Len Ziehm On Golf

Pieters, Points are latest Illinois tour players that bear watching

We’ve always given the broadest definition to the pro golfers classified as “local players.’’ Players who resided a significant period of time in Illinois or attended college in the Prairie State all fit the criteria. After all, Illinois is a welcoming place for golf talent, and the more the merrier.

Still, Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman have been head and shoulders above the rest for several years. Now, however, that may be changing. It’s not that Donald or Streelman is backing off in their play on the PGA Tour. It’s just that they have a couple challengers now. It’s hard to ignore what D.A. Points and Thomas Pieters have done in the first four months of 2017.

While Donald and Streelman are still prominent players, this is a good time to get re-acquainted with Points and learn what Pieters is all about as well. They made the most noise among “local’’ players through Masters week.

Points, after two very difficult seasons, got back in the swing of things with his victory in the Puerto Rico Open. That was huge for him career-wise, though the Pekin and University of Illinois product proved he could win long before that. Puerto Rico was his third win on the PGA Tour and he also won four times as a Web.com Tour players.

The win at Puerto Rico, however, came with a glimpse of the Points of old. In the final round he made birdies on the first five holes and he also birdied four of the last six to win by two shots. Those birdie binges in a pressure situation were both eye-opening for spectators and provided a much-needed confidence boost for Points.

Like Pieters, Points played collegiately at Illinois but only for two seasons. He spent his first two years at Clemson before transferring. He won the Illinois State Amateur three times in a four-year stretch before turning pro but only played in the Illinois Open once, finishing second to Todd Tremaglio in 1998. Players from downstate weren’t as prevalent in the Illinois Open in the 1990s as they are now.

Points turned pro in 1999 and his biggest moment so far came in 2011 when he captured the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as an individual and also teamed up with comedian Bill Murray to win the team portion of the event. Murray’s on-course antics certainly didn’t distract Points that week.

Two years later Points won the Shell Houston Open, and that event – the last under Shell’s sponsorship – was also encouraging this year. Points followed his March victory in Puerto Rico with a tie for 23rd at Houston. The successes came after he switched to a left hand low putting stroke, a decision that helped Points’ bank account quickly.

More importantly, he will get into some of the biggest tournaments again thanks to the victory. The win didn’t get him into the Masters, because Puerto Rico was the secondary stop to the WGC-Mexico that week, but he will get into The Players this month at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass as well as the PGA Championship in August.

He’ll also have spots in two well-paying invitational events in between – the Memorial and Colonial. For a guy who had dropped to No. 254 in the world ranking in the past two years that’s a big boost.

The 6-5 Pieters hasn’t won on the PGA Tour yet but he’s bound to have a breakthrough on that front soon. He’s been coming on like gangbusters the last two years after winning the NCAA title while with the Illini in 2012 and being medalist in the Big Ten tournament in 2013.

He decided to forego his senior season and turned pro with good results immediately. As a rookie on the European PGA Tour in 2014 he lost the Spanish Open title in a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez. The following year he won the Czech Masters and KLM Open in consecutive tournaments and 2016 was even better.

Pieters, 25, just missed winning an Olympic medal, finishing fourth in Brazil behind Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. Then he won his third European PGA title at the Made in Denmark tournament and that led to European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke make him a captain’s pick for the matches at Hazeltine. Though his team lost Pieters compiled a sparkling 4-1 record in his matches.

And he got even better in the first four months of 2017.

A final round 63 enabled him to tie for second in the Genesis Open at Los Angeles’ famed Riviera course and he followed with a tie for fifth at the World Golf Championship-Mexico. Those strong finishes gave Pieters special temporary status on the PGA Tour, which means he’s already locked up his card for 2018.

And he got even better after that.

Pieters contended in his first Masters, eventually tying for fourth behind champion Sergio Garcia after going the 72 holes at Augusta National in 5-under-par.

As good as he’s become, getting to know Pieters on the PGA Tour won’t be a simple task. He prefers playing in Europe and headed back across the pond after the Masters. He wants to play for Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris and will explore combining his schedule on the both the American and European PGA tours after that. Such a feat wouldn’t be easy but isn’t unprecedented. Donald did it successfully for several years. for example.

“I have a lot of time off now, as I’m only playing in two or three (tournaments) in the next two-three months,’’ Pieters said before departing. With the success he’s had Pieters can afford to focus on just the biggest tournaments for the rest of this year.

Don’t read this as a suggestion that Points and Pieters have supplanted Donald and Streelman at the top of the local players’ brigade. They haven’t, but it’s nice to see that Donald and Streelman have some local company in the ranks of successful tour players now.

