Len Ziehm On Golf

Women’s PGA at Kemper Lakes will be a wide-open affair

Golf’s only major championship presently scheduled at a Chicago area course tees off next week when the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship comes to Kemper Lakes in Kildeer.

The event, one of five majors on the Ladies PGA Tour, was played at Olympia Fields last year with Danielle Kang the champion. Based on what’s been happening on the LPGA circuit the last few weeks this year’s tourney may have a different cast of leading characters when it comes to Kemper starting on June 26.

Canadian Brooke Henderson was the defending champion at Olympia, but she finished runner-up to Kang. Both pulled out of tournaments in the last two weeks for what was initially declared “personal reasons.’’

Henderson was a WD from the biggest event — U.S. Women’s Open — and it was later revealed that her grandfather had died. She was back in action as the defending champion at last week’s Meijer Classic in Grand Rapids, Mich., but wasn’t her usual sharp self, finishing in a tie for 44th place.

Kang played well in the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing fourth behind champion Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, but she pulled out of the Meijer Classic after playing 11 holes. No reason for that withdrawal has been given, though Kang said she’d return to the tour for the Northwest Arkansas Championship, this week’s LPGA stop, which begins its 54-hole run on Friday.

Meanwhile, Jutanugarn ‘s play tailed off after she won the most recent of the LPGA majors. She was in a tie for 56th place after three rounds of the Meijer tournament a week later but caught fire in the final round, shooting a 10-under-par 62 that included a 29 on the front nine. She finished the event in a tie for 12th.

Also showing at least some good form in the Meijer event was the best American player, Lexi Thompson. She shot 67-67 in the weekend rounds, but that wasn’t good enough to keep up with South Korean So Yeon Ryu. She posted a sizzling 21-under-par over 72 holes at Blythefield Country Club.

Last year Ryu moved to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings prior to hitting her first tee shot at Olympia Fields. The rankings have changed a bit since then, however. Ryu is now No. 5 behind Korean Inbee Park, Jutanugarn, Thompson and China’s Shanshan Feng. Ryu may be ready to make a move back to the top spot at Kemper Lakes, however.

Her victory in Michigan was her sixth career win on the LPGA Tour, but her first of this season. She is the defending champion in the Northwest Arkansas Championship and – unlike virtually every other player in the field – Ryu has already paid a visit to Kemper Lakes to get ready for the next major championship.

Here and there

Japan’s Eriko Gejo was the only player under par in the Chicago qualifier for next month’s inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She shot a 1-under 70 at Conway Farms in Lake Forest on Monday. Conway’s only Chicago area qualifier for next month’s finals at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton was Lake Forest’s Jamie Fischer, who shot 77 to finish third.

Norridge’s Sabrina Bonanno, a recent graduate of Arkansas-Little Rock, is the new Illinois State Women’s Amateur champion. She defeated defending champion Kelly Sterling of Mokena for the title at Rockford’s Aldeen course. Bonanno led the stroke play qualifying with a 67 and none of her matches went beyond the 15th hole.

The Chicago area has a second qualifier for next week’s U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado. Gary March, a teaching professional at Mount Prospect, was co-medalist in a qualifier at the Warren course in South Bend. He joins Roy Biancalana, who survived an early elimination at Village Links of Glen Ellyn.

Maddie Szeryk won’t defend her Women’s Western Amateur title next week at Mistwood in Romeoville. She’ll compete in the British Ladies Amateur instead but her sister Ellie will be in the field at Mistwood.

The Kids Golf Foundation, based at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, has announced its large single donation to date — $1 million from the Hansberger family. The Hansbergers had guided Ram, a long-time golf equipment manufacturer.

The 57th Radix Cup at Oak Park Country Club last week ended in a 10-8 win for the Chicago District Golf Association’s amateur team over the Illinois PGA’s best professionals, and the competition had some individual highlights. Jim Billiter, the Kemper Lakes pro, holed a 260-yard 3-wood shot for the first albatross in Radix history. Taylorville amateur Dave Ryan made a hole-in-one and Matt Murlick of Winnetka Golf Club, chipped in three times for the amateurs.

The 99th Chicago District Amateur concludes Thursday at Briarwood in Deerfield. So does the 101st Western Golf Association’s Junior Championship, which is being played at Evanston Golf Club in Skokie.

Ghim, Lumsden, Meyer have a great opportunity at the U.S. Open

The 118th U.S. Open tees off on Thursday at New York’s Shinnecock Hills course with the usual representation of Chicago players among the 156 starters. This year it’s a little different, however, because two of local hopefuls are amateurs.

For Arlington resident Doug Ghim it’ll be his last event before turning pro. He got into his first U.S. Open the same way he got into his first Masters in April. Both spots were due to his runner-up finish in last fall’s U.S. Amateur and Ghim needed to maintain his amateur status to take advantage of the invite to Shinnecock.

Ghim did well in the Masters. He was only amateur to make the cut, finishing in a tie for 50th place and making three eagles along the way to earn some crystal souvenirs. Once his last putt drops at Shinnecock Hills Ghim will shift his focus to playing for money.

Thanks to his sterling record as an amateur – he won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s best collegiate player in his senior season at Texas – Ghim has already been awarded sponsor’s exemptions to three PGA Tour events – next week’s Travelers Championship in Hartford, Ct.; the Quicken Loans Invitational in Potomac, Md., the following week and the John Deere Classic in downstate Silvis next month.

