Now it’s time to look ahead to big events at Medinah, Whistling Straits

Is there a more beautiful par-3 anywhere than No. 7 at Whistling Straits?

Usually columns for the final issue of a season are used for look-backs at the high (and sometimes – low) points of the goings-on in the previous spring and summer months. This year I’ve coaxed Chicagoland Golf publisher Val Russell into indulging my preference to move in another direction.

Rather than looking back at the Chicago golf season of 2018 I’m going to look ahead – to two events in particular. Sometimes anticipation turns out more exciting than the event itself. I doubt that’ll happen this time but upcoming events at Medinah and Whistling Straits merit attention well in advance.

Once the last putt drops in the BMW Championship at Aronimink in the Philadelphia area, on Sept. 9, Medinah will go on the clock as the site for the FedEx Cup Playoff tournament in 2019.

And, once the last putt drops in the Ryder Cup matches at LeGolf National in France on Sept. 30, Whistling Straits will be on the clock as the host for the 2020 matches in Wisconsin.

Given the Chicago golf tournament calendar of the last three years, a look-back column might sound bittersweet. There won’t be any U.S. Opens, NCAA Championships, major events on the LPGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions or an inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open to captivate enthusiasm during the cold-weather months as there has been in the recent past. In fact, none of those biggies are scheduled in the Chicago area in the foreseeable future.

There won’t be a Western Amateur in the area for the next two years, either, and the Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship appears unlikely to return at this point.

Sounds like a downer? Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. The 2019 BMW Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup are big-time, historical attractions on world-renowned courses and they’re not all that far in the future.

Medinah last hosted a big event in 2012, when the Ryder Cup was played on its famed No. 3 course, and the American side went down to a crushing defeat with a disastrous showing in the singles matches on the final day. This time Medinah will be in play for the first BMW Championship played in August – it had been a September attraction until the PGA Tour revamped its schedule for 2019 – and there’s some uncertainty about the event’s future as well. The tourney’s sponsorship agreement concludes after the tournament at Medinah, and the Western Golf Association hasn’t announced sites for the event after 2019.

The Ryder Cup made its appearance at Whistling Straits two years before the main event.

As for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, a tournament two years down the road may seem too far off to think about now, but that shouldn’t be the case. The staff at Whistling Straits is well into the planning stages, based on our visit to Kohler, Wis., last month. Kohler is just a two-hour drive, so it’s pretty much a home game for Chicago golfers. They turned out in droves for the three PGA Championships, two U.S. Women’s Opens and one U.S. Senior Open played there.

There is also one most notable difference between the Whistling Straits Ryder Cup and those in the recent past. Whistling Straits is the first public course to host the event since South Carolina’s Kiawah Island welcomed the matches in 1991. That means that all golfers will have the opportunity to play the course that hosts the Ryder Cup – something that hasn’t happened in a long time. It should mean big business in Kohler, both leading into and immediately after the Ryder Cup comes to town.

Kohler’s pro shops and gift shops are already stocked with merchandise bearing the logo of the 2020 Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup itself was brought by as part of a nation-wide tour on Aug. 22 and more preview events will be held during and immediately after this year’s matches in Paris.

Director of golf Mike O’Reilly has no doubts Whistling Straits will be ready for its first Ryder Cup.

“It’s not like the Ryder Cup is our first rodeo – just our first Ryder rodeo,’’ said Mike O’Reilly, director of golf operations at both Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. He grew up in Darien and went to Downers South High School prior to beginning a 10-year run in Kohler as head golf professional in 2013. In addition to his present role with the Kohler courses O’Reilly is also on the executive committee for the 2020 Ryder Cup.

“The planning process for the Ryder Cup is similar to our PGA Championships, but everything is amplified,’’ said O’Reilly. “The number of volunteers needed is bigger. The number of spectators we can expect is bigger. The demand for tickets is elevated. While the number of people that will be here won’t be much bigger (than for the last PGA Championship in 2015), the demand for tickets will be much bigger. Unfortunately several thousand who want to purchase a ticket won’t be able to do that because the demand is so much greater.’’

