LPGA Legends event will bring something special to French Lick

If you had to pick one thing to feel good about in this golf season, what would it be? For me it’s what’s happening on the women’s side – both locally and nationally.

The Illinois Women’s Golf Assn. showed again that it isn’t reluctant to play its State Amateur in the Chicago area anymore. It was at Flossmoor in 2010, Ravisloe in 2012 and Cantigny this year, and the last two champions were Chicago players. This 80-year old tournament should move around the state, but from 1971 through 2008 it was almost entirely a downstate attraction. The tourney will benefit from continuing to play it regularly at Chicago courses.

The Illinois Women’s Open doesn’t have a location problem – it’s a fixture at Mistwood in Romeoville – but this year the tourney finally drew a heavy contingent of professional players. A bigger purse and a renovated course may have contributed to that.

On the professional side Jerry Rich surfaced again in a big way. Rich lured the Solheim Cup to his Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, in 2009 and will host an even bigger event – the International Crown – in 2016. Rich wants to host the competition beyond that date as well. Hopefully he’ll be successful.

But this September couldn’t be a better time to spotlight women’s golf. Let me explain.

The men who labored on the PGA Tour have their Champions Tour to play on once they turn 50. As the Senior PGA Tour it was an immediate hit upon its founding in 1980, but the Ladies PGA Tour has struggled to get a similar circuit going. Now progress is clearly evident.

Its Legends Tour was created in 2000 but its growth has been slow. No more than three tournaments were held annually from 2000 to 2005. There was sporadic growth the next seven years, the number of events climbing to seven by 2012.

Just a year later the Legends actually seems like a bonafide circuit with a very big event coming up soon. The Legends has 13 tournaments on its 2013 schedule, three of them coming in September including its biggest event yet. The Legends Tour Championship presented by Humana will be played at one of my favorite getaway places, French Lick Resort in Indiana. It’ll be part of a week-long celebration of women’s golf that runs from Sept. 23-29.

In the weeks leading up to that big one there’ll be the Harris Charity Classic in Maine from Sept. 12-15 and BJ’s Charity Pro-Am in Massachusetts on Sept. 18.

The big one, though, is at French Lick — a four- to six-hour drive from Chicago depending on your starting point. The 54-hole tournament has, as of this printing, 66 entrants with 10 of them LPGA Hall of Famers and seven former Solheim Cup captains. They’ll play for a $500,000 purse, the biggest in Legends history, and the champion will received $75,000.

Not only that, but there’ll be a 36-hole Super Legends competition on the last two days of the week, featuring stars of the more distant past like Sandra Haynie (winner of the U.S. Women’s Open at LaGrange in 1974), Donna Caponi, Jane Blalock and Sandra Palmer.

Not only that, but there’ll be a Legends Hall of Fame established at French Lick with active Legend Jan Stephenson, winner of the circuit’s first tournament 13 years ago, heading the first class of inductees.

And, not only that, but there’ll be a two-day amateur event – the Alice Dye Invitational – to kick off the celebration. That event, to be held for the fourth time, has been extremely popular as part of French Lick’s annual calendar. Alice is the wife of Pete Dye, and both are course designers. The acclaimed Pete Dye Course will be used for the Legends competition, though it would be just as appropriate to have the women tee off on the Donald Ross Course there.

The hilly Ross layout hosted the men’s PGA Championship in 1924, with Walter Hagen winning, but it has an even bigger place in LPGA history. That circuit wasn’t organized until 1950, and three tournaments in its first decade were played at French Lick. The 1957 French Lick Women’s Open was won by Louise Suggs, and that event’s success led to the LPGA Championship being scheduled at the resort in 1959 and 1960. Two of the greatest women golfers of all time, Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright, were the champions.

Suggs, Rawls and Wright will be inducted into the Legends Hall along with Stephenson and retired Legend Kathy Whitworth. The Hall will reside off the Atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel.

I went to the Legends tourney announcement at French Lick 15 months ago. The event intrigued me then and excites me now. There aren’t nearly as many former LPGA stars who want to still compete as there are on the men’s side, but there are enough. I had Pat Bradley and Val Skinner as playing partners during my visit. Their skills haven’t diminished much, and they have growing company in that regard.

The Legends Tour now lists 120 members with a combined 675 LPGA tournament wins, including 70 major championships. Among the Legends members are two players who came out of Illinois to become LPGA regulars – Allison Finney (Winnetka) and Nancy Scranton (Centralia).

Though scheduling tournaments has been challenging, the Legends has paid out $10 million in prize money during its first 12 seasons and raised $13 million for charity. There have been events of one sort or another in 12 states – but not Illinois – plus Japan and Australia.

And now the Legends will put on their biggest show yet in southern Indiana. Adult tickets are $12.50 per day. In addition to the three days of Legends tournament play there’ll be a day-long clinic given by the LPGA greats as well as a pro-am in which they’ll be the featured attraction.

The community of French Lick fell on difficult economic times in the years after the LPGA’s last event there. It has recovered big-time as a golf destination, as attested to the landing of the 2015 Senior PGA Championship last month. French Lick has also hosted both the men’s and women’s Big Ten Championships twice and the Professional Players National Championship was also played there in recent years.

Now it’s the LPGA Legends turn. The event marks a breakthrough for the LPGA and women’s golf in general. It will be well worth the half-day drive.

Here’s some tips for your visit to the John Deere Classic

It’s almost here now, the only annual Illinois stop on the PGA Tour.

Yes, the John Deere Classic is something special. Those visiting the spiffy TPC Deere Run course in Silvis, on the outskirts of the Quad Cities, will realize that in a hurry if they’re first-time visitors to this July 8-14 shootout.

The JDC is one of the few medium-size markets left on the PGA Tour. Milwaukee and Detroit lost their longstanding tournaments in recent years, but that won’t happen to the JDC as long as John Deere is around to sponsor the biggest sports event near its home base, roughly a two-hour drive from the Chicago city limits.

John Deere wasn’t always the sponsor. The tourney started as the Quad Cities Open in 1972 when Deane Beman – later the commissioner of the PGA Tour – won the title by beating Tom Watson. The tourney was held at Crow Valley, a private club in Bettendorf, Ia., the first three years.

In 1975 the event moved to another private facility, Oakwood in Coal Valley, IL., and remained at the short (6,602 yards) facility until 1999. Then one of the tourney’s former champions, D.A. Weibring (1991, 1995), completed design work on TPC Deere Run. The course has immediately been a favorite of PGA Tour players.