NU, Illini women receive NCAA golf bids

Northwestern and Illinois were both selected to play in the NCAA women’s golf championship, the finals of which will be played at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove next month. To get to Rich Harvest, however, both teams must survive regional tournaments.

Coach Emily Fletcher’s Northwestern team was awarded the No. 3 seed in a regional to be played at The Champions Course in Albuquerque, N.M. The University of New Mexico will host that event. Illinois drew the No. 8 seed in a regional on the University of Georgia’s course in Athens. All teams learned their fate via The Golf Channel’s selection show on Thursday morning.

Notre Dame’s Emma Albrecht was selected as an individual and will compete in the regional on Ohio State’s Scarlet course in Columbus, Ohio. The regional tournaments will run May 8-10.

Each of four regionals were assigned 18 teams and six individual qualifiers. Those 834 golfers will be whittled to 132 for the finals at Rich Harvest, which run from May 19-24.

Northwestern, an NCAA qualifier for the fifth straight year, had its best NCAA finish last year – a tie for ninth, one stroke shy of qualifying for the match play climax to the tournament. NU was second in last week’s Big Ten Championships behind Michigan State, but the Wildcats drew a far better NCAA seed than the Spartans, who were tabbed No. 14 in the same regional.

Four other Big Ten teams – Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin – were assigned to the Columbus regional.

Fletcher learned of her team’s assignment at Rich Harvest, where owner Jerry Rich was gearing his club up to host another big tournament.

The NCAA men’s finals will also be played at Rich Harvest as soon as the women’s tournament is over. That climax to the collegiate season will run from May 26-31 and the men’s teams will learn their regional assignments next Thursday.

One of the men’s selection announcement gatherings will be at Wrigley Field. Mike Small, coach of Illinois’ perennial powerhouse, and Luke Donald, an NCAA individual champion while a student at Northwestern, will be throwing out the first ball at the Cubs-Phillies game that day and Donald is also scheduled to sing at the Seventh Inning Stretch.

Women’s selection show marks the start of NCAA tourney coming to Rich Harvest

The NCAA golf championship started in 1898 but has been played in the Chicago area only four times. Olympia Fields hosted in 1931 and 1943; North Shore, in Glenview, was the site in 1936 and Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, was the host venue in 1997. All those finals were strictly for men’s teams.

Women’s collegiate golf started in 1982 and never made it to Chicago for its NCAA finals. Now the men’s and women’s tournaments are played back-to-back at the same site and Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, has the honor of hosting both tournaments next month.

The buildup for those big events start on Thursday, when the NCAA announces the 72 teams and 24 individuals who will compete in the women’s tournament on The Golf Channel. The competition begins at four regional sites – the Scarlet Course at Ohio State, the Rawls Course in Lubbock, Tex., and the school courses at Georgia and New Mexico.

Each regional gets 18 teams and six individual qualifiers and the low six teams at each regional and the low three individuals not on those teams advances to Rich Harvest for the finals. The women’s compete there from May 19-24 and the men from May 26-31.

Conference champions get automatic invites into regional play and a selection committee determines the other qualifiers so that creates plenty of nation-wide suspense for Thursday’s announcement.

Coach Emily Fletcher’s Northwestern team has qualified for the last four NCAA tournaments but the Wildcats aren’t automatic qualifiers this year. They were edged by Michigan State for the Big Ten title and automatic berth last weekend. NU shouldn’t be worried about Thursday’s announcement, however.

In the most recent GolfWeek rankings of NCAA women’s teams the Wildcats were No. 11. Last year the Wildcats tied for ninth in the stroke play portion of the finals in Washington and were one stroke short of advancing to match play, where the team title is decided. The only suspense for the Northwestern team will be in the determination of the school’s regional assignment.

It won’t be quite the same for Illinois, which didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament last year. The Illini showed improvement this season but struggled to a seventh-place finish in the Big Ten tournament. That showing dropped the Illini ranking from No. 29 to No. 41.

The Illini men’s team, a long-time powerhouse, is a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament but will go after the Big Ten title first. It’ll begin on Friday at Baltimore Country Club. Last weekend the Illini won the Kepler Intercollegiate on Ohio State’s Scarlet Course and reigning Western Amateur champion Dylan Meyer was the individual winner. Coach Mike Small’s team will learn its regional assignment on May 4.

Here and there

Medinah’s Rich Dukelow is the hottest player going into the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship – the section’s first major event of the season that’ll be played at Kemper Lakes from May 8-11. Dukelow teamed with Travis Johns to win the IPGA’s Pro Assistant event at Ruth Lake and then won the first stroke play event of the season, shooting a 4-under-par 68 at Weaver Ridge in Peoria on Monday.