Ryan Lumsden, who just completed his junior season at Northwestern, also will play in the U.S. Open as an amateur. Lumsden, from Scotland, survived the sectional qualifying tournament in Columbus, Ohio, but he has another year of collegiate eligibility remaining.

Dylan Meyer, who concluded his collegiate eligibility at Illinois, qualified for the U.S. Open with a second-place finish in the Springfield, Ohio, sectional. The U.S. Open will be Meyer’s pro debut, and he also has secured sponsor’s invites to play at Harford and Potomac.

Meyer will join his former Illini teammate, Nick Hardy, at Hartford. Hardy didn’t attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open, a championship he played twice as an amateur. He made his pro debut at last week’s Rust-Oleum Championship, a Web.com Tour stop at Ivanhoe Club, and earned $3,070 for a tie for 33rd place.

Hardy also has invites to play in Illinois’ other Web.com event – the Lincoln Land Championship at Panther Creek in Springfield – and the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic in downstate Silvis., Ill. He also was invite made the cut at TPC Deere Run in 2017 athe Chicago area. Jon Jennings, the Shinnecock course superintendent since 2012, came to New York after serving in a similar position at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton from 2000 to 2012.

Radix Cup on tap

The Radix Cup matches between the stars of the Chicago District Golf Association and the Illinois PGA will be played for the 57th time Wednesday (TODAY) at Oak Park Country Club in River Forest.

While the CDGA’s amateur stars won last year’s competition 10-8, that team will have eight Radix Cup rookies in its 12-man lineup this time. The CDGA unit has two veterans, however. Taylorville’s Dave Ryan is making his 15th appearance and Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell his 14th.

The IPGA has a notable Radix veteran as well. Medinah teaching pro Rich Dukelow has played in the matches 12 times, counting both his time as an amateur and a professional.

There’ll be six better ball matches, the first going off at 12:45 p.m. Though the IPGA owns a commanding 35-19-2 lead in the series the teams are both 4-4 in matches played over the last eight years.

Here and there

The 85th playing of the Illinois Women’s State Amateur concludes on Thursday at Aldeen in Rockford.

Chicago’s qualifying round for the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be played on Monday (JUNE 18) at Conway Farms in Lake Forest. Thirty-three players will battle for five berths in the championship proper July 12-15 at Chicago Golf Club.

The 101st Western Golf Association Junior Championship begins its four –day run on Monday at Evanston Golf Club in Skokie. William Mouw of Chino, Calif., is the defending champion. Past titlists include PGA Tour mainstays Ricky Fowler, Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan.

The Golf Scene, hosted by Steve Kashul, celebrated its 25th year on Sunday in its first show of this season. It’s the longest-airing golf show in the nation.

Entries are still available for the Blackberry Oaks Amateur, June 23-24 in Bristol.

Langley heads big local contingent in Web.com tourney at Ivanhoe

The future of the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship may be in doubt, but one thing is certain. The $600,000 event, teeing off at Ivanhoe Club on Thursday, has the loyalty of the best local players.

This year’s event marks the professional debut of Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and tourney director Scott Cassin also awarded sponsor exemptions to Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly, Deerfield’s Vince India, Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and Libertyville’s Michael Schachner.

Hardy won’t be alone among the University of Illinois alums in the field. Scott Langley, the NCAA individual champion for the Illini in 2011, is challenging Korean Sungjae Im for the Web.com money lead, and Langley is hot. He finished tied for second behind winner Joey Garber in last week’s Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C., and another former Illini, Brian Campbell, tied for fourth.

Im, Garber and Campbell are also in the Rust-Oleum field as players continue their battle to finish in the Top 25 on the season money list, which means promotion to the PGA Tour in 2019.

Also a factor in the Top 25 drama is Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger, a former champion of both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. Hopfinger stands No. 38 on the money list and a good finish at Ivanhoe would propel him into Top 25 range.

“What makes this tournament so compelling is the high level of competition due to the stakes being so high,’’ said Cassin. “And there’s no doubt that many of the players in the field will be competing next year on the PGA Tour.’’

Some already have. The rest of the field includes Elmhurst’s Mark Wilson, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour; former Masters champion Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel, a past winner of the PGA Championship. The Web.com Tour isn’t just for the kids, however. Seasoned veterans Stuart Appleby, Erik Compton, Brendon deJonge, Jason Gore and Dicky Pride will also compete at Ivanhoe.

Monday’s two qualifying sessions, at Stonewall Orchard in Gurnee and White Deer Run in Vernon Hills, didn’t bring out the best in local talent, however. None were included among the six qualifiers for the tourney proper from each site. Highlighting the qualifying sessions was an 8-under-par 64 by Bo Andrews, a Raleigh resident, at Stonewall.

Also surviving among the 163 entrants in the general qualifiers was Dan Woltman of Beaver Dam, Wis. Woltman also made the field through general qualifying in 2016 – the tourney’s first playing at Ivanhoe – and shared the lead through 54 holes before finishing fourth.

This week’s 72-hole test, which concludes on Sunday, ends Rust-Oleum’s three-year contract to host the event at Ivanhoe.

Lumsden, Meyer reach U.S. Open

College stars Ryan Lumsden of Northwestern and Dylan Meyer of Illinois were among those surviving Monday’s sectional qualifying rounds for next week’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York.

