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Len Ziehm On Golf

Women’s Western will benefit from closer relationship with WGA

This one was long, long overdue.

The Western Golf Association and Women’s Western Golf Association have jointly announced that they have formed “a new partnership.’’ That made May 10, 2017, an announcement date to remember in Chicago sports history. Given the rich histories of the two organizations, its importance goes beyond just golf.

While the new agreement doesn’t kick in until Aug. 1 – which is after the WWGA’s two 2017 tournaments – it does have the potential for some great things that could be coming to golf in Chicago as soon as the 2018 season.

Few organizations in anything have lasted as long as the two Chicago-based golf groups. The WGA was founded in 1899, the WWGA in 1903. Prior to the women forming their own organization the WGA sponsored the first two Women’s Western Amateur Championships in 1901 and 1902.

Despite their similarities in name and purpose, the two groups have operated more or less independently most of the time since then. They formed a loose partnership in 2011 and the WWGA conducts its board meetings at WGA headquarters in the North Chicago suburb aptly named Golf. That doesn’t come close to having the impact the new five-year agreement will have, however.

Under the new agreement the WGA will “help guide the Women’s Western Golf Foundation’’ and “help stage and promote the WWGA’s Women’s Western National Amateur Championship and the Women’s Western National Junior Championship and secure host sites for the events.’’

These are changing times, and the new agreement in no way detracts from all the great things the women’s group has accomplished in its 116 years. Operating with all volunteers the WWGA put on not only its two continuing championships but also ran an LPGA major tournament, the Women’s Western Open, from 1930 until 1967. The Women’s Western Amateur is the oldest annually played championship in all of golf.

Organizational demands, though, have grown over the years and the 2011 agreement with the WGA did provide the women with some administrative support. Still, more is needed.

The WWGA will operate the same as last year for its two 2017 events – the 117th Women’s Western Amateur June 12-17 at River Forest Country Club in Elmhurst and the 91st Women’s Junior Championship July 10-14 at Dubuque Golf and Country Club in Iowa. Then the WGA takes on managerial duties just as it has long done with its three tournaments – the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship (an offshoot of the old Western Open), the Western Amateur and the Western Junior.

First order of business will be for the WGA to name a site for the next WWGA tournament. No site has been determined for the 2018 Women’s Western Amateur but WGA staffers hope to announce one during the tournament at River Forest and some Chicago clubs are under consideration.

The stop at River Forest was the tournament’s first staging in the Chicago area since Exmoor, in Highland Park, hosted in 2001. Though no official comments were made, the off-the-record sentiments of Western staffers was that the tournament should be basically a fixture in the Chicago area much like the WGA’s Western Amateur has been since the tourney left Point O’ Woods in Benton Harbor, Mich., after a 28-year run there ended in 2008.

Chicago area courses have hosted eight of the nine Western Amateurs played since then and Skokie will be the site of the 2017 championship from July 31 to Aug. 5. The WGA also has reaches a milestone tournament-wise this year when its Western Junior is played for the 100th time. Park Ridge Country Club will be the site from June 19-22.

Both organizations are delighted with the new agreement.

“The history between these two golf associations goes back to the beginnings of the Women’s Western Golf Association. We have had a great relationship with the Western Golf Association through the years,’’ said Frances Fleckenstein, the WWGA president. “We now look forward to taking the next step to having their full support, which will be beneficial to both our organizations.’’

David Robinson, the WGA chairman, feels the same way.

“We’re excited to be deepening our relationship with the WWGA, which has done so much in the Midwest and across the country for women’s golf,’’ he said. “It’s an organization whose values and storied history of championships and scholarships are very much aligned with our own.’’

The WGA’s Evans Scholars program had 935 students enrolled in 20 universities during the 2016-17 school year and 24 percent were women. The Women’s Western Golf Association Foundation, founded in 1971, has awarded more than $3.5 million in scholarships to more than 690 young women from across the country over the years.

Already the two organizations jointly sponsor a Women’s Western Evans Scholar, awarding a four-year tuition and housing college scholarship to a female caddie who excels academically, has an outstanding caddie record and demonstrates financial need. The current Women’s Western Evans Scholar is Hannah Gillespie, who is completing her freshman year at Notre Dame.

And all those good connections lead to the inevitable question: Can there be a Women’s Western Open again?

The Women’s Western Open had a history as rich as the men’s Western Open. It was first played 20 years before the formation of the Ladies PGA Tour, and the LPGA had the support of the WWGA at the time of its founding.

Two Chicago players – Lucia Mida of Butterfield and June Beebe of Olympia Fields – played in the title match of the first Women’s Western Open, Mida winning at Acacia in Indian Head Park – a club that no longer exists. The tourney continued under a match play format through 1954 with 11 of the 24 tournaments played on Chicago courses. The last of those was at Glen Flora, in Waukegan.

Then the tourney went to a stroke play format from 1955 to 1967 and Chicago’s Beverly Country Club hosted twice. The event’s last playing was at another Illinois course, Pekin Country Club, where Kathy Whitworth won the title with a record 11-under-par performance. Years after the event was discontinued it is still considered a major championship in women’s golf history.

Quoting the WWGA tournament histories in its 2016 annual publication, the Women’s Western Open was discontinued “when the WWGA concentrated all its efforts to support and promote amateur women’s golf.’’

Now might be a good time to change that line of thought. The WGA has benefitted from being involved in the pro game, why not the women as well?

No one in a leadership role at either the Western Golf Association or the Women’s Western Golf Association will predict a revival of the Women’s Western Open, but they won’t rule it out, either. Be sure to stay tuned.

CDGA Amateur makes rare appearance out of Illinois

The Chicago District Golf Association has been staging competitions since 1914 and it’s the regional governing body for amateur golf in Illinois and parts of three other states. It services nearly 400 clubs and 800 individual golfers in a variety of ways.