Sponsors came and went until John Deere took over in 1999 in a match made in sponsor heaven. Not only is the well-established Deere & Company a fixture in nearby Moline, it’s also the PGA Tour’s official equipment supplier, landscape products supplier, course equipment leasing company and official irrigation supplier. Its roots in professional golf run deep.

Over the years the tourney has grown with the times. It delivers a $20 million economic impact to the Quad Cities annually and fulfilled its main goal: helping local charities.

Last year the JDC donated $6.79 million to 493 charities. That put the JDC in the top 10 on the PGA Tour in overall charity dollar donations and it ranked No. 1 on the circuit in per capita fundraising. The PGA Tour recognized that accomplishment in declaring the Quad Cities its Most Engaged Community of 2012.

In recent years the tourney has been blessed with extraordinarily good story lines, a big help for tournament director Clair Peterson in promoting the event beyond the Quad Cities area.

The popular Steve Stricker won the tournament three years in a row, from 2009 through 2011. Last year his bid for an extremely rare four-peat was followed world-wide. Though Stricker was the main attraction, the tourney also was the scene for a PGA record round of 59 by Paul Goydos during the Stricker reign and the last two championships were climaxed by spectacular finishes.

Stricker achieved his three-peat by getting up-and-down from a fairway bunker in 2011 to edge Kyle Stanley and Zach Johnson, every bit as popular a winner as Stricker was, put a 6-iron from that same bunker (193 yards away) to within a foot of the cup to win a sudden death playoff with Troy Matteson last year.

This year Johnson, a long-time JDC board member who grew up in Cedar Rapids, IA., will try to become the fourth player to win the tournament in consecutive years.

Peterson can’t expect similarly spectacular finishes this year. That would be asking a lot, but don’t bet against it. The atmosphere at the JDC is always pleasant, no matter who wins. Here’s some tips to make your visit even more enjoyable:

BE PREPARED to walk at least a little bit. The views of the course from spots near the Rock River (my favorite is from the No. 4 green) are spectacular. Plus, there are plenty of players worth watching. Johnson and Stricker are the main ones, with Stricker making one of his few appearances of 2012 after deciding to cut back on his schedule.

There are some other guys who won tournaments this year – Boo Weekley (Colonial), Kevin Streelman (Tampa Bay), D.A. Points (Houston), Derek Ernst (Wells Fargo) and Sang-Moon Moon Bae (Byron Nelson). Some other recent past JDC champions – Sean O’Hair, John Senden and Jonathan Byrd – will also be competing, and if you want to see a star of the future check out Steven Ihm. He’s a junior at the University of Iowa and the first Hawkeyes’ collegian in the 43-year history of the tournament to receive a sponsor’s exemption.

EVENTUALLY finding a seat will be necessary. Obviously one behind the No. 18 green is ideal, but there are other good ones. If you can wangle admission to a hospitality tent the best viewing is behind the green at No. 16 – the par-3 along the Rock River.

On the front nine there’s good viewing behind the green at No. 4 and along the fairway at No. 9 – a par-4 that figures to be the toughest hole on the course. I also enjoy a spot near the green at the short par-4 14th on the back side. This hole is reachable off the tee for the PGA stars and the elevation changes around the green make for interesting viewing.

YOU’LL probably get hungry, too. The tournament became legendary for its pork chop sandwiches long before it settled at TPC Deere Run. Fortunately tournament organizers recognized that, and the pork chop sandwiches are still on sale around the 16th green, 17th tee and 18th green. They’re not to be missed.

Also, new this year is the Greenside Club, an air-conditioned sports bar beside the 18th green. You might want to check it out, too.

WANT A BARGAIN? Go to TPC Deere Run on Monday or Tuesday. Admission is free on those days. Tuesday is also ideal for youngsters, as Chick-fil-A Youth Day Activities will be going on all day and the Dan Boever Youth Golf Show will be staged on the driving range at 2 p.m.

Seniors (60 or older) get in for $18 on Thursday – the first round of the tournament. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a paid adult and those 13-18 can get in for half price at the gate.

Ticket prices aren’t bad anyway — $24 for any one day admission Wednesday through Sunday and $34 for one day clubhouse admission. Other ticket options are available through the tournament office.

PARKING? There’s a fee, but not a big one. General parking is $5 and you get a free shuttle to the main gate. VIP parking is $10, with the free shuttle taking you to the clubhouse.

Those money amounts aren’t hefty, but the players will be playing for big bucks. Their purse is $4.6 million with the champion getting $828,000.

Mistwood’s new Performance Center is spectacular

Mistwood Golf Club, the long-time Illinois Women’s Open site in Romeoville, closed early the last two years and opened a bit later than most of the other Chicago public courses this spring. Now those hard decisions, made by owner Jim McWethy and his veteran staff, are paying off.

The August closings in 2011 and 2012 enabled architect Ray Hearn to more easily put the finishing touches on his elaborate renovation work. The slightly delayed opening this weather-hampered spring was done for the same reason.

“Some areas held a little more water than we wanted,’’ said director of golf Dan Phillips. “We did some drainage work and some irrigation. We wanted to make sure everything was perfect.’’

Now it is.

Not only is the course – featuring 19 unique sod-wall bunkers – ready for a big season, but the long-awaited 5,000 square-foot Performance Center will soon become the talk of the Chicago golf scene. It is truly spectacular. There may be bigger practice facilities in the area, but there are none better. That’s why Mistwood is Chicagoland Golf’s next Course-of-the-Month.

Golfers managed a look at Hearn’s re-design last year and liked it. The IWO was even played there. This year those same golfers will be able to warm up at the new Performance Center and also stop there between nines or after their rounds, since the facility is also serving as a halfway house.

It’s not your average halfway house, though. It has a full-service bar and snack show along with eight televisions.

“We can put on anything we want,’’ said Phillips. “No one has done this before.’’

What McWethy has done with the entire Mistwood facility since taking over ownership in 2004 is extraordinary – especially considering the tough economic times that saw most courses cutting back rather than expanding. While Mistwood was a long-term project, McWethy also took over the former Ditka Dome in Bolingbrook, upgraded both the indoor range and restaurant and renamed it McQ’s. It lured golfers during the winter.

Work at Mistwood took much longer and isn’t quite done, though the parking lot has been doubled in size to eventually accommodate 240 cars.

Hearn was the course’s original designer before McWethy took over, and that finished project was well received. Golf Digest even gave the par-5 No. 8 hole a two-page spread in 1999. Hearn’s updates, done in the renovation, simply make for a better course.