Lumsden made birdie on the last hole of the Columbus sectional to get his berth at Shinnecock. Meyer finished second in the Springfield, Ohio, sectional.

The Open started with 8,537 entrants, and 156 will tee off at Shinnecock. Meyer will be joined by Illini alum and PGA Tour Champions star Steve Stricker, who tied for second in the Memphis sectional. Lumsden is the ninth Northwestern golfer in the last 20 years to qualify for the U.S. Open and the fourth to do it while still an amateur.

Wheaton’s PGA Tour mainstay Kevin Streelman opened with a 66 in the first round of the 36-hole competition at Columbus but had his Open hopes dashed with a 73 in the afternoon. He finished one shot behind Lumsden.

KPMG countdown begins

The biggest tournament of this Chicago golf season, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, will follow the Rust-Oleum Championship with its June 26 to July 1 run at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. It’s the third of the five annual major championships on the LPGA Tour.

Canadian Brooke Henderson, who won the KPMG event in 2016 and was runner-up to Danielle Kang last year at Olympia Fields, was a late withdrawal from last week’s U.S. Women’s Open in Alabama. No reason for the WD was provided at the time but Henderson has since revealed that her grandfather, 81-year old Bob Moir, had passed away after a brief battle with caner.

Here and there

Roy Biancalana, a former Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open champion who played briefly on the PGA Tour, recently returned to the Chicago golf scene and proved he can still compete. Now living in St. Charles, Biancalana qualified for the U.S. Senior Open by shooting a 3-under-par 69 in the Chicago qualifying round at Village Links of Glen Ellyn.

The 57th Radix Cup matches between the top players in the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association will be staged next Wednesday, June 13, at Oak Park Country Club in River Forest.

First of the season’s Western Golf Assocation tournaments is the 101st Western Junior. It tees off on June 18 at Evanston Golf Club in Skokie with Californian William Mouw attempting to become the first repeat winner of the nation’s oldest national junior championship since Ben Downing in 1940-41. Mouw won last year at Park Ridge Country Club.

Hardy poised to make his debut as a pro in Web.com stop at Ivanhoe

The college season ended for Northwestern after three rounds of the NCAA finals this week in Stillwater, Okla., and Illinois lasted one more round before an 11th place finish in the stroke play portion of the competition wasn’t good enough to get the Illini back in the top eight match play qualifiers. They will decide the national champion on Wednesday.

For Illini senior Nick Hardy, from Northbrook, the collegiate season didn’t end happily. In addition to his team’s finish, he tied for 32nd in the individual standings. The good news for Hardy is that it’s time to move on to the professional ranks and he’ll be able to do it as soon as next week.

Hardy, by virtue of a sponsor’s exemption, is in the field for the Web.com Tour’s $600,000 Rust-Oleum Championship, which will be played for the third straight year at Ivanhoe Club. Hardy will be in Monday’s pro-am as well as the starting field that tees of on Thursday, July 7.

Scott Cassin, the Rust-Oleum Championship director, has been generous in giving sponsor’s exemptions to Chicago area players and – in addition to Hardy – Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly, a two-time Illinois State Amateur champion; Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr., a former Illinois Open titlist; and Deerfield’s Vince India, another past Illinois State Amateur winner, are in the Ivanhoe field as invitees.

The local player to watch, however, is Brad Hopfinger, who prospered from an invite last year, using it to finish in a tie for 28th place. He has playing privileges on the PGA Tour’s alternate circuit this year so doesn’t need an exemption. In fact, he appears on the brink of earning a spot on golf’s premier circuit after finishing in a tie for fifth at the Web.com’s Nashville Open last week.

That strong finish enabled Hopfinger, one of only eight players to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, to climb from 56th to 32nd on the Web.com season money list. The top 25 at season’s end are automatically PGA Tour members in 2019 and 25 more can earn their spots in the circuit’s post-season playoffs. The Web.com Tour plays in the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C., this week before moving to Ivanhoe.

Senior Women’s Open draws 462 entries

The inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open has drawn 462 entries, and 61 won’t have to go through qualifying rounds for the July 12-15 event at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

Among the exempt players are 16 former U.S. Women’s Open champions headed by three-time winner Hollis Stacy and JoAnne Carner, who won the first of her two titles in 1971 and is still competitive on the LPGA’s Legends Tour. Six Open runner-ups are also in the field.

Pat Bradley, who won the 1981 Women’s Open at LaGrange Country Club, is foremost among the players who have been waiting for the event to materialize.

“I’ve had the Senior Women’s Open on my calendar for 17 years, so to say I’m excited to play is an understatement,’’ said Bradley. “It’ll bring back some great memories to go back to the Chicago area to compete for an Open title.’’

The turnout has delighted Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association executive director.

“We’re thrilled by the response of our USGA championship have had to this inaugural championship,’ said USGA executive director Mike Davis. “The consistent growth in women’s golf has been inspiring.’’

Most notable of the former U.S. Women’s Open titlists not entering is Nancy Lopez. She has undergone knee surgery, a factor in keeping her out of the walking-only 72-hole finals.

Roughly half the field for the 120-player finals will come from the 17 nation-wide qualifying tournaments. They begin on Monday. Entries came from 39 states, 73 of them from Florida. The Chicago qualifier is June 18.

