it opened.

“At the time it was massive, and that’s what Playboy wanted,’’ recalled Hallenbeck. “Big greens, big bunkers, one of the longest courses at 7,300 yards from the tips. In the 1960s that was unheard of.’’

There’s still a mystique about The Brute. It’s always been very near the top of my frequently changing list of favorite courses. The most amazing thing about it now is the fact that the course still operates with its original greens. That’s unheard of. Even Hallenbeck admits that something will have to be done at some point.

“Over 50 years the greens have settled, and we’ll have to address those issues,’’ he said. “We’ve got to tear them up, but that’s a whole year project, and that’s hard to do when you’re packed every day. Overall The Brute has withstood the tests of time, which is amazing.’’

The Brute may be approaching 50 years, but that doesn’t detract from its beauty.

The Brute was built after the resort was under Playboy Club ownership. Playboy departed in 1981, selling the resort to Chicago-basked Americana Hotels Corporation. The resort endured two foreclosures before Chicago’s JMB Realty Corporation took ownership in 1988 and present owner Marcus came on in 1993.

Marcus took a resort that had fallen on hard times and revitalized it with golf a big part of the process.

Grand Geneva’s other course is more historically significant than even The Brute. It opened as the Briar Patch, a joint design effort by legendary designer Pete Dye with a then young Jack Nicklaus functioning as a consultant. Nicklaus was at the height of his storied playing career, having won the 1965 and 1966 Masters tournaments before being brought to the resort before the Briar Patch’s completion in 1967.

The Briar Patch was Nicklaus’ introduction to golf architecture, but won’t go down as one of his premier architectural efforts. Architect Bob Cupp was brought in for a 1996 renovation.

“He redid the whole course,’’ said Hallenbeck. “From a playability standpoint it’s a very nice golf course.’’

The course was renamed The Highlands after Cupp completed his work, which included the development of fescue fields. The end result is a beautiful course, one different from The Brute, with exceptional greens. Both are popular with visitors, many of whom don’t share my clear preference for the older course.

Just what this sculpture is remains a mystery, but it’s a landmark at No. 16 on The Brute.

Unlike Blackwolf, Whistling Straits and Erin Hills, the Grand Geneva courses haven’t made a splash hosting big tournaments. They won’t, either. Instead of being a tournament venue, The Brute and Highlands are popular destinations for charity events, and that’s been great for Hallenbeck.

“My goal was to raise $1 million for charities in my career,’’ he said. “That was my goal 40 years ago. At the end of this year we will have raised $25 million.

Grand Geneva hosts about 25 charity events each year. The Easter Seals Golf Classic and National Italian Invitational celebrated their 40th anniversaries this year. Juvenile Diabetes, United Way, Make-A-Wish – they’ve all benefitted from hosting tournaments at Grand Geneva.

Fescue fields, created by architect Bob Cupp, greatly enhanced the renovated Highlands course.

“I’ve been on up to 20 charity boards,’’ said Hallenbeck. “When I started on them I was the kid. Now I’m the senior member, and I’m working with the grand kids of some of the people I had worked with on some of these charity committees.’’

He calls children’s charities “my passion,’’ and worries that there’ll be no one ready to pick up those projects when he retires in about two years. That’s a concern for later on, plus – with his two children getting married this fall and already settled in the area – Hallenbeck doesn’t plan on straying very far.

For now the immediate issue is what will happen at Grand Geneva as it heads into its second 50 years.

“I suspect the newest thing will be just trying to be as competitive as we are with everything,’’ said Hallenbeck. “Marcus is so good at doing what they do. They’ve already expanded the villas.’’

Grand Geneva also offers more activities and dining opportunities than most Midwest golf destinations, and the views are stunning throughout. That suggests the second 50 years could be even better than the first.

Fountains beside the fairway spice up the finishing hole on The Brute course.

Longest Western Amateur playoff in 115 years goes to Oregon’s Xiong

Reflections enhance one of the Western Amateur’s biggest galleries around Skokie’s No. 9 green.

The Western Amateur golf tournament has been played for 115 years, and it never had a championship match as dramatic as the one that Norman Xiong and Doc Redman put on Saturday at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe.

Xiong won it on the fourth playoff hole when Redman missed a 12-foot par-saving putt. Until Saturday no title match had gone beyond two extra holes, and the marathon duel tied for the fifth longest match in any round since the tourney went to an 18-hole match play format to determine the champion in 1961.

“Way too many holes,’’ said Xiong, who was 4-up after nine holes before Redman rallied to get to all square on the 17th. “It was just fun. I was trying to stay in the moment and play one hole at a time. That match could have gone either way.’’

The shotmaking down the stretch by both players was something to behold. Redman lipped out a putt to win the match on the final hole of regulation. Xiong did the same on the first playoff hole. Xiong extended the match by sinking a 12-footer for par on the third extra hole and then applied the pressure on the fourth with an approach to 15 feet after Redman could barely stay on the left side of the green and was left with a first putt of an estimated 120 feet.