In case you’ve forgotten what Ryder Cup fever was like prior to Medinah’s year as the host site, tickets to the matches don’t go on sale. The recipients are determined via a lottery. Those who want to be on hand for the action can file an interest form on line, and attendance will be limited to 40,000 to 45,000 per day. That was roughly the same size gallery as attended at Medinah and Minnesota’s Hazeltine layout – the last American site for the matches in 2016. Ticket prices haven’t been announced for the shootout at Whistling Straits.

The uncertainty of the lottery aside, the biggest problem for 2020 Ryder Cup patrons will be finding lodging. There’s more available than there was for the 2015 PGA Championship but, O’Reilly admits, “there’s certainly not enough.’’

“People will stay in roughly a one-hour radius and private home rentals will be off the charts for the Ryder Cup,’’ said O’Reilly. “What helps is that here you can park on site. You’re not taking a bus to the course. That’s a big advantage.’’

One Kohler attraction that won’t be at the Ryder Cup is the 22 black-faced Irish sheep that have roamed the fairways at Whistling Straights and the adjoining Irish Course. They’ll be removed for the Ryder Cup. Otherwise, it’ll be all systems go come 2020.

“The Ryder Cup will be one of the biggest sporting events in Wisconsin ever,’’ said O’Reilly. We’re trying to get as many people involved as possible.’’

The 22 sheep that have roamed Whistling Straits won’t be around when the Ryder Cup comes to town.

PGA Tour schedule for 2018-19 will require some fresh thinking

I did enough venting about this year’s tournament schedule in our last issue. Then – wouldn’t you know it? – the PGA Tour made its plans for the 2018-19 wrap-around season official. There’s lots of food for thought when you analyze that one.

Just knowing the PGA Tour dates isn’t enough to project how our next golf season will be received. The schedules for the USGA, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions, Tour and local attractions organized by the Western Golf Association, Illinois PGA and CDGA have to be factored in as well.

Still, having the schedule for the world’s premier tour available well in advance is most helpful and – from the overall standpoint – I like what I see. Locally I’m not so sure.

The key dates for Chicago area fans are July 8-14 for the John Deere Classic and August 12-18 for the BMW Championship. Despite massive shuffling of the PGA Tour schedule, the JDC remained in its spot the week before the British Open. While not every tournament organizer would be happy with that place on the calendar, it’s worked out well for the JDC.

Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director, had a stroke of genius back in 2008 that is still paying big dividends. Rather than make the expected increase in prize money back then Peterson opted to hire a jet that would take players directly from the JDC to the British Open site. That enhanced the players’ view of the tournament and Peterson has continued with that offering every year since then.

Quad Cities was always a friendly place for the pros during tournament week and now – if indeed they wanted to go to the British – they could make the trip with less travel hassles and for a greatly reduced rate. Suddenly the John Deere Classic looked a lot more attractive. Louis Oosthuizen even opted to play there immediately prior to making his British title defense in 2011.

Now for the BMW Championship, the situation isn’t so rosy. The event remains a part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, though the season-ending series has been reduced from four tournaments to three. The BMW is the second one, when the survivors will again be whittled from 70 to 30 for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, in Atlanta.

The BMW, scheduled for Aronimink in Philadelphia this September, returns to the Chicago area at Medinah No. 3 in 2019. Chicago’s best tournament venue last hosted a PGA Tour event when the Ryder Cup matches were played there in 2012. A return to Medinah is always nice, though the club’s membership isn’t thrilled about losing at least of week of play on their top layout during the busiest part of its golf season. The club agreed to host the tournament when it was held in September.

Also, not to be ignored, is the fact that BMW’s contract to sponsor the tournament concludes after the 2019 event. As of this printing there’s no hint of a contract extension being in the works, and the Western Golf Association has no site booked beyond Medinah.

Chicago clubs willing to give up their course in August won’t be as plentiful as the number that would be agreeable in the fall. So, the event is somewhat in limbo.

Also a cause for concern is the status of the PGA Championship. It’ll end its long fall run at Bellerive in St. Louis this month, then move up to May 13-19 in 2019. The move will help the PGA (my prediction, though not all pundits agree) in the form of visibility but May dates will also make it difficult to get that major championship back to Chicago – or any place in the Midwest –in future years. Why would the PGA want to risk scheduling its premier event in an area with dubious spring weather?