New Kemper Lakes head pro Jim Billiter has the same schedule conflict that he had in his previous job as an assistant at the Merit Club in Libertyville. Billiter, champion of both the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Championship in 2015, will miss the Illinois Open again. As was the case when he was at Merit Club, a major event at his club will keep Billiter out of the IPGA’s biggest tournament.

The Chicago District Golf Association will open its tournament season next Monday with a qualifier for the CDGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Village Greens of Woodridge.

What’s going on at Pinehurst? Plenty, as usual

Pinehurst has offered the best in American golf since 1895, and nothing has changed since then.

PINEHURST, North Carolina – There’s one thing that you can always be sure of when you visit this premier golf destination. There’s always something new and exciting in the works. This time that’s been taken to extremes.

Always looking for something different, our visit this spring provided that in an unusual way. Our two rounds were on courses about to face the wrecking ball. That did two things: it showed what resort owners judged in need of updates and it tantalized us for the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Both the courses we played were created by well-respected designers in the early 1990s. Mid South Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer design, was a favorite of mine off previous visits. Pinehurst No. 4, created by Tom Fazio, provided the stage for a most fun round in our first (and undoubtedly last) tour of the course.

Mid South will be closed on June 5, Pinehurst No. 4 on Sept. 13.

The design for the new par-3 course at Pinehurst has visitors excited about what’s to come.

The greens at Mid South will be changed from bentgrass to Champion Bermuda, the same procedure that was performed on the companion Talamore course across the street last summer. The greens will be enlarged by 20-40 percent by Southport, N.C.-based Shapemasters, a firm that has previously worked with courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Pete Dye, Greg Norman and Tom Fazio.

A hard-packed sand base will be installed as part of a cart path improvement and new condos are being built near the Nos. 9 and 18 greens. Mid South is also adding basketball and pickle ball on one of its tennis courts and putting a new barbecue and hospitality area in near the swimming pool. That’s part of a $6 million capital improvement plan initiated by Talamore’s parent company at its four resorts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

At the Pinehurst Resort, however, the changes will become even more dramatic as soon as this fall. The Pinehurst No. 4 renovation will be a big deal if for no other reason than it’s being directed by the hot architect Gil Hanse, most noted recently for designing the Brazil course that hosted last summer’s Olympics golf competition.

Hanse will be putting in wire-grass, which transformed Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course for the historic back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Opens of 2014. He’ll also eliminate many of the bunkers from the original design. Both moves will enhance a course that has never been short of players in the past.

Condo construction is underway near the big green serving the Nos. 9 and 18 holes at Mid South.

Pinehurst No. 4 is just part of a bigger transformation at the resort, however. The Deuce, a chef-driven restaurant, is a welcome new addition to the clubhouse and work has already begun at two of its other courses. When everything is done some less frequent visitors might feel they won’t recognize the place.

Already the No. 1 holes on Pinehurst No. 3 and Pinehurst No. 5 have been closed. As soon as next week construction will begin on a par-3 course where those old holes had stood.

A birds-eye view of what’s going on at Pinehurst’s No. 5 course will be revealing.

Pinehurst No. 3 already has a new first hole and two new par-3s. That was required in its transformation to a par-68 course. The new first hole of Pinehurst No. 5 is to open on May 1.

And that’s not all. Thistle Dhu, the popular putting course, is being moved to a much better location. It’ll be in full view of patrons enjoying all that the clubhouse has to offer.

All these changes may not have really been necessary, but they’re all for the good. Pinehurst has always been a trendsetter when it comes to golf destinations, and that’s been underscored by the projects now in the works.

Bunkers were a trademark of Pinehurst No. 4, but they’ll be greatly reduced in the upcoming renovation.

Another near-miss at Heritage puts Donald’s game on upswing again

How do you explain this?

Luke Donald was, for 40 weeks in 2011 and 2012, the world’s No. 1 golfer. Then, by his own admission, his game tailed off – except when he plays in the RBC Heritage Classic on the Harbour Town course in Hilton Head, S.C.

Donald was the runner-up there for the fifth time on Sunday, losing to Wesley Bryan by one stroke, and he also has two third-place finishes at Harbour Town in the last nine years.

“I’ve done everything but win,’’ said the former Northwestern star who has maintained close ties to golf in Chicago despite living in Jupiter, Fla., now. “I just keep trying. Obviously it’s a place I feel comfortable. I’ve got to just keep pounding away and hopefully I’ll get there.’’

Harbour Town has the smallest greens on the PGA Tour and Donald has always been a short game wizard. He also likes the “family-oriented vibe’’ that Hilton Head offers. His three daughters were on spring break and joined him at the tournament last week. That apparently was a tonic for a game that had been misfiring.