Doc Redman (left) and Norman Xiong brace for their epic shootout at Skokie Country Club.

“`That first putt was long and way uphill,’’ said Redman. “It was hard to get your speed right to two-putt.’’

Xiong couldn’t convert his birdie putt, so Redman needed the par-saver to keep the match going, but he couldn’t convert. Still, he made a stirring comeback on the back nine. Xiong hit every green in regulation on the front side, Redman did the same on the back. Both players showed commendable sportsmanship in the late going. Xiong conceded sizeable putts to Redman on the 16th and 17th holes and Redman conceded a four-footer to Xiong on the 18th.

Of the 22 holes played, 13 were won by one player or the other. It produced a fitting climax for the largest roving gallery since the Western Golf Association put the tourney in a Chicago-based rotation in 2009. WGA officials estimated about 500 walked with the finalists.

The Western Amateur is well known as an endurance test. The format consists of 72 holes of stroke play before the field is cut to the low 16 for two days of matches to determine the winner. The staging of the championship lost its local flavor when Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, after making it to match play for the third time, was ousted in his first match by Australian Min Woo Lee on Friday.

That relegated Hardy to looking ahead to the Illinois Open, which begins its three-day run on Monday at The Glen Club in Glenview and Briarwood, in Deerfield. Redman took out Lee in the next round.

Redman smacks his first tee shot in the Western Amateur final.

Both finalists had to survive semifinals on Saturday morning before their epic showdown. Xiong eliminated Derek Bard, the losing finalist to Bryson DeChambeau in the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, while Redman was a 3 and 2 winner over Cameron Champ, the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Open.

Xiong, from Canyon Lake, Calif., and Redman, from Raleigh, N.C., made for an interesting matchup. They were among the youngest finalists in tournament history, Xiong being 18 and Redman 19. (The tourney’s youngest winner was 17).

Both Xiong and Redman are collegiate sophomores, Xiong at Oregon and Redman at Clemson. Both were Freshman of the Year in their conferences, Xiong in the Pac-12 and Redman in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Both were playing in the Western Am for the first time and could meet again in the U.S. Amateur at California’s storied Riviera in two weeks before returning to their college teams.

Xiong was also the tourney medalist, and he became the 25th player to rule both the stroke and match play competitions in the same Western Amateur. The tourney’s previous champions include Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Hardy is the only local to make it to match play in Western Amateur

The 115th Western Amateur was hardly a rousing success for the seven Chicago players among the 156 invitees to the prestigious event at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe.

Only Nick Hardy, the senior-to-be at Illinois from Northbrook, advanced to the Sweet 16 during Thursday’s 36-hole day that concluded stroke play qualifying. Hardy shot 67-69 in the third and fourth rounds to complete the 72-hole portion of the tournament at 11-under-par 273. He tied for third in the stroke play portion of the championship, won in the past by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Curtis Strange and Tiger Woods

Hardy made it to the match play portion of the tournament for the third time and will win the title if he can win four matches in the final two days of the tournament.

His Illini teammate, fellow senior Dylan Meyer, won’t defend the title he won last year at Knollwood, in Lake Forest. He didn’t survive the first cut, when the field was cut from the starting 156 to the low 44 and ties after Wednesday’s first 36 holes were completed.

Meyer was two shots short of qualifying for Thursday’s rain-plagued 36-hole day. Highland Park’s Patrick Flavin, a late invitee after he won the Illinois State Amateur title last week, was five shots behind Meyer and NCAA champion Braden Thronberry of Mississippi was another shot back.

Tony Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback who was given a sponsor’s exemption by the Western Golf Association, was 20-over-par for his 36 holes, while it took a 1-under score to qualify for the third and fourth rounds.

Hardy had two other local players join him in the two-round day. Neither Doug Ghim, a University of Texas senior from Arlington Heights, nor Andrew Price, the 35-year-old 2016 Chicago District Amateur champion from Lake Bluff, came close to making the Sweet 16.

In addition to Flavin, the Illinois players bowing out after two rounds were Todd Mitchell, 38, of Bloomington; Chicago’s Charles Waddell, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur later this month in California; and Skokie member Robert Bice. Mitchell is a two-time Illinois State Amateur champion; last year’s Illinois State Mid Amateur titlist and a four=time Chicago District Golf Association Player of the Year.

The tourney medalist was Norman Xiong, of Canyon Lake, Calif. He shot 66-65 on Thursday to finish the 72 holes of stroke play at 14-under-par 270. Xiong was one stroke ahead of Okohoama junior Brad Dalke, whose 72 in the final 18 killed his chances for medalist honors and the No. 1 seed for the match play portion of the tournament.

Xiong was in a tie for 29th place at the start of the day but took advantage of a last-hole collapse by Australian Ruben Sondjaja, who hit two balls out of bounds on the last hole, took a quadruple bogey eight and wound up in the tie for third with Hardy. He was one stroke ahead of Xiong going to the last hole.

