Munoz makes another big splash in regaining John Deere Classic lead

Sebastian Munoz (left) was a happy camper leaving TPC Deere Run after regaining the tournament lead.

SILVIS, IL. — The John Deere Classic, which concludes its 50th anniversary celebration on Sunday,  is known for its long history of first-time winners on the PGA Tour.  The tourney has had 23 of them in its first 49 years and is on a streak of three straight champions who cracked the win list for the first time here.

That streak could reach four on Sunday, but the odds are against it.  Only three players in the top 11 after 54 holes are without a PGA Tour win – Brandon Hagy, Maverick McNealy and Luke List.

Sebastian Munoz, who takes a one-stroke lead into the final round, had his only PGA Tour win at the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2020 when he beat Sungjae Im in a playoff.  Munoz, who played collegiately at North Texas State, has also tasted victory in his native Colombia three times, once in a Korn Ferry Tour event and twice in domestic competitions.

Munoz shot 63 to take the first-round lead here.  List shot 8-under-par 63 in the second round to take the lead away from him, and Scott Brown shot 63 on Saturday to climb to the top of the leaderboard but he couldn’t stay there. Munoz, who has been brilliant on the back nine at TPC Deere  Run the first three days, rallied for a 67 and stands at 197 for the three rounds.

Round 3 was played in a steady drizzle, and more rain is in the forecast for Sunday.  That didn’t hamper the usual low scoring – another JDC tradition.

“It was tough on the front nine, scrambling with the umbrella, the towel and trying to keep the clubface dry,’’ said Munoz.  “It was just take your time, do the best you an and hope for the best.’’

His best came on the back side, where Munoz is 13-under-par for the tournament as compared to only three-under on the front. He played in the last threesome on Saturday, paired with List and Adam Schenk. List (71) and Schenk (70) had trouble keeping up with the other contenders.

“We could see on the leaderboard that people were going low, so it was really important to birdie 11, 13 and 16 coming in,’’ said Munoz.  “It’s nice to be in the position I am right now.’’

Hagy is one stroke back in second place with Brown, Adam Long, Cameron Champ, Kevin Na and Ryan Moore all two back and McNealy, Jhonattan  Vegas, Chez Reavie and List three behind.

The 10 players trailing Munoz have won a combined 20 times, so – for at least this anniversary year – one of the JDC’s most notable traditions may have to be put on hold.  Only one of the top 11 on the leaderboard, Moore, has won the JDC.  He did it in 2016, the last of his five PGA Tour victories. This year he’s without a top-10 finish after piling up 69 of them in his PGA Tour career.  Na has also won five times.

 

Brown had the best round Saturday, and it came on top of a hot Sunday round – a 66 – last week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit. The strong finish in Detroit, however, only got him a tie for 52nd place.  Standing at No. 180, he’s far down the FedEx Cup standings and is on the brink of missing the lucrative postseason series.

“Last Sunday I started to see some putts go in, and it carried over to this week,’’ said Brown.  “With my FedEx position, I need to win.  I have one goal – to come in here and win.’’

Hagy, Munoz’ closest pursuer, has his eyes on the top prize, too. The winner gets $1.116 million from a $6.2 million purse.

“It’s definitely within my grasp,’’ said Hagy.  “I can hit all the shots that are necessary to get me to the top, but the key is all these guys can hit those shots.’’

A couple noteworthy ones had trouble doing that Saturday, however.  Three-time champion Steve Stricker, trying – at 54 — to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history, managed a 68 but is tied for 29th. Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights who started with two strong rounds, settled for a 70 and dropped 10 spots in the standings to a tie for 22nd.

Canadian David Hearn made a hole-in-one at No. 3.  It was the second ace of the tournament.  McNealy made one at No. 16 on Friday.  Those were the first holes-in-one in the tournament since 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recharged List passes Munoz for lead at midway point in John Deere Classic

Luke List has been off the PGA Tour for a few weeks, but he was ready to play at the JDC.

SILVIS, IL. – Sebastian Munoz knew that shooting a 63 in Thursday’s first round of the John Deere Classic – with birdies on the last five holes to boot — wasn’t all good.

“It’s never easy showing up the day after you shoot 8-under,’’ he said.  And it wasn’t easy for him on the first nine of Friday’s Round 2.  Munoz was only even par – not a good score at TPC Deere Run whenever the PGA Tour stars gather there.  The Colombian-born Munoz rallied on the back nine for 67, however, and his 12-under-par 130 was good enough to keep him in the lead midway for most of the day in the $6.2 million championship.

Unfortunately for Munoz, it wasn’t quite good enough to keep him there  Luke List got hot late in the day. He matched the bogey-free 63 that Munoz shot in Round 1, and he emerged the 36-hole leader at 13-uinder 129.

List needs good finishes in the next few weeks to get into the lucrative FedEx Cup Playoffs. He’s only No. 117 in the playoff standings now in large part because he missed two weeks while his son Harrison, born on June 5, was hospitalized with a respiratory virus.

“That’s a dangerous thing for a premature.  He was born a month early,’’ said List.  “He fought hard.  He was incubated for a couple days and in the ICU for 14 days. Everything’s great now.  He’s home and eating like a champ.’’

“A champ’’ is what List would like to be on Sunday.  Winning would take care of his worries about not making the FedEx Playoffs.

“I’m not trying to think about that,’’ said List. “I’ve got enough on my plate with the next two days and, as long as I stay in my own head space, all that stuff will take care of itself.’’

Munoz had no complaints about losing the lead.

“I would like to be more in the lead,’’ he said, “but I’m in a good position.  You learn, you stay in the moment, don’t get ahead of yourself and just keep going on.’’

That’s all any player still alive in the tournament can do at this point.  Saturday is “Moving Day,’’ and that’s when lots of players will gun for List and Munoz in hopes of getting in position for a run at the title in Sunday’s final round.

Among those poised to make such a move is Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights.  He followed a first round 66 with a 67 on Friday and enters the final round in a .tie for 12th place, four shots behind List.

“I didn’t get off to the best of starts,’’ Ghim said of his Friday play.  “There’s some scorable holes to begin the front nine, and one-over through three isn’t really what you’re looking for.  I lipped out twice in the first three holes. Hopefully I’ll make a couple more putts tomorrow but – given the fact I didn’t putt my best – I’m still here.’’

So is three-time champion Steve Stricker, who made the tough decision to help the JDC celebrate its 50th anniversary rather than defend his title in the U.S. Senior Open. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain had a shaky first round, a 1-over-par 70, but improved to a 66 Friday.

That was good enough to survive the 36-hole cut, but more spectacular scoring will be needed on the weekend if the 54-year Stricker is to fulfil a dream of becoming the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event.  Sam Snead was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open three years before Stricker was born.

“I’ve got to go out there and try to make birdies,’’ said Stricker.  “I’m a long ways from the lead – seven back – so I’ve got to go out and make something happen.  I’ve got to shoot a real low one tomorrow or Sunday – or both.’’

Defending champion Dylan Frittelli missed the cut, a fate that did in the last five JDC champions as well as Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman. He’ll still be on the flight to next week’s British Open when it departs the Quad Cities on Sunday night.

 

 

 

Did Stricker make a mistake in returning to the JDC?

SILVIS, IL. – Did Steve Stricker make a bad decision in helping the John Deere Classic celebrate its 50th anniversary, albeit a year late?

Stricker is a legend in the PGA Tour stop played three hours from his Wisconsin home.  He won the John Deere Classic three straight times, from 2009 to 2011. He’s won more money in the tournament than anyone else, and he was 186 strokes under par in his first 17 appearances in the tournament.

In this his 18th visit, though, he is 54 years old. Nobody else in the field has reached his 50th birthday. The oldest previous winner on the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open, and that was three years before Stricker was born.

If Stricker is to make a run at another win at TPC Deere Run he’ll have to shake off a lackluster first round. Stricker didn’t come ready to play Thursday, making two bogeys in the first four holes before notching his first birdie.  He made three more of those on his second nine, but a 1-under-par 70 is not a good score in any round at the John Deere Classic, an event noted for low scoring. He’s seven shots behind co-leaders Sebastian Munoz and Chesson Hadley after Round 1.

“It was an early wakeup call,’’ said Stricker.  “I’m not used to getting up at 5 in the morning anymore to play.  I played like I was still asleep for awhile. Hopefully I have to come back tomorrow and put up a good number.’’

In addition to being the U.S. Ryder Cup captain Stricker is a PGA Champions Tour mainstay now – and he’s been a good one.

Last year he won the U.S. Senior Open, perhaps the most significant major for the 50-and-over circuit.  He won another Champions’ major in his last start, taking the Bridgestone Senior Players at rugged Firestone two weeks ago by a whopping six strokes. After that he was looking at a return to the John Deere Classic, even though it conflicted with what would have been his title defense in the U.S. Senior Open.

“I wish they weren’t the exact same week, but I’m glad I’m here,’’ said Stricker. “It’s a special place for me and my family.’’

It’d be even more special if he won here for a record fourth time and became the oldest PGA Tour winner in the process. Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship in May at age 50 was an incentive for Stricker to make a return to the PGA Tour. Mickelson was the oldest player to win a major and the sixth oldest to win a PGA Tour event. If Stricker came back to become the first four-time JDC champion that would be a similarly big deal.

“I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think I could do something similar,’’ he said. “Obviously winning the John Deere is going to be a tall order, but I still think there’s some good play inside of me. Hopefully  I can get that out here this week.’’

 

Fast start at John Deere Classic shows how much progress Ghim is making

 

SILVIS, IL. – Being a rookie on the PGA Tour isn’t easy.  Doug Ghim, who got to golf’s premier circuit after growing up in Arlington Heights, is making headway and Thursday’s first round of the John  Deere Classic provided proof of that.

Ghim came into the JDC with $1,152,732 in season winnings and had made 16 cuts in 23 starts.  While his standing in the Official World Golf Rankings was only No. 217, he is No. 81 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup race.  That pretty much assures he’ll be in the lucrative postseason playoffs.

A 5-under-par bogey-free 66 certainly didn’t hurt Ghim’s cause on Thursday. He enters today’s second round three shots behind co-leaders Sebastian Munoz, from Colombia, and Chesson Hadley.

Ghim is in a five-way tie for seventh place.  Chez Reavie, Camilo Villegas are one stroke behind the leaders and Ryan Moore, the tourney’s 2016 champion, is another stroke back. Joining Ghim at 5-under are Luke List, Kevin Tway, Cameron Champ and Michael Gellerman.

While he attended Buffalo Grove High School, Ghim didn’t play much golf in Illinois his his amateur days. He preferred to play a nationwide schedule of American Junior Golf Assn. events instead and it paid off when he starred at the University of Texas, finished as runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Amateur and was low amateur at the 2018 Masters.

In fact, Ghim played in the John Deere Classic only once, and that wasn’t a happy experience. He got into the 2018 JDC on sponsor’s invitation and, after shooting a first-round 73, he withdrew with a case of food poisoning. That made this tournament more special.

“We don’t have many chances to play in my home state, so I always relish the opportunity to be here,’’ said Ghim.  “I’ve been circling this one on the calendar for awhile.’’

The good start was encouraging, but Ghim was hardly giddy about it.

“It’s a little too early to be talking about the lead, or anything like that,’’ he said.  “Scores are always low here, and I’ll have to keep the pedal down.’’

He’s contended several times, most notably in The Players Championship when he was paired with eventual champion Justin Thomas in the final pairing on Sunday.  Ghim struggled to a 78 and finished tied for 29th.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make it a real good year,’’ he said.  “I’ve had a lot of growing pains, but considering where I started from last year, it’s a huge improvement.  I’ve learned a lot.’’

One of the tournament’s most popular players, Steve Stricker, is in danger of missing today’s 36-hole cut. He opened with a 1-under 70.

Stricker is a legend in this PGA Tour stop, which is three hours from his Wisconsin home.  He won the JDC three straight times, from 2009 to 2011. He’s won more money in the tournament than anyone else, and he was 186 strokes under par in his first 17 appearances in the tournament.

In this his 18th visit, though, he is 54 years old. Nobody else in the field has reached his 50th birthday. The oldest previous winner on the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open, and that was three years before Stricker was born.  Stricker wants to beat Snead’s record, and the bad first round won’t help.

“It was an early wakeup call,’’ said Stricker.  “I’m not used to getting up at 5 in the morning anymore to play.  I played like I was still asleep for awhile. Hopefully I can come back tomorrow and put up a good number.’’

In addition to being the U.S. Ryder Cup captain Stricker is a PGA Champions Tour mainstay now – and he’s been a good one.

Last year he won the U.S. Senior Open, and he won another Champions’ major in his last start, taking the Bridgestone Senior Players at rugged Firestone two weeks ago by a whopping six strokes. After that he opted for a return to the JDC even though it conflicted with what would have been his title defense in the U.S. Senior Open.

“I wish they weren’t the exact same week, but I’m glad I’m here,’’ said Stricker. “It’s a special place for me and my family.’’

 

 

 

JDC celebrates its 50th after coming through the pandemic just fine

SILVIS, IL. – What a difference a year makes.

The John Deere Classic had been announced as the first PGA Tour event in 2020 to welcome spectators after play was shut down by pandemic concerns on March 12.  The JDC had July 6-12 dates for what was to be its 50th anniversary staging.

Unfortunately, the announcement was short-lived.  After studying the facilities at TPC Deere Run and giving consideration to PGA Tour and local government policies in place, the tourney was canceled.

“While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad Cities community at large,’’ said JDC tournament director Clair Peterson. “The only alternative was to have the event without fans, and no one felt that matched up with what people here wanted to happen.’’

The clubhouse, small by PGA Tour standards, made social distancing difficult.  So did available parking.  Not much was available on the club grounds. The cancelation was a downer, but it’s in the past with the 50th anniversary staging, delayed a year, coming up next week (TOURNAMENT ROUNDS ARE JULY 8-11).

Over the years the PGA Tour stop in the area around Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, has fought for survival.  The pandemic was just the latest challenge.  Few tour events in small markets have survived as well as the JDC has.

Created in 1971, its first two tournaments were won by Deane Beman who later served a long term as PGA Tour commissioner. Very few of the next 47 were won by players of that high a profile. First-time PGA Tour winners were in abundance, but the tourney’s pork chop sandwiches became a tasty trademark for the event.

The tournament was played under a variety of titles, mostly at Oakwood Country Club on the Illinois side, until Moline-based John Deere hooked up with the PGA Tour as its Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier and took charge of the tournament in 1998.

By 2000 the tourney had a new home at TPC Deere Run, an open-to-the-public course designed by Illinois native D.A. Weibring who won the tournament three times before focusing on course architecture. TPC Deere Run,  well-received by PGA Tour players, is a source of pride for the community’s golfers and it’s also hosted the Advocate Professional Golf Association, a feeder circuit for minority golfers to get on the Korn Ferry Tour, and the National Assocation of lntercollegiate Athletics national championship.

The par-71 course that Weibring designed hasn’t changed much over the last two decades.  The tee box on the fifth hole was extended to give the course more length.  That was about it.  The routing and greens never changed and the bunkers were simply updated to improve drainage. Paul Goydos holds the course record of 59, set in 2010, and Michael Kim has the tournament scoring record with his 27-under-par 257 that produced an eight-stroke victory in 2018.

Peterson made a successful strategic move to improve the quality of the fields when – rather than raise the purse – he hired a jet to take players from the Quad Cities Airport on the night after the final round directly to the British Open site.  Such a travel benefit made players less reluctant to make the expensive trip  across the pond early.

This year, because of the pandemic, a report surfaced that the JDC wouldn’t be offering a British Open exemption to its champion.  That was later dismissed so the tourney will go on as usual  with Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson its top stars. Johnson has long been on the tourney’s board of directors. Ryder Cup captain Stricker had the only three-peat in tourney history, winning in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Defending champion this year is South African-born Dylan Frittelli, who starred on an NCAA champion University of Texas team that also included Jordan Spieth.  Spieth and Frittelli are among 23 players who earned their first PGA Tour victory in the Quad Cities. Spieth won in 2013 and 2015 and hasn’t been back since.

The big winner at the John Deere Classic, though, has been the area charities. Since 1971 the tourney has raised over $120 million for charities, and over 90 percent of that came since John Deere became the title sponsor. Even with the tourney not held in 2020 the event’s Birdies for Charity program made a $12.2 million donation to 465 charities.

 

Illini alum Nowlin is now two-for-two in state open tourneys

Tristyn Nowlin finally won a big golf tournament at Mistwood on Wednesday.

The University of Illinois graduate student from Richmond, Ky., who turned pro two weeks ago, was a runner-up on te Romeoville course twice in 2018.  That year she dropped a match play final to Emilee Hoffman in the Women’s Western Amateur and was edged by Northwestern alum Hannah Kim in a three-day, 54-hole stroke play format at the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open.

Nowlin wasn’t stymied playing a third different competitive format at Mistwood – 54 holes over just two days – in her return to the IWO. She held off another graduate student who just turned pro, Loukyee Songprasert, in a tense final round to keep her winning streak alive in state open tournaments.

Last week Nowlin won the Michigan PGA Women’s Open at Crystal Mountain.  She’ll follow her win in the IWO with state opens in her home state of Kentucky next week and then compete in similar events in Tennessee and Florida before going to the Symetra Tours qualifying tournament at Mission Inn in California in the fall.

“This whole week was a real blast,’’ said Nowlin.  “This course welcomes you right in, and those previous tournaments gave me a little edge, in that I knew I could play well here.’’

After going 69-69 in the tourney’s 36-hole opening day on Tuesday she managed a 70 on Wednesday to finish at 8-under-par 208. That was two better than Songprasert, who shot the best round of the week – a 67 on Tuesday to get within a shot of Nowlin going into the final 18.

Songprasert, who attended high school in Thailand before doing her undergraduate work at West Texas A&M, pulled even twice in the final round before Nowlin took the lead for good at No. 16. She made birdie there and Songprasert three-putted the next hole for a bogey to fall two shots back.  Both parred the finishing hole.

“In the second round I was more aggressive, and it turned out real good,’’ said Songprasert, who is living in Bloomingdale this summer and working at Medinah Country Club under the guidance of director of instruction Travis Johns. “Today I tried to be more aggressive again, because I was behind, but it didn’t happen. I lipped out four or five birdie putts.’’

Nowlin, who is finishing up work on a Masters degree in sports management at Illinois, had some lipouts, too, but her familiarity with the Mistwood setting helped her overcome that.  Bing Singhsumalee, a former Illini teammate, was her caddie the first two days and another Illini, senior-to-be Crystal Wang, ended up in third place and was the tourney’s low amateur.

The IWO, which was canceled last year because of pandemic concerns, was staged for the 26th time.  Nowlin picked up $5,000 from a $20,000 purse for her victory.

It was Mistwood’s first of two major tournaments in July. The finals of the 90th Illinois State Amateur will be played there July 20-22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stricker could be the big story again at the John Deere Classic

 

The John Deere Classic isn’t the biggest event on the PGA Tour, but it’s the circuit’s only annual Illinois stop and this week’s staging is – by far – the biggest golf event in the state in 2021.

TPC Deere Run, on the outskirts of Moline, again hosts the $6.2 million championship that begins its four-day, 72-hole run on Thursday. It’ll be the tourney’s 50th anniversary celebrated a year late.  The tournament was canceled in 2020 due to pandemic concerns.

A tourney trademark has been its abundance of first-time winners on the PGA Tour.  There have been 23 of them in

tourney’s first 49 years, and that list includes eventual top stars Payne Stewart, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau.

It also includes Dylan Frittelli, this week’s defending champion. None of the first-time winners could defend their title.  In fact, the only players to win back-to-back were the tourney’s first champion, Deane Beman (1971-72) and Steve Stricker, who pulled off a three-peat from 2009-11.

Stricker, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, could be a factor again this week even though he’s now playing with the 50-and-over circuit.  He won the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship by a whopping six-stroke margin last week at Ohio’s venerable Firestone course and is skipping the next major on PGA Tour Champions, the U.S. Senior Open, to return to the JDC instead.

Frittelli’s chances this week don’t appear nearly as good as Stricker’s. Frittelli had two top-10 finishes in big events after his win in the JDC — a tie for fifth in the 2020 Masters and ninth-place showing the the WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in March.

He’s missed the cut in six of his last seven starts, though.  There was a brief return to form when Frittelli shot a 65 in U.S. Open qualifying and tied for 46th in the main event, but he missed cuts the last two weeks leading into his title defense.

“Not to sound too cliché, but (winning the JDC) gave me a sense of belonging.  That solidifies the fact that I’m on the PGA Tour and can be here long term,’’ said Frittelli. Looking back on his win two years ago.  “I don’t know how many winners there have been – probably a thousand that have done that.  As you get more wins, more stature, you realize that was basically the thing that started the domino effect.  You’ve obviously got to get over that hill before you can win two or three times.  I’m proud to have made that step at the John Deere Classic.’’

Winning the JDC doesn’t mean immediate success.  Michael Kim was the winner in 2018, a year before Frittelli.  Kim set the JDC scoring record at 27-under-par 257 for the 72 holes and won by eight shots. Then his game went sour.  Kim showed up for his title defense with a string of 27 missed cuts in a row and made it 28 in the year that Frittelli had his breakthrough.

The South African-born Frittelli, 31, had a great amateur career, winning the World Junior in 2007 and holing the winning putt for the University of Texas to give the Longhorns the 2012 NCAA team title.

In addition to Stricker, Frittelli and Kim, the past champions in the JDC’s 156 starters this week include  Ryan Moore (2016), Brian Harman (2014),  Zach Johnson (2012), Jonathan Byrd (2007), John Senden (2006) and Sean O’Hair (2005).  The field also features Chicago-based PGA Tour members Kevin Streelman and Doug Ghim and some formidable late entries includes Brandt Snedeker and Daniel Berger.

Tournament director Clair Peterson also awarded sponsor exemptions to six college stars, and at least two of them – Illinois’ Michael Feagles and Illinois State’s David Perkins – will make their professional debuts this week.

 

 

Nowlin leads in a day of memories at the Illinois Women’s Open

Tuesday marked the start of the biggest six days of tournament golf in Illinois this year. The 26th Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open, at Mistwood in Romeoville, started things off with a 36-hole session.  The final round is Wednesday (TODAY) and then the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic begins its four-day run on Thursday in downstate Silvis.

Neither event was held in 2019 due to pandemic concerns, and that only magnified some fond memories in the IWO field.

Tristyn Nowlin, the recent University of Illinois star, takes a one-stroke lead over Ueakarn Songprasert, of Bloomindale, into the final 18 holes at Mistwood. Playing well at MIstwood is nothing new for Nowlin.  In 2018 she finished second in both the IWO and Women’s Western Amateur there.

“I love this place,’’ she said.  “Technically it’s been three years since I’ve been here, but it seems like two weeks.’’

Nowlin was low amateur in her runner-up finish in 2018.  She recently turned professional and recently won the Michigan Women’s Open.

“I’m just playing state opens for now,’’ she said.  “I’ll have a lot of good trips since making the transition, and whatever money I make I’ll use for (LPGA) Q-School.’’

After Wednesday’s final round she’ll compete in state opens in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida before qualifying school begins in the fall.

While Nowlin has her own good memories of Mistwood, the field’s veterans stars Nicole Jeray and Jenna Pearson have theirs, two.  Both won the tournament twice, Jeray in 1998 and 2003 and Pearson in 2007 and 2011.  Only amateur Kerry Postillion, with three wins in the IWO’s first six stagings, won more times.

Jeray and Pearson both looked back on the two individuals who did the most to get the tournament to where it is today but are no longer here. Kosin, who founded the event in 1995, was just named to the next induction class into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. He was a cancer victim in 2009.

Mistwood owner Jim McWethy, who provided strong support once the event moved to Mistwood in 1999, passed away within the last year after dealing with a lung ailment.

“I knew Phil for a long time.  He was such an advocate for women’s golf,’’ said Pearson, who lost an epic 10-hole playoff in a bid for a third IWO title.  “Phil was gung-ho to have us here, and both Phil and Jim were unbelievable guys.’’

Jeray is eighth and Pearson tied for 16th going into the final round.

“This tournament is all because of Phil Kosin,’’ said Jeray, who had a long career on the LPGA Tour and is now a full-time teacher at Mistwood.  “He was very upset that there was no Illinois Women’s Open.  I had played in the men’s Illinois Open. Who know if this tournament would have ever happened without Phil Kosin.  He was ahead of his time.’’

McWethy was in ill health when Jeray started working at Mistwood.

“I was just starting to get to know him,’’ she said.  “This club is all because of his heart and his passion.  I’m really sorry I didn’t get to know him better.’’

 

 

 

Illinois Women’s Open returns minus Western Junior champ

This year’s golf calendar isn’t as loaded with big events as it normally is.  That’s why next week figures to be the biggest of the local season.  It features the biggest annual women’s event of the year followed immediately by Illinois’ only PGA Tour stop of 2021.

The 26th Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open leads things off at Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville. It tees off on Tuesday (JULY 6) with a 36-hole session to determine the qualifiers for the final 18 the following day.  As soon as the IWO wraps up the spotlight shifts to downstate Silvis for the 50th playing of the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic. Neither event was played in 2020 because of pandemic concerns.

Mistwood is beginning an extraordinary stretch as a tournament site, with the Illinois State Amateur coming up just two weeks after the IWO, and the women’s event is special this year given the recent selection of its late founder Phil Kosin into the next induction class into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. The induction ceremonies will be on Oct. 1 at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

Kosin, who succumbed to cancer in 2009, started the event at Odyssey, in Tinley Park.  After four stagings there – and with strong support from then Mistwood owner Jim McWethy – Kosin moved the event to Romeoville, its home ever since.  McWethy passed away last June after battling lung problems.

Two-time champion Nicole Jeray, now on the Mistwood teaching staff, and recently-crowned Illinois Women’s State Amateur champion Grace Curran head the field.

“Having not held the tournament last year, our entry numbers are a little down,’’ said Andy Mickelson, Mistwood’s director of golf. “We probably have a stronger amateur field than professionals.’’

Mickelson said the purse and champion’s payout will be about the same as recent years – a $20,000 prize fund with $5,000 for the champion, assuming she’s a professional.

ONE FOR THE BOOKS: Rarely have Chicago players won the prestigious Women’s Western Junior title, but Barrington’s Mara Janess pulled off that feat last week at Aurora Country Club.  Soon to enter her senior year at Barrington High School, Janess has already committed to play golf at the University of Michigan.

Before she goes collegiate, however, Janess will take on adults in the Women’s Western Amateur, which begins July 19 at Park Ridge Country Club.

“I played in the Women’s Western Amateur last year, and can’t wait for this year,’’ said Janess, who was the Illinois Class 2A high school champion in 2019.  “It’s such a great field every year, and it’s one of my favorite events.’’

Janess won’t play in the Illinois Women’s Open because it conflicts with her qualifying round for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

The Women’s Western Junior has been played for 94 years and rarely has a local player won.  Before Janess the last to do it was Kate Lillie, of St. Charles, in 2016.  Most notable local winner of the title was legendary Carol Mann, an Olympia Fields golfer who went on to a Hall of Fame career after being crowned the Western Junior champion at Inverness in 1958.

Between Mann and Janess there were only three Chicago area winners of the coveted title – Mari McDougall of Midlothian in 1977, Ashley Armstrong of Flossmoor in 2011 and Lillie.

HERE AND THERE:  Michael Feagles, a fifth-year senior at Illinois, has joined Illinois State’s David Perkins in deciding to begin his professional career at the July 8-11 John Deere Classic.  Feagles and Perkins were among six college stars offered exemptions into the tourney.…Nick Tenuta, a senior-to-be at Louisville playing out of Mount Prospect Golf Club, won the 101st Chicago District Amateur title with a 5 and 4 win over Butterfield member Brett Tomfohrde, of Chicago, in their 36-hole title match at Bull Valley, in Woodstock….Caleb Surrat, of Matthews, N.C., was the only player under par for 72 holes in the 103rd boys’ Western Junior tourney at Onwentsia, in Lake Forest.  Finishing 65-67 in a 36-hole final day, Surrat was at 3-under 277 in capturing the oldest tourney in junior golf. He’ll play collegiately at Tennessee.

 

 

There’ll be no Less-Perkins rematch in CDGA Am; both are ready to turn pro

While the 121st U.S. Open is history, there’ll be plenty of  tradition in evidence this week in the Chicago amateur ranks. Heading the busy schedule is the Chicago District Amateur, at Bull Valley in Woodstock. It’s being played for the 101st time.

The Western Golf Association is also contesting its two junior championships this week, and they are rich in history as well.  The Western Junior, first played in 1914, is the oldest national junior championship in golf.  The Women’s Western Junior Championship was first played in 1920.

None of the three were played in 2020 because of pandemic concerns.

While the CDGA Amateur is a prestigious event, it’ll be without two of Illinois’ best amateurs who were the stars of the show the last time the tournament was held. Jordan Less and David Perkins shared the last CDGA Player-of-the-Year award, issued in 2019. They also were finalists in the an epic final in the last playing of the CDGA Am, Less winning in 37 holes.

Now, however, Less, of Elmhurst, and Perkins, of East Peoria, are ready to turn pro. Both completed their college careers, Less at Northern Illinois and Perkins at Illinois State. Perkins plans to turn pro at next month’s John Deere Classic.  He’s in the field for that PGA Tour stop on a sponsor’s exemption.

Less will play in the Illinois State Amateur next month, then turn pro at the Illinois Open in August. Less was low amateur in the last two Illinois Opens and a stalwart for the CDGA amateur team in last week’s Radix Cup matches.

While Less is ready to make a big jump career-wise, one thing won’t change.  He’ll still be doing most of his practicing at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove.  Rich Harvest is the home course for Northern Illinois’ teams, and owner Jerry Rich is allowing Less to continue to use the private club’s facilities though his collegiate eligibility is over.

“I’m excited for Jordan’s future, both in golf and in life,’’ said Rich.  “I expect to find him honing his skills at Rich Harvest Farms while mentoring Northern Illinois University players and earning his membership on a professional tour.’’

The CDGA Amateur drew over 300 entries and the field was whittled to 78 through exemptions and four qualifying tournaments.  The championship proper opened with a 36-hole qualifying session on Monday, and the low 16 and ties began the match play portion on Tuesday. Quarterfinal and semifinals matches will be played on Wednesday (TODAY) and the champion will be crowned in a 36-hole final on Thursday.

JUNIOR DOUBLEHEADER:  The Western Golf Association will conduct its junior championships concurrently, but on different courses.  Onwentsia, in Lake Forest, will host the boys and Aurora Country Club will be the girls venue.

Both tournaments started on Monday with the boys ending on Thursday and the girls on Friday. The girls championship, held in conjunction with the Women’s Western Golf Association, is being played in the Chicago area for the firt time since Knollwood, in Lake Forest, hosted in 2014.

Past winners of the boys tourney include Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk while the girls champions of the past include Christie Kerr and Nancy Lopez.  Lopez was a three-time winner from 1972-74.

 

HERE AND THERE:  Grace Curran, a University of Minnesota golfer from New Lenox, dominated the 88th Illinois Women’s State Amateur at Pine Meadow, in Mundelein.  She shot a 2-under-par 70 to lead the qualifying round, then won all five of her matches.  Megan Furtney, of St. Charles and Duke, was Curran’s 2 and 1 victim in the title match….Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman hovered among the top 10 at the U.S. Open until a 72-73 finish on the weekend dropped him into a tie for 15th.  Still, it was his second-best showing in eight appearances in the finals.  He tied for 13th in 2016…..Northbrook’s Nick Hardy opened 68-69 in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Wichita Open, then withdrew after developing a wrist injury. Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, who posted a 62 in the third round, wound up in a tie for 10th….The top players in the Illinois PGA defeated the CDGA’s top amateurs 11-7 last week at River Forest Country Club.  The IPGA has a 36-20-2 edge in the series.

 

Len Ziehm, a 2019 inductee into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, is part of the Golfers on Golf Radio 820 show, which is broadcast at 4 p.m. on Saturdays.  He is also co-host of the Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series on social media outlets and his writings can be found at www.lenziehmongolf.com.