In its fall dates the PGA has been the one major that has been receptive to coming to Midwest venues. In addition to Bellerive, that tournament was played twice at Medinah since 1999 and also had two stagings at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in that period. In case you didn’t know, no major championship (USGA, PGA of America, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions) has been scheduled in Chicago in the future. Last month’s Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor will most likely be the last for quite awhile – and that’s a shame.

While other tournament dates for next year haven’t been announced, the closest major will be the U.S. Senior Open, which is scheduled for the Warren Course in South Bend. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, played at Chicago area courses (Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes) the last two years is headed for Hazeltine, in Minnesota, in 2019.

Getting back to the PGA Tour, the schedule will have only 46 tournaments compared to the 49 in the 2017-18 campaign. There’ll be two new evens in the Midwest, both in the two weeks leading into the John Deere Classic. Detroit finally gets back on the circuit with the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club from June 24-30 and the Minneapolis area gets still another boost to its golf profile with the 3M Open coming to the Twin Cities from July 1-7. This season the area had a Champions Tour event under that sponsorship.

The main goal of the revamped schedule was to enhance attention on the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Now, instead of September, they’ll be completed on Aug. 25. That means the climax to the golf season won’t be encumbered by competition for attention from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the Stanley Cup or NBA playoffs.

Golf’s majors will also be better spread out in the new schedule. The Players Championship, which should have been designated a major years ago, will move back to March and Florida weather should be acceptable that early in the year. Then there’s a major a month – the Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and British Open in July. That’s an ideal lead-in to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

And, there will still be tournament golf played after those playoffs. The PGA Tour slate for 2019-20 will begin a week or two after the President’s Cup (not yet officially scheduled) is played.

Golf has proven to be a tonic for this Parkinson’s sufferer

Gary Smith, by his own admission, is not a champion golfer but his golf story is well worth telling. Tim Rosaforte, a long-time friend of mine who works for The Golf Channel, told it first as a TV feature. Now it’s my turn.

Smith is a Naperville resident, but I met him at the International Network of Golf’s Spring Conference in Biloxi, Miss., in May. He was a featured speaker there and provided a compelling report on what golf has done for him.

In short, golf served as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease. That’s a neurodegenerative brain disorder that has very negative life-changing effects for its victims. Smith was diagnosed with it in 2008, but suspects he had symptoms as many as five years before that. His father had died of the disease the same year that Gary was diagnosed with it and his father had battled it for 22 years. Gradually the disease took its told on Smith as well.

“My life was really getting dark,’’ he said. “My dexterity was gone. I had tremors. I was walking very slowly. My voice was wispy. Basically my life was not good.’’

He lost most of his ability to smell and taste. He felt strange aches and pains and his energy level was dropping off. He was barely able to walk his daughter Morgan down the aisle at her 2010 marriage.

This was especially painful, given the active lifestyle Smith had led prior to the devastating diagnosis. He played basketball and baseball in high school and college and was a skydiver for 20 years. He once para-glided off a 3,800-foot cliff in New Zealand. In his fifties he was a surfer and ran a marathon on his 55th birthday in 2011.

Married with three children, Smith had worked as a psychotherapist, then took on a second career as a loan officer. He continued to work for seven years after getting his Parkinson’s diagnosis before retiring on his 60th birthday in 2015. He wanted to play more golf then, mainly because his wife Nan liked to play the game.

Smith tried other forms of exercise, and some would work for a while, but he came to the realization that “everything goes slow.’’

“My kids said `Please don’t quit’ and I kept looking for exercises,’’ said Smith. “My son said I should go to TopGolf.’’

That fast-growing franchise has a facility in Naperville, and Smith hit lots of golf balls there – up to 1,000 a week.

When Smith turned 60 he and Nan took a trip to Scotland, and she encouraged him to play a round at the famous Old Course at St. Andrews. Using rental clubs, he got through that round and was inspired by the experience. That led to more sessions at TopGolf when they returned to Naperville.