“My goal was just to get into the Sweet 16,’’ said Xiong. “I knew if I just played my game I could get there pretty solidly. Things got hot with my putter at the beginning of both rounds and things went my way.’’

Xiong and Dalke were the last finishers, at 8:15 p.m.. Two rain delays hampered play and prevented a four-man playoff for the final two Sweet 16 spots from being held. It’ll be contested on Friday morning before the matches begin. Among those in the playoff is Dawson Armstrong, who won the 2015 Western Amateur at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, spectacular fashion, holing a bunker shot to claim the title in a sudden death playoff.

The Glen returns as `permanent’ home of the Illinois Open

No sooner will this week’s Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club wrap up on Saturday than the 68th Illinois Open will tee off at two other north suburban locations next week.

The Illinois Open remains a 54-hole affair for 264 finalists, the survivors of eight state-wide qualifying rounds. The first two rounds of the finals, on Monday and Tuesday, will be played at both The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Briarwood Country Club, in Deerfield.

After 36 holes the low 50 and ties will go for the title at The Glen, and that was particularly significant after Illinois PGA executive director Carrie Williams announced the tournament details last week.

The Glen will be hosting for a record 10th time, and Williams declared “I hope this is the permanent home for the Illinois Open.’’

So does Steve Skinner, executive director of KemperSports – the Northbrook-based firm that has managed The Glen since its opening in 2001.

“The course was built around the Illinois Open, to host it,’’ said Skinner. “There was a lot of competition to host it. We were competing with the PGA Tour, which wanted to bring the Western Open here. We partnered with the Illinois PGA and (architect) Tom Fazio to deliver a full package – the (IPGA) section offices, the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame and the Illinois Open (to The Glen Club).’’

Michael Miller was the midst of his 23-year run as IPGA executive director when The Glen hosted for the first time in 2002. When Miller took a similar post in Arizona in 2015 Williams took over and negotiated a new lease with KemperSports. It apparently cleared up the relationship between the club and the IPGA’s biggest tournament.

Williams said “it was always the intent’’ to hold the Illinois Open at The Glen.

It frequently didn’t happen that way, though. Five times in the last 15 years – including the last two — the tournament went elsewhere.

“Sometimes the dates didn’t work out,’’ said Williams, “but I love the idea of staying with The Glen Club as the anchor. We want to keep the tournament as convenient for the players as possible.’’

Armed with a two-year contract that automatically renews from year to year, she plans to rotate the companion courses from among the many high-quality layouts on the North Shore – much like the Western Golf Association has done with its Western Amateur.

Briarwood was a great choice to start the arrangement. It hosted the Illinois Open in 1966, when Emil Esposito won the title for the first time. Esposito was on hand for the pre-tournament festivities, which also commemorated his 50 years as a PGA member.

Esposito won’t be playing this year, and neither will four-time champion Mike Small. The University of Illinois men’s coach, who needs one more win to match Gary Pinns’ record five Illinois Open victories, will compete in the PGA Championship in North Carolina instead. Small won all of his four titles at The Glen.

The field will, however, include defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. as well as Tee-K Kelly and Nick Hardy, whose battles dominated the Illinois State Amateur the last four years. Kelly has since turned pro and already won on the PGA Latinoamerica circuit. Hardy is approaching his final season playing for Small at Illinois.

Hardy was low amateur at last year’s Illinois Open, finishing tied for fourth – eight strokes behind Sainz’ 17-under-par performance at Royal Fox and Royal Hawk, two St. Charles courses. Kelly tied for ninth.

Twelve former champions are in the field along with Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, the recently-crowned Illinois State Amateur champion, and Hinsdale’s Brendan O’Reilly, an Illinois recruit who won the Illinois State Junior Amateur an unprecedented three times between 2013 and 2017.

The field won’t include any women this year, though some have qualified in the past. Oldest finalist is 72-year old ex-champion Gary Groh, the former head professional at Bob O’ Link in Highland Park and a recent selection to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. Youngest is Dominic Scaletta, 15, of Inverness. Using a caddie who is only 11, Scaletta shot 2-over-par 73 and tied for fifth in a qualifier at Makray Memorial, in Barrington.

Romo in the Skokie spotlight

As for the Western Amateur, the first cut comes after Wednesday’s round when the 150 starters will be cut to the low 44 and ties and the contestants will be whittled to 16 after a 36-hole session on Thursday.

The talk of the early round was former NFL quarterback Tony Romo, who played after an invitation from the Western Golf Association. He survived local qualifying for the U.S. Open in May but expected a bigger challenge against the world’s top amateurs.

“I’ve played plenty of tournament golf over the years. I just haven’t played much over the last four or five years, so I’m trying to feel get back to feeling comfortable. I want to start playing good enough to start competing.’’