No. 8 was lengthened from 552 to 590 yards, and the overall course grew from 6,702 to 7,028 yards from the back tees. The “new’’ Mistwood has a slope of 144 (up from 140) and a 74.7 rating (up from 73.0). While some holes (especially No. 3) have been given a new look and the new stone bridges at striking, the unusual sod-wall bunkers have been the most-discussed aspect of the course renovation.

Now the Performance Center is going to surprise its first-time visitors. Some of this year’s first ones thought it was a clubhouse. It’s that big and striking from along the entrance on Renwick Road. A new clubhouse, though, is just the next in McWethy’s plans for Mistwood. The Performance Center was a major project in itself.

“The planning took close to seven years,’’ said Phillips. “A lot of thought has gone into this project, and the architect (Elmhurst-based Dan Wohlfeil) hit a home run. We have a year-around facility now.’’

Not only are 11 climate-controlled hitting stations and two indoor/outdoor teaching bays heated for winter use, so is the cement floor. The hitting mats will always be nice and warm.

Most of the indoor bays won’t become a major factor until late fall. Of more immediate interest will be the expanded outdoor range.

“It’s really contoured now,’’ said Phillips. “It looks a lot like the golf course, with hills and bunkers. When you’re hitting into the practice greens it feels like you’re on the course.’’

While indoor space is available in case of inclement weather (mats in front of the Performance Centre are also an option), the outdoor range is as spacious as it needs to be for big events like the American Junior Golf Association’s Midwest Players Championship, coming June 17-20, and the IWO, which will run July 31-Aug. 2.

“Thirty-two spaces are available all the time,’’ said Phillips, “but we can have as many as we need to. We can get everybody on the range before our outings.’’

Make no mistake, though. The Performance Center is more than a practice range. In addition to the bar, snack shop and TVs the facility is equipped with high-tech teaching aids like Trackman ball flight analysis, SAM Putt Lab and Quintec ball motion putting analysis. There are also separate areas for custom club-fitting and club repair.

Club-fitting options include Fujikawa shafts. Mistwood is one of that company’s few dealers. Fujikawa produces one of the most popular shafts for tour players and doesn’t sell to traditional consumers.

Coinciding with the opening of the Performance Center, Mistwood added John Platt to its teaching staff. The Illinois PGA’s Teacher-of-the-Year, Platt joins Performance Center director Mike Baldwin and Chris Ioriatti as heavy-duty instructors. Phillips and Mistwood head professional Visanu Tongwarin also include teaching as part of their duties.

“As a whole, our goal is to offer a complete performance experience,’’ said Baldwin. “We can work on every aspect of your game. We can make any tweak from the club performance side and the player performance side.’’

While Platt focuses on tournament players and Ioriatti is U.S. Kids-certified, the Mistwood staff can accommodate all types of players.

“We try to create an overall experience that is memorable, makes you better and touches every level of performance there is,’’ said Baldwin. “And we want to have some fun doing it.’’

Celebrity involvement will make Encompass a spectator-friendly tourney

The Champions Tour is returning to the Chicago area for the first time since 2002 and nobody – repeat nobody – is as happy about this most positive development as I am.

Chicago’s been losing its pro tour stops, and the return of the Champions will help correct that. The Encompass Championship will be held June 17-23 at North Shore Country Club in Glenview. It will add to the rich history the 50-and-over circuit has had in Chicago – even if the cycle has endured an 11-year absence attributable to sponsorship problems.

Plus, the new event will introduce a new, spectator-friendly format and should draw virtually all of the top players. They’ll be well-rested because the Champions Tour doesn’t have an event the preceding week, when the U.S. Open is contested at Merion in Philadelphia.

The Champions Tour dates back to 1980, when it was known as the Senior PGA Tour and had just four events and purses totaling $475,000. An indication of just how far the circuit has come is reflected in the Encompass purse — $1.8 million with the winner receiving $270,000

Encompass Insurance, headquartered in Northbrook, sponsored the Encompass Pro-Am of Tampa Bay in April of 2012 as part of an agreement with the PGA Tour that called for the creation of a new tournament in Chicago for the following three years. This will be the first of those three.

Previous Chicago tournaments on the Champions Tour were known as, first, the Ameritech Senior Open from 1991 to 1999 and, finally, the SBC Open, from 2000 to 2002.

During Ameritech’s sponsorship run the tourney was considered one of the best on the Senior PGA Tour. The ASO was first held in 1989, at Canterbury in Cleveland, and Michigan’s Grand Traverse Resort was the site in 1990 before the tourney began its Chicago run. Bruce Crampton and Chi Chi Rodriguez were the first two champions.

Chicago had a taste of senior golf prior to the ASO’s arrival at Stonebridge, a then-new private club with a course designed by Tom Fazio. The facility had opened on the Aurora-Naperville corridor in 1990.

In 1988 the U.S. Golf Assn. staged its U.S. Senior Open at Medinah, with Gary Player winning. That event would also come to Olympia Fields in 1997, Australian Graham Marsh emerging as the champion. Those 72-hole competitions contributed to the popularity of the senior golf in Chicago but didn’t have the same free-wheeling flavor as the annual 54-hole tour stops that began in 1991.

Mike Hill, then the hottest player in the 50-and-over ranks, won the tourney’s first staging at Stonebridge and Dale Douglass took the second. Those tournaments were only mildly successful compared to what was to come.

Michael Jordan was in his heyday as a basketball player then, and his passion for golf was just starting. In 1992 he played 54 holes at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club in Florida even though he was scheduled to play in the NBA All-Star Game that night. After his golf marathon — but before he left Bay Hill for his basketball game — Jordan let it be known that he wanted to play a round with Palmer – any time, anywhere.

That round materialized at the 1993 ASO’s Thursday pro-am, with a then-record 17,500 following the two sports legends around the course. Palmer shot a 1-over-par 73 and Jordan, who billed himself as an 8-handicapper, had an 81. George Archer’s victory in the tournament proper seemed anti-climactic.

John Paul Cain’s win in the 1994 ASO was interesting, as he became a rare sponsor’s exemption to use the invitation as the prelude to a championship run.

The best golf at Stonebridge – and my favorite ASO/SBC memory – came in 1995, the tourney’s last staging on that course. Joe Jimenez, then 69 years old, shot a 62 and set a record for the most strokes below age. On the same day eventual champion Hale Irwin shot 63. Those dazzling scores, shocking at the time, underscored just how good senior golf could be.

That ’95 win earned Irwin the moniker of “Mr. Chicago.’’ He had won the Western Open at Butler National in 1975 and the U.S. Open at Medinah in 1990. (He wasn’t done, either. Irwin would go on to win back-to-back ASO titles in 1998 and 1999 after the event moved to Kemper Lakes).