“When we got back there was some freakish weather, temperatures in the 50s,’’ he said. “I started walking (in rounds at Naperbrook and Springbrook, Naperville’s public courses). I was confused. I felt good because I was walking. But it wore me out.’’

Eventually the Parkinson’s symptoms went away. After five weeks he could walk more upright and actually stride, rather then just shuffle his feet. His right foot and arm had been stiff. They started to loosen up. He could type with his right hand again and manage facial expressions. His voice got stronger, too.

Now 63, he usually walks his 18-hole rounds and has done as many as 36 holes in a day. His handicap also dropped from 24 to 10.

Initially Smith felt his “recovery’’ wasn’t the real thing, just a carryover from the St. Andrews experience. His neurologist, Dr. Martha McGraw at Northwestern Medicine Center DuPage Hospital in Winfield, had her doubts as well until Smith demonstrated his regained walking ability at her office.

She declared him back to his pre-Parkinson’s fitness level. Though Smith couldn’t understand his recovery either, he was determined to take his message to others who suffer from the disease. He’s trying to raise money for the Parkinson’s Foundation to fund a scientific study on the potential benefits of golf for Parkinson’s patients.

While he’s thankful for his improved health, Smith still has concerns his old symptoms might return.

“Every day I wake up I just wonder if this will wear off,’’ he said, “but so far, so good.’’

We will all have to deal with `THE BIG CONFLICT’

This is my 50th year reporting on the Chicago golf scene and I can assure you there has never been a month like the one confronting us this July. There have been busy tournaments times in the past, but never anything like what’s coming in the next few days.

I’m calling the whole scenario “The Big Conflict,’’ and I’m not happy about it.

Everything kicks in during the second week of July, but especially on Thursday, July 12. That’s the starting day of competition for the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

That’s also the day that the Constellation Senior Players Championship tees off at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. This is one of the five major championships on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. It’s a big deal.

And that’s not all. The inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open starts its 72-hole run at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton on July 12 as well.

Three very big tournaments, all of them played over the same four-day period. The John Deere Classic is the only annual PGA Tour stop in Illinois with Bryson DeChambeau coming in as the defending champion with $5.8 million in prize money on the line.

The Constellation Senior Players Championship is the first major on the 50-and-over circuit played in the Chicago area since the U.S. Senior Open was contested at Olympia Fields in 1997. With no other major championships on any tour scheduled in the Chicago area this could be the last chance to see the Champions Tour’s dominant player, Bernhard Langer, and Chicago’s own Jeff Sluman compete on home turf.

And the U.S. Senior Women’s Open – a long-awaited and long overdue event organized by the U.S. Golf Association – means a chance to see legends like Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon, Jane Blalock and Betsy King in competition again. Plus, the tournament offers a rare opportunity for spectators to get inside the gates of the North America’s oldest 18-hole golf course. Chicago Golf Club last opened its doors to spectators for the 2005 Walker Cup matches.

While Chicago Golf Club is old – it dates back to 1892 – the tournament that it will soon host is the USGA’s newest national championship. It’ll have 120 of the best women players who have reached the 50th birthday. They’ll be playing on the same course that hosted three U.S. Opens (1897, 1900 and 1911), four U.S. Amateurs (1897, 1905, 1909 and 1912), the 1903 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1979 U.S. Senior Amateur. It was only fitting that Chicago Golf Club be the site for the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open. It’s just too bad that the tournament will have to share the spotlight when it’s here.

The only time I can recall anything close to this weird bit of scheduling was in 1975, when the USGA and PGA Tour opted to schedule big tournaments back-to-back. The U.S. Open was played at Medinah one week and the late, great Western Open was contested the following week at Butler National in Oak Brook.

Such high-profile events were never scheduled so close together in the same geographical area back then. It was simply taboo. There were concerns then that golf interest – including that of potential sponsors – would wane if tournament play was stretched out too far.

As things turned out, there was only a minimal break in the action then. The ’75 U.S. Open carried over to Monday, with Lou Graham beating John Mahaffey in a playoff to decide the title. Three days later Hale Irwin started his run to the Western title on one of the most difficult courses in the country.