Another Mid-Am win for Ehrgott

John Ehrgott, from Mt. Hawley in Peoria, defeated Winnetka’s Blake Johnson, representing the Glen Club in Glenview, in the title match of the rain-delayed Chicago District Mid-Amateur Championship at Hinsdale Golf Club.

Ehrgott’s 3 and 2 win gave him his two CDGA Mid-Am crowns in the tourney’s four-year history. He also won the Illinois State Mid-Am in 2007 and 2009 and his four overall Mid-Am titles are just one shy of Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell. All of Mitchell’s wins were in the state version.

Here and there

Texas’ Doug Ghim, from Arlington Heights, finished third in the NCAA finals as an individual and his team advanced to the match play portion of the tournament. Dylan Meyer, Nick Hardy’s Illinois teammate, concluded his collegiate career by finishing in a tie for fourth at the NCAA tournament.

Olympia Fields Country Club has named Virginia-based Keith Foster as the architect to oversee renovations of both its North and South courses.

The Lake Bluff Park District will keep its golf course open through this season but said private donors will have to raise $265,000 by Oct. 31 for the course to be available in 2019.

Langer to miss Senior PGA; NU women bow out of NCAA finals

PGA Tour Champions, the circuit for the men stars who have reached their 50th birthdays, have two of their five major tournaments in easy reach of Chicago this year. The first, though, might not quite feel like a major.

Bernhard Langer, who has dominated the circuit for years and won all five of those majors at least once, won’t be in the field when the 79th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship returns to Harbor Shores in Battle Creek, Mich., on Thursday.

Langer completed his sweep of the Champions’ majors last year when he won the Senior PGA at Trump National in Virginia. He had previously included the Regions Tradition, U.S. Senior Open, Constellation Senior Players Championship and British Senior Open among his 37 wins on the Champions Tour.

“I usually defend my titles but I want to support my son Jason, who is graduating form high school,’’ said Langer, who attended Harbor Shores’ media preview even though he knew he wouldn’t be playing in the 72-hole tournament. “I would love to be at Harbor Shores, but family comes first. Obviously majors are the most important tournaments, and I wouldn’t miss this one if it weren’t for my son.’’

First of the PGA Tour Champions majors was last week’s Regions Tradition in Alabama. Langer couldn’t defend his title there, finishing in 11th place behind champion Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Langer had an unusually slow start (for him) this season. He needed eight tournaments to get his first victory at the Insperity Invitational in Texas, but he had three second-place finishes prior to that. He’ll be in the field for the third and fourth Champions’ majors. The U.S. Senior Open and Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor, in Highland Park, are back-to-back in July.

Going collegiate

Both the Illinois and Northwestern men finished in the top five of last week’s Columbus regional and will be in the 30-team field for the NCAA Championships, which tee off on Friday at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma. The Illini were second and the Wildcats fourth at Columbus.

The women’s tournament concluded their season by losing 3-2 to Stanford in the quarterfinals. Northwestern qualified for match play for the second straight year on Monday, getting through the 72-hole stroke play portion of the championship in fourth place.

Last year coach Emily Fletcher’s NU team was the national runner-up, losing to Arizona State in the final match at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. This year’s team, with four returning players from last year’s squad, wasn’t as strong until the finals at Karsten Creek. Then Hannah Kim, a mainstay for four seasons but not quite as sharp as a senior, cemented herself as the best player in program history. She tied for 13th as an individual after playing the last 40 holes in 40-under-par.

The Golf Channel will provide live coverage of the women’s championship match plus next week’s individual finals and all three days of match play of the men’s event.

Ghim wins Hogan award

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer. The University of Texas senior was the low amateur at the Masters in April and will lead the Longhorns into the men’s NCAA finals. They won the Raleigh Regional with Ghim the top individual.

Weir joins Ivanhoe field

The Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship will have a former Masters champion in the field. Mike Weir, the Canadian left-handed player who won at Augusta in 2003, will compete on the PGA Tour’s alternate circuit at Ivanhoe Club from June 4-10.

Weir, 48, has $28 million in earnings and eight victories on the PGA Tour. He was awarded a place at Ivanhoe through a special eligibility category reserved for PGA Tour veterans in the 48 to 49 age group who are preparing for PGA Tour Champions. Weir’s parents are former Crystal Lake residents.

His play on the PGA Tour has been limited the last three years. He played in four tournaments on the main circuit this year off a major medical extension and had three missed cuts and a tie for 73rd place.

Format change for Women’s Western Amateur

The Women’s Western Amateur, a national championship that’s been played for 117 years, will undergo a format change when it’s held June 26-30 at Mistwood in Romeoville.

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 were be flighted into lower level flights. This year there will be only the one flight.

Can Northwestern make another run at the NCAA women’s title?

Last year the Northwestern women’s team created a Cinderella story. Coach Emily Fletcher’s team, with only one senior, marched all the way to the championship match at the NCAA finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.

A year later, Fletcher says, “we’ll try to do it again.’’

The Wildcats made the 24-team field for this year’s NCAA finals, which tee off on Friday at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. Over the course of the season, though, the team hasn’t performed at the level that might be expected of a team with four returning players.

“We’ve struggled a little,’’ admitted Fletcher. `Not everybody has played at the same level. Overall we were a little inconsistent. It’s been a challenge living up to expectations.’’

Most notable that applies to Hannah Kim, a stalwart on the NCAA runner-up team that dropped the title match against Arizona State.