Most know the CDGA for its computerized handicaps. All members get a U.S. Golf Association Handicap Index from the CDGA twice a month. Some are aware that the CDGA is authorized by the USGA to assign course ratings. Some are aware of its turfgrass research program or the efforts of its Foundation to help those with physical and mental challenges.

The CDGA’s board of directors, known as the “Blue Coats,’’ donate their services and time – more than 15,000 man-hours a year – to the organization’s projects and the month of June offers two of the most high-profile ones. Both are competitions.

On June 7 Oak Park Country Club will host the Radix Cup matches for the 56th time, and from June 27-30 the 98th playing of the Chicago District Amateur will be conducted at Briar Ridge in Schererville, Ind. These two annual attractions, coupled with the Illinois State Amateur, form the nucleus of Chicago’s rich golf tournament history.

The Illinois State Amateur will be played for the 87th time at Calumet Country Club in Homewood from July 18-20.

This year’s CDGA Amateur, though, might be more special than the others. The tourney has been played outside of Illinois only four times, and this will be the fifth. Briar Ridge will be the first non-Illinois course to host the event since The Dunes Club in Michigan was the site in 1998. Prior to that the only non-Illinois tourneys were at Gary Country Club in Indiana in 1952, North Hills in Wisconsin in 1954 and Southmoor in Pennsylvania in 1955.

It’s not that those three big tournaments form the heart of the CDGA season. In May, for instance, the CDGA Senior Amateur brought together 90 players – the survivors of four qualifying rounds – to Chicago’s Ridge Country Club. They battled it out until Terry Werner, of Briar Ridge, beat John Finnin of Olympia Fields 3 and 2 in the title match.

That was the first big one of the season among the more than 50 championships conducted by the CDGA for amateur golfers, be they high or low handicappers, juniors, seniors, men or women. The CDGA also conducts regional qualifying rounds for USGA championships. During May, for instance, three local eliminations were held for this month’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills and in June the CDGA holds a qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open on June 5 at Aurora Country Club and another for the U.S. Women’s Open on June 12 at Prestwick in Frankfort.

June’s schedule also includes 10 state-wide qualifiers for the Illinois State Amateur sandwiched around the demands of the Radix Cup and CDGA Amateur. Yes, executive director Robert Markionni and his staff of 19 at Midwest Golf House in Lemont will by busy – and that’s putting it mildly.

The Radix Cup matches pit the top amateurs from the CDGA against the top professionals from the Illinois PGA. The 12 players on both teams are determined largely by point systems devised by each organization and the competition to get on either of the teams can be intense. The IPGA leads the series 35-18-2 but it’s always interesting to see how the amateurs stand up in the better ball matchups.

And then there’s the CDGA Amateur – one of the oldest such tournaments in the country. For some reason it doesn’t get the attention that the Illinois State Amateur does, but the CDGA Amateur’s list of champions offers a walk through history.

No less a celebrity than Chick Evans won the first CDGA Amateur, played at Ravisloe in Homewood in 1914 – the year the CDGA was founded. Two years later Evans became the first player to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in the same year, and Bobby Jones is the only other golfer to accomplish that feat.

Robert Gardner won the first of his three CDGA Amateurs in 1916. By then he was already a two-time U.S. Amateur champion (1909 and 1915). The tourney wasn’t held for six years, when the U.S. was involved in wars, but the tourney was always revived after peace was restored.

In 1935 invitations were issued nationally and in 1941 the event became known as the Great Lakes Amateur Championship. That lasted until 1955 when the CDGA board of directors opted to limit the field to players who were CDGA members. That remains the case today but it didn’t keep tournament winners like Jim Jamieson, Sherman Finger, Lance Ten Broeck, David Ogrin, Joe Affrunti, Eric Meierdierks and Carlos Sainz from using the CDGA Amateur as a partial springboard to playing status on the PGA Tour.

As the game evolved, so did its CDGA champions. Frank Stranahan, who played the PGA Tour successfully while remaining an amateur, was the CDGA champion in 1946 and 1947. Skee Riegel, another tour player, won in 1949 and Tam O’Shanter’s colorful Martin Stanovich took the tiitle in 1959 and 1960.

Some of the other CDGA Amateur winners – notably Joel Hirsch, Bill Hoffer, Mike Milligan and Rick Ten Broeck — didn’t turn pro but went on to bigger things in the amateur ranks.

Hirsch won both the CDGA and Illinois State Amateur twice, was a two-time winner of the British Senior Amateur and a qualifier for 34 U.S. Golf Association championships. At 58 he qualified for his fourth Western Open.

Hoffer won the U.S. Mid Amateur in 1982 (a title which earned him a berth in the Masters) and the Illinois Open in 1983. Milligan ruled the CDGA Amateur three times from 1973 to 1977 and Ten Broeck had a game that lasted, too. He won the CDGA Amateur in 1981 and 1994 and the Illinois Open in 1973 and 1981.

The CDGA Amateur format has changed slightly over the years. This year’s calls for four 18-hole qualifying eliminations, two of which were held during the last two days of May. The last two are June 5 at Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods, and June 7 at the University of Illinois’ Orange course in Savoy.

Starting in 2003, the tourney finals called for 60 finalists playing 36 holes in one day to determine 16 match play qualifiers. Matches will be at 18 holes with the exception of the finals. It’ll be played over 36 holes.

Andrew Price, who plays out of Conway Farms is Lake Forest, is the defending champion and one of only 17 players awarded a sponsor’s exemption off previous tournament accomplishments.

Pieters, Points are latest Illinois tour players that bear watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he got even better after that.

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

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

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

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

It’s not too early to start planning for the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills

The 117th playing of the U.S. Open is still eight months away, I realize that. Still, it’s not too early to so some planning around it. After all, U.S. Opens don’t come our way very often.

Next year’s will be June 15-18 at Erin Hills, a public-access venue located in a little town northwest of Milwaukee. I’m considering this a “Chicago’’ U.S. Open, though I admit that’s somewhat of a stretch. Erin Hills can be handled as a driving trip – without the need for overnight lodging – from most areas north and west of Chicago. For me it’s less than a two-hour drive from the northern suburbs.