Somehow, that glut of golf 43 years ago worked out okay. In fact, it was the start of big things for Irwin. He earned the moniker of “Mr. Chicago’’ as he went on to win the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah in the tourney’s first-ever sudden death playoff against Mike Donald and then captured the Ameritech Senior Open three times. That tourney was a fixture in Chicago back then, with Irwin winning in 1995 at Stonebridge in Aurora and 1998 and 1999 at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer.

This year’s strange scheduling is a little different than that of 1975. In any other year any one of those three tournaments would be considered the highlight of the Chicago golf season. This year, I’m afraid, the interest in each one will be diluted.

Frankly I’d like to see every round of all three tournaments, but obviously I can’t. You can’t be in two – or three – places at once. As of this writing – a few weeks before the firing begins on July 12 – I don’t know where I’ll be or when. But I guarantee you I’ll be keeping tabs on all of those events.

Unfortunately, after “The Big Conflict’’ is over a smaller version will begin. On July 16, the day after the John Deere Classic, Constellation Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Women’s Open all wrap up, the focus shifts to state competitions.

The Illinois Women’s Open begins at Mistwood, in Romeoville, the day after “The Big Conflict’’ and the day after that the Illinois State Amateur tees off at Bloomington Country Club. Both are three-day tournaments, the IWO ending on Wednesday, July 18, and the State Am on Thursday, July 19.

When all is said and done there’ll be eight consecutive days of very meaningful tournament golf at both the professional and amateur levels. Multiple tournaments will be played on seven of those eight days.

Obviously the schedule-makers from the various golf organizations could have done a better job communicating with each other in choosing dates for their 2018 championships. While tournament conflicts are sometimes inevitable, this year’s scenario defies the imagination.

There’s no point in getting into the blame game on this issue. The tournaments will all be played on the dates announced, and they’ll all be good. I just hope we never have to go through something like “The Big Conflict’’ again.

Mistwood, Kemper Lakes host big women’s tourneys at the same time

It’s a shame, it really is.

In the biggest year ever for women’s golf in the Chicago area the biggest women’s professional tournament and the biggest women’s amateur event will be played on virtually the same dates.

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is June 26 to July 1 at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. It’s one of the five annual majors for women on the Ladies PGA Tour. The Women’s Western Amateur, a national championship that’s been played for 117 years, is June 26 to 30 at Mistwood in Romeoville.

Mistwood is the first public facility to host the tournament since 2007 when another Illinois layout, Stone Creek in Urbana, was the site. Stone Creek also hosted in 2003 and two other public courses – The Links at North Fork in Minnesota and Purdue University’s Kampen Course in Indiana – have also been the tournament’s venue since 1995.

As for this year, there are other key dates for the top women players within the Chicago area. The Illinois Women’s State Amateur is June 11-14 at Aldeen, in Rockford. The Illinois Women’s Open is July 16-18, also at Mistwood, and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open is July 12-15 at historic Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton.

Unfortunately the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is impacted by scheduling conflicts every bit as unfortunate as those impacting the Women’s Western Amateur. Also holding dates on July 12-15 are the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, in downstate Silvis, Ill., and the Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of the five majors on PGA Tour Champions, at Exmoor in Highland Park.

Still, that’s a great load of fine women’s golf, so there’s no sense belaboring the poor scheduling. It’s way too late to change anything anyway, but it’s an ideal time to focus on the Women’s Western Amateur. This venerable championship is in a state of flux – and that’s not to suggest it’s a bad thing.

The Mistwood staging marks the end of an era. The 2019 tournament will be the first time the Western Golf Association and Women’s Western Golf Association have formally worked together on a tournament in over 100 years. The WGA was the initial sponsor of the Women’s Western Amateur in 1901, before the women organized their own association in 1903.

That’s not to say they haven’t worked together since then. The WGA has provided administrative support to WWGA championships since 2012. The Women’s Western Golf Foundation was founded in 1971 and has distributed more than $4.1 million scholarship awards to over 700 young women from 45 states and 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.

Effective on Aug. 1, 2018, however, the WGA and WWGA are forming a partnership in which the WGA will formally assist in managing WWGA championships.