Donald had missed the cut at Florida’s Valspar Championship, where he was a past champion, and didn’t qualify for either the Masters for the World Golf Championship Match Play event. To offset those events usually on his schedule Donald entered the Shell Houston Open the week before the Masters, though he never had much success in previous visits there. He didn’t this time either, finishing in a tie for 69th place.

Then, after sitting out the Masters, came the always welcome return to Harbour Town. Donald led alone after a first-round 65 and was tied for the lead after a 67 in Round 2. A third round 72 dropped him down the leaderboard and a double bogey on the par-5 second hole – one of the easiest on the course – dropped him further back early in Sunday’s final round.

Donald, however, rallied on the back nine. He holed a bunker shot for birdie at No. 11 and spent time sharing the top spot on the leaderboard before Bryan held him off. Still, the runner-up finish was Donald’s first top 10 of 2017 and he’s hoping for another strong finish this week at the Valero Texas Open.

“I still believe I have the ability to win a major and win more tournaments,’’ he said. “I’m not hanging up the clubs yet. I’m committed to working hard on my game and get past a little lull in my results the last couple years.’’

He looks on Sergio Garcia’s victory in the Masters as incentive. They played junior matches when both were 12-year olds and were frequent partners for Europe in Ryder Cup matches.

“I grew up knowing him,’’ said Donald. “He came to my wedding, and I’ve been invited to his. He’s in a great place now. He proved to himself he could do it.’’

Now maybe it’s Donald’s turn to do the same.

“I still believe I’m good enough,’’ he said. “Anyone who can get to No. 1 in the world for over a year has the ability to bounce back, and hopefully I will.’’

Kevin Streelman, the PGATour regular from Wheaton, is also in the field at the Valero Texas Open. He’s coming off a two-week break, will play tournaments in six in the next seven weeks and won’t return to his Arizona home until that busy stretch is over. He’ll attend his niece’s wedding during the week he’s off from tournament play.

Here and there

A critical week looms for the women’s teams at Northwestern and Illinois. Both compete for the Big Ten title starting on Friday at TPC Rivers Bend in Mainville, Ohio, then will await the April 27 NCAA selection announcement for the start of its national championship. The finals are May 19-24 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy of the Illinois men’s team are among nine semifinalists for the prestigious Ben Hogan Award. They’re the third and fourth Illini golfers accorded that honor, following Charlie Danielson and Scott Langley.

Dave Erickson of St. Andrews, Billy Rosinia of Flagg Creek and Eric Ilic of the Merit Club formed the winning team in the Illinois PGA’s first event of the season – the Pro-Pro-Pro competition at Chicago’s Harborside International. The IPGA holds its first stroke play event next Monday (APRIL 24) at Weaver Ridge in Peoria.

Tin Cup, a golf-themed pub, has opened at the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort.

All golfers should celebrate Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday’s Golden Anniversary

The Cherry Grove skyline spices up the view from Tidewater’s No. 12 — a memorable par-3

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – This is one golf milestone that certainly shouldn’t go unnoticed. Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Back in 1967 Myrtle Beach was by no means the golf mecca that it is today. It had only nine courses then. Now the number of courses on the 60-mile Grand Strand from Pawley’s Island to just across the state line into Brunswick County, N.C., is nearly 90 and every relevant public course in that area is a member of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

Finding they couldn’t market their courses individually, the owners of Myrtle Beach’s courses started thinking about a marketing strategy as early as 1962. Thanks to the support of local hotels they made the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday a reality five years later and that corresponded to the rise of golf packages, now the most popular way for golfers to find courses while on vacation most anywhere.

The original nine courses were Pine Lakes, The Dunes Club, Conway Golf Club, Winyah Bay, Carolinas Country Club, Surf Golf & Beach Club, Whispering Pines, PineHills Course at Myrtlewood and Litchfield Country Club. Winyah closed in 2005.and Carolinas doesn’t exist under that name. The owners of them all, though, started something that turned out very good.

The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame is part of the ambience at Pine Lakes, the first course in the area.

“It’s amazing what they created,’’ said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. He joined up 19 years ago after working for Golf Digest magazine and never regretted it.

“At the time I arrived in the late 1990s that was the peak of growth here,’’ said Golden. We had a Senior PGA Tour event and an LPGA Tour event. It was a great opportunity for me, and this has been a great place to live. You have a good quality of life.’’

The golf’s been pretty good, too, for one very important reason: just like the Holiday founders, the course owners have been able to work together.

“In golf space we’re very unique,’’ said Golden. “Golf has been so important here, and people have been supportive. The owners are competitive on one level, but if they didn’t work together this wouldn’t have worked out. They’ve taken the attitude that if it’s better for everybody, let’s do it. That’s refreshing, and it’s been a great lesson to learn.’’