This is a U.S. Open that should be embraced by Chicago golfers because – most unfortunately — there won’t be another one anywhere near our area for a long, long, long time. The next possibility is in 2027, and that’s remote one at best.

The last U.S. Open in the Chicago area was in 2003, when Jim Furyk emerged the champion at Olympia Fields. Prior to that the last Chicago U.S. Open was in 1990 at Medinah – one made historically special by Hale Irwin’s playoff victory over Mike Donald. That was the first U.S. Open title decided in sudden death. A U.S. Open playoff is traditionally over 18 holes on Monday, but the Irwin-Donald battle needed an extra hole before a champion could be crowned.

As for the future, no U.S. Opens are scheduled even remotely close to Chicago except for next year’s at Erin Hills – the first ever to be played in Wisconsin. The announced future sites after that are Shinnecock Hills in New York (2018), Pebble Beach in California (2019), Winged Foot in New York (2020), Torrey Pines in California (2021), The Country Club in Massachusetts (2022), Los Angeles Country Club (2023) and Pinehurst in North Carolina (2024).

The U.S. Golf Association hasn’t confirmed the next two years, but it’s a reasonably safe assumption that Oakmont, in Pennsylvania, will host in 2025 and the tourney will return to Shinnecock in 2026. Well-informed speculators have projected sites through 2030, and none of their possibilities are even remotely near the Midwest.

So, let’s savor what’s coming to Erin Hills. The course hasn’t hosted much in the way of big tournaments, only the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and the 2011 U.S. Amateur. The course hasn’t changed much since that last one, but the USGA still held a media preview last month to show off what the next U.S. Open will be like.

The first thing you notice is the scorecard. The official yardage for Erin Hills at the 2017 U.S. Open is a whopping 7,693 yards. That may make it the longest course in tournament history, though USGA staffers on site weren’t ready to confirm that.

“But don’t be alarmed by that,’’ said USGA managing director Jeff Hall. “This will be the first time we’ve played a par-72 course in the U.S. Open since 1992. Tour players aren’t accustomed to having four par-5s at a U.S. Open but they’ll get that opportunity at Erin Hills.’’

The par-5s are No. 1, which is listed at 560 yards but could play as long as 608; No.7, listed at 607 but could play as short as 576 or as long as 619; No. 14, listed at 594 but could play as long as 650; and No. 18, listed at 637 but could play as long as 675.

Both course superintendent Zach Reineking and the architectural team of Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten were on hand for the preview day. They joined Hall and the media contingent on the tour of the course, which opened in 2006.

Erin Hills was built by Bob Lang, the original owner from 1999 to 2009. Andy Ziegler has been the owner since then. Erin Hills is already a special place but it will be more special after becoming the 52nd course to host a U.S. Open and the sixth public access course to do it, following Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Torrey Pines, New York’s Bethpage Black and Oregon’s Chambers Bay.

A walking-only venue, Erin Hills will be open for public play through Oct. 6, then the public won’t be able to play until after next year’s big event.

Hall said the greens would be in the 13 to 13 ½ range for the Open, slower than the surfaces this year at Oakmont. Hall lauded the “wonderful bentgrass putting surfaces’’ and said they are “much more accustomed to what the players have seen.’’

Some other tidbits on the Erin Hills Open:

Few changes have been made since Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Amateur five years ago. The only notable one is at No. 3, and that wasn’t a major thing.

Reineking said 385 trees have been taken down in recent years and only six are left. None come into play except perhaps the only one at No. 15 – and the future of that tree is in doubt.

The USGA estimates the economic impact of the 2017 U.S. Open on the Milwaukee area at between $120 and $135 million.

Community support has been outstanding. The USGA needed about 5,000 volunteers and received applications from 7,956. More than half of the volunteers were from Wisconsin and 52 were from foreign countries.

Though the planning remains a work in progress, tentative plans call for two spectator parking lots, both free to those using them. Though Erin Hills was built on 652 acres, galleries will be limited to 35,000 each day to assure a more pleasant spectator experience.

The USGA opened its merchandise online shop on Sept. 8 and ticket sales were launched in June. They’re continuing on the USGA website (usga.org). Though tickets are still available for the seven days of tournament week (gates open for practice on Monday, June 12), tickets to the four tournament rounds figure to be gone soon. Those four rounds have been sellouts for the last 29 years.

Lodging, for those who need it, should also be addressed well in advance. Erin Hills has only 37 beds on its property and they’ll be taken by tournament staffers. Hotels in an around Milwaukee may be hard-pressed to fill the needs of U.S. Open visitors.

October provided a variety of meaningful ends to Chicago golf season

I never quite understood this.

October, with its generally milder temperatures and beautiful color changes, is in many ways the best month of the year to play golf. Plus, with school back in session, the courses aren’t as busy as they are from June through August. Still, interest seems to be on the downside with the tournament schedules for both the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association rapidly winding down and the Western Golf Association’s events completely over.

Even the PGA Tour targets a September climax to its wrap-around season and the LPGA plays out of the United States from mid-September all the way through the end of October.

This year, though, that trend might be changing. Globally, the Ryder Cup carries two days into October and there’s an even more obvious reason for renewed interest in late fall golf. Tiger Woods has scheduled his latest return to tournament golf for the first event of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season – the Safeway Open (formerly Frys.com Open ) at Silverado in Napa, Calif., from Oct. 13-16. Phil Mickelson has entered, too, so that event will perk up golf’s “off-season.’’

Locally things are changing as well.

That’s mainly due to the Illinois PGA, which will conclude Carrie Williams’ first season as executive director with three significant October events. The IPGA has always played the last of its four major championships in October, and this year’s IPGA Players Championship at Eagle Ridge, in Galena, will be played Oct. 3-4.