Irwin’s wins there came in the third and fourth of six stagings at Kemper. The first two were won by a Morgan, Walter in 1996 and Gil in 1997.

The tourney remained at Kemper after Irwin’s victories there, but the tourney made a name change. The last three tourneys were known as the SBC Open, with Tom Kite the champion in 2000 and Dana Quigley in the last staging at Kemper in 2001. Irwin went to a playoff with Bob Gilder when the tourney moved to Harborside International in 2002. Gilder got the win that time, and the senior stars haven’t been seen here since. The end of the run was sad, for both the players and Chicago’s always loyal golf fans.

That’ll all change when the Encompass Championship tees off at North Shore, a private club that hosted the Western Open in 1928, the U.S. Open in 1933, the U.S. Amateur in 1939 and 1983 and the Western Amateur in 2011.

Tournament director Mike Galeski expects most every top player on the Champions Tour to compete in an exciting new format. They’ll have standard pro-ams on Wednesday and Thursday and then begin the tournament proper with an amateur partner. The 81 pros and their 81 amateur partners, some of them celebrity types, will compete as two-man teams Friday and Saturday in a tournament within a tournament, then the pros will decide their champion on Sunday in the third and final round of the 54-hole test.

The galleries should be sizeable, and not just because of the big names playing. Ticket prices are reasonable — $20 in advance or $25 at the gate, and those 18 and under will be admitted free.

CHICAGO PREVIEW: No Ryder Cup, but season won’t be dull

No Ryder Cup. No Western Amateur. A quiet year is ahead for golf in Chicago, right?

WRONG!!!

Chicago golf is never dull, and this season will be as inspiring as the last one – and maybe even more so. Believe me.

Yes, the epic Ryder Cup at Medinah has come and gone – and will never be forgotten. Already, though, there’s an event on the distant horizon that could take its place. Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich has been a leader in the establishment of the International Crown women’s team event that will begin in 2014 and be played in Sugar Grove in 2016. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that down the road.

But this is now.

Competition-wise, this is what we have in Chicago in 2013:

Finally the Champions Tour is returning. It’s been missing from Chicago since 2002, but this season the $1.8 million Encompass Championship will be played at North Shore Country Club from June 17-23. It’ll be something different from the previous Chicago tour stops, and figures to be fun. The Encompass Championship will be a full-fledged celebrity event, and Chicago’s never really had one of those.

The BMW Championship is also returning, but this time at a new location. Long-played at Cog Hill prior to its staging in Indianapolis last year, this 2013 version will be played at Conway Farms, the private club in Lake Forest that includes Luke Donald among its members. Conway has hosted plenty of big amateur competitions, but this will be the biggest event ever played at the spiffy Tom Fazio design. Last year’s BMW, at Crooked Stick, was named Tournament of the Year by the PGA Tour.

The Illinois PGA is moving one of its major events. The IPGA Players Championship is leaving long-time home Eagle Ridge in Galena and going to Metamora Fields, a new D.A. Weibring design near Peoria.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. has presented a much-revamped tournament schedule. The biggest change involves the 83rd Illinois State Amateur. Previously a fixture in August, the State Am will move to July 16-18 at Aldeen in Rockford and become a lead-in to the Illinois Open at The Glen Club.

The CDGA also moved its 21st Illinois Mid-Amateur Championship at Flossmoor from May to Aug. 27-28 and scheduled a new event – a Super Senior tourney for players 65 and over on Aug. 5 at Royal Hawk.

In addition to bringing the BMW Championship back to Chicago, the Western Golf Assn. has added another tournament. This one part of the new Web.com Tour playoffs, and will be played in Ft. Wayne, Ind. The WGA also moved its Western Amateur to The Alotian Club in Arkansas. In making a one-year hiatus from its Chicago Western Am rotation, the WGA is also making a one-year adjustment in the tourney format. The event will be spread over six days instead of five to compensate for expected sweltering temperatures in Arkansas.

What strikes me most this early in the year, though, is the increased Chicago presence on the professional tours. I’m intrigued to see how Eric Meierdierks handles his rookie season on the PGA Tour and how the veteran Nicole Jeray does after surviving another gut-wrenching trip to LPGA Tour School. Both of these players have great stories to tell, and the fact that both are playing at the top level of golf is surprising.

Rarely does a Chicago golfer get through a qualifying school for any of the professional tours. But Wilmette’s Meierdierks, a 27-year old with only one previous PGA start to his credit, tied for 14th in the three-stage PGA November elimination that started with 1,558 players and Berwyn’s Jeray, 42, tied for 17th in the LPGA Q-School. She was competing in it for the 19th time.

Meierdierks, though relatively new to the rigorous qualifying procedures, made it easily in the final stage, but the first of the three eliminations was tremendously difficult on an emotional level. It fell six days after the death of his father.

Jeray, meanwhile, had to go to a seven-player playoff for the final four spots in the LPGA nailbiter. An LPGA Tour player off and on for the last two decades, she survived with a 20-foot birdie putt on the fifth extra hole.

Meierdierks’ arrival on the PGA Tour was a feel-good story, just as much as Jeray’s grittiness was on the women’s side. He had been basically a mini-tour player since turning professional in 2009. His career highlight had been a victory in the 2010 Illinois Open at Hawthorn Woods, and he lost that tourney’s 2012 title in a playoff with Max Scodro last August at The Glen Club. Q-School is a huge step up from the big local competitions, but Meierdierks was up to the task.

“It’s been incredible,’’ Meierdierks told me after a few days of reflection. “It’s been a long journey, and it feels really good to finally have a dream come true and see a lot of hard work pay off.’’

In addition to Meierdierks the PGA Tour cast will include University of Illinois alums Scott Langley, who also made it through Q-School, and Luke Guthrie, who earned his playing privileges for 2013 off his great play the last six months of 2012. Prior to Guthrie, Langley and Meierdierks, the last player with local connections to earn privileges on the PGA Tour was Crystal Lake’s Joe Affrunti, who earned his card by finishing in the top 25 on the Nationwide (now Web.com Tour) money list in 2010. He required shoulder surgery last spring and missed most of what would have been his rookie season on the PGA Tour. Coming off a medical exemption, he hopes to resume playing on the circuit in 2013.

There are also some notable newcomers on the home pro front. Mike Scully ended a 10-year stint as Medinah’s director of golf as soon as the Ryder Cup ended. The plum job has gone to Marty DeAngelo . who had been director of golf at Isleworth – the Florida home club for Tiger Woods and several other PGA Tour players. Scully left Medinah to become director of golf at Desert Mountain, a resort facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., that boasts five 18-hole courses.