Golden readily admits that “it’s never been easy…the golf industry has gotten so complicated.’’

Pine Hills has a beautiful, stately clubhouse that complements a course that was built in 1927.

But, in Myrtle Beach, it’s still been able to become big business. The Myrtle Beach area attract nearly 1 million golfers every year and Golden reports that the area courses together have 3.3 million rounds annually. That’s a lot of rounds.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has a staff of seven headed by Golden, a former collegiate player at Villanova. Four members of the staff focus on tournaments with Jeff Monday directing that group.

Though the pro tour stops are gone, the Holiday tournament group runs some far-reaching events. The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship has been played for 33 years. This year’s version tees off on August 28 and runs through September 1. It is played on 60 courses in the area and draws over 3,000 players. Every state in the U.S. except Alaska and South Dakota had players in the last World Am and 24 countries were represented in the field.

Founders Club at Pawley’s Island has waste areas on every hole as a substitute for cart paths.

The World Am is biggest event but the staff stages six others and helps with some put on by other groups. The Holiday events started as early as February this year, when the Preseason Classic drew 200 players from 22 states. The March Championship has drawn over 70,000 players in its 32-year history.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday also hosts the Palmetto Championship, the nation’s largest high school tournament, and the Dustin Johnson World Junior, which is played at TPC Myrtle Beach – where the world’s current No. 1-ranked golfer has many of his trophies on display.

No area of the country can match Myrtle Beach for the destination’s quantity of quality courses. There are lots of them. Some are part of multiple-course facilities; some stand-alone. Some offer lodging, some don’t. Some are part of resort groups. Some have single ownership. The cost to play each one varies dramatically. Still, the course operators have stuck together and made Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday the sport’s largest non-profit marketing consortium.

Possum Trot’s logo ball stands out.

First course in the area was Pine Lakes, which opened in 1927 to complement the Ocean Forest Hotel, which catered to that era’s rich and famous. Pine Lakes is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2017 and it’s also known, for obvious reasons, as The Granddaddy.

Of all the Myrtle Beach courses Pine Lakes is the richest in history. The original holes were designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, was also the first president of the PGA of America. The facility once had 27 holes but lost nine during the Great Depression.

The existing 18 is pretty close to what White designed. It’s a good walking course and golfers can see the clubhouse from every hole. Not many courses anywhere can make that claim.

Though the course has undergone regular updating, only Nos. 4 and 5 were notably altered during a 2009 redesign by architect Craig Schreiner. The course has certainly withstood the tests of time and its clubhouse reflects its rich past with its history wall adorned with memorabilia photos and newspaper clippings.

Among the artifacts is artwork provided by the noted magazine Sport Illustrated, which was founded at Pine Lakes by a group of executives in 1954. The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame is also based at the club.

The only alligator we saw in four rounds was this one, at Founders Club.

Pine Lakes may have come first, but the course that really put Myrtle Beach on the map was The Dunes Club, which opened as the area’s second course in 1948. The architect was Robert Trent Jones Sr., who wasn’t famous then but is now looked on as one of the great course designers of all time. His sons Rees and Robert Trent Jones Jr. are now among the world’s foremost course architects.

The Dunes has hosted tournaments on all the major tours as well as many top amateur events. This year it will be the site of the U.S. Golf Association Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Myrtle Beach offers an embarrassment of riches for golfers. Twelve of its courses have been ranked on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses and more than half of the Golf Holiday member facilities have been given 4-star or better rankings in that publication’s Best Places to Play Guide.

As a six-time visitor to Myrtle Beach over a span of about 20 years, I’ve seen how much the area has grown over the years and can appreciated first-hand the variety of golf offered. Every visitor will have a favorite course, but I’ve found mine changing with each visit.

Railroad ties were worked into the design in several places at Possum Trot.

The Caledonia Golf & Fish Club generally stands out with all who have visited but its companion course, True Blue, is a beauty, too.

Our most recent visit took us – in addition to Pine Lakes – to Founders Club at Pawley’s Island, Tidewater and Possum Trot.

Founders Club, among the courses celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pawley’s Island, has perhaps the most unusual design in Myrtle Beach. Once called The Seagull, its redesign virtually eliminated standard cart paths. Waste areas on every hole take their place.

Tidewater is one of the area’s most scenic courses, to be sure. Its location – between the Intracoastal Waterway and Cherry Grove – provides views of the city skyline and marshes as well as the natural beauty of the Grand Strand. It’s now right up there with my Myrtle Beach favorites.