“Having their help will have such a positive impact,’’ said Susan Wagner, who has served the WWGA in many capacities non-stop since 1977. “We’re looking forward to working with the Western.’’

This is a transition year, though. There’s no doubt about that. The Women’s Western Amateur is undergoing a format change, the first that Wagner can recall since the format for the championship match was changed from 18 to 36 holes in 1992. It’s being made in part to set the stage for 2019.

For the first staging at Mistwood the tournament will be limited to 120 players, based on the lowest handicap index. Last year the field was limited to 144 players.

As per previous years there’ll be a 36-hole qualifying session spread over two days to determine the match play qualifiers. In previous years the low 64 qualifiers went to match play. This year the number will be only 32, and there will be playoffs if there are ties for the 32nd position.

In previous years the players who didn’t qualify for the championship flight of match play would be flighted into lower level flights. This year there will be only the one flight. How well that will be received by the players remains to be seen but it does more closely resemble the format used in the Western Amateur men’s event that will be played at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, from July 30 to August 4.

In the Women’s Western Amateur there will be three days of match play with two rounds on both Thursday and Friday, June 28 and 29, leading into the 36-hole championship match on Saturday, June 30.

The field will be stellar, as usual. Maddie Szeryk, last year’s winner, will not defend her title. She will be playing in the Ladies British Open in England instead, but her sister Ellie will be competing at Mistwood.

With the entry deadline still days away the field already included at least four prominent Chicago players – 2017 semifinalist Nicole Ciskowski, 2016 Western Junior champion Kate Lillie and 2016 Western Junior runner-up Penelope Tir. Jessica Yuen, who developed a solid game growing up at Mistwood and competing for Nequa Valley High School, will also be in the field. She is now a sophomore standout at the University of Missouri.

Another player to watch is 57-year old Ellen Port, the women’s coach at the University of Washington and a former WWGA director. She has won seven U.S. Golf Association championships. Players from 15 states and eight countries were among the early entries.

While nothing is official the 2019 Women’s Western Amateur is expected to be played again in the Chicago area, at a course to be determined.

In case you missed it, there are other indications that Chicago is becoming a hotbed for women’s golf. Both Illinois and Northwestern earned berths in the NCAA Division I tournament and Elizabeth Szokol, a Winnetka resident who attended Northwestern for two years before transferring to Virginia, won a tournament on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour.

Szokol, in the second tournament of her second season on the Symetra circuit, earned $22,500 for her victory in the IOA Invitational in Georgia. Szokol is the first Chicago area player to win a Symetra Tour event since the circuit was designated as the official developmental tour of the LPGA in 1999.

KPMG Women’s PGA will be Kemper’s biggest event in 29 years

This spring has not been business as usual at Kemper Lakes. The Kildeer club, which had been a tournament hotbed for more than two decades before going private, has been a busy place again even during the period when snow delayed the traditional start of spring.

That’s what happens when a club takes on a major championship. Kemper will host its biggest tournament in 29 years when the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship activities begin on June 26. The four tournament rounds in the $3,650,000 championship are June 28 through July 1.

It’ll be the third of the five designated major championships for the Ladies PGA Tour in 2018. The ANA Inspiration was played in April in Rancho Mirage, Calif., with Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg winning the title in a three-way playoff with South Korean Inbee Park and American Jennifer Song. The U.S. Women’s Open runs May 31 through June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama.

After the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship comes the Ricoh Women’s British Open from Aug. 2-5 in Lancashire, England, and The Evian Championship from Sept. 13-16 in France. The U.S. Women’s Open is the oldest of the five majors, having been first played in 1950, and it has the biggest purse at $5 million.

The KPMG dates back to 1955 when it was know as the LPGA Championship. The ANA Inspiration started in 1983, the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2001 and The Evian Championship in 2013.

Before that the designated women’s majors included the Titleholders, which was last played in 1972; the Women’s Western Open, which bowed out in 1967; and the duMaurier Classic, which ended its run in 2000.

Last year, in a scheduling rarity, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was played at Olympia Fields in Chicago’s south suburbs. Other than the Masters, a major championship is rarely played in the same area two years in a row. That’s what’s happening with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, however.