Another long-established Chicago private facility, Exmoor in Highland Park, also dipped into the Florida ranks for its next head professional. David Schmaltz had worked as an assistant at Jupiter Club. Naperville Country Club elevated assistant Brian Brown to replace the retiring Jim Arendt and Brendan Adair moved from Prestwick to take the head job at Midlothian.

On the college front Northwestern loaded up both its men’s and women’s teams with new recruits. Men’s coach Pat Goss signed Matt Fitzpatrick of Sheffield, England. He was the British Boys Amateur champion in 2012 and Goss calls him “the most significant player we’ve signed since Luke Donald.’’ NU women’s coach Emily Fletcher also recruited well, signing two state high school champions – Minji Luo (California) and Kacie Komoto (Hawaii).

From the equipment side Batavia club manufacturer Tour Edge made a big splash at the 60th PGA Merchandise Show with its new variable fit driver. It marked the first time Tour Edge has entered the adjustable club area.

Let’s not forget about the U.S. Mid-Am

The U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship could get lost in the shuffle with the Ryder Cup coming to town just two weeks later. That might be understandable, but I hope it doesn’t happen.

Chicago, in particular, and the Midwest, in general, need more big tournaments each year – not less. And, make no doubt about it, the U.S. Mid-Am is a big tournament. It’ll be played at Conway Farms and Knollwood Club, in Lake Forest, from Sept. 8-13.

Conway, which will host the bulk of the competition, landed the Mid-Am before it was awarded the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship for 2013. This Mid-Am, though, will add to Conway’s comparatively brief but already rich tournament history. Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1991, Conway has already hosted tons of college events – among them the Big Ten and NCAA Championship; a U.S. Open sectional and one U.S. Golf Assn. national championship, the U.S. Junior in 1998, when James Oh defeated Aaron Baddeley in the title match.

Knollwood is older – a Colt Alison design that opened in 1924 – and its tournament history isn’t as rich but it did host Chicago’s only other Mid-Am – in 1982 when Elgin’s Bill Hoffer won the title.

Both these private clubs are among the very best in the entire country – not just the Chicago area.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a better combination of courses,’’ said Bill McCarthy, the U.S. Golf Association’s director for both this Mid-Am and the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Over 500 volunteers, many from the two clubs, have stepped forward to help in the staging of this Mid-Am.

Here is why it is important.

The U.S. Golf Assn. long ago saw a need for a national championship for serious amateur players after they turned 25. Hence, the Mid-Am was born 31 years ago. Post-college amateurs still need something like this. They may not be as good as most professionals their age but their interest in competition is there. The USGA had a record 5,271 entries for the 1997 Mid-Am. Fifteen years later the tourney drew a more modest 3,810, but that is still 67 more than were accepted in 2011 when Randal Lewis, of Alma, MI., won the title at Shadow Hawk in Richmond, Tex.

“This tournament is for players for whom the game is truly an avocation, a business card, a celebration of golf at its best,’’ said Gene McClure, the championship chairman and a USGA executive committee member. Plus, the Mid-Am is one of the big events in which there is no admission charge. In fact, spectators are encouraged to come. That makes it special, too.

Most important, the players considered it a big deal. Todd Mitchell, the amateur star from Bloomington, IL., gave me proof of that after he tied for third in the recent Illinois State Amateur at The Links of Kokopelli in downstate Marion. Mitchell won the Illinois Am in 2002 and 2003 and has been a consistent contender ever since against much younger players, but the Mid-Am holds a bigger place in his heart.

In 2008 Mitchell went to the title match of the U.S. Mid-Am at Milwaukee Country Club.

“I had never advanced that far. It was a very special year,’’ said Mitchell. “It was a fantastic feeling, and nothing since then has been close.’’

Mitchell isn’t assured a place this year. He was first alternate in the qualifier at Piper Glen, in Springfield. There will still be a big Illinois contingent in the field at Conway. The state had three qualifiers, and they advanced 13 in-state residents to the Mid-Am finals.

Scott Hasley, of Winnetka; John Wright, Aurora; Matt Olson, Chicago, Chad Arsich, Mokena; and Nick Schenk, St. Charles, made it from one qualifier at Chicago Highlands. Andrew Price, Lake Forest; Scott Rowe, Hinsdale; Brian Silvers, Byron; Michael Vansistine, Caledonia; and Richard Balla, St. Charles, survived the qualifier at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Club in Rockford; and Tim Sheppard, East Peoria; John Ehrgott, Peoria; and Scott Rech, Chicago, made it at Piper Glen.

The winner of the Mid-Am gets an invitation to the Masters. That perk led to the last winner, Lewis, becoming the oldest first-time Masters participant and oldest-ever Mid-Am champion. He was 54 when he shot 81-78 to miss the cut at Augusta National in April.

“I didn’t play well,’’ said Lewis. “Augusta was so long and you got no roll. I had to lay up on all the par-5s.’’

Still, the experience produced memories for a lifetime. He played with Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, among others. His practice round with Mickelson came a week before the tournament, before 50,000 people streamed through the gates. “Surreal’’ was how Lewis described it.

Bubba Watson did a good job of keeping Lewis loose during the Masters’ popular Par-3 Contest, when he was surprised to find some of the spectators standing as close to three feet from him.

Then came the start of the tournament itself, when Lewis was paired with Jose Maria Olazabal and Robert Garrigus. His first tee shot was maybe his last highlight from the Masters.

“Garrigus hit his first drive way left and Olazabal went right. I killed mine right down the middle,’’ recalled Lewis, who comes from a town with a population of 9,800). He spent seven weeks of last winter in Florida to prepare for his week at the Masters.

“When I got back to Michigan I was a little depressed,’’ he admitted. “There was quite a letdown after the Masters.’’

That was understandable, but didn’t detract from his play last year at Shadow Hawk, when he whipped a field of mostly younger guys. Lewis had lost in the Mid-Am final in 1996 and was eliminated in the semifinals in 1999. He wasn’t thwarted last year, however.

“The adrenalin kicked in there,’’ said Lewis of the time immediately after he found himself in contention. “I didn’t know if that chance would ever come again. I didn’t want to let it slip away. I played as hard as I ever have in my life.’’

His game hasn’t been the same since. He pulled a hamstring a week before the U.S. Senior Open in August. It was held in his native Michigan, and Lewis was also battling “horrible’’ tendinitis in his left hand that required a cortisone shot.