So is Possum Trot, but for different reasons. No doubt this short, sporty well-conditioned layout with 560 palm trees – a surprising number for a course that isn’t in Florida — deserves its claim to being the “Friendliest Course on the Beach.’’ Possums disappeared long ago, but I love this layout’s logo and other special touches as much as the fun golf the course offers.

A fountain at the home hole created a memorable finish at Possum Trot.

A marsh contrasts nicely with the Cherry Grove skyline at one of Tidewater’s best viewing spots.

A tee shot over water on a Pine Hills par-3 hole was just one of the challenges on that layout.

The Founders Club at Pawley’s Island had one of the biggest putting greens I’ve ever seen.

Can Luke Donald continue his hot play at the Heritage?

Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman weren’t part of this year’s Masters, which climaxed with Sergio Garcia’s pulsating playoff victory on Sunday. Chicago’s top two touring pros have had their moments at Augusta National in the past but didn’t qualify this year.

Look for both to be back in the limelight, soon, however — perhaps as early as this week’s RBC Heritage Classic at Hilton Head, S.C. Donald, once the world’s No. 1-ranked player and a top-five finisher twice in the Masters, has made the Heritage one of his favorite tournaments. Last year marked his fourth runner-up finish at Harbour Town and he also was third twice. He’s always a player to watch in that tournament.

Streelman, a past winner of the Par-3 contest at the Masters, wasn’t happy to have last week off.

“It was a bummer not playing the Masters after I’d been there five of the last six years,’’ he said. Still, Streelman won’t play this week, either. He’s making a schedule change and expecting the hot spurt that has marked his summers of the past.

“If I’d played Hilton Head it would have been five tournaments in a row,’’ he said. He deemed it too much and will play at San Antonio (the Valero Texas Open) in two weeks after a two-week break. After that he’ll compete in a revitalized tournament at New Orleans (the Zurich Classic) and play the usual weekly stops at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., and The Players in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

The decision to go to New Orleans is interesting in that the tournament has changed its format. It’ll be a two-man team event this time, with Streelman teaming up with Russell Knox.

“It’ll be great for television,’’ predicted Streelman. “The tour was looking for something outside the box.’’

Streelman is a member of the PGA Tour policy board now, and that’s just one of the extra issues on his plate. He’s also been the main tour player using the much-publicized new driver that his equipment sponsor Wilson introduced during the winter.

“I’ve had it in and out of my bag. I’ve used it in four of my nine events (in 2017),’’ said Streelman. “I’ve been pleased with it. It’s a high-quality product but it’s a club I’m very hard on because I’m such a perfectionist. I’m still trying to dial it in.’’

As a policy board member he’s also followed the latest controversial ruling affecting all of golf – the four-stroke penalty assessed LPGA star Lexi Thompson for an incorrect mark in one of her circuit’s major tournaments two weeks ago after a fan called in to report the infraction.

“It would have ben a nightmare if the decision had been made on Monday,’’ said Streelman. “There’s a lot of inconsistencies because not everyone is on camera at the same time. I don’t like people calling in and affecting our play, but I don’t know that it’ll change on our tour for now.’’

Here and there

Chicago’s longest-standing golf radio show, Golfers on Golf, will start its 22nd season this weekend. The show, featuring a host foursome of Rory Spears, Mike Munro, Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger, will move from Sunday to a 9 a.m. start on Saturday and be carried on a new station, WNDZ (750-AM).

The Illinois PGA has decided on its alternate course for the finals of the Illinois Open. Briarwood Country Club, in Deerfield, will be used in two of the three rounds of the finals with The Glen Club, in Glenview, the sole site for the last round. The finals run Aug. 7-9 and Briarwood will be a site for the first time since 1966 when Emil Esposito won the title.

Harborside International, the premier course in the Chicago city limits, will undergo a major transformation this season that management firm KemperSports says won’t interfere with play. Nine holes will be worked on at a time, and Harborside is a 36-hole facility. Main focus will be on the bunkers with the Better Billy Bunker technology instituted to improve drainage..

PGA Tour star Jason Day will headline the Golf Gives Gala on May 22 at St. Charles Country Club. He’ll join Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps in the new event.

Registration is now open for one of the biggest annual charity events, the May 30 Illinois Patriots Day at Medinah.

Eglin’s Eagle was among the first Florida courses to lure Chicago golfers

A typical tee shot on Eglin’s Eagle course offers wide, tree-lined fairways

NICEVILLE, Florida – Every year we’ve made a conscious effort to visit some of the 53 courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail. This Trail isn’t like many of the others around the country. Its courses are selected for historical purposes, and more states should create such trails.

The Florida courses must be open to the public for at least 50 consecutive years. Each has an interesting history. Some have suffered, some flourished over the years but all have survived. You never know what you’re going to get golf-wise when you play a course on the Florida Historic Golf Trail, but you know you’ll get a taste of what golf was many decades ago.