Just this man’s opinion, but the tournament will be bigger and better in the move to the north. For one thing, Kemper’s membership is excited about the club’s return to the world spotlight after being away from it for too long. The only bigger event ever held at Kemper was the men’s PGA Championship in 1989.

Last year’s tourney at Olympia Fields came out just fine, but hosting big tournaments is old hat for that club. Kemper’s membership will benefit from last year’s experience at Olympia because many could view what went on there first hand. It’s certain to be a great show with the club receiving long-term benefits from it.

The 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be contested at Hazeltine, the Minnesota course that hosted the last Ryder Cup matches and also was the site of multiple U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. That means a profile boost for Kemper Lakes, which will be joining some select company in hosting this year’s tourney.

Acting together, Kemper’s members made one decision that will spice up this year’s event. They decided to give a name to their course’s three-hole finishing stretch – certainly the most difficult on the Chicago golf scene and one of the toughest stretches in the country.

On the men’s PGA Tour side there are plenty of courses with catchy names for their most prominent holes. Augusta National has its Amen Corner. PGA National has its Bear Trap. Innisbrook’s Copperhead has its Snake Pit. Now Kemper Lakes has The Gauntlet. It encompasses the par-4 16th (which has my vote as the most difficult hole on the course), the short 17th (a par-3 with an island green) and the sharp dogleg left par-4 at No. 18. – a good hole for viewing throughout.

Club officials asked for suggestions to name the fearsome finishing stretch, then the list was narrowed to three or four for a members’ vote. The Gauntlet won out, and a big rock has been put near the No. 16 tee to mark the start of it. More decorations will be forthcoming.

“But the whole course is really challenging,’’ said head professional Jim Billiter, the reigning Illinois PGA Player of the Year. “The ladies will love it.’’

Though none have visited Kemper Lakes yet, some may have an inkling of what lies ahead because the tournament staff – headed by tournament director Jackie Endsley and head of operations Eric Nuxhol – have been working out of a trailer in the club parking lot for several months. Bleachers, merchandise and food tents and other on-course necessities will be constructed beginning in late May.

Billiter’s lifestyle also took on a new look because of the tournament. As an assistant pro at Merit Club in Libertyville he got a taste of what tournament preparations required when the UL International Crown – an LPGA team competition – was played there in 2016. The Crown was a new event, and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is on a much bigger scale.

Whereas winter golf trips were commonplace for Billiter in past years, he couldn’t leave town much this time.

“It’s been a lot of work buying items for the merchandise tent,’’ he said. “We want to do well. We want to make money for the club and the members and put on a good show for KPMG, and we’re ahead of the game.’’

He fears that the time spent on preparation for the KPMG tourney might negatively impact his title defense in the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship, which will be played at Kemper from May 7-10.

“This winter I was tied up a bit,’’ he said. “In years past I made up to six trips in the winter, with members or for tournament series. This year I made just one, so my (playing) expectations aren‘t as high for this year. Still, this has been a fun, learning experience.’’

The tournament will be fun, too, as it will bring the best women golfers in the world back to Chicago. Former champions include Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Jan Stephenson, Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam.

Last year Danielle Kang captured her first title at Olympia Fields, which proves that a big name doesn’t always win this big tournament. Let the firing begin.

Here’s what’s good — and bad — about the Chicago tournament schedule in 2018

I don’t know that Chicago has ever had a golf season like the one coming up in 2018. It’ll be a good one – any links season in Chicago is a good one – but this one will be different.

Last year’s tournament schedule was the busiest in 20 years and featured the national collegiate championships, a U.S. Open and an LPGA major championship. This year’s schedule will be attractive, too, and every bit as busy — but it might not seem that way. Here’s why:

One week in June and another in July will be overloaded with big tournaments. Call it unfortunate scheduling if you will, but that’s just the way it is. Chicago golf fans have always supported big tournaments, and I have no doubt that they will again. This time, though, it will be a challenge.