“I had nine on one hole,’’ he admitted, and his health concerns limited his preparation for his Mid-Am title defense. His main tuneup was the U.S. Amateur last month in Denver.

This Mid-Am will be the 59th USGA championship held in Illinois, the most recent being the 2011 U.S. Girls Junior at Olympia Fields. The 264-man starting field features 27 exempt players. The others were determined in 64 nation-wide qualifying rounds.

Stroke play qualifying rounds will be held at both Conway Farms and Knollwood on Sept. 8 and 9, and match play will be conducted at Conway from Sept. 10-13. The championship match will be over 36 holes.

July, 2012, was a milestone month for golf in the Midwest

Where do I begin?

Rarely, in my nearly 43 years covering golf in these parts have I witnessed so many noteworthy tournament developments in a month’s span. The tournament schedule was bunched up this season, and all the things that happened in July were almost overwhelming. We’ll try to put them all in perspective here.

I’d say the most notable of those developments came at the 41st John Deere Classic, the only PGA Tour stop of 2012 in Illinois. That’s where Steve Stricker’s historic winning streak ended and where another University of Illinois golfer, Luke Guthrie, continued his great start as a touring pro. From a local golf perspective they’re both significant.

The focus — as it should have been — was on Stricker’s bid to become the fourth golfer (behind Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods) to win a major professional tournament four years in a row. Stricker made a good run at, but Zach Johnson won. Nothing wrong with that. Johnson, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Ia., is considered a native son in the Quad Cities and his victory was a popular one.

Down the road, though, that tourney might well be remembered for the showing that Guthrie made in his second start as a pro. It might well be the start of something big. Guthrie had finished a solid tie for 19th in the first PGA Tour stop as a pro at Memphis and his final-round 64 gave him a tie for fifth (with Stricker) at the JDC.

Guthrie was a fine college player (two-time Big Ten champion), but his fast start as a pro was still surprising. Just two years ago, while still an amateur, he lost to Eric Meierdierks in a duel for the Illinois Open title at Hawthorn Woods.

“He should have beaten me because he played better than I did, but he wasn’t as experienced,’’ said Meierdierks. “He was a good player. I saw a lot of talent in his game when I played with him.’’

Meierdierks was on the other end of a similar duel with an up-and-coming young player at this year’s Illinois Open. Notre Dame graduate Max Scodro beat him in a five-hole playoff at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

Scodro started his professional career by winning the Arizona Open in June. Two tournaments later he won the Illinois Open. Next month he’s in the Iowa Open. Could it be a three-peat, state-wide version?

MOVING ON, there was the story of a former Chicago whiz kid – now 56 years old – who made national news in the U.S. Senior Open at Ironwood, in Lake Orion, Mich. Who wouldn’t appreciate a caddie leaving his bag-toting duties to make a run at a major championship. That’s what Lance Ten Broeck did.

In the 1970s Ten Broeck was the youngest of eight children in a family of golfers living on Chicago’s South Side and playing at Beverly Country Club. In 1975, at age 19, he made the cut in the U.S. Open at Medinah and in 1984 he won both the Illinois Open at Flossmoor and the Magnolia Classic, then an unofficial PGA Tour event.

Ten Broeck was a journeyman on the PGA Tour who turned to caddying when his playing career fizzled. For 10 years he was on Jesper Parnevik’s bag, then spent two years working for Robert Allenby and is now with Tim Herron.

Ten Broeck is both player and caddie now. In a 10-week span ending with the Senior Open he had carried in eight tournaments and played in two. At the Senior Open – the biggest event of the year for 50-and-over players — Ten Broeck led after 36 holes before finishing in a tie for ninth. If there ever was a Cinderella story, this was it.

THEN, IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE, comes the U.S. Women’s Open, played at Wisconsin’s Blackwolf Run for the second time. No local angle there, though two-time Illinois Women’s Open champion Aimee Neff and Flossmoor’s Ashley Armstrong both got into the field after being first alternates in sectional play.

No, the significance of that tournament was similar to the aftermath of the 1998 staging there, when Se Ri Pak won. This was another story that was huge in Korea, as Neon Yon SP??? Choi and Amy Yang finished one-two – the second consecutive year that two players from a country the size of Indiana have finished at the top of the leaderboard in the biggest tournament in women’s golf.

FINALLY there was the 63rd Illinois Open, back at The Glen Club after a four-year absence. It ended with Scodro beating Meierdierks, but before that there were some developments in Round 2 that sent the attending media and Illinois PGA staffers scouring the record books.

Meierdierks posted back-to-back eagles on Nos. 14 ant 15. Had that ever been done before in the tournament? Nobody knows for sure, but I strongly doubt it and I’ve covered every Illinois Open since 1975 – the last year the Chicago District Golf Assn. conducted the championship before turning it over to the Illinois PGA.

And then there was a double eagle by amateur Shane Smith of Godfrey, IL., a few hours later. (He holed a 263-yard 3-wood at the 559-yard first hole). Was that double eagle another tourney first? Probably, but again the records are lacking.

Another stat worth noting is the cut number – 3-over-par 147 for the first 36 holes. No cut number has been lower since 1999 and the only time the number was matched was in 2011. That time, however, host venue Hawthorn Woods was set up as a par-71 while The Glen Club was a par-72 this year.

Smith’s double eagle was the fourth of the year by either an IPGA member or at an IPGA event. Most dramatic of those was by Ridgemoor pro Jason Lee in the section’s Match Play Championship at Kemper Lakes. It brought a quick ending to a playoff in the early rounds.

Glen Oak assistant Matt Slowinski had a double eagle in the Professional Players National Championship in California and Green Garden’s John Platt had another in a Senior stroke play event at Naperville Country Club.

RYDER CUP: A look behind the scenes with three months to go

There’s still a few months to go before the 39th Ryder Cup matches take over Medinah Country Club and put Chicago in the forefront of world sports.

Big events like this one don’t just happen, though. Tons of work, by literally thousands of people, is required before that first ball is struck. Much – but by no means all – of it has already been done.

There’s been a ticket drawing, a promotional tour by captains Davis Love III of the United States and Jose Maria Olazabal of Europe, a sale of corporate hospitality options and a recruitment for volunteers.

Eventually 75 corporate chalets, accounting for about 2 million square feet of flooring, will be constructed on the Medinah premises. The grounds will also include 15 video boards and 650 televisions. That’ll all have to be in place before the food and beverages are brought in. Over 250 companies have committed to some form of the corporate hospitality offerings already.