We’ve played 12 courses on the Trail, the most recent being the Eagle Course at the Eglin Golf Club, which is part of the Eglin Air Force Base nearby. It’s not the best course on the Trail – El Campeon at the Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills rates above it – but none of the courses we’ve played on the Trail have quite the interesting history that the Eagle does.

It was built as part of a resort in 1923 by a group of businessmen from Chicago. James E. Plew, founder of the Chicago Towel Company who also built the nearby Valparaiso Inn, was the leader of that effort and his cohorts reportedly included the infamous gangster Al Capone. The course was in the town of Valparaiso then and was called the Chicago Club of Valparaiso.

The members built their own nine-hole course before bringing in the architectural team of William Langford and Theodore Moreau to design an 18-holer. After they finished it in 1927 a trainload of 200 golfers from Chicago came for the grand opening. The course went bankrupt in 1929 and the name was changed to the Valparaiso Country Club.

Eglin’s clubhouse wall contains memorabilia from its early days as a get-away for Chicago golfers.

It operated as a resort in the 1930s, during which it was reduced to nine holes again. In 1937 the course was renamed Eglin Field in honor of an airman who had been killed in an airplane accident. In 1942 Plew sold the course to the U.S. Government and it is now part of what is a bustling Air Force base. Under the new ownership the Eagle was restored to an 18-holer that is ranked among the best military golf facilities in the country. The course was also deemed good enough to host a pro-am event for the top PGA players in the 1960s. (Doug Ford and Mason Rudolph comprised the winning team).

The course was named the Eagle after the F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft and it received a companion course, called the Falcon with nine holes being built in 1960 and another nine in 1989. The Eagle greens underwent a renovation in 2008 and the routing was changed after a new clubhouse was built. The present Eagle has five sets of tees, with the course playing at 6,861 yards from the tips and 4,484 from the front.

Even a week after aerification procedures the course was very playable. It has spacious, undulating fairways but walkers can certainly enjoy it, too.

The Eglin clubhouse is more than adequate for the wide range of golfers visiting the course.

This Masters tournament will be lacking on several fronts

The Masters tournament never lacks much. Even though it has the smallest and perhaps the weakest field of any of golf’s four major championships, the annual visit to Georgia’s Augusta National is arguably more popular with golf’s fan base than the U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship.

However, this upcoming 81st playing of the Masters — which tees off on Thursday – is lacking on a few fronts.

For one, Arnold Palmer won’t be there for the first time in 63 years. The King died in September, and he’ll be missed.

Also missing – except for the preliminary events – is Tiger Woods. This is the 20th anniversary of his first professional victory. It provided the Masters with its best-ever turnout of television viewers – 44 million. Woods, still not healthy after three back surgeries, kept hopes alive for his participation while he promoted his new book on his 1997 triumph but last Friday he made his withdrawal official.

Jason Day, one of the game’s brightest young stars, was on hand for Monday’s first practice day but his head isn’t fully into it. Worried about his mother’s health, he walked off the course six holes into his first match at the World Golf Championship Match Play two weeks ago and didn’t enter last week’s Shell Houston Open. He didn’t touch a club until last Friday, when he arrived in Augusta for early work on his game. His mother, battling cancer, had part of her left lung removed in surgery while Day was off the tournament trail.

The tournament won’t have a local hope, either, but Thomas Pieters comes close. The NCAA champion for Illinois in 2012, Pieters is in the field for the first time off his No. 18 world ranking at the end of 2016 and last week he was given a Special Temporary Membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season after posting two top-five finishes in six starts on the circuit this year.

Good weather is also lacking. Monday’s practice session was suspended by storms and the forecast is for much worse weather on Wednesday – when the popular Par-3 Contest and final practice rounds are scheduled.

One thing this 81st Masters does have is a clearcut favorite. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has won this last three tournaments and arrived rested after his last-minute withdrawal at Houston. Johnson’s recent hot streak assured him the favorite’s designation even though Jordan Spieth’s finishes in the last three Masters were 2-1-2.

“Dustin Johnson is the guy to beat in golf no matter where you are,’’ insisted Spieth.

Rickie Fowler could also be a popular contender based on his two wins and eight top-10 finishes this season. He’s been in the top-five at all four majors and this is his eighth Masters, so he knows the Augusta National layout which is known for having the fastest greens on the PGA Tour.

The field has only 94 players, all invitees by the host club, and it includes the top 62 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The usual belief is that only 12-15 have the skills to win but several players who haven’t been in that category at the start of the week have gone on to win, most recently last year’s champion Danny Willett.