The first week with a scheduling dilemma comes at the end of June, and it’s all about the women. Their biggest amateur tournament of the year and the biggest professional tournament of the Chicago season will be held on virtually the same dates. The 118th playing of the Women’s Western Amateur starts on Monday, June 25, and concludes with a championship match on Saturday, June 30. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship returns for another 72-hole run, with competition starting on Thursday, June 28, and concluding on Sunday, July 1.

My advice? Find a way to attend them both. Mistwood, the Romeoville course that will host the Amateur, and Kemper Lakes, the Kildeer layout that hosts the KPMG tourney, are not exactly strangers to big events but these will be breakthroughs at both locations.

The Amateur will be the biggest event ever held at Mistwood, the annual site of the Illinois Women’s Open. It’ll also be the first time the Western Golf Association manages a women’s event and one of the few times it conducts a championship on a public course.

Kemper Lakes was a tournament hotbed shortly after it opened as a public course in 1979. Big events weren’t on the club’s calendar after it began its transformation to a private in 2003, but the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – held last year at Olympia Fields – will bring a welcome end to that drought.

Mistwood will feature the best players of the future, Kemper the best in the world. It would seem a no-brainer to catch the two stroke-play qualifying rounds that kick off the Women’s Western Am, then shift your attention to Kemper Lakes while also catching a key match in the Amateur event before the week is out.

In its tournament heyday Kemper hosted the 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur, which concluded with the legendary Annika Sorenstam in the championship match – and that was one of the few she didn’t win. Her loss to Vicki Goetze lives on as one of the great moments in Kemper history.

A solution to the scheduling dilemma coming up two weeks after the big women’s week isn’t so easy to solve. The week beginning on Monday, July 9, features three big tournament offerings including the only PGA Tour stop in Illinois in 2018. (The BMW Championship completed its three-year run at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, last September and the BMW won’t return until 2019 at Medinah).

Unlike the two-tournament women’s week, the competition days of the three July events are directly opposite each other. The John Deere Classic runs July 12-15 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis. Those are also the tournament dates for the Constellation Senior Players Championship – one of five majors on PGA Tour Champions – at Exmoor, in Highland Park, and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a national championship that led to a rare opening of the gates to historic Chicago Golf Club. The nation’s first 18-hole course hasn’t hosted an open-to-the-public event since the Walker Cup matches of 2005.

How does a golf spectator solve this overload of riches? I have no idea. Entering my 50th year reporting on Chicago golf tournaments, I’ve never had a challenge like this one. I don’t even know where I’ll be each day of that week — but I will be at each of the three events for at least a day, I promise.

As for the rest of the year, the events that bear watching are fortunately spread out a bit.

The first that will draw some spectators is the 67th Illinois PGA Match Play Championship, which is also at Kemper Lakes. A fixture at that club in recent years, the tournament runs May 7-10, concluding on the day that the PGA’s high-profile Players Championship tees off at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass.

If you want a Champions Tour warmup for the Exmoor visit, the Senior PGA Championship returns to Michigan’s Harbor Shores from May 24-27. The Tour is back for a third straight year, with the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club June 7-10 – a week before the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York.

Then, on successive weeks, comes the Illinois State Women’s Amateur at Aldeen, in Rockford, and the CDGA Amateur at Briarwood, in Deerfield.

The big three-tournament week in July will be immediately followed by the Illinois State Amateur at Bloomington Country Club and the Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, tees off 10 days after that.

In August the 69th Illinois Open, — Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club, in Glenview and a second course still to be announced — leads directly into the 100th playing of the PGA Championship at Bellerive, the premier club in the St. Louis area.

August wraps up with the 96th playing of the Illinois PGA Championship at the only public facility in the event’s three-tourney rotation — Stonewall Orchard, in Grayslake. That pretty much will bring an end to the Chicago tournament season and it’ll be a bit earlier finish than most years.

Had enough already? By the time all those events are over it’ll be time to squeeze in as many rounds as possible before cold weather returns. One thing to note, though. This year’s condensed schedule should be expected again in 2019 when the PGA Tour makes radical shifts in its schedule in order to finish the bulk of it by Labor Day. Anything the PGA Tour does generally has an impact on Chicago play in one way or another.

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 who 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 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.