Len Ziehm On Golf

This could be last shot for Ghim, Hardy to win the Western Amateur

The history-rich Western Amateur isn’t always played in the Chicago area, but in recent years it has been – and that’s a good thing. It merits a prominent place on any golf calendar because it brings together the very best amateurs in the world — not just those from the United States.

Next week’s 115th playing of the tournament will have even more special meaning because of the prominence of local players. The 156 starters at Skokie Country Club, in Glencoe, include Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, who is coming off his victory in the Pacific Coast Amateur at 2015 U.S. Open site Chambers Bay in Oregon, and the University of Illinois’ dynamic duo of Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer.

Ghim, Hardy and Meyer were all in the Sweet 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of last year’s Western Amateur at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest, and Meyer is the defending champion at Skokie. They’ll be taking on a field that includes 2015 Western Amateur winner Dawson Armstrong; reigning NCAA titlist Braden Thornberry; Stewart Hagestad, low amateur at the Masters in April; and a foreign contingent headed by Kyle McClatchie of South Africa and Harrison Endycott of Australia.

The local trio have been frequent Western Am competitors – Hardy, in particular, is in the field for the fourth time — but this might be their last time chasing the prestigious trophy won over the years by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw. Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins and Tiger Woods. All three are college seniors headed for the professional ranks.

“It’s definitely special growing up in this area and having the Western Golf Association running their events around here,’’ said Hardy, from Northbrook. “I played in at least two or three Western Juniors, too, I just thank the Western Golf Association for everything they’ve done for my career.’’

Prior to his win in the Pacific Coast Amateur Ghim was the Big 12 Player of the Year for Texas and joined Hardy on the U.S. team for the Palmer Cup matches vs. collegiate stars from Europe.

Meyer, ranked No. 3 in the world amateur rankings, can join a very select group if he repeats as Western Amateur champion. Only six have done it, the last being Justin Leonard in 1992-93. The first was Chandler Egan, in 1904-05, and the others ranged from Chick Evans in the 1920s, to Bud Ward in the 1940s, to Frank Stranahan in the 1950s to Hal Sutton in 1979-80. Evans and Stranahan, both lifetime amateurs, won the title more than twice in the tournament’s early years.

Hardy and Meyer helped Illinois reach the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, in May and then took to the national scene. Both competed against professionals in this month’s John Deere Classic but the Western Am presents a much different challenge. It’s basically two tournaments wrapped up in one.

Players gather for practice on Monday (JULY 31) with the full field playing 18-hole rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the field is cut to the low 44 and ties for two more rounds on Thursday, Aug. 3. Those 72 holes over three days will decide the 16 qualifiers for the two-day match play portion of the tournament. The champion will be crowned on Saturday, Aug. 5.

Skokie hosted the tournament in 2010 when David Chung won the title, beating a field that included PGA Tour stars Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Like the tournament itself, the host club has a rich history for hosting big events. Originally a Donald Ross design, Skokie has also hosted the 1909 Western Open, the 1922 U.S. Open and 1998 U.S. Senior Amateur. Skokie was one of 11 charter clubs that established the WGA in 1899 to spread the game of golf across the Midwest. Only seven still exist.

Oak Meadows timetable

The long-awaited opening of The Preserve at Oak Meadows, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s renovated facility in Addison, is closing in.

The range and practice area opens on Monday (JULY 31) and that also coincides with what Ed Stevenson, executive director of the District, dubs Test Drive Week. Season tee time members and various golf industry personnel will get a sneak preview opportunity from July 31 to Aug. 6 and the course will open to all golfers on Aug. 7.

The formal grand opening will be held next April and the potential ground-breaking on a new clubhouse is expected in the summer or fall of 2018.

Flavin overcomes Hahn’s 61, wins Illinois State Amateur

Highland Park’s Patrick Flavin will return to Miami of Ohio as the Illinois State Amateur champion.

What a difference a day makes.

On Wednesday Jordan Hahn shot a 61 – the lowest round in the 87-year history of the Illinois State Amateur as well as the best ever recorded at Calumet Country Club, which opened its doors in 1901.

On that magical day Hahn, a University of Wisconsin golfer from Spring Grove, was 7-under-par after seven holes and had a hole-in-one in that stretch. When he got to 10-under through 14 holes the tournament staff was envisioning a 59 but Hahn made a bogey and no compensating birdies coming in.