“She’s had a slightly off year after being a trailblazer for us her first three years,’’ said Fletcher. This year’s team barely squeaked into the finals, and Kim was a key reason the Wildcats made it at all.

NU got off to a slow start in last week’s 54-hole regional tournament at University Ridge in Madison, Wis. The Wildcats needed to finish in the top six teams to make the finals, and they stood ninth after the first round. They posted the second-best round of the day in Round 2 to climb into a tie for sixth with Illinois and Ohio State, however, and that set the stage for a tension-packed final round in bad weather conditions.

Kim was 4-over-par for her first nine holes on the front nine but was 2-under on what could have been her last nine as a college player, and that helped NU nab the coveted No. 6 spot. Kim wasn’t the big gun in the gutty team effort, but her finish was a huge help.

The key player was sophomore Brooke Riley. She wasn’t on the NCAA runner-up team as a freshman but got her chance after Kacie Komoto graduated. Komoto turned pro, tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the Japan tour and will try to make it on the LPGA’s Symetra circuit this summer.

Riley has already made it at the collegiate level. She made eight birdies and shot a 6-under-par 66 in the heat of the regional’s third round. That was the second-best postseason round in the history of the NU program and her three-day total of 7-under 209 put Riley in a tie for fourth individually.

“She was tremendous for us,’’ said Fletcher. “I couldn’t be more happy for her. She pretty much kept us in it, but it was a collective effort.’’

Joining Riley and Kim on NU’s sixth straight NCAA finalist team were senior Sarah Cho and juniors Stephanie Lau and Janet Mao. They’ll start the competition at Karsten Creek, Oklahoma State’s home course, on Friday. All the teams will compete over 54 holes of stroke play, then there’ll be another round of stroke play for the top 15 teams.

After the 72 holes of stroke play are over the top eight teams will go to match play to determine the champion. The Golf Channel will cover the last three days of the tournament, which concludes on May 23.

Now it’s the men’s turn

The women’s teams from Northwestern and Illinois battled to the wire in their regional. Now the men are doing the same on Ohio State’s Scarlet Course. That regional ends today (WEDNESDAY) with the top five teams going to the NCAA men’s finals, which take over the Karsten Creek course after the women’s tournament is over.

Illinois has qualified for the match play portion in seven of the last eight NCAA finals but never won it all – a fact not lost on two-time Big Ten individual champion Nick Hardy of Northbrook who turns pro at the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club as soon as his collegiate career is done.

“I’m really excited, ‘’ said Hardy. “Finishing with my team should really be fun. We’re playing well at the right time.’’

While the Illinois men’s program has won eight of the last nine Big Ten titles including the last four in a row the NU men are consistent contenders as well. They have qualified for NCAA regional play nine times in the last 10 years.

Kemper is good to Chaussard

Garrett Chaussard, a four-year letterman for the Illini prior to his graduation in 2005, won his first major Illinois PGA title at Kemper Lakes last week. He took the 67th IPGA Match Play crown, beating frequent practice partner Chris Green of Glen View Club 3 and 2 in the final.

“Playing 36 holes three days in a row, it was a relief to get it over with and I’m glad I survived,’’ said Chaussard, the director of instruction at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe after holding similar jobs at Cog Hill and Chicago Highlands.

Unlike previous IPGA Match Plays, the tournament shared the course with workers preparing the Kildeer layout for next month’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

“There was constant activity out there,’’ said Chaussard. “They’re definitely doing some bunker work. Like all our courses they’re coming out of a real late spring, but that course is in really great shape.’’

Flavin delays decision to go pro, will defend his two state titles

The best golfer in Illinois last season has made his decision. Patrick Flavin won’t turn pro – at least for a while.

Last year Flavin became the first player in 37 years to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year. Only David Ogrin, way back in 1980, had accomplished that extraordinary feat.

Flavin, from Highwood, is completing a solid collegiate career at Miami of Ohio. He set his school record with eight tournament wins, four of them in his senior season. While his team narrowly missed receiving an invitation to the NCAA tournament Flavin did make it as an individual. He’s one of 10 competing in the regional play on Ohio State’s Scarlet course starting on Monday.

If Flavin finishes among the top three individuals at Columbus he’ll continue to the NCAA finals in Stillwater, Okla., from May 25-30. Lots of college seniors will turn pro after that tournament’s over, but not Flavin.

“I plan to stay amateur through the summer,’’ he said. “Staying amateur was a no-brainer for me. It was incredible to win the state Amateur and state Open last year and to repeat is a huge goal of mine, though I know the fields will be strong.’’

There hasn’t been a repeat champion in the Illinois State Amateur since Todd Mitchell in 2002-03 and only five others have won back-to-back since the tournament went to a stroke play format in 1963. Illinois men’s coach Mike Small was the last to repeat in the Illinois Open. He won three straight titles from 2005-07.

Flavin tested the professional ranks when he went through qualifying for the Canadian PGA Tour while retaining his amateur status. He didn’t make it, and he didn’t survive Monday’s local qualifying round in the U.S. Open, either. A 73 in his first-ever round on Cog Hill’s famed Dubsdead course in Lemont left Flavin in a tie for ninth place and only the top five advanced to sectional play.

