New schedule salvages Illinois PGA’s four major tournaments

The Illinois PGA had planned to open its tournament season in March, but it still has yet to hold a competitive event. Twelve have been canceled and another nine postponed, and the state’s club professionals won’t have a competitive event until July 6.

Give the IPGA credit, though. The Section has – barring sudden changes in anticipated governmental restrictions imposed by pandemic concerns – salvaged its biggest annual events.

This is in sharp contrast to the Chicago District Golf Association, which had to scrap its two oldest and most prestigious events – the Illinois State Amateur and Chicago District Amateur – when those same governmental restrictions made their annual stagings unrealistic.

The IPGA took a different approach, particularly regarding its Match Play, Illinois Open, Section Championship and Players Championship. The first was postponed and has been rescheduled, the second restructured and downsized and the fourth received a major format change. All, though, are expected to be played before this season is over following a series of organizational meetings involving section members and staffers and host club personnel.

“It was important for us to keep our majors this year,’’ said IPGA executive director Carrie Williams. “It was a super collaborative effort working with our professionals and their facilities. We appreciate the flexibility they showed in working with us to schedule these events.’’

Brad Slocum, assistant executive director of operations, oversees the IPGA tournaments. He’s expected to announce the full schedule for the section’s four majors this week. Only a site for the IPGA Match Play Championship is in doubt. It had May dates at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer, but the pandemic ruled out playing at that time.

Kemper, one of Chicago’s main tournament venues, hosted the IPGA Section Championship for 24 straight years before becoming the home venue for the Match Play. This year, amidst all the rescheduling of tournament and social events, the site is not available Sept. 14-17, the rescheduled dates for the tournament. Williams expects the Match Play will return to Kemper in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Open – the section’s biggest event — retained its Aug. 3-5 dates at White Eagle in Naperville but the field for the finals was reduced from 264 to 156 players and the state-wide qualify tournaments cut from eight to four. Two sites had been used for the finals in recent years. This time, though, White Eagle will host all 54 holes and the alternate site, Stonebridge in Aurora, will wait its turn in future years.

The Illinois PGA Championship won’t change at all. It remains Aug. 24-26 on Medinah’s No. 1 course but a major change is planned for the fourth and final of the section majors. The Players Championship, generally played at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena in recent years, will be played at an always tournament-ready layout – Conway Farms in Lake Forest – on Oct. 5-6.

The 36-hole season-ending event will become a 35-player invitational this year for the top players on the section’s Bernardi point standings. That’ll provide a more dramatic conclusion to the IPGA season than was created in the past.

Despite all the scheduling adjustments made by other pro tours and golf organizations, the IPGA’s Open series will go on virtually as originally planned. The Illinois Open will wrap up on the originally announced dates at White Eagle. The Super Senior Open remains on tap for Sept. 1-2 at Pine Meadow in Mundelein and the IPGA Senior Open is still at Royal Fox, in St. Charles, from Sept. 28-29.

The other section majors at the Assistants Championship, July 13 at Cress Creek in Naperville, the Senior Championship Aug. 10-11 at Merit Club in Libertyvile, the Senior Match Play Sept. 21-23 at Biltmore, in Barrington; and the Senior Players Oct. 12-13 at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove.

First of the Illinois Open qualifiers is July 14 at Flossmoor Country Club.

All was not salvaged on the IPGA calendar, however. Two team events, the Radix Cup and Thompson Cup, were canceled. So was the Drive, Chip & Putt and PGA Junior League playoffs. Still on the docket among the non-tournament attractions are the Birdies for Charity event Sept 8 at River Forest Country Club, in Elmhurst; and the Ryne Sandberg IPGA Foundation Pro-Am Oct. 1 at Onwentsia in Lake Forest.

Palmetto Traverse isn’t your usual putting green

This unique putting green in Santee, S.C., is good for both competition and putting practice.
Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – are adding them as a extra amenity at their facilities. The one that we played Monday in Santee, S.C., is one of the better ones. It’s called Palmetto Traverse.

Santee is a town of barely 1,000 residents but its golf – three good courses within just a few miles of each other – is big-time. The recently-constructed putting course has 18 holes built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. We visited Santee in 2015 and liked the golf atmosphere there then. We like it more with the putting course designed by Kris Spence, an architect base in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse been labeled as a “putting experience.’’ You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible but the layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round exercise.

PGA, Korn Ferry tours re-open; WGA names Chicago Highlands for ESI tourney

The men’s pro golf tours resume tournament play on Thursday (JUNE 11), ending three months of inactivity because of Covid-19 pandemic concerns.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and the next four players in the world rankings will be in the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Texas. The strong 148-player field there will also include Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a struggling PGA Tour rookie who starred collegiately at the University of Texas.

The PGA’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will re-open where the PGA Tour played its last round on March 12 – at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL. This time, though, the competition will be on Sawgrass’ Dye Valley Course instead of the more famous Stadium Course.

A new event, the tourney at Sawgrass will be called the Korn Ferry Challenge and it’ll precede another new event – the following week’s King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village – which is just a few miles away. Those events are where the bulk of the players with Illinois connections will be competing.

The Korn Ferry has two players ranked in its Top 25 – Northwestern alum Dylan Wu (5) and Illinois alum Nick Hardy (23). In previous years the top 25 at season’s end would be awarded PGA Tour cards for the following season. Not so now.

“I can’t get my PGA card until the end of 2021,’’ said Hardy. “The season will be around 50 events by the time it ends next year.’’

Because of all the cancelations and postponements the top 25 won’t be determined in 2020. The events over a two-year span will determine who moves up to the big tour.

Hardy, though, is in good shape with play resuming – even though he didn’t spend the pandemic layoff in an ideal golf atmosphere. He experienced golf much the way all Chicago golf enthusiasts did.

“I came back to Illinois from Arizona the first week of April, during the early beginning of this whole (pandemic) thing,’’ he said. “Illinois restrictions were pretty strict – no golf,’’ he said. “So I went to Indiana 12-15 times in April and played with my buddies (a mix of college players and club pros).’’

He found a course there – Palmyra Golf Club in St. John – via Google and that kept him sharp until May 1 when he resumed practicing at Merit Club in Libertyville. Hardy has no regrets about taking the imposed tournament layoff away from warmer golf destinations.

“It was nice to be home with my family at that time,’’ he said. “All my family is in Illinois, so I spent the quarantine time with them.’’

Hardy departed for Florida on Sunday (JUNE 7) to get familiar with his tournament courses of the next two weeks and was mentally prepared for a major change in tournament atmosphere. As is the case with the PGA Tour event no spectators will be allowed at TPC Sawgrass and media will be basically tour personnel and The Golf Channel staffers. Family members and friends of the players can’t even come to the courses and there won’t be any live TV coverage there.

“It’ll be odd, pretty quiet,’’ said Hardy. “The Korn Ferry doesn’t have the number of spectators the PGA Tour gets anyway, but I’ve played in a lot of tournaments where there weren’t many spectators.’’

In addition to Wu the Korn Ferry event will have six other Illinois players resuming their bids for coveted PGA playing privileges. Luke Guthrie, another Illinois alum, isn’t in the top 25 but — at No. 51 – he’s in position to qualify for the Korn Ferry Playoffs. The top 75 make it.

Five others have to improve to get there. Another Illinois alum, Scott Langley, is No. 85. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger is tied for 86th, Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope 111th, former PGA Tour winner Mark Hensby tied for 118th and Deerfield’s Vince India 134th. Hopfinger, Hensby and India are among the 10 players who own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open.

The Korn Ferry Tour held a new tournament, the Evans Scholars Invitational, at The Glen Club, in Glenview, last year and the event was to return there in May. It was postponed as part of the concerns over the pandemic and rescheduled for Sept. 9-13.

The Glen Club was not available during those dates, and this week the Western Golf Association named the new site. The ESI will be played at Chicago Highlands, a private club in Westchester. An Arthur Hills design that opened in 2010, the tournament will mark Highlands’ first pro tour event.

Jensen Beach Golf Club: How Sweet-ish will this course get?

Johan Tumba, the son of a Swedish sports legend, has his own dreams for Jensen Beach Golf Club.
Johan Tumba, son of a Swedish sports legend, has big dreams for Jensen Beach.

JENSEN BEACH, FL. – Eagle Marsh Golf Club, a Tommy Fazio design, was well-received on Florida’s Treasure Coast when it opened in 1997.  Now Eagle Marsh is no more – but its future is by no means a sad one.

JENSEN BEACH, Florida — Two entrepreneurs from Sweden, Johan Tumba and Joakim Sabel,  purchased the struggling layout, then known as Eagle Marsh, on Sept. 20, 2019.  In just eight months the course has been renamed – it’s now called Jensen Beach Golf Club – and it’s getting a facelift that looks better each day.

“We have big dreams.  We want to be in the top 20 in Florida. We set high goals,’’ said Tumba. “This course was ranked No. 1 in all of America for new courses when it opened (in 1997), and the layout and routing is there.’’

The course didn’t have much of a following when Tumba and Sabel purchased it in what they call a “private agreement.’’  The name change, insisted upon by Sabel, was an indication of that.

“There was too bad a rap on the other (name),’’ said Tumba.  “It had gone down the drain.  We wanted to make a fresh start with that name, and we’re inside of Jensen Beach Country Club. It was a good move.’’

Sabel is a former European PGA pro but the Tumba name would be more familiar to fans of more sports than just golf. Johan’s father is Sven Tumba, and he was athletic royalty in his heyday.

Colorful new flags were an immediate hit after Jensen Beach’s ownership change.

In hockey he was Sweden’s star player in eight World Championships and four Winter Olympics en route to being named to the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.  He also played on Sweden’s national soccer team, was the Swedish national champion in water skiing and also represented Sweden in international golf competitions. In golf he was also the founder of the Scandinavian Open and designed several courses, including the first one in the Soviet Union.

“According to Jack Nicklaus my Dad was one of the greatest athletes he ever met,’’ said Johan.  “He was also a real nice dad.’’

It was Sven, who died in 2011 at the age of 80, who started Johan in golf at age 5.  Johan made frequent trips to Florida after his parents moved to West Palm Beach in 1982 and went on to attend college in Palm Beach. Now living on Singer Island, Tumba remains an avid player but course ownership is his main focus.

He was briefly part of a group that purchased The Fox Club, a long-time private club that recently turned public, and was unsuccessful in a bid to buy another Florida course, Hammock Creek. Both those courses are in Palm City.

When the opportunity to acquire Eagle Marsh surfaced, Tumba and Sabel took it over with two investment partners who are also from Sweden.  Tumba is the chief operating officer and has taken a hands-on approach, even to the point of spending considerable time in a massive cleanup project on the course.

“The course never did close, but it was almost unplayable,’’ he said.  “I’m hands-on – cutting new lines for the fairways and shaping the course the way I want it — because we want everything to look good.  We have a lot to do to get there, but we’re making the course more playable again.  We’re killing all the weeds, and getting the greens in great shape.  Everything is going good.’

Good enough for the owners to already make some aggressive marketing moves.  They took out ads on the telecast of  “The Match: Champions for Charity’’ that featured Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  That high-profile event was played at the Medalist Club in nearby Hobe Sound. Tumba’s group is also contacting nearby hotels in hopes of establishing travel packages for international visitors.

In addition to work on the course Jensen Beach Golf Club is getting new flooring in its clubhouse and a liquor license, and the restaurant is opening again. Plus, the multi-colored flags on each green may be the most striking I’ve ever seen.

Signs of a massive cleanup effort are particularly evident on Jensen Beach’s back nine.

All the on-course work started after consulting with Tommy Fazio II, the original designer who is also the nephew of Tom Fazio and son of Jim Fazio – both prominent architects.

“We had Tommy here for five-six hours,’’ said Tumba.  “He gave me directions on what to do, which I totally agreed with.  He sees what a player might see, too.  We opened up a lot of the vistas.  This year is for cleaning up.  In Phase 2 we’ll bring back the original design and start building some cottages.  We’re in for the long haul.’’

While Tumba loved the natural beauty of the course, he will continue to work with Fazio, a Jupiter resident.

“I’d never do anything without speaking to him first,’’ said Tumba.  “Right now the course is a bit too tough for the average golfer, but it’s a gem.  I fell in love with it. It’s an absolutely beautiful place that just needs some tender loving care. We’re going to polish this gem up and make it beautiful again.’’

Two greens and tee options allow No. 18 to be played anywhere from 230 to 454 yards.

Illinois Open is downsized after major restructuring

Though some restrictions were lifted for Illinois golfers on Friday, the season remains a trying one for the state’s golf organizers. Tournament scheduling remains a fluid thing due to concerns over the COVID-19 Pandemic.

First it was the Chicago District Golf Association canceling the Illinois State Amateur and the CDGA Amateur – its two oldest and most prestigious championships – and joining the Illinois PGA in dropping the Radix Cup matches.

Then came Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville, calling off the Illinois Women’s Open and, on Thursday, the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic was canceled.  It was scheduled to celebrate its 50th anniversary at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

Now it’s the Illinois Open in the spotlight – but at least it’s not because of a cancelation.  The Illinois PGA announced a major restructuring of the 71st staging of the championship.

The Illinois Open normally draws about 700 entries from all parts of the state and they’re whittled to 264 for the 54-hole finals through eight state-wide qualifying rounds. Now the tourney – the biggest event for Illinois residents — has been downsized.

White Eagle Club, in Naperville, remains as the host of the Aug. 3-5 finals, but there will be only 156 finalists instead of 264.  There won’t be the usual alternate site for the finals.  Stonebridge, in Aurora, was to co-host for the first two days.

“We are hopeful to bring the event back to Stonebridge in the near future,’’ said Carrie Williams, executive director of the Illinois PGA.  “We are confident this revised format will provide a competitive test for players and continue the tradition of crowning a champion of Illinois Golf.’’

Qualifying rounds will also be reduced.  Four have been canceled and the remaining four will be July 14 at Flossmoor Country Club, July 16 at Deerpath in Lake Forest, July 22 at The Hawk in St. Charles and July 29 at Willow Crest in Oak Brook Hills. The survivors will join the players exempt off past performance in the finals.  Players who registered for earlier qualifiers have until July 8 to transfer to another qualifying event.

The Illinois PGA is already assured of a lean tournament season.  Normally its season starts in May, but now the first of the stroke play events is July 6.  The CDGA schedule is also filled with cancelations, and its next event is on July 8.

Two bigger Chicago area events remain on the Western Golf Association schedule – the Women’s Western Amateur at Prestwick in Frankfort from July 20-25 and the BMW Championship, a FedEx Cup Playoff event for PGA Tour players, is Aug. 25-30 at Olympia Fields Country Club.  The WGA also has the Evans Scholars Invitational, a stop on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour, rescheduled from May to Sept. 9-13 but no site for that event has been announced.

John Deere Classic is canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

John Deere Classic canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

Illinois won’t have its longest-standing PGA Tour stop this year.  The John Deere Classic was cancelled on Thursday.

The JDC, the only PGA Tour event held annually in the state, was to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a July 6-12 playing of the $6.2 million championship at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.  It was to be the first PGA Tour event to allow spectators since tournament play was stopped on March 12 after the first round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, FL.

Tournament play will resume on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, Tex.

Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic had led to the immediate cancellations of the next six tournaments on the schedule after The Players.  The Charles Schwab Challenge was moved from May 21-24 dates to become the first event after the PGA Tour re-opened its tournament schedule.

“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic the difficult decision was made to cancel,’’ said Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director.  “While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad City community at large.’’

“We know this announcement will come as a disappointment to the Quad City area and to the broader golf community,’’ said Mara Downing, John Deere’s vice president of global brand and communications.

She said the tourney’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021.

The JDC has proven a successful fundraiser with its Birdies for Charity program that has benefitted a variety of organizations in the area. Last year’s tournament raised $13.8 million for 543 local and regional charities.  That brought the tourney’s all-time total to $120 million since its first playing in 1971.

 Ninety-one percent of the charity money raised has come since John Deere assumed title sponsorship of the event in 1998.  Peterson said the participating organizations will receive a five percent bonus over what they raised for this year’s event.

“Thanks to John Deere’s ongoing support, we are able to promise a bonus, even though we are not having the tournament,’’ Peterson said.

One PGA Tour event in Illinois, the BMW Championship, remains on the schedule.  The FedEx Cup Playoff event will be played at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs from Aug. 27-30.

The JDC cancellation was the first since PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a greatly revised schedule to finish out 2020.

The RBC Heritage Classic, in Hilton Head, S.C., had been scheduled for April 16-19 – the week after the Masters.  Now it’ll be the second tournament after the re-opening.  It’ll be followed by the Travelers tourney in Hartford, Ct., and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.  Those are the tournaments that would have led into the JDC.  All will be played without spectators.

Now the Memorial tournament, on July 16-19 at Ohio’s Muirfield Village course, figures to be the first PGA Tour event to welcome spectators since the pandemic began.  The Memorial also was postponed earlier but it was moved into the July dates after the British Open was cancelled.

The PGA Tour’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will also re-open play on June 11 on the Dye Course in Ponte Vedra, FL.  That tour has two Illinois tournaments – the Lincoln Land Classic, at Panther Creek in Springfield, on Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at a Chicago area course still to be determined the following week.

Lincoln Land had been scheduled in July.  The Evans Scholars event, put on by the Western Golf Association, was originally May 21-24 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, before being postponed.  The Glen Club had schedule conflicts with the September dates, forcing the tourney to find a new home course.

AND NOW, on to broadcasting

While I made frequent appearances on television and radio shows over the years the 2020 season marked my first serious introduction into the world of broadcasting. Working with Chicago radio veteran Rory Spears, we created the weekly Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series and I also became a regular contributor to Golfers on Golf, a show that Spears created 30 years ago. Golfers on Golf runs on Saturdays at WCPT 820-AM and is also carried on the station’s Facebook page.

Rory Spears and I have done our podcasts from as far as 1,500 miles apart.

Youth caddies face an uphill climb amid coronavirus

Golf is back to being played in all 50 states again. That’s a good thing. Progress in the battle against the pandemic, it would seem, is being made.

Unfortunately there’s one segment of the golf industry that hasn’t benefitted yet. Caddies – particularly the youth variety – have been included in the restrictions that various governing bodies have insisted upon before allowing courses nation-wide to re-open.

That is a concern to the Western Golf Association, which has been giving college scholarships to deserving bag-toters since 1930 when life-long amateur legend Chick Evans declared caddies to be “the life-blood of the game.’’ Now the overwhelming number of caddies are deemed non-essential workers. The fewer the number of people on a course the better, or so the thinking goes.

Golfers can walk and carry their own bags. They don’t need a caddie, who might be a hindrance to social-distancing guidelines. It’s Tim Orbon’s job to make sure that the young caddies who dominate the nearly 800 caddies programs throughout the U.S. and Canada aren’t forgotten – and he doesn’t think they will be.

“Things are changing rapidly – and in a good way,’’ said Orbon, who is director of caddie development for the Chicago-based WGA. “People want to play golf again, and caddying isn’t far off. We couldn’t be more excited.’’

The caddies who are working now are largely the adult variety. Those who have carried bags during their breaks from high school and college studies in past years are left in the lurch as far as part-time employment goes. While Orbon expects caddie programs to return, he admits that they will be different.

“Not seeing kids caddying is OK for now,’’ he said. “Until Memorial Day kids are supposed to be in school. For now it’s somewhat of a waiting game. Experts will tell us when the time is appropriate, when caddying is safe and permissible. Right now we’re in a little pause, a hiccup. That’s OK, but it’s not ideal. We’ve taken this time to do our homework.’’

It’s been extensive. The WGA puts on six tournaments a year, highlighted by the BMW Championship — part of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, to raise awareness and money for its Evans Scholars Foundation. Not every caddie is a candidate for a coveted Evans Scholarship, but caddying has introduced thousands of youngsters to golf in addition to providing a healthy, educational learning opportunity.

“We work with clubs in 27 states and Canada,’’ said Orbon. “All the clubs are a little different, but a lot want to keep caddies employed.’’

To do it while adhering to social distancing guidelines requires adjustments, and Orbon has a game plan that is being presented to course owners and managers. Here’s some of the things that are, or will, be changing when caddie programs return.

Caddies will be scheduled in four-hour shifts. They won’t be allowed to congregate around the clubs before and after their loops. They may receive payment for their work in sealed envelopes or electronically through a system like PayPal. It won’t be through a cash transaction. They’ll wear appropriate protective gear, including a mask and any other safeguards as required by the club, and carry hand sanitizers.

A caddy’s duties on the course will change, too. Each will carry rakes and divot repair mix. They’ll locate golf balls, give yardages and can help read greens but they won’t touch clubs. The players will pull them from the bag. There’ll be no hand-shaking or any other other non-verbal contact with golfers.

The WGA is also proposing a hole-specific caddie plan, which some clubs may find more desirable than the standard procedures of the past. One to four caddies will be assigned per hole. They’ll be stationed on greens and tee boxes and be available at positions beside the fairways to help in locating balls.

Under this hole-specific plan caddies will repair divots but never touch the flagstick. They can wash golf balls, but then must throw them back to the player rather than have a hand-to-hand exchange. The caddies will greet each golfer as he plays through but won’t be with any one player throughout his round.

In anticipation of parental concerns about caddie procedures, prominent Chicago physician, former caddie and long-time WGA supporter Kevin Most has advised clubs on health precautions. Orbon anticipates “some attrition’’ in the caddie ranks due to all the changes mandated by pandemic concerns.

“We think kids will want to come out, but parents will ask questions,’’ said Orbon.

Both Orbon and his wife Gaelen were Evans Scholars, Tim at Northern Illinois and Gaelen at Marquette. Orbon, in his eighth year with the WGA, also worked as a club professional for 11 years. During the current lull period he has led WGA efforts to beef up on-line caddie training and created a caddie manual, a practice exam and a caddie playbook that includes short videos. All will help clubs and caddies adjust to the changing times.

“This is a challenging time in golf work,’’ said Orbon, “but new caddie programs are starting in Kentucky, the Kansas City area, Iowa and even down in Florida. We want to grow the game.’’

USGA should award Pope a spot in this year’s U.S. Open

Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope has played his way into four of the last five U.S. Opens. That’s an extraordinary feat, given that around 10,000 golfers file entries each year and only 156 make it to the 72-hole finals.

This year, though, Pope can’t play his way in. Instead he’s relegated to campaigning for a spot in the field for the 120th playing of the championship Sept. 17-20 at New York’s Winged Foot course.

Pope, 36, has struggled to stay on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour since 2012 but he has gotten his game together for the Open qualifiers. This year the U.S. Golf Association had 108 local qualifiers – all at 18 holes – scheduled in May and 12 sectionals – all in one day over 36 holes in late May and early June — scheduled to determine the finalists competing at Winged Foot.

Not surprisingly the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that. The finals, originally June 18-21, were pushed back to September. Then, as golf restrictions varied across the country, the USGA decided that qualifiers wouldn’t be possible.

“Qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,’’ said John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA. “We take great pride in the fact that many thousands typically enter to pursue their dream of qualifying for the U.S. Open, and we deeply regret they won’t have the opportunity this year.’’

Pope, who attended Glenbard West High School and Xavier University, resides in Orlando, FL., now and is married with two children. His golf career has been put on hold since March 12 because of the pandemic but will resume when the Korn Ferry circuit restarts its season on June 11 at St. Augustine, FL. Then he’ll have seven tournament weeks in a row as his bid to earn a place on the PGA Tour continues.

He doesn’t want to miss the U.S. Open, though. The USGA selection committee will determine the field, making the Open more like an invitational this year. Pope hopes his record over the last five years will get the selectors’ attention. He survived the 36-hole cut in two of his four Opens, including last year’s.

“At first I got excited, thinking that possibly having made the cut last year might get me in. That would have been awesome,’’ said Pope. Then he called Jason Gore, the USGA player relations director.

“I’ve known him for 15 years,’’ said Pope, “and I asked if giving me that kind of exemption had been brought up. He said `To be honest, no.’ That really hurt.’’

Fifty players are exempt based on past performance categories so roughly 100 spots will be invitees. Pope is relegated to writing letters to make his case for a place in the field. His first letter will go to Gore, who said he’d forward it to all members of the board of selectors.