Event director Michael Belot, no stranger to massive golf events, has been based at Medinah for more than a year to tend to the myriad of details required for such a project and he has five staffers under his supervision there. In his 10th year working for the PGA of America, Belot was tournament director for the 2006 PGA Championship, the last big event staged at Medinah. The Ryder Cup, though, is a different animal.

Medinah hosted three U.S. Opens before taking on the PGA Championships of both 1999 and 2006. Those were big deals, but Belot is confident this Ryder Cup “will stand out as Medinah’s crown jewel….It’ll be the biggest golf event ever in Illinois.’’

Don Larson, Medinah’s chairman for the event, is in charge of matters on the club’s end and Curtis Tyrrell, the course superintendent, has the delicate job of getting the famed No. 3 course in peak condition for the Sept. 25-30 extravaganza. And, long before he even began putting finishing touches on the course, Tyrrell was involved prominently in a $1.5 million greens renovation project to prepare the facility specifically for the big days ahead in September.

Michael Miller, executive director of the Illinois section of the PGA of America, is overseeing the efforts of his members who will perform a variety of duties before and during the competition. Miller said his staff is 50 percent busier this season just because of Ryder Cup demands. Over 300 IPGA members are volunteering their services in one way or another.

And then there’s the PGA of America staff that is really in charge of the whole thing. It operates under the direction of executive director Joe Steranka from headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

In addition to the kickoff events held over the last year, more promotional features have or will be coming. There’ll be a Bears vs. Packers golf match at Medinah, a Youth Skills Challenge, a Junior Ryder Cup competition, an international pep rally called Bagpipes & Blues at the Field Museum and an outdoor art exhibit dubbed Tartan Art on the Avenue. All are directly connected to this Ryder Cup.

In addition to the work of about 50 local artists the Tartan Art on the Avenue exhibit will include a classic piece of artwork by the famed LeRoy Nieman. – a five-foot golf ball that will be on display throughout the Chicago area from Sept. 13 to Oct. 10.

The art exhibit as well as Bagpipes & Blues are part of an official fund-raising campaign benefiting Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana as well as the Illinois PGA Foundation.

As you can see, the 24 players who will compete in the emotion-charged competition are but a small part of the overall event. Still, in the end, they will be the show and patriotism will abound.

The 75 corporate hospitality tents are more than organizers originally envisioned. They thought 53 would be enough, but then this is Chicago – a city that has long supported big-time sports events. The original ticket sale assured galleries of 40,000 per day at the Ryder Cup.

Helping those 40,000 get around the premises will be 4,000 volunteers, who will perform a variety of duties when the matches are in progress. Lake Park High School, located across the street from Medinah, will shut down during the competition. The parking and concessions operations will be run from the school, and it will benefit big-time from the closing.

In exchange for use of its facilities, Lake Park High School will receive enough financial compensation to complete the installation of a turf field on its West campus – a benefit for the football program, marching band and other athletic events.

The global significance of the Ryder Cup might also surprise you, and it requires the involvement of many, many more people. Television feeds from the Ryder Cup will go to 200 countries, or more than half a billion households. Some are in such remote places as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Mauritania, Rwanda, Tongo and Yemen.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN STILL GET TICKETS

Individual tickets to the Ryder Cup at Medinah were gobbled up fast, making the event one of the toughest tickets in all of sports.

There is still a way to get some, though. The catch is, they won’t come cheap. Tickets to the Ryder Cup are available to supporters of Bagpipes & Blues, one of the attractions of the Magnificent Moments fundraising campaign.

Bagpipes & Blues will be held Sept. 27 at the Field Museum. Those who buy tickets to that international pep rally can get Ryder Cup tickets as part of the deal. A variety of packages are available. To find out more check out the website www.magnificentmoments.org. and then click on Ryder Cup tickets.

Dr. Jim Suttie answers all our questions

Dr. Jim Suttie is, at least arguably, Chicago’s best-known golf teaching professional.

Noted as a pioneer in applying biomechanical principles to the golf swing, Suttie was the PGA of America’s national teacher-of-the-year in 2000 and won that award three times from the PGA’s Illinois section. He’s also been among GOLF magazine’s top 100 instructors and among the top 20 in America on Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers list.

In a recent, far-ranging interview, Suttie offered these insights on the game he has taught to so many over the years:

QUESTION: While you’ve been based in recent years at Cog Hill in the summer, you’ve also been teaching in Naples, FL. What’s it like teaching down south?

SUTTIE: I’ve been at Cog Hill for 14 years and also at a club called TwinEagles in Naples. It is a two-course development that’s been doing quite well and has a nice practice facility, but in the summer it’s too hot and it rains a lot.

Q: Lots of tour players have come to you for help. Who would be the main ones?

SUTTIE: Well, I don’t own any of them, but I’ve sure worked with a lot of them. After they’ve done it all and tried all the tricks they want to find out what they’re doing (chuckle).

I worked with Chip Beck, Bobby Clampett, Loren Roberts and Brad Faxon from when they were on the regular tour to now, when they’re on the senior tour. I haven’t worked with too many on the LPGA, but did work with a few of them.

Q: You’ve also worked with two of our Chicago PGA Tour players, Mark Wilson and Kevin Streelman. Kevin is Chicago’s only home-bred PGA Tour player and you correctly he’d make the cut at the U.S. Open for the third time in the three times he qualified for that tournament. What made you feel he’d do well at Olympic Club?

SUTTIE: I was quite impressed with his scoring in (U.S. Open sectional) qualifying (Streelman finished third in the nation’s toughest sectional after shooting a 30 on the first nine of Ohio State University’s Scarlett course). He’s very streaky, but that course really suits him well. He likes to hit a little fade and work the ball.

Q: You’re not just dealing with high-profile players, though. What about some of the others you have worked with – the devoted amateur-types?

SUTTIE: Last week a kid from Nashville came by (at Cog Hill), then went out on the course and made five birdies. Those kinds of things tend to be fun.

But I also had an ex-surgeon, 71 years old, and his wife come in from San Diego just because they wanted to get better. I try to give each person what they can physically do to enjoy the game. I don’t try to put them in spots they have to do something.

Q: What about your young pupils?

SUTTIE: Well, I worked with Michael Schachner (promising young touring pro from the North suburbs) since he was 3 years old. He’s become a very good player, but at that high a level it becomes strictly mental.

There’s an 8-year-old who I’ve been working with for over a year. You have to have different approaches for every person. Everybody has their own learning style. You’ve got to make it fun for young kids.

Q: In general, do you prefer working with men or women?

SUTTIE: It doesn’t matter. They say I’m good with the ladies, but I might scare them. Maybe it’s my doctorate. They might perceive me as very technical.