His summer tournament schedule includes the Western Amateur, starting July 30 at Sunset Ridge in Northfield; the Sunnehanna, in Pennsylvania; the Northeast, in Rhode Island; and the Trans-Miss, in Ohio. All are invitationals. He’ll also enter the U.S. Amateur before the fall qualifying tournaments for the PGA’s Web.com Tour begin. That’s when he figures to turn pro.

“My game is solid right now. I know I can play at the next level,’’ Flavin said.

NU dominates U.S. Open locals

Northwestern proved they’re ready for next week’s NCAA regional in Columbus with an impressive showing in Monday’s U.S. Open locals. Dylan Wu and Ryan Lumsden were among the five sectional qualifiers at Cog Hill and Sam Triplett was the medalist at South Bend.

Big Ten champion Illinois is also in the field at Columbus but the top Illini player, conference individual titlist Nick Hardy, opted to skip the Open eliminations. Hardy, who has reached the U.S. Open finals twice, received a sponsor’s exemption to the Web.com’s Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club. The Open sectionals are on June 4, the Monday of tournament week at Ivanhoe.

Hardy will turn pro at that tournament and will participate in a pro-am during the sectional qualifying day. Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly also received an invitation to play at Ivanhoe and he skipped the Open locals for the same reason.

In addition to Wu and Lumsden the local qualifiers at Dubsdread were Bloomington’s Bob Wuethrich, the low man with a 3-under-par 69; Crystal Lake’s Ethan Farnam; and Wheeling’s Brian Ohr, who survived a four-man playoff to advance. Illinois’ other locals will be next Monday at Illini Country Club in Springfield and May 17 at ThunderHawk in Beach Park.

Szokol wins on Symetra Tour

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, who spent two seasons at Northwestern before transferring to Virginia, notched her first victory on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour on Sunday. A final-round 4-under-par 68 gave her a one-stroke win in the IOA Invitational at Atlanta National in Georgia.

The win earned Szokol $22,500 and came in the second tournament of her second season on the circuit. She had missed the cut in her first tournament of the year, which was three weeks before she claimed the victory with a 4-under-par 212 score for 54 holes.

Here and there

Berths in the NCAA women’s finals will be on the line Wednesday (TODAY) in a regional at University Ridge in Madison, Wis. Illinois, Northwestern and Notre Dame are among the 18 teams in the competition with the top six advancing to the finals at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma from May18-23.

Yujeong Son, of Norman, Okla., and Martina Edberg o Sweden were the two survivors of Monday’s sectional qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open at Elgin Country Club. Both covered the 36 holes in 4-under-par 140.

Defending champion Jim Billiter lost his first match in the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship on Tuesday. The reigning IPGA Player of the Year bowed out of the section’s first major tournament on him home course in a 1-up loss to Northmoor’s Brett Packee.

Jason Day, winner of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, will co-host the Go. Give. Gala Celebrity outing on May 21 at St. Charles Country Club. Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps will share hosting duties with Day.

Chicago State is among the entries in the 32nd PGA Minority Collegiate Championship, which begins its five-day run on Thursday in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Kemper Lakes’ Billiter is in the spotlight as Chicago tournament season tees off

Now things get serious. The 67th playing of the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship kicks off a busy five months of tournament play for Chicago’s best golfers.

The host professional defends his title and puts his hopes of retaining his IPGA Player of the Year status will be on the line at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. Jim Billiter, who has won the Match Play title twice in the last four years, will definitely be in the spotlight again.

“Player of the Year doesn’t reward you financially,’’ said Billiter, “but the hard work that goes into winning it proves to yourself that, for one year, you were the most consistent player.’’

The Match Play is one of the Illinois Section’s four major championships. The winner thrusts himself into Player of the Year contention immediately because the tournament offers more Bernardi points than all but the Illinois Open, Illinois PGA Championship and IPGA Players Championship.

In 2015 Billiter won the Match Play as well as the IPGA Championship but didn’t win the Player of the Year award because he didn’t play in the Illinois Open. Last year Adam Schumacher, assistant pro at Indian Hill in Winnetka, won two of the majors – the IPGA Championship at IPGA Players – but Billiter beat him out for the season-long honor.

“In 2015 I played great, probably better than last year,’’ said Billiter, “but by missing the Illinois Open I had no chance. My goal last year was to play in every event. You can’t win Player of the Year if you don’t play them all.’’

Because he had also won two of the section’s one-day stroke play events Billiter had Player of the Year locked up before Schumacher’s victory in the last major. Billiter got off to a solid start in Monday’s first stroke play event at Libertyville’s Merit Club, shooting a 71 to tie for third behind Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson (69) and Chris Green of the Glen View Club (70).

This year Billiter faces an additional challenge. Kemper Lakes hosts the biggest tournament of the Chicago season, next months’ KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and the host professional gets a heavier-than-usual workload when his club is in the world spotlight.

“It’s been incredible, a lot of work buying for the (tournament) merchandise tent,’’ said Billiter. “We’re ahead of the game, but this winter I was tied up more than in the past. Because of that my expectations aren’t as high for this year. In years past I’d make as many as six trips in the winter, either with members or for tournament series.’’

Last year he got away just once, but home course knowledge should still mean something next week. The tourney starts on Monday with the semifinals and championship matched scheduled for Thursday, May 10.


Northwestern and Illinois will both be competing in an NCAA regional at University Ridge in Madison, Wis., when the women’s national collegiate championships tees off on Monday.