That was on Wednesday, before storms pounded the course overnight. A day later Hahn wasn’t the same player and met his match in playing partner Patrick Flavin. The Miami of Ohio senior-to-be from Highland Park found everything going his way, and he hung on for a one-stroke victory after a final round 67.

Flavin, who birdied his first five holes of the opening round on Tuesday en route to shooting a 63, was looking forward to the scheduled 36-hole wrapup on Thursday. The rain, though, prevented that. The Chicago District Golf Association had to reduce its primary championship to 54 holes for the first time sine 2007.

“I was looking forward to playing 36 and having half the tournament left,’’ said Flavin, “but once we started playing my attitude changed. I had to get off to a good start and I did it.’’

He made four birdies in the first seven holes to erase Hahn’s four-stroke lead at the start of the day. They were tied making the turn to the back nine and Flavin continued his solid play long enough to open a three-stroke lead with four holes remaining.

Hahn knew all along it’d be hard to follow up his spectacular round of a day earlier.

“I tried to keep it out of my mind, that I wasn’t going to make that many birdies and to just stay patient,’’ said Hahn, but his play – particularly on the par-5s where he was 1-over for the day – wasn’t close to what it was a day earlier; Still, the duel with Flavin was a good one right up to the end.

Hahn got within one stroke with a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 17 after Flavin made bogey on the same hole, and they were just a shot apart heading to the 18th. Flavin’s final tee shot sailed deep into the left rough and his caddie, older brother Connor, managed to settle his nerves before Flavin uncorked the key shot of the day – a 6-iron from 188 yards that found the green.

“I had to hit it below a branch, over a tree and hook it,’’ said Flavin. “It came out perfect, and was definitely the shot of the day.’’

Both players missed lengthy birdie puts on the 18th and Flavin’s two-foot tap-in for par gave him the title. No other player was within four of the two front-runners. Flavin posted a 10-under-par 200 for the 54 holes. Hahn’s concluding 2-over 72 left his a stroke behind.

Neither Flavin nor Hahn could wangle invitations to the upcoming Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club, though Flavin is still hopeful of getting into that prestigious national event. He will play in next month’s Illinois Open before heading back to school and Hahn hope to qualify for the U.S. Amateur on Monday in Wisconsin. If he doesn’t his summer season is over.

IWO champ Farnsworth followed in her coach’s footsteps

Illinois Women’s Open champion Alexandra Farnsworth is congratulated by Paula Kosin (left), sister of late tournament founder Phil Kosin, and Andy Mickelson, Mistwood’s director of golf.

Aimee Neff had good memories from winning the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open as an amateur in 2008 and 2009. Now an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University, she suggested that one of her players, Alexandra Farnsworth, use the IWO as a tuneup for her senior season at the Nashville, Tenn., school.

Farnsworth took Neff’s advice and is glad she did. On Wednesday Farnsworth rallied from a two-stroke deficit at the start of the day to post a two-stroke victory over Hannah Kim, the Northwestern star, in the 23rd staging of the IWO at Mistwood, in Romeoville.

Winless as a collegiate player, Farnsworth was in bad need of a victory and she got this one with a final-round 67, which completed a 54-hole score of 8-under-par 208.

“I had a lot of seconds and thirds in college play, so this breakthrough means a lot to me,’’ she said. “The last half of (her last college) year I put a lot of added pressure on myself about turning pro. I thought I had to shoot certain scores to prove myself, and that made the game miserable. I took two weeks off and am fully back to enjoying golf again.’’

Though she missed qualifying for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur by one shot Farnsworth is looking forward to the Tennessee Women’s Open in two weeks prior to the start of her senior season.

The key to her win at Mistwood was her play around the portion of the course dubbed Kelpie’s Corner. She made birdie at the par-4 thirteenth, was happy that her tee shot from the back tee at the long par-3 fourteenth cleared the water and reached the green and then she made birdie at the “visually intimidating’’ 15th , a par-5 with water impacting every shot en route to the putting surface.

The birdie at No. 15 was her sixth of the day and opened a three-stroke lead on Kim, a stalwart on Northwestern’s NCAA runner-up team in May at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Kim, who struggled after making double bogey at No. 10, got one stroke back with a birdie at the 16th but could get no closer.

“I definitely took a couple weeks off after the NCAAs, but wherever I’d go people would ask me about that experience,’’ she said. “That’s been very motivating.’’

Since the tension-packed NCAA Kim has been taking a summer class at Northwestern and played in only the Women’s Western Amateur at River Forest, in Elmhurst, prior to the IWO. By far her biggest event of the summer is still to come.

“This was a prep for the U.S. Amateur,’’ she admitted. That tournament will be played in her hometown of Chula Vista, Calif.

The 27 professionals in the 72-player field were left to battle for a share of the $25,000 prize money after amateurs swept the first two places. Canadian pro Vivian Tsui, the 36-hole leader, and Samantha Postillion split the top pro prize. Each received $4,250. It was the biggest payday so far for Postillion, who turned pro in the spring of 2015 after graduating from the University of Illinois.

Postillion’s mother Kerry, who won three IWOs as an amateur between 1996 and 1999, walked the final round with her daughter. Since Kerry Postillion’s last victory the family has moved to Arizona. Top Illinois resident in the field was another University of Illinois golfer, Dana Gattone. The Addison resident, who plays out of Medinah, finished solo fifth.

IWO, State Am titles will be decided in a two-day stretch

The biggest glut of tournament golf in the Chicago area in many years reached the overload stage this week with two of the most important championships sharing almost identical dates.

The 23rd Illinois Women’s Open concludes its three-day run on Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville, and the 87th Illinois State Amateur wraps up its three days of competition on Thursday at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood.

Mistwood has hosted the last 19 IWOs, and director of golf Andy Mickelson said this year’s field was “the strongest and deepest we’ve had in years.’’ Seventy-eight players – the largest entry since 2014 – teed off in Monday’s opening round. It included 41 Illinois residents, 48 amateurs, an unusually large contingent of 27 professionals and three undeclared players.

Stephanie Miller is out to defend her title, won last year while she was still a University of Illinois golfer. Her collegiate eligibility gone, she entered this week’s tourney as a professional in search of the $5,000 check available to the champion from a $25,000 prize fund.

Among the other pros in the field was Mary Swanson, coach of the women’s team at Bradley University who was playing in her first professional event in almost 10 years.

While the women begin teeing off in their final round at 7 a.m. on Wednesday the 138 men in the Illinois State Amateur will be facing a cut to the low 35 and ties for Thursday’s 36-hole wrapup at Calumet.

Of the 138 who teed off in Tuesday’s first round 25 were exempt off previous performances and the other 113 qualified at one of nine sites across the state in June. The tourney is open to residents with handicaps not exceeding 7.4.

While the starters included seven of last year’s top 10 and 16 of the top 20, the field lacked the two biggest stars of recent years. Medinah’s Tee-K Kelly — who had finishes of first, eleventh, first and second over the last four years — turned pro and already has a victory on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour on his resume. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, soon to begin his senior years at Illinois, did not enter. His record in the tournament is almost as good as Kelly’s.

Hardy lost the State Am title to Naperville’s Ray Knoll in a four-hole playoff in 2014, finished third in 2015 and posted the most spectacular victory in event history last year at St. Charles Country Club. Hardy was a recond 28-under-par for the 72 holes and won by 10 strokes over runner-up Kelly.

That shootout in perfect scoring conditions at St. Charles, brought out the best in everybody. The course yielded 984 birdies and 41 eagles to the field over the 72 holes.

With Kelly and Mitchell gone the battle should be wide-open at Calumet, and another birdie-fest is unlikely. Calumet is hosting the State Am for the first time but is no stranger to big local events. The Donald Ross-designed layout hosted the Chicago District Amateur four times, the latest in 2016 when Andrew Price was the champion. Price, a member at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, did not enter this year’s State Am. Neither did frequent contender Dave Ryan, who won last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur.

Calumet, normally a par-71 layout, is playing at 6,619-yards and a par-70 this week. The private club hosted the Western Open in 1924 and maintains a bigger place in golf history after being the site of the eighth of Byron Nelson’s record 11 straight PGA Tour victories in 1945. His win in the Chicago Victory Open was one of Nelson’s record 18 wins that season.

Michael Grandinetti the CDGA president, is adding to Calumet’s history this week. For the first time in the long history of the State Am the host club will also be the home course of the organization’s incumbent president.

Calumet has become a hot spot for tournament play in recent years. Eight of its members, headed by club champion Lloyd Roth, qualified for the State Am and Calumet will also host the inaugural American Junior Golf Association All-Star event from July 31 to Aug. 3. It’ll feature 95 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15 competing for a national title.

DeChambeau is the latest first-time winner of the JDC

Bryson DeChambeau enjoys the rewards for his first PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic.

SILVIS, Ill. – Illinois golf and Bryson DeChambeau seem to be a perfect fit. DeChambeau won the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields in 2015 and now he’s also the champion of the John Deere Classic. The JDC, in fact, produced his first victory on the PGA Tour.

Few doubted that DeChambeau would be a budding star on the PGA circuit after he win at Olympia Fields. He even followed that up by winning the NCAA title that year. Few golfers have pulled off that double.

After turning pro, though, DeChambeau was hardly an immediate hit. Though he did have a tie for second at this year’s Puerto Rico Open, he also went through a stretch in which he missed 10 straight cuts.

The John Deere Classic, though, changed the perception of the colorful 23-year old. He found TPC Deere Run to his liking in a beautiful week of golfing weather and notched that elusive first PGA Tour win. It wasn’t easy, though. He needed to shoot 30 on the back nine to overhaul Patrick Rodgers, the leader after 36 and 54 holes.

DeChambeau caught Rodgers with a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th green. DeChambeau’s putt barely caught the right edge of the cup and dropped as Rodgers was walking down the adjacent 17th fairway. Both were at 18-under-par at that point.

Rodgers didn’t stay there for long. He found his tee shot on the par-5 seventeenth behind a tree and had to chip out. The chip wasn’t good, either. It ran into the rough on the right side of the fairway 205 yards from the cup.

DeChambeau lines up his putt on the 18th green.

His third shot wound up on the green but in a most difficult spot – with a bunker blocking his path to the cup. Rodgers had to take the unusual method of chipping on the putting surface to get at the hole, but his fourth shot took a bad bounce, leaving him six feet away. When his par putt lipped out Rodgers’ time at the top of the leaderboard was over, and DeChambeau could celebrate.

“It felt like a long time coming, though I’m only 23,’’ said DeChambeau, who alternated tears of joy with boisterous victory comments after play was done while Rodgers – still looking for his first PGA Tour win – dealt with another near-miss.

“I had an aggressive mindset on 17,’’ Rodgers admitted. “I felt like if I made birdie that would probably put the tournament away.’’

Then he heard the roar from DeChambeau’s birdie putt dropping at No. 18, and that changed his mindset.

Rodgers tried to get back a share of the lead with a birdie on the 18th, but his play wasn’t up to it. His drive finished in the right rough with a tree again blocking his shot to the green and his second rolled over the putting surface. The birdie try from there was a good one, but the ball stopped a foot away. That made DeChambeau the tenth first-time champion on the PGA Tour this season and the 19th player to make the Quad Cities tournaments his first PGA Tour victory.

Then he coaxes the 14-foot putt in, just inside the right edge of the cup.

At the awards ceremony on the 18th green DeChambeau broke down at the mention of the late Payne Stewart, who also got his first win in the Quad Cities in 1982. DeChambeau somewhat patterns himself after the colorful Stewart, who went to college at Southern Methodist before DeChambeau arrived there and – like Stewart – got into the Quad Cities event on a sponsor’s exemption.

DeChambeau is a bit different than Stewart, though. He plays clubs of the same length and is very analytical about his game. Stewart was more a free spirit prior to his death in a plane crash.

“`I try to take a complex game and understand every variable,’’ said DeChambeau. “That’s very difficult to do. The one who came closest was Tiger (Woods). He probably figured it out for quite a while. I was a physics major in college, and I go after golf in a very scientific way.’’

And now it’s time to celebrate.

When it works he looks like a genius – and this time it worked.

The final round was not good news for the two Chicago players to make the cut. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman made double bogey on the first hole, wound up shooting a 2-over 72 and fell 26 places into a tie for 44th place. He won’t be seen on tour again until August’s PGA Championship.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy was paired for the second straight day with Ben Hogan Award winner Maverick McNealy, the only other amateur to make the cut. They started the day tied, and McNealy ruled the final round 69-71 to be the tourney’s low amateur.

Streelman, Hardy are lurking behind Rodgers in John Deere Classic

Former U.S. Amateur champ Bryson DeChambeau explodes from a green-side bunker at No. 18.

SILVIS, Ill. – If local players should shine at any PGA Tour event, it’d be at the John Deere Classic – the only annual stop on golf’s premier circuit in Illinois. Two are doing just fine through three rounds of this year’s $5.6 million tournament that concludes today.

Whether either Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman or Northbrook’s Nick Hardy can catch 54-hole leader Patrick Rodgers in today’s final round is doubtful, but both have made their presence felt with 18 holes to go.

Streelman, looking forward to a three-week break after playing four straight tournaments and 11 of the last 13, shot 67 on Saturday and is tied for 18th place – but he’s only two strokes out of a tie for sixth. Hardy, getting ready for his senior season at Illinois, is locked in a battle with Stanford’s Maverick McNealy, the winner of the 2017 Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s outstanding collegiate player, for low amateur.

Kevin Streelman (lelft) congratulates Daniel Berger on his 63 — best third round at TPC Deere Run.

The only two amateurs to survive the 36-hole cut, they played together Saturday and both shot 69. They finished the third round tied for 44th place playing against 80 touring professionals.

“I’ve felt comfortable here since I went to the first tee,’’ said Hardy. “It’s a great thing for amateurs that we’re allowed to compete here. This is the place (PGA Tour) I want to play in a year or two and I’d come back here every time. The tournament is great, plus it’s in Illinois.’’

Streelman has already won twice on the PGA Tour and he got a demonstration of what it might take to win on Saturday when playing partner Daniel Berger shot the day’s low round – a 7-under-par 63. Berger trails Rodger’s front-running 16-under-par 197 by two strokes and is tied for second with Scott Stallings.

Illinois’ Nick Hardy is battling for low amateur honors.

Though he didn’t play in either of the first two major championships and won’t be in next week’s British Open Streelman is on a solid stretch of play. He had four straight top-20 finishes before a tie for 29th last week in the Greenbrier Classic and a good finish today could propel Streelman high up the leaderboard.

He feels a change in scheduling has worked out “perfect.’’ Streelman decided to skip sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, which meant two weeks off before his productive four-tournament stretch.

“That freed me up to take the next three weeks off going into the PGA Championship,’’ he said. “This is something I’ve never done.’’

After the PGA, the year’s final major, comes the FedEx Playoffs – and that’s where the biggest paydays are available.

A big payday awaits whoever wins the JDC today. The champion gets the biggest check in tournament history — $1,008,000. Rodgers, 25, had a brilliant amateur career but has yet to win on the PGA Tour. He has happy memories at TPC Deere Run, however, and would be a fitting champion.

Patrick Rodgers (right), being congratulated by Zach Johnson, holds a two-stroke lead.

Tournament director Clare Peterson gave him a sponsor’s exemption in both 2012 and 2013, and he tied for 15th in his second appearance after leading briefly in the third round.

“He’s a terrific kid with talent that is immense,’’ said two-time major champion Zach Johnson, the unofficial tournament host among the players. “It just a matter of time (for him to win), not a matter of if.’’

Johnson, who won the JDC title in 2012, still has hopes of winning this one, however. He’s in a 10-way tie for eighth place, five shots behind Rodgers, who has made 150 feet of putts the last two days and 19 birdies in the first 54 holes.

“I love coming to this tournament,’’ said Rodgers. “It’s probably the most special stop on tour for me. It’s crazy. It’s already my sixth time playing here. I’m very comfortable in the area and on the golf course.’’

Rodgers, who grew up in Avon, Ind., before going to Stanford, would also become eligible for next week’s British Open if he wins today. Since the JDC moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000 the third round leader has gone on to win nine times, including the last three years when Brian Harman, Jordan Spieth and Ryan Moore were the champions.

The crowd was big and enthusiastic during the JDC’s third round at TPC Deere Run.

Trish Johnson is wire-to-wire winner of first Senior LPGA Championship

Champion Trish Johnson is flanked by Dave Harner, French Lick director of golf, and Steve Ferguson, whose visionary work led to the first Senior PGA Championship presented by Old National Bank.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The first Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank had a lot of things – historical significance. television coverage, beautiful weather. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort received the world-wide attention it has long deserved.

What the inaugural staging didn’t have was suspense. England’s Trish Johnson, winner of The Legends Championship in a six-hole playoff on the same course in 2016, was a wire-to-wire winner in this much bigger production.

Johnson opened with a 67 on Monday in windy conditions, lost but one stroke of her four-shot lead after a 72 on Tuesday and nursed her way to the $90,000 first prize with a 73 in Wednesday’s finale. Her 212-total was 4-under-par on the layout that was set up at 6,117 yards for the world’s best women golfers who have passed their 45th birthday.

Michele Redman, who played college golf at Indiana and is now the women’s coach at Minnesota, was the only other player under par for the 54 holes. Playing with Johnson in the last group, Redman finished 1-under for the tournament.

Trish Johnson had trouble with the champagne while celebrating her victory.

Johnson called her second-round play “rubbish’’ on Tuesday but her course management was good enough to protect the 3-shot lead she had at the start of the day on Wednesday.

“It’s different when you’re leading by a few shots,’’ said Johnson. “If someone comes at you, that’s fine. When no one is doing that you become defensive. It’s not a comfortable position to be in.’’

The key moment in the final round came at No. 15, a 345-yard par-4. Johnson splashed her approach shot and made bogey, but Redman – down by two and running out of holes – put her drive into deep fescue. She tried to escape with a hybrid but could move the ball only a few yards. Her third was in rough beside a cart path and Redman conferred several times with rules officials before getting her third shot back to the fairway.

After putting her fourth shot on the green, Redman two-putted for a double bogey and lost a shot to Johnson. Redman insisted the attempt to hit her second shot out of the fescue was the right decision, though the lie stirred some debate.

“I definitely would do it again, but I would try it with my wedge,’’ she said.

Johnson nursed her three-shot lead to the clubhouse where she learned that only England’s Laura Davies had made a big run up the leaderboard. Starting four groups ahead of Johnson, the long-hitting Davies was 10-strokes off the lead when play began. Her 4-under-par 68, though, was the best round of the day and Davies wound up in a tie for third with Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson and Australia’s Wendy Doolan.

Laura Davies could only wonder what might have been after finishing with a 68.

Davies started the tournament with a 7-over 79 but finished 70-68, which was seven strokes better than Johnson’s last two rounds (72-73). And Davies felt she left some shots on the course after Wednesday’s round.

“I three-putted twice on par-5s,’’ she said. “After that horrible 79 I gave Trish a 12-stroke lead. After that you’re never going to catch her.’’

Johnson, 51, plays mainly on the Ladies European Tour now, and she won on that circuit for the 19th time in 2014 after carrying a 5-stroke lead into the final round of the Scottish Open. Her win at French Lick last year was more dramatic. She went six extra holes with Juli Inkster, who wasn’t in the field this week, before securing the victory. The Legends Championship, though, wasn’t considered an official major. This week’s event was.

“It felt different,’’ said Johnson, “but it was as much being a major as it was being at French Lick. I absolutely love this place.’’

Fans on the hill beside the No. 18 green got the best view of the Senior LPGA Championship.

Moore returns to PGA Tour in hopes of defending JDC title

The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, tees off for the 47th time on Thursday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, on the outskirts of the Quad Cities. For defending champion Ryan Moore that means a return to the PGA Tour at the course that took his career to a new level last year.

Moore has been sidelined the last six weeks with a shoulder injury but he’s informed the JDC staff that he’s ready to play again. That means he’ll be in Wednesday’s final pro-am at TPC Deere Run before the 72-hole $5.6 million championship begins its four-day run.

The JDC, named the Tournament of the Year by the PGA Tour for its 2016 staging, has usually been friendly to Moore. He has 23 straight rounds under par and three top-10s in the last five years at TPC Deere Run. Last year, though, was something special for the golfer who had one of the most storied amateur careers before turning pro.

In 2004 Moore won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Public Links (for the second time), the Western Amateur and the NCAA individual title while wrapping up his collegiate career at Nevada-Las Vegas.

He had a respectable pro career prior to 2016, winning four times, but his victory at TPC Deere Run triggered much bigger things. Moore was the last man selected to the U.S. Ryder Cup team shortly after that, then scored the decisive point in the victory over Europe at Hazeltine, in Minnesota.

“This tournament meant so much to me last year, and it really is the reason I ended up on the Ryder Cup team,’’ said Moore. “To finish my year off the way I did, it was this event that started that. I will be forever thankful. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life.’’

Moore has always played well at the JDC. Since 2012 he was tied eighth, tied 22nd, tied seventh and tied 24th prior to his win last year. This year he also played well in the first of the four major championships, finishing in a tie for ninth at the Masters before the shoulder injury sidelined him.

This year Moore will bring his family – wife Nicole and two sons – to the Quad Cities in hopes of extending his run of success at Deere Run. He shot 22-under last year with rounds of 65, 65, 65 and 67 and was bogey-free on the weekend.

“I want to go back and try to do the same thing this year,’’ he said. “(The tournament staff) has done a phenomenal job of making it a fun week, a family week, and really just a great event.’’

Since the JDC moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000 only one player has defended his title. Steve Stricker did it twice, winning three straight times from 2009 to 2011, and he’ll be in the field again.

The most notable newcomer among the touring pros is Bubba Watson, who hasn’t played in the Quad Cities since his early years as a touring pro. Zach Johnson, the JDC winner in 2012 and a long-time member of the tournament’s board of directors, will also bring along a special guest this year – the Ryder Cup trophy that will be available for photos today through Saturday.

Tournament director Clair Peterson has again been creative with his sponsor exemptions. He invited Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, the stars of the University of Illinois team; Stanford’s Maverick McNealy, winner of the 2017 Ben Hogan Award as the best collegiate player; and last year’s U.S. Amateur champion – Australian Curtis Luck.

Romo in Western Amateur

Tony Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback, will compete against the world’s best amateurs when the 115th Western Amateur tees off on July 29 at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe.

The Western Golf Association has announced that all of the world’s top 10 amateurs will compete in the tournament. In addition to Illinois’ Meyer and Hardy the field includes Braden Thornberry, who won the NCAA individual at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove in May; Arlington Heights native Doug Ghim, the Big 12 Player of the Year for Texas; and Ghim’s Longhorns’ teammate Scottie Scheffler, the low amateur at June’s U.S. Open.

Up and coming

Two of the biggest annual state championships will be contested on almost identical dates next week. The Illinois Women’s Open is Monday through Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville, and the Illinois State Amateur is Tuesday through Thursday at Calumet Country Club in Homewood.

Johnson plays like `rubbish,’ but still leads Senior LPGA tourney

Trish Johnson takes aim at the No. 9 green amidst the sprawling landscape of the Pete Dye Course.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Scotland’s Trish Johnson described the golf she played in the second round of the Senior LPGA Championship on Tuesday as “rubbish.’’

Still, when the day was over on the rugged Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, Johnson’s lead dropped only one stroke from the start of the day. She played her first round on Monday in 67 and led by four shots. She only matched par of 72 on Tuesday and leads by three over Michele Redman, a former Indiana University golfer who now coaches the women’s team at Minnesota.

Johnson, who won The Legends Championship on the same course last year in a six-hole playoff with Juli Inkster, is at 5-under-par 139. Redman gained ground after a 69 on Tuesday but there are other challengers as well.

Lorie Kane of Canada and Nicole Jeray, the Northern Illinois University product from Berwyn, made charges on Tuesday and are lurking behind Johnson and Redman.

Nicole Jeray, teeing off on the first hole, made a nice climb up the leaderboard.

Kane shot 70 and climbed nine places into a tie for third with Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann. Jeray shot 71 and moved into a tie for sixth. Kane is six strokes behind Johnson and Jeray trails by seven. Both are scrambling to play on three different pro tours, and they’re the only players with LPGA membership striving to do that.

The winner of the first Legends Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2013, Kane – like Jeray — plays more tournaments on the Symetra Tour – the LPGA’s qualifying circuit – but they also make appearances on both the LPGA and Legends tours. Coordinating their scheduled between the three isn’t easy.

“I love all three tours,’’ said Jeray. Kane calls herself “an LPGA member, period.’’

Kane is especially happy that she has still another competitive opportunity with the creation of the Senior PGA Championship. This $600,00 event has live television coverage and is the first major championship for senior women. Another is coming next year when the U.S. Golf Association’s first U.S. Senior Women’s Open comes to Chicago Golf Club.

The search is on for Trish Johnson’s first tee shot. The ball was eventually deemed to be in the water and Johnson took a double bogey on the hole.

“It’s about time,’’ said Kane. “I’ve always got to take myself out of this, but the ladies who play on the Legends Tour and the women I played with as a rookie built the LPGA, so it’s about time this tournament happened. I’m proud of the LPGA for taking this on but more proud of Mr. Ferguson (Steve Ferguson, head of the Cook Group who triggered the creation of the new tournament) for thinking so much of us. This is a celebration of women’s golf, as it should be every week.’’

Kane won’t rule herself out in today’s final round but says of Johnson “nothing surprises me about that woman. She’s a true competitor.’’

Jeray won’t rule herself out, either.

“She can be beat if somebody gets hot,’’ she said, “but it looks like we’re playing for second.’’

Johnson looked vulnerable from the outset on Tuesday. After a good warmup session she hit her first tee shot far left into a pond. That led to a double bogey and changed her mood in a hurry.