In fact, this is the 30th anniversary of the most unlikely Masters upset. In 1987 two of the game’s legendary stars — Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros — went into a playoff for the title with Larry Mize, an Augusta native. Mize beat them both with a chip-in, earning a place forever on the tournament highlights reel.


Reaction to the four-stroke penalty assessed on Lexi Thompson during Sunday’s final round of the ANA Inspiration – the LPGA’s first major championship of the season – has run the gamut from the many club professionals and players who have contacted me personally as well as the golf world nation-wide.

Here’s my take on the strange ruling that led to South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu beating out Thompson for the coveted title.

My first reaction was that Thompson had simply made a sloppy mark – but that’s not to downplay the infraction. Though I’m sure Thompson made an honest mistake, the two strokes assessed for it were necessary. Players can improve their lie by moving their ball just an inch on the green to avoid ball marks and spike marks. Such a practice should be penalized, though I doubt it seldom is unless a playing partner speaks up. That rarely happens.

I have a problem with the assessment of the other two strokes Thompson was penalized, however. Her infraction came a day earlier, in the third round. She signed her scorecard without being informed of a possible infraction. A TV viewer called attention to the infraction too long after the fact.

The LPGA handled the Thompson issue better than the U.S. Golf Association handled a similar situation involving Dustin Johnson when he was en route to winning the U.S. Open last June. Johnson was told – in the middle of his round – that a penalty might be called on him for a possible infraction. To his credit he played well enough to win despite the distraction but – as Rickie Fowler noted at a Masters press conference on Monday — “We’ve seen stuff in the past year that’s not making the game look good at all.’’

Commonsense is lacking in some of the Rules of Golf, a problem that was addressed in proposed changes that could go into effect in 2019. Until then, here’s what should be done immediately. Rules questions should be handled strictly by officials on site. TV viewers should play no part in it, and once a round is over the scores should stand. Honesty is an integral part of golf but changing scores after another round begins creates more problems than it’s worth.

Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course started with white sand in its bunkers. Now white sand is coming back back — just a different variety of it. Here’s how it’ll affect the 18th hole. (Rory Spears Photo)


The white ProAngle sand used in the bunkers at Augusta National will be in evidence at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont when the former PGA Tour site for both the Western Open and BMW Championship opens on April 22. Owner Frank Jemsek said that 11 of the course’s greenside bunkers were transitioned to grass bunkers and the others will get the new, eye-catching white sand before the course opens.

A major change in the head professional ranks has Frank Hohenadel moving from an assistant’s job at Westmoreland, in Wilmette, to the head job at Mistwood, in Romeoville. Hohenadel, a long-hitting lefthanded golfer, made a big impact on the local scene when he snapped Mike Small’s record eight-year run as champion of the Illinois PGA Championship in 2011 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Small rebounded, winning four more times in the last five years.

The PGA Tour has decided to give distance measuring devices a chance, but only in a few tournaments on its secondary circuits. One event where the devices will be allowed is the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship coming to Ivanhoe June 5-11.

Our golf team now has a Florida connection — Jason Bruno’s LinksNation

I’m happy to announce the addition of a sixth golf website partnership for www.lenziehmongolf.com.

Jason Bruno’s LinksNation.com is our first website partner in Florida. Bruno, from West Palm Beach, founded LinksNation in 2009 and is also a contributor to GolfLife.com as a PGA Tour reporter

While LinksNation specializes in course and resort travel features Bruno’s site will particularly complement our other member sites by providing equipment and apparel reviews. He is a five-time winner of Hampton ExecGolf events.

Jason Bruno and I hooked up at the Arnie statue at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Bruno’s career in golf started in 1987 when he worked in the landscape and turf field at Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek, FL. He was also on the agronomy staffs for the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic from 1992-94, the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion and the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Bruno has also worked on course operations staffs, as a caddie and as a golf coach.

While at Atlantic Tech he also performed a redesign and construction of a par 3 practice center on the campus.

He joins our five website partnerships that have touched many phases of golf media from basically a Midwest perspective. Rory Spears’ Golfers on Golf is prominent on the radio side. Tim Cronin’s Illinois Golfer is emerging as a must-read online publication. Rory, Tim and I have functioned as a Big Three partnership since 2009 and our team has grown from there.

Cheryl Justak’s Golf Now! Chicago and Brian Weis’ comprehensive GolfTrips.com are travel-based sites with Cheryl operating from Indiana and Brian from Wisconsin. Cheryl’s upscale Golf Guide, has been produced annually for 15 years.

Dave “Links’’ Lockhart, Chicago’s premier videographer, rounds out my partnership connections. He’s been creating TV productions for over 20 years and they have they included three award-winning golf TV shows.