NU, runner-up in last year’s NCAA finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, is the No. 4 seed and the Illini are No. 5 in Madison. The top six teams advance to this year’s finals at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma. Illinois, however, finished ahead of NU in the Big Ten Championships, the Illini tying for second – their best finish in 42 years – and the Wildcats tying for fourth.

Hannah Kim became Northwestern’s first-ever four-time first team all-Big Ten selection after the conference tournament. The first-teamers also included NU’s Janet Mao and Illinois’ Grace Park and Bing Singhsumalee.

Hardy’s on a roll

The Illinois and Wisconsin men’s teams will get their NCAA regional assignments during Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. selection show on The Golf Channel. For Illini senior Nick Hardy that will mark the beginning to the end of a great collegiate career. He will turn pro at the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club the week after the NCAA finals.

Hardy was crowned the Big Ten’s individual champion for the second time last weekend and paced his team to its fourth straight conference title and ninth in the last 10 years. Hardy, who was also the individual champion as a freshman, gave the Illini eight straight years in which the school had the league individual champion.

Open-ing up

The Chicago District Golf Association will conduct a 36-hole sectional qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open at Elgin Country Club as well as an 18-hole local qualifier for the U.S. Open at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont on Monday.

A 59-player field will compete for two spots in the women’s event while Cog Hill’s 90-player field will battle for five spots in sectional play. Patrick Flavin, the first player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year in 2017, heads the field at Dubsdread.

Here and there

Chris Ioratti, of Mistwood in Romeoville, captured the Illinois PGA Assistants title with a 1-up victory over Schaumburg’s Kyle Donovan at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale. Donovan prevented at all-Mistwood final with his 3 and 2 win over Mickelson in the semifinals.

Chicago will again have a second U.S. Open local qualifier – on May 17 at Thunderhawk in Beach Park – but survivors will have to leave the area for sectional play.

Recent changes have spurred Streelman’s fast start in PGA Tour season

Kevin Streelman won’t declare his hot start to the 2017-18 PGA Tour season as the best in his 11 years on the circuit but all the major changes he made over the last few months are certainly paying off.

With top-10 finishes in the last two tournaments — the RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C., and the Valero Texas Open – Chicago’s top pro golfer boosted his season winnings over $1.2 million and has career number over $16 million.

He’s now ranked No. 38 in the FedEx Cup standings, third on the circuit in greens in regulation and fourth in scrambling. While Streelman had early season wins in 20013 (Tampa Bay) and 2014 (Hartford), his trademark for this campaign has been consistency. He’s made the cut in 14 of 15 tournaments with three top-10s. He also did have a win, of sorts.

Streelman teamed with Larry Fitzgerald to win the pro-am portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Both are members at Whisper Rock, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Fitzgerald, a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, and Streelman also finished second in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am 2017.

The pairing with Fitzgerald was one of the few things that Streelman ITAL didn’t END ITAL change since the PGA’s wrap-around 2017-18 season began last October. Since then he’s changed his swing instructor, his caddie and his agent.

All that stayed the same were his two longstanding Chicago affiliations. He continues to play out of Black Sheep, the all-male club in Sugar Grove that made him an honorary member long before his golf career blossomed, and he still uses Wilson clubs. He started his affiliation with Wilson in 2011 and the company re-signed him for two more years last fall.

Though he had already established himself as a solid PGA Streelman had no reservations about making major changes in his team. Australian Andrew Getson is his new swing instructor, veteran caddie Frank Wlliams is now on his bag and Jeff Koski of Lagardere Sports is his agent.

“After 10 years fresh starts were needed,’’ said Streelman.

Getson and Koski are both based in Scottsdale, where Streelman lives with his wife Courtney and their two children, Sophia 4 and Rhett 2. He also has a new training base in Scottsdale, Premier Fitness.

Both Getson and Koski have worked with Phil Mickelson. On the caddie front Streelman ended a five-year relationship with A.J. Montecinos to hire Williams, who is in his 31st year working on the PGA Tour. He’s previously carried for Curtis Strange, Davis Love III and Hunter Mahan and was on the bag for Stewart Cink when he won the 2009 British Open.

The fitness change might be the most significant. Premier Fitness focuses on flexibility training.

“For someone in my stage of his career that’s been just terrific,’’ said Streelman. “I feel more flexible than I ever have, and I’ve never had a serious injury in my 11 years on the PGA Tour and 17 as a professional. That’s very unusual.’’

Streelman says the only aches he gets are in his shoulder and upper back, when he carries his children through airports. With both children still not of school age the Streelmans continue to travel as a family from tournament to tournament.

“We can probably do it one more year,’’ said Streelman. “It gets chaotic sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’

Streelman first developed as a golfer in Wheaton — in youth programs at Arrowhead and Cantigny and as a caddie at Chicago Golf Club. He also played high school golf at Wheaton South before heading to Duke for college. Through it all Streelman hasn’t forgotten his Chicago roots. Working with the Illinois Junior Golf Association, he’ll host a special day on July 9 at Cantigny during the week of the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop.

“We did this in 2009 and had almost 400 there,’’ said Streelman. “We’re hoping this one will be bigger and better.’’

Streelman is taking this week off while the PGA Tour holds a two-man team event in New Orleans. He’ll be in four May tournaments – the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina, The Players in Florida, the Fort Worth Invitational (formerly Colonial) in Texas and the Memorial in Ohio. Unless he wins one of those he’ll conclude the stretch at U.S. Open sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio.