More often than not the IPGA player of the year is decided at Eagle Ridge, and it certainly will be this time. The IPGA Players doesn’t fit into the schedule of the section’s best player, University of Illinois coach Mike Small. He’s second in the section’s Bernardi Points standings thanks to steady play in his one-tournament-a-month routine.

Small tied for first in the first stroke play event at Crestwicke, in Bloomington, in April. He won a stroke play at Onwentsia, in Lake Forest, in June; was sixth in the Illinois Open in St. Charles in July; and won the IPGA Championship for the 12th time at Olympia Fields in August.

Now he’s all about coaching again, though he did give a glimmer of things to come when he played in the Illinois Senior Open at McHenry Country Club in September. Small just turned 50 and that made him eligble for senior and Champions Tour events.

“I’ll play there a bit more in the future when time and my schedule allows me to,’’ said Small after the announcement of his new six-year contract to continue as the Illini coach was announced. “I still like to compete, and playing is a nice way to clear my head once in a while when I need it. But I’m a coach first and a player second. That’s what it’s been for 15 years and that’s what it’ll be going forward.’’

That leaves the IPGA Players Championship as the tournament where the rest of the club pros will fight it out for player of the year. Medinah teaching pro Travis Johns leads the Bernardi Points race going in – he’s even ahead of Small after finishing in a tie for second at the IPGA Championship. Right on his heels is Curtis Malm, the head professional at White Eagle, in Naperville.

Johns was player of the year in 2010 and 2014 and Malm won in 2012 and 2013. They played with Small in the final threesome at the IPGA Championship and Malm also finished as a joint runner-up at Olympia Fields.

Kyle Bauer, the head pro at Glen View Club, won the first of the year’s majors – the IPGA Match Play Championship at Kemper Lakes in May. He’s fourth in the Bernardi Points race while last year’s player of the year, Mistwood teaching pro Brian Brodell, is seventh. They’ll at least have a better chance at player of the year than the Illinois Open winner. Carlos Sainz Jr. won that title, but he’s a touring pro and thereby ineligible for the section’s top playing accolade.

All the others will be in the mix for the coveted player of the year award at the IPGA Players Championship, but even that one won’t wrap up the section’s big events for the season. The Royal Cup matches, pitting the top 10 Illinois assistant pros against their counterparts from Wisconsin, is on tap for Oct. 7 at Big Foot, in Fontana, Wis. It’s not the Ryder Cup, but still meaningful for those involved in one way or another.

Another deserving climax to Chicago area tournament play will also be provided by the Illinois PGA. Its Senior Players Championship will be played Oct. 17-18 at Old Elm in Highland Park with just the top 30 in the IPGA senior season’s point race eligible. That event will likely determine the section’s senior player of the year, though Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb has a comfortable lead with only Mistwood’s John Platt a threat to catch him.

Sobb has been senior player of the year six times in the last nine years, winning back-to-back in 2007-08, again in 2010-11 and still again in 2014-15. He’ll be going after an unprecedented three-peat this October.

And then there’s the World SpeedGolf Championship, which will be played for the second time at The Glen, in Glenview, on Oct. 18-19. It’ll be interesting as well.

All those scenarios aside, the most impressive local tournament showing of the year won’t be matched in the October events. At least not in my book.

In fact the best tournament showing by a local player, professional or amateur, in my nearly 50 years covering golf in these parts was by Northbrook’s Nick Hardy in the Illinois State Amateur at St. Charles Country Club. Getting ready for his junior year at the University of Illinois, Hardy covered the 72 holes in 28 under par and won by 10 strokes. I don’t expect to ever see such a dominant performance at the local level ever again – but then, who knows?

Ryder Cup is the real climax to this PGA Tour season

Let the greatest show in golf begin.

With all due respect, it’s not any major championship. It’s not the FedEx Cup Playoffs. It wasn’t the return of the sport to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years.

No, the greatest show in golf isn’t even a tournament. It’s the Ryder Cup, and the 41st playing of the matches between the U.S. and Europe is coming up Sept. 27 through Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska, Minn.

The Ryder Cup wasn’t always the greatest show in golf. It only became that after the Europeans started winning regularly. Now it’s one of the great team competitions in all of sports. Patriotism abounds, creating a memorable spectacle no matter which team wins.

I’m happy to say I’ve been involved with Ryder Cups beyond just being a reporter of what goes on in the matches every couple years. In both the Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012 and this year’s version at Hazeltine my involvement has included participating in a book — along with Nick Novelli, the great Chicago photographer — for the host club’s membership.

For Hazeltine’s members, they learned the Ryder Cup would be coming via a PGA of America announcement in 2002 but their preparations really heated up at Medinah. They came and learned there, then refined their plans after watching the 2014 version of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, in Scotland. Now it’s Hazeltine’s turn to show what it can do as the host club.

Hazeltine is even better qualified historically to host this Ryder Cup than Medinah was four years ago. Given Medinah’s rich tournament history, that may be hard to believe. Consider this, however. Hazeltine didn’t even open until 1962, roughly 40 years after Medinah, but it has already hosted two U.S. Opens (1970, 1991), two U.S. Women’s Opens (1966, 1977), two PGA Championships (2002, 2009), the U.S. Senior Open (1983) and the U.S. Amateur (2006).

The Ryder Cup is all that’s missing from the club’s resume, and that will soon be corrected. Only one club has hosted all those big events plus the Ryder Cup. That would be North Carolina’s Pinehurst No. 2, which opened in 1907 – 55 years before Hazeltine. Pinehurst became the first course to host both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in back-to-back weeks in 2014. It also hosted the U.S. Senior Open (1994), the PGA Championship (1936), the U.S. Opens of 1999 and 2005 and the Ryder Cup (1951).

Enough about history, though that’s always important for any serious golfer’s perspective. Now it’s about choosing up sides, and that’ll take the entire month of September.

Because of the schedule changes made to accommodate the Olympics, the team selections were pushed back roughly two weeks. The first eight players on the U.S. team were finalized on Aug. 28 after The Barclays – first of the four tournaments of the FedEx Cup Playoffs – concluded in New York.

U.S. captain Davis Love III will announce three of his four captain’s picks on Sept. 11, after the BMW Championship concludes at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis. The final pick will be announced on Sept. 25, at The Tour Championship in Atlanta. This is a change from previous Ryder Cups, and there’ll be more suspense with the captain’s picks announced so close to the matches themselves.

Darren Clarke, the European captain, got the top four players off the European Tour point list and the next five off the World point list after the Race to Dubai’s Made in Denmark tournament that concluded on Aug. 28. That leaves him just three captain’s picks, to be made in early September.

Though Europe has won the last three stagings of the competition, Clarke’s team figures to be a younger one this time and will be without Ian Poulter, always an emotional leader of his team’s Ryder Cup effort.

Poulter is in a four-month long rehab from a foot ailment which caused his to drop out of tournament play in June. Poulter, though, will be one of Clarke’s vice captains, the others being Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie and Sam Torrance.

The U.S. has a 25-13-2 edge in the series but hasn’t won the Ryder Cup since 2008 and has triumphed only three times since 1999. The last loss on home soil, at Medinah, was especially deflating. The U.S. had a huge meltdown in the concluding singles matches and went down to a 14 ½-13 ½ defeat.

Love has four vice captains – Minnesota native Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. The staffs from both teams will make appearances at Hazeltine to arrange practice sessions for the players in early September.

As for the club, Hazeltine looks much different than Hazeltine. Medinah has the bigger clubhouse but Hazeltine has the newer one. It was built in 2010.

Medinah has three courses on its premises. It also offers a variety of other activities for its members – like tennis, swimming and skeet and trap shooting. Hazeltine is all about golf. Though it has only one, very respected, course there is plenty of open space around the club and that makes it a most desirable tournament venue.

Tom Bendelow was the original designer of Medinah’s No. 3 course, which was the site of the 2012 Ryder Cup and most of the tournaments played at the club, but other designers made updates over the years to ready the course for big events. Robert Trent Jones designed the Hazeltine course, but it won’t play as he envisioned it for the Ryder Cup.

The hole rotation has been altered since the 2009 PGA was played there to accommodate the construction of chalets for corporate hospitality. The last four holes of each nine were switched to make for a better spectator experience.

At Medinah overall course conditioning was a major problem leading right up to the start of play, but all went well in the end. At Hazeltine there wasn’t as much tension. What there was came in the installation of a new bunker system. Work on that was completed in the dead of winter, two months before the course even opened for play.

Bunkers are a key part of the Hazeltine playing experience, and the course has 108 of them. They account for the same square footage as the putting surfaces – about three acres each. That’s an eye-catching statistic, because bunkers typically are about one-third the size of the putting surfaces.

Upgrades provide big boosts at Eagle Ridge, Ruffled Feathers

Eagle Ridge, Illinois’ premier golf resort in Galena, has changed – and for the better – since its latest ownership change.

Capital Crossing acquired the facility in 2013 and brought in Texas-based Touchstone Golf to manage Eagle Ridge’s 63 holes and Mount Prospect-based Bricton Group to manage the rest of the resort. Touchstone manages courses in 10 states but Eagle Ridge is its only facility in the Midwest.

The bulk of Touchstone’s 36 properties are in California (16) and Texas (7). Steve Harker, formerly with American Golf, started the company in 2005. His team now includes Mark Luthman who — as regional director of operations for Chicago-based KemperSports — was a leader in the planning, pre-opening and operations of Oregon’s Chambers Bay, site of the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open. Luthman is Touchstone’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Bricton, a major hotel management group, is headed by president Ed Doherty – a former Evans Scholar. Touchstone and Bricton combined to form Brickstone, the firm that oversees Eagle Ridge’s total operation, and its first order of business was to address the shortcomings on the golf side.

While the resort’s website alludes to “renovation’’ work done on its three 18-holers – The General and the North and the South courses – as well as the nine-hole East course, that’s a bit misleading. Renovations generally connote total revamping of a course and usually include design changes. That wasn’t needed at Eagle Ridge.

All four courses were designed by one-time Chicago-based architect Roger Packard, with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North helping out on The General – the showcase course. All four courses – which opened between 1977 and 1997 — are blessed with the “wow factor’’ thanks largely to the elevation changes throughout the 6,800-acre property.

While Packard’s designs have remained intact, the work done since Touchstone arrived has still been extensive.

“There wasn’t any construction on the fairways,’’ said Reagan Davis, the director of golf. “Packard did a great job, but a lot of places were overgrown and a lot of the tees and landing areas were claustrophobic. The native areas were overgrown, and a lot of the trees weren’t trimmed. People would measure a round on The General by how many balls they lost.’’

That’s not the case anymore. Davis estimates that $700,000 was spent on cleaning up the courses.

“We went in and trimmed all the trees we could,’’ said Davis. “We pushed back the tee boxes and tried to make the courses like they were originally. It speeded up play on The General. We picked up 35 minutes of time (per round).’’

On a busy day a round might have gone 5 hours 25 minutes before. Now it’s more like 4 hours 30 minutes, and rounds are rarely over 5 hours.

The General also got a new restaurant. “Spikes’’ is gone and has been replaced by WoodStones, which features a $30,000 oven that can cook a wood-fire pizza in four minutes. The restaurant is even featured on the more dramatic welcoming signs at the main entrance.

“We wanted something more for the community and not so much for the resort or the golfers,’’ said Davis. “We keep it open about 10 months out of the year, and it’s done well.’’

There’s some other newcomers at Eagle Ridge as well – 30 goats. They’ve been brought in to roam the steep slopes where mowing equipment can’t be used.

ANOTHER NEW LOOK: Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, has completed its own major renovation project. Dallas-based Arcis Golf has unveiled its $2 million renovation of the only Pete Dye-designed course in the Chicago area. Both the course and clubhouse underwent extensive upgrades, and Arcis has announced it will spend $50 million in major capital improvements at its 66 public and private facilities nation-wide.

As for the Ruffled Feathers work, general manager Victor Rodarte described it as “a true revival of the entire property.’’

Arcis also operates five other Chicago area courses – Fresh Meadow, in Hillside; Mill Creek and Eagle Brook, in Geneva; Tamarack, in Naperville; and Whitetail Ridge, in Yorkville.

LOOK OUT FOR SOBB: August won’t be as busy a tournament month as July was, but there will be two section championships conducted by the Illinois PGA and Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb could wind up in contention for two player-of-the-year awards when they’re done.

The IPGA Senior Championship is Aug. 8-9 at Whisper Creek, in Huntley, and the IPGA Championship proper is Aug. 29-31 on Olympia Fields’ South course. Sobb, who was the overall player-of-the-year in 2000, is sixth in the standings now behind leader Travis Johns, of Medinah. Last year Sobb was eighth, so he’s remained consistently competitive after passing the age of 50.

He was also the senior player of the year in both 2014 and 2015 and ranked second behind Mistwood’s John Platt in the senior standings at the time of this printing.

BITS AND PIECES: The Chicago golf community lost two giants from the club professional ranks with the passing Leon McNair and Hubby Habjan in a span of a few days in July. McNair, 75, led in the development of Fox Bend, in Oswego, and Habjan, 84, was a long-time head man at Onwentsia, in Lake Forest. Both are members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

The LPGA’s UL International Crown may be over but its Legends Tour will hold its main event not far away – at Indiana’s French Lick Resort from Aug. 18-21. The Legends Championship festivities will include the inductions of Elaine Crosby and Sandra Haynie into the Legends Hall of Fame that is permanently housed at the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel. Crosby and Haynie will become the seventh and eight members of the Hall, joining Jan Stephenson and Kathy Whitworth, who went in in 2013; Nancy Lopez and Jane Blalock, who were added in 2014; and Joanne Carner and Rosie Jones, who were inducted last year.

KemperSports has taken over the management of Boughton Ridge, the nine-hole executive length course that has served Bolingbrook residents for over 35 years. KemperSports will also manage its Ashbury’s restaurant.

The Schaumburg Park District’s ninth annual Links Technology Cup has been scheduled for Aug. 10 at Schaumburg Golf Club. It includes a Taste on the Tee showcase of food and beverages on most every hole. Proceeds benefit the district’s recreation scholarship program.

Dates opposite the Olympics won’t be a big problem for the JDC

If you had asked me, I would have told you.

The PGA Tour should not have made all those changes to its mid- to late-summer schedule just to accommodate the Olympics. All that did was inconvenience tournament organizers, leave most of the players in limbo and confuse ticket-buyers who had gotten used to watching specific tournaments on specific dates year after year after year.

No PGA Tour tournament was more impacted on that front than the John Deere Classic. The lone annual PGA Tour stop in Illinois drew Aug. 11-14 dates – the same days the 72-hole Olympic men’s competition will be conducted in Brazil. The JDC had thrived with July dates the week before the British Open in recent years.

Fortunately the JDC, in its 46th year, has been a resilient event. That’s been proven over and over, when the tournament struggled for survival in one of the circuit’s smallest markets. Going way back, what’s now the well-established JDC had to deal with weak fields, sponsorship problems which resulted in a variety of title changes and moving from one course to another. But nothing, it seems, can stop the JDC now – and it certainly won’t be these Olympic Games.

The seriousness of the Zika virus notwithstanding, the continuous dropouts of top players from the Olympics – the number was at 18 at the time of this printing – suggests that tournament will be special only because it’s the Olympics and the first time golf will be contested since 1904. It certainly won’t be because of the quality of the field.

When all is said and done it wouldn’t be surprising if the JDC draws as much TV attention from golfers as the Olympics’ golf competition will. Only 60 players will be in the Olympics and at least a few of those who could have competed in Brazil may well wind up competing at TPC Deere Run.

Zach Johnson — the former Masters, JDC and British Open champion who has long been on the JDC board of directors – long predicted that the John Deere Classic would have a “late developing field.’’ Look for some big name players to enter after the last of this year’s four majors. The PGA Championship, because of all the shuffling inspired by the Olympics, was played only two weeks after Henrik Stenson’s spectacular win in the British Open at Royal Troon. The PGA – last of the majors — concluded on July 31.

Enough said about the Olympics. Suffice it to say, the JDC will do just fine even without being in the global golf spotlight. The event’s annual media day underscored that. Paul Scranton, this year’s volunteer chairman, announced that the JDC has 1,750 volunteers ready to go for a worthy cause.

Last year’s JDC raised $8.7 million that was dispersed among over 500 local charities. (In its 45-year history the tourney’s charity donations have topped $71 million).

An impact study conducted last year by sponsor John Deere and Western Illinois University determined that the tournament added over $54 million to the Quad Cities economy and this will be another big year, Olympics or not.

As for the golf, the JDC field won’t have Jordan Spieth – and his absence won’t go unnoticed. It won’t go unnoticed at Brazil, either. On JDC media day, just as tournament director Clair Peterson was about to address the assembled writers and broadcasters, The Golf Channel announced that Spieth had decided against going to Brazil. The gathering immediately grew silent, wondering if the JDC’s two-time champion might defend his title after all.

Spieth quickly put an end to that line of thought, saying he didn’t think his playing in a tournament opposite the Olympics would be “appropriate.’’ For Spieth that was the right decision.

For many others bypassing the Olympics, though, such a stance might not work. Brendon de Jonge, for instance, could have played for his native Zimbabwe in Brazil. Instead he withdrew himself from Olympic consideration citing “job security.’’ The Zika virus wasn’t the overriding factor for him. He wants to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and a player must be in the top 125 on the point list to make it.