“I just hope the USGA doesn’t take it off the world rankings,’’ said Pope. “All the players know that that’s a completely flawed system. My understanding is they’ll pick 15 amateurs and the top eight on the Korn Ferry Tour.’’

Pope believes he’ll play well at Winged Foot if he does get in the field. Last year he played the historic course for the first time and shot a 67.

“I just hope the USGA has a soft spot for me,’’ said Pope. “I’m not as optimistic as I was at first, but who knows?’’

NOTES: The Women’s Western Golf Association has announced that Sandra Fullmer will be the next winner of its coveted Woman of Distinction Award. Fullmer’s selection was long overdue. A life-long amateur, she won national titles in Mexico, Germany and Spain in the 1950s and was a dominant player in the Chicago ranks from 1964-91. A past president of the WWGA, she was named to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 1997.

The Chicago tournament season apparently won’t resume until July. Latest event to be cancelled was the June 1 Radix Cup matches, which pitted the best amateurs from the Chicago District Golf Association against the top professionals from the Illinois PGA at Oak Park Country Club.

Woodstock Country Club is now for sale. The nine-hole private course, designed by Tom Bendelow, opened in 1916. Asking price is $895,000. Bendelow was a prolific designer in the early years of Chicago golf with Medinah’s famed No. 3 course among his creations.

Woods notches another big win — but this one was different

A big payoff for Covid-19 Relief was cause for celebration for Champions for Charity participants (from left) Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods was a winner in his first televised golf appearance in 98 days on Sunday.

No, it wasn’t his 83rd tournament title that would have broken a tie with Sam Snead for most wins on the PGA Tour but this was a big win nonetheless. It came in an event called The Match: Champions for Charity. Phil Mickelson was the only player of Woods’ caliber in it, but the payday was $20 million.

It didn’t go to Woods, though. It went to Covit-19 Relief and the four-man event will be a springboard to the PGA Tour’s return to tournament play at the Charles Schwab Challenge. It tees off at Colonial Country Club in Texas on June 11.

Woods and Mickelson paired up with legendary quarterbacks on Woods’ home course, Medalist in Hobe Sound, FL. Woods hooked up with Peyton Manning for a 1-up victory over Mickelson with Tom Brady. The weather and pace of play were bad, but the payoff wasn’t.

A week earlier Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson beat Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff in a battle of PGA Tour stars at Seminole Golf Club, which is 18 miles from Medalist. It marked the return of televised sports competition since the pandemic shut down such events on March 13.

The McIlroy-Johnson win produced better golf, with four PGA Tour players doing battle, and it raised $5.5 million for pandemic relief causes. Woods-Manning warmed up in a downpour and finished with darkness setting in and rain falling. The match went on for over five hours but the charity contribution was much more substantial than at Seminole. and the quarterbacks appreciated the event even though spectators were again not allowed on the premises.

“To be behind the ropes in these guys’ (Woods and Mickelson) world was a real experience, something I’ll always remember and cherish,’’ said Manning.

“This is what we do for a living. We couldn’t do what they (Manning and Brady) do,’’ said Woods.

Brady was the worst player in the foursome but he delivered the most spectacular shot, holing out from 150 yards on the eighth hole after struggling badly over the first seven. Basketball legend Charles Barkley chided Brady on the telecast moments before Brady holed his shot.

Inspired by Brady’s
Spectacular birdie, the Mickelson-Brady team rallied from 3-down after the first six holes and got to 1-down with wins at Nos. 11 and 14. Mickelson kept his team’s hopes alive with clutch putts at Nos. 15 and 16 but Woods was the key man on the finishing hole to prevent the match from going to extra holes.

Woods was last seen on TV on Feb. 16 at the Genesis Invitational in California. Bothered by back problems he finished last after going 76-77 in the weekend rounds. A month later the pandemic set in, and Woods has been playing more tennis than golf and enjoying family time since then.

Mickelson missed the cut in four of his five tournaments this year prior to the pandemic, but he has committed to play at Colonial when the PGA Tour season resumes. Woods said his back felt much better after receiving steady treatment during the pandemic-enforced stoppage of PGA play. He didn’t say when he’d return to tournament competition.