Q: Tell me about all that schooling you’ve had. I’m assuming that led to you’re getting the nickname “Doc,’’ – because you’re one of the few golf teaching pros to have a doctorate degree.

SUTTIE: I’ve been teaching about 40 years, but I went back to school in 1978 at Middle Tennessee State and did research at the University of Kentucky to get my doctorate. I had gotten my Masters at Northern Illinois. I was an assistant coach at Northern Illinois and also coached at Eastern Kentucky and Florida Gulfcoast.

Q: Golf has changed a lot over your years of teaching, due at least in part to developments in equipment technology. Any thoughts on that?

SUTTIE: We have had changes in technology. They’ve been very helpful, but we’ve overdone it a little. We’ve been looking too much at body mechanics. I like to spend a little time on analysis and more on fixing.

Q: What working hours do you keep as a teacher these days?

SUTTIE: I’m pretty flexible. I just have people call my 800 number. I don’t do a lot of marketing.

Q: Any new projects on the horizon?

SUTTIE: I’m working on a book for ladies, and I’ll get some LPGA players to model for it. Ladies can’t swing like men, but they’re being taught like me. Men are stronger in the upper body. Women are stronger in the lower body. Men are diggers, women are pickers. They’re afraid they’ll hurt their fingers and wrists.

Haney’s “Big Miss” is well worth reading

Please forgive me, but I must vent.

I’ve been a member of the national golf media for over 40 years, and I’m proud of it. There are times, though, when I don’t agree with the majority of my brethren and this is definitely one of those times.

It seems to me that most media members devoted to our sport — that’s print, broadcast, digital and anybody else who has a passion for golf and the spreading of information about it — are reverting back to an old theme: Put the focus on Tiger Woods because he matters the most.

Granted, Woods moves the needle more than any other player, but there’s a lot more good stories in golf than Tiger-mania. When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational there was the immediate knee-jerk reaction that “Tiger is back!’’

And just in time for the Masters, to boot. Well, the Masters showed that Woods isn’t back yet — by a long shot. The Arnold Palmer Invitational was just one win, that’s all.

When will the broad-based golf world realize that the PGA Tour isn’t the “Tiger Woods Show?’’ That mistake was made when he was winning a lot. Then, when Woods had his problems on and off the course, there was — in far too many quarters — the sentiment that golf wasn’t worth following without Tiger.’’ That was ridiculous then, just as a premature focus on Woods is now.

Frankly, I’m just as interested in the stories of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, the good old names on the Champions Tour and Yani Tseng’s domination of the women’s circuit as I am in what Tiger’s doing. This isn’t meant as Tiger bashing. It’s simply an effort to tell it like it is: the pro tours have more good stories lines than they ever did, and Tiger’s is just one of them.

Speaking of telling it like it is, I most heartily recommend the just-released Hank Haney book as must reading. Haney’s “The Big Miss’’ (Crown Archetype, New York, $26) was released just before the Masters — an ideal time for the book to get maximum exposure. Haney was Woods’ swing coach for six years. He resigned in the aftermath of the personal problems that sent Woods’ popularity into a tailspin.

Given my stance on Tiger over-kill, calling attention to a book involving Woods might seem silly but “The Big Miss’’ is anything but that.

I’m not sure how many Chicagoans are aware of this, but Haney is one of us. He grew up in the Chicago area, playing high school golf for Deerfield. His first instructor was Jim Hardy, then the head professional at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. Hardy, who has long since left the area just as Haney has, remains one of our sport’s foremost instructors and Haney has followed in his footsteps while building a much higher profile.

Haney’s career path took him to the John Jacobs’ Schools, then a job as golf coach at Southern Methodist University. He now runs four golf schools in Texas, has a regular gig on The Golf Channel, writes for major golf publications and is — of course — the former swing coach for the world’s most famous current golfer.

As soon as the book’s release neared Woods condemned Haney for writing it, claiming it was “unprofessional’’ for him to discuss their work together and insisting he’d never read the book. I’m not sure whether Mark Steinberg,Woods’ long-time representative, read the book or not but he was even more critical of this Haney project.

Enough about that nonsense. Those who haven’t read it might think Haney’s book is a hatchet job on Woods. It’s not. While I’m sure a profit motive was involved, I’m glad Haney took on the project. (He did so, I must say, working with Jaime Diaz — a long-time friend of mine. Jaime is a top-notch golf writer, one of the best in the business. He was recently named editor of GolfWeek magazine. It’s important to note that Haney calls Diaz his “collaborator.’’ Diaz’ name isn’t on the cover of the book, only Haney’s).

The gist of the book is this: Being Woods’ swing coach was never an easy job. In explaining why, Haney gives glimpses into Woods’ life that I haven’t seen so clearly presented before. We don’t get the sordid details of his sexual escapades, but we don’t need them. Instead we learn how driven, focused and single-minded Woods could be. You got them impression from Haney that it wasn’t easy being Tiger Woods, despite his enormous talent. And you also got the impression that it wasn’t always easy being around Woods, even in the best of times.

There were times Woods blamed his swing coach for his own shortcomings in competition. There were times Woods would give Haney the silent treatment on the lesson or practice tee without any apparent reason. When Haney came under criticism for Woods’ play, Woods wouldn’t support him.

There was an instance when Woods told then-wife Elin that there wouldn’t be a party after he won a big tournament because winning “is expected’’ for him. He was great at staying in the moment, which helped on the golf course. But that didn’t help him enjoy life off it.

One thing Woods apparently did enjoy was training with the Navy SEALs. His late father Earl was a career military man, and Woods’ fascination with the SEALs’ lifestyle led him to take some extraordinary risks. He’d go on SEALs’ training expeditions, both underwater and parachuting out of planes. He’d take long runs with heavy boots on. There was the definite possibility that these ventures contributed to the knee problems that slowed his golf career perhaps as much as his marital woes did. Haney warned Woods of impending peril, but to no avail.

Their breakup was declared by Haney, but Woods wouldn’t accept his resignation and then claimed that it was an agreement of mutual consent. It wasn’t.

“My departure was complicated,’’ Haney wrote, “but I’m proud of the way I managed it.’’

Haney insists he’ll never work with a touring pro again, but doesn’t regret time spent with Woods. “I wish him well,’’ was how Haney concluded the book.

That was a perfect ending. Appreciating Tiger Woods’ extraordinary talent is one thing. Understanding Tiger Woods, the person, isn’t so easy. He is, though, perhaps the greatest athlete of our generation. I’m glad Haney made the effort.