The JDC will have two of its longstanding stars in Johnson and three-time winner Steve Stricker, who is coming off a surprising fourth place finish in the British Open. Other early commitments came from former major championship winners Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and David Toms.

Other commits among players who have won events on the PGA Tour in the last two years came from Ben Crane, Chesson Hadley, J.J. Henry, Billy Hurley III, Pater Malnati, Troy Merritt, Seung-Yul Noh, John Senden, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Brian Stuard, Vaughn Taylor, Nick Taylor and Brendon Todd.

With a purse of $4.8 million, a first-place prize of $864,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points on the line, the tourney is well worth playing with the lucractive Playoffs closing in.

“We’re pleased and excited about the players who have committed to play in this year’s tournament,’’ said Peterson. “Because of the compressed nature of this year’s PGA Tour schedule we know many other players will make their decisions closer to the tournament.’’

For starters, though, the JDC was given five sponsor exemptions for the seeming inconvenience of being scheduled opposite the Olympics. Two of the first five – NCAA champion Aaron Wise of Oregon and Charlie Danielson, the Big Ten player of the year from Illinois – attended media day.

The other three had good reasons for not being there. Jordan Niebrugge was competing at the British Open, having secured a spot off his sixth-place finish there the previous year, and Lee McCoy and Jon Rahm were taking advantage of sponsor’s exemptions to the Barbasol Championship, the PGA Tour stop played opposite the British. The JDC invite will give them another early start on golf’s premier circuit.

“We have a long history of introducing our golf fans to that next great class,’’ said Peterson, citing Johnson, Spieth, Justin Thomas, Camilo Villegas, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Lucas Glover, Webb Simpson and Bill Haas as those “young players coming out of college that we were able to help kick-start their careers.’’

That’s an impressive list, and Wise and Danielson were most appreciative.

“The John Deere is going to be an incredible opportunity,’’ said Wise. “For us to get an exemption into a PGA Tour event is awesome. It’s what we need; it’s what we work towards.’’

“I’m just trying to play as much good golf as I can before Q-school,’’ said Danielson. “It’s just about staying fresh, staying competitive and getting ready to go get my card.’’

He expects to start his first pro season on the Web.com Tour “unless something spectacular happens.’’ Danielson shouldn’t be ruling that out. After all, the slogan for the John Deere is “Magic Starts Here.’’ It has for many players in the past and certainly could for him, Wise and the other young stars who will gather with an array of seasoned professionals at TPC Deere Run for pre-tournament activities starting on Aug. 8.

Any U.S. Open at Oakmont has a special meaning to me

It’s that time of year again. The U.S. Opens – for both the men and women – always dominate the golf world during the month of June and 2016 is no exception.

Both tournaments are huge in terms of participants and historical significance. They are also organizational monsters for the U.S. Golf Association, which conducts both championships.

The men’s 116th U.S. Open this year has a sentimental side for me. The site for the finals from June 16-19 is Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. That was the site of the first of the 27 U.S. Opens that I covered back in 1973, and it remains one of the most historically significant. Champion Johnny Miller’s 63 in the final round that year matches the lowest round posted at any major championship. I was also on hand for a U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont – Patty Sheehan’s playoff win over Juli Inkster in 1992.

Oakmont has long been a fixture in the U.S. Open’s informal rotation. It’ll host the finals for a record ninth time this year, the previous ones coming in 1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994 and 2007.

This year’s entry numbers are impressive, but not of record proportions. The men’s field numbered 9,877, and the registrants came from all 50 states and 72 foreign countries, but the total didn’t approach the record 10,127 that signed up in 2014 when both the men’s and women’s finals were played at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.

This year’s 71st annual U.S. Women’s Open drew 1,855 entrants, 18 shy of the record set in 2015 when the finals were also in Pennsylvania – at Lancaster Country Club.

Just to enter a player has to be a designated professional or have a handicap index of 1.4 for men or 2.4 for women. The women registrants this year came from 48 states – only Alaska and Wyoming are not represented – and 52 countries. Interestingly, the first and last women to enter were foreigners. Sweden professional Johanna Gustavsson was the first to sign up, on March 9, and Canadian pro Maude-Aimee LeBlanc was the last. She beat the May 4 deadline by 20 minutes.

On the men’s side, the first entrant was a Florida amateur, 33-year old Anthony Monica, and the last a 48-year old Pittsburgh pro, Gordon Vietmeier. He got in 33 seconds before the entry deadline.

Unfortunately Chicago hasn’t been a site for the finals since 2003, when Olympia Fields hosted Jim Furyk’s win on the men’s side. The women last came in 2000, when Karrie Wood was the champion at the Merit Club. No future Opens are scheduled in these parts either, though the 2017 men’s version is at not-so-far-away Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

The Chicago area is not without a presence in golf’s biggest tournaments, however. Though the USGA again bypassed Chicago for a men’s sectional qualifier there were three local qualifiers in Illinois – at Village Links of Glen Ellyn and Illini Country Club in Springfield on May 9 and Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park on May 16.

Local qualifiers aren’t needed on the women’s side, but one of the 21 U.S. sectional sites was Oak Park Country Club on May 23.

The fact that both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open can’t be confined to June anymore reflects just how big both events have become. First of the 111 men’s local qualifiers was back on May 2 and the finals of the Women’s Open had to be pushed back into July. They’ll be held July 7-10 at CordeValle in California.

Another indication of the huge scope of the U.S. Opens in the age span of the entrants, particularly on the women’s side. The youngest was 11-year old Xiaowen Ying of China and the oldest was 73-year old Jerilyn Britz, the tourney’s 1979 champion. Britz, though, may not tee it up. She hasn’t played in the tournament since 1991 when she missed the cut at Colonial, in Texas.

Still another indication of the broad scope of these championships is the broadcast schedule. Fox will provide over 40 hours of live coverage of the U.S. Open and the tourney will be shown in more than 170 countries through international broadcast partners.

The first U.S. Open in 1895 was played over just 36 holes on a nine-hole course in Rhode Island. It drew only 11 entrants. The first U.S. Women’s Open in 1946 was a match play event — the only time that format was used in either U.S. Open — but it required a 36-hole qualifying session to whittle the entries from 39 to 32.

Golf has come a long, long way since those humble beginnings for its biggest men’s and women’s championships. There was no PGA or LPGA tours when the first Opens were played. Keep all that in mind while you enjoy these always specials events over the next few weeks.

Could Mistwood’s playing staff be the best in the U.S.?

Mistwood director of golf Andy Mickelson said it, almost without any hesitation.

“I’d be bold enough to say that we could put our playing staff against any in the country,’’ Mickelson told me.

And I couldn’t argue with him.

Mistwood owner Jim McWethy has a big staff of teaching pros in Romeoville and their playing resumes are impressive entering the first big month of the competitive season in the Chicago area.

Start with Mickelson. He won the PGA Assistants national championship in November on the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL., and then proved that was no fluke by winning the TaylorMade national championship at Pebble Beach in March.

Brian Brodell, the director of junior development, is the reigning Illinois PGA Player of the Year and he’ll be out to repeat beginning this month at the 65th IPGA Match Play Championship at Kemper Lakes. That’s the biggest of the May tournaments and the event where Brodell got his big season in 2015 off to a great start. He finished as the runner-up to Merit Club’s Jim Billiter in that one.

But the Mistwood staff is deeper than those two. Chris Ioriatti, performance specialist, shot a record 63 over his home course last year, then teamed up with Mickelson to win the IPGA’s Fall Pro-Assistants title in 2015 and its Spring Pro-Assistants title this year.

And John Platt’s no slouch, either. Mistwood’s director of instruction and long-time coach at the high school and college level, frequently contends in the IPGA Senior tournaments. Brodell, Platt and Ioriatti are well-decorated as teachers and/or coaches but they can play, too.

“We have such a great staff,’’ said Mickelson. “We all motivate each other. That creates a culture people are attracted to; they’re attracted to good golf.’’

Mickelson is the best of the lot at the moment, but is no threat to Brodell’s bid to repeat as IPGA Player of the Year. Mickelson’s status with the PGA of America doesn’t qualify him for either the IPGA Match Play or IPGA Championship – two of the section’s four major tournaments.

While that precludes him from becoming Player of the Year, it doesn’t keep him out of big national events. Last year he won $24,000 with his victories in the PGA Assistants and TaylorMade Championships.

“Of all the club pros, that was probably the hottest six months any of them had,’’ said Mickelson, who could cash in again this November. He will be the only club pro in the Pebble Beach Invitational for TaylorMade’s players on the PGA, LPGA, European and Champions Tours.

Mickelson had a slow start as a professional player. He had no notable amateur wins before turning pro after college, and started as an assistant to then head man Visanu Tongwarin at Mistwood. When he was offered a promising job outside of golf at a Lisle packaging company Mickelson took it and regained his amateur status.

He was runner-up to Bloomington’s Kyle English in the 2011 Chicago District Amateur at Medinah before being lured back into golf via an offer from Mistwood general manager Dan Bradley. Mickelson returned to the club’s staff but it wasn’t until last year that his game exploded. Still, Mickelson — now 34 — has no intention of becoming a touring player.

“With my confidence level and where my game’s at I think I would make money at the professional level,’’ he said, “but not at this place in my life. I have a 4-year old and a 6-year old and I’m married, plus this (Mistwood) is a great place.’’

Brodell’s story is quite different. The son of a club professional in Appleton, Wis., he played college golf at Wisconsin and was the assistant coach for the Badgers for four seasons. Then he moved on to Purdue as an assistant coach for three more campaigns. He came to Mistwood two years ago in part to deal with some personal issues and has thrived on both the teaching and playing front.

“ There’s a difference between being a teacher and a coach,’’ he said. “I love to compete, and I’m confident in my ability. I’ve been through the demons of missing four-footers.’’

Playing-wise, though, he’ll compete just as he did last year – strictly in the IPGA events. Teaching will come first, and his pupils range in age from seven to 69, but Brodell will join Mickelson and Ioriatti in weekly playing sessions with members. The staff hotshots rarely play together, and Brodell won’t go far to play in tournaments, either.

“I won’t travel, but I might caddie a bit,’’ he said. One place he might do that is in the Rust-Oleum Championship, the Web.com Tour stop coming to Ivanhoe Club from June 6-12. Brodell isn’t looking at himself as a player in that event.

“If the Illinois PGA got an exemption for its Player of the Year and I could give it to anyone, I’d give it to Andy,’’ said Brodell. “He’s playing that well right now. I think I could make the cut, but Andy could win.’’

For now, at least, Brodell’s tournament aspirations are geared toward the IPGA Match Play Championship. That event helped his Player of the Year bid last year, but the loss to Billiter in the final remains a bad memory.

“I had won a lot of close matches, then (Billiter) hit one of his worst shots on the 21st hole. It went in the water, and that left the tournament for me to win,’’ said Brodell.

He couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, though. Brodell had his own problems at Kemper Lakes’ 171-yard par-3 third hole, struggling in with a double bogey. That allowed Billiter to win the match and title with just a bogey.

Player of the Year wasn’t decided until six months later, however, and Billiter contributed to Brodell’s victory, citing club commitments for not playing in either the Illinois Open or IPGA Players Championship. Billiter also won the IPGA Championship, and those are the four events offering the most Player of the Year points.

Brodell didn’t win any of the four IPGA majors but picked up points in all of them. He tied for 12th in the Illinois Open, tied for 28th in the IPGA Championship and tied for third in the IPGA Players Championship. His Player of the Year award was just another reason for the Mistwood crew to celebrate.

Mickelson’s two big wins and the completion of McWethy’s nine-year facility-wide renovation plans also made for happy times at the club, and the celebrating doesn’t figure to end there just yet.