“The conditions were perfect, which probably didn’t help me,’’ she said. “I turned a positive – hitting it great in practice – into a negative, thinking I couldn’t possibly hit it as well on the golf course. Now that’s genius. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Johnson came to life with birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 to get back to even par for the day, and she insisted that the “bad mood’’ she was in all of Tuesday won’t be in evidence today when the $90,000 first-place prize is handed out.

Johnson grabs first-round lead in inaugural Senior LPGA Championship

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, Alice Dye and Cook Group’s Steve Ferguson get the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship underway on Monday. (Sue Fracker Photo)

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Monday’s first round of the Senior LPGA Championship was more about history than anything else.

Winds gusting to 33 miles per hour prevented spectacular scoring – with one exception. Scotland’s Trish Johnson, no stranger to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, made five birdies in her last 12 holes to shoot a 5-under-par 67. That was good for a 4-stroke over Carolyn Hill, one of the early starters in the 81-player field. Johnson and Hill were the only players under par after Day 1.

Johnson, a late starter, was the 2016 winner of The Legends Championship on the same course when she beat Juli Inkster in an epic six-hole playoff. Inkster is on broadcast duty at the U.S. Women’s Open and not competing in this first major championship for senior women.

Johnson, though, was glad to be back on the Pete Dye design that is filled with dramatic elevation changes, spectacular views and confounding greens.

“I don’t really feel like the defending champion,’’ said Johnson. “I just love this golf course. It just fits my eye.’’

It didn’t seem to fit so well early in her round. After two birdies in the first four holes Johnson missed a three-foot putt at No. 5 and made double bogey on the next hole. Then the good times rolled. Johnson bounced back from the double with a bogey at No. 7 to get back in red numbers then birdied 11, 14, 15 and 18 No. 15 came on the shot of the ay, a chip-in.

Trish Johnson faces a media horde after shooting a 67.

The other players weren’t nearly as sharp as Johnson, but they weren’t complaining after finally getting their first major championship for women in the over-45 age group.

“I never thought this day would come,’’ said Nicole Jeray, an LPGA veteran from Berwyn, Ill.,who shot 75. “And, to think for this to be televised. That’s incredible.’’

Jeray was especially happy for the older players who meant so much to the development of the LPGA.

“These women are true legends, Hall of Famers,’’ said Jeray. “They paved the way for all the youngsters and I still walk around looking up to all of them – Betsy King, Joanne Carner, Sandra Palmer. And to think I’m one of them. Who would have thought that.?’’

None of the players were more appreciative than Jane Blalock, at 71 the oldest player in the field. She played in the Honors tournament held in conjunction with the Symetra Tour’s Donald Ross Centennial Classic on Sunday at the nearby Donald Ross Course.

Blalock created the Legends Tour and usually just plays in the small division for older members at its tournaments. She wanted to go all three rounds of the first Senior LPGA Championship, however, because of its significance to women’s golf. She also wants to compete in the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open, an event put on by the U.S. Golf Association at Chicago Golf Club in 2018.

A new choice viewing spot on the 18th hole is available for the Senior PGA Championship.

It’s all part of the boost that women’s golf expects to get from finally getting a major championship. This week’s has live coverage from The Golf Channel all three days and a $600,000 purse with the champion receiving $90,000.

By comparison, The Legends Championship – its predecessor at French Lick since 2013 –was by far the biggest event on The Legends Tour. When Johnson won last year it was a 36-hole tournament with $75,000 in prize money and a winner’s purse of $37,700.

“The Senior LPGA Championship is a combination of so many years of hard work striving to get the support from the LPGA,’’ said Blalock. “Obviously this tournament is because of French Lick and Mr. Ferguson (Steve Ferguson, chairman of Cook Group). I wish I could take credit, but we’re going to capitalize. I believe the world will now know that we exist, and maybe the phone will even ring.’’

Mike Whan, commissioner of the LPGA Tour, joined Alice Dye, wife of course designer Pete Dye, in hitting the ceremonial first tee shots before Monday’s round. Whan sees big things ahead for women’s golf as well. French Lick has a five-year agreement to host both the Senior LPGA Championship and Donald Ross Centennial Classic.

“We’re lucky to be here,’’ said Whan. “We’ve been launching a lot of new things and this is one that will only build with time. This is major on all kinds of fronts.’’

Two former champions in The Legends Championship enjoyed the 18th hole on Monday. Laurie Rinker (left) rolled in an eagle putt from off the green and got a high-five from Trish Johnson, who made birdie.