Last year, feeling exhausted, he skipped the qualifier and didn’t play in the Open proper at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills. This year the finals are at Shinnecock Hills, the New York course that’s rich in golf history. Streelman badly wants to be in the field there.

Here and there

Bernhard Langer won’t defend his title in next month’s Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Michigan. He’ll attend his son’s high school graduation in Florida instead.

Defending champion Illinois will bid for its ninth title in 10 years at the Big Ten men’s tournament beginning Friday at Baltimore Country Club. The Illini face a strong challenge this time, as Purdue edged them for the title in last week’s Kepler Invitational in Ohio.

The Illinois women’s team tied for second at their Big Ten championships last week in Mainsville, Ohio. Coach Renee Slone’s Illini were 7-under-par, tying the school record for one round, in the last round of that event and the runner-up finish was Illinois’ best since 1976. Northwestern, runner-up in last year’s NCAA finals, was two strokes behind the Illini.

Lake Forest’s Hopfinger is mounting a bid for a PGA Tour card

The Web.com Tour is billed as the pathway to the PGA Tour, and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger is making progress on that journey.

Last fall Hopfinger regained his playing Web.com playing privileges with a gutty showing in two stages of the qualifying school. He survived Stage 2 with a 4-under-par final round to make it to the finals by one stroke.

In the finals Hopfinger covered those 72-holes in a solid 14-under-par – the exact number to earn playing privileges for the first eight tournaments of the Web.com season. No. 8 is coming up this weekend in the $550,000 North Mississippi Classic – a new event played in Oxford, Miss. It tees off on Thursday, and there’ll be a shuffling of players based on their money winnings after this tournament but it’s not a concern for Hopfinger.

“I had a fourth-place in the Bahamas and a top-20 in Mexico. I should have plenty of cash to play the rest of the year,’’ he said.

Actually, he long-term prognosis is better than that. He is No. 42 on the money list, and that makes him a contender to earn his PGA Tour card by the time the 27-tournament regular season ends in August.

“The goal is the top 25, so you can make the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “I feel a lot more prepared than I did two years ago when I lost my Web.com status.’’

Crack the top 25 in the regular season and Hopfinger will have status on the PGA Tour for the 2018-19 season. If he doesn’t make the top 25 he can still advance if he plays well in the four-tournament Web.com Playoffs in September. The top 25 there go to the PGA Tour as well.

Hopfinger, 28, is one of only eight players to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur (2011) and the Illinois Open (2014). He started playing at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park and has been coached by Jeff Mory, head professional at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, since he was 12.

He took his game to the collegiate ranks, playing at Kansas for one year and then transferring to Iowa for the final three. His teammates with the Hawkeyes included Deerfield’s Vince India, who won the Illinois State Amateur the year before Hopfinger did. India also made it to the Web.com Tour but lost his playing privileges. He would have regained them at last fall’s qualifying school but was one stroke behind Hopfinger.

So was Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr., also a former Illinois Open winner (2016).

That one swing difference has left India and Sainz struggling to get into tournaments while Hopfinger has been playing. Sainz got into five of the first seven tournaments, made the cut in three and had a tie for eighth in Colombia. He’s No. 64 on the money list and will also play this week in Mississippi, perhaps a good omen since he attended college at Mississippi State. Libertyville’s Michael Schachner made 10 birdies and posted a 65 in Monday’s qualifying round and will also compete in the North Mississippi Classic. India is 0-for-3 on making the cut in his Web.com appearances this season.

Hopfinger plans to play five weeks in row, ending the stretch at the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club in June.

“It’s been a wild ride,’’ said Hopfinger. “We all want to get to the PGA faster, but it’s not always that easy. I’m just grateful to still be playing golf for a living. I haven’t set any firm deadlines. I just want to keep getting better.’’

NU, Illini women chase Big Ten title

Last year coach Emily Fletcher’s Northwestern women’s team went all the way to the title match of the NCAA finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Starting on Friday the veteran squad begins another postseason at the Big Ten tournament at TPC Rivers Bend in Mainsville, Ohio. The NCAA regionals are two weeks after that.

The Wildcats, Big Ten champions in three of the last five years, are ranked 14th nationally and only Michigan State (12) is ranked higher among Big Ten teams. Coach Renee Slone’s Illinois team is peaking at the right time, though. The Illini take a No. 29 ranking into postseason play but have won their last two tournaments.

Here and there

Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim, the low amateur in the Masters, plans to turn pro after competing in June’s U.S. Open. As was the case in the Masters, Ghim has an exemption into the Open at New York’s Shinnecock Hills course thanks to his runner-up finish in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He’s finishing his senior season at the University of Texas.

Kemper Lakes members have given a name to the final three holes of their Kildeer course. Following a membership vote they’re calling it The Gauntlet. It’s marked by a rock near the No. 16 tee now and more decorations will likely be added prior to the staging of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June.

Preparations for the KPMG event are well underway with tournament staffers headed by director Jackie Endsley and director of operations Eric Nuxhol operating out of a trailer in the club’s parking lot. Cristie Kerr is the first player to request time for a practice round before tournament week. She’ll get an early peek at the course in June.

Weather problems forced the Illinois PGA to cancel its Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble at Metamora Fields and reschedule its Pro-Assistants event. Next up is the Assistants Match Play Championship, which begins its three-day run on Monday at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale.