Len Ziehm On Golf

A first for the Illinois PGA; Rhoades gets highest honor

For the first time in 62 years the Illinois PGA’s most prestigious award has gone to a woman.

Carol Rhoades was named the IPGA’s Professional of the Year, an award presented annually since 1955 to the section member whose “total contributions to the game best exemplify the complete PGA Professional.’’

Rhoades works at Golf Channel Academy Chicago and also teaches at Cog Hill, in Lemont. Born in Pennsylvania, her previous Chicago connections included a stop at Olympia Fields Country Club and a stint as head women’s coach at Illinois-Chicago.

A past LPGA Professional of the Year and one of Golf Digest’s Top 50 Women Instructors, Rhoades captured three previous IPGA honors – the Bill Strausbaugh Award (2002), Player Development Award (2008) and Horton Smith Award (2010).

Two representatives from both Cantigny, in Wheaton, and Exmoor, in Highland Park, were also recipients of 2017 section honors. Patrick Lynch and Greg Barasel of Cantigny received the two Player Development Awards and Exmoor’s Dave Schmaltz (Merchandise of the Year-Private Facility) and Nick Cuca (Assistant Professional of the Year) were Exmoor’s honorees.

Todd Sones, from White Deer Run in Vernon Hills, received the Horton Smith teaching award for the third time in 14 years.

Going collegiate

The University of Illinois men’s team, which reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship last May at Rich Harvest Farms, finished fifth in the season-opening Olympia Fields-Fighting Illini Invitational last weekend and the Northwestern women’s team, which was the national runner-up at Rich Harvest to conclude the 2016-17 campaign, was second in its first tournament, the Dick McGuire Invitational in New Mexico, and fifth in its second — last week’s Mason Rudolph Championship in Nashville.

Olympia Field also provided the season debut for the Northwestern men’s team, which finished 13th. Playing without U.S. Amateur runner-up and Walker Cup star Doug Ghim of Arlington Heights, Texas finished eighth at Olympia Fields.

Northern Illinois opens its men’s season by hosting the 12-team Northern Intercollegiate at Rich Harvest Sunday and Monday. The tourney at Olympia is the only home event on the Illini schedule. The only home event for the Northwestern women is the Windy City Classic Oct. 2-3 at Northmoor, in Highland Park, and the lone home appearance for the NU men is the Oct. 8-9 Windon Memorial at Evanston Golf Club.

Here and there

One record, though unofficial, was set in the BMW Championship at Conway Farms on Sunday. Wesley Bryan played by himself in the final round in 1 hour 28 minutes, shooting a 69 in the process. The previous, unofficial, fastest round on the PGA Tour was Kevin Na’s 1 hour 59 minutes in last year’s Tour Championship.

The 2018 Chicago golf calendar will be almost as busy as this year’s but there’s one problem. The tournament organizers apparently didn’t talk to each. Exmoor will host the Constellation Senior Players Championship, a major event on the PGA Champions circuit, from July 12-15. The first-ever U.S. Women’s Senior Open will also be played on those same dates at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton and the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, is also scheduled at the same time at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

Chicago’s Mike Keiser has named the second course at his Sand Valley facility in Wisconsin. The David Kidd design will be called Mammoth Dunes. Keiser also said a unique par-3 course, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, has been completed and will be available for play by next June 1.

Tom Kearfott, of El Paso, won the 31st Illinois Senior Amateur, dethroning two-time winner Tom Miler, of Kewanee, at Seneca’s Oak Ridge. Miler finished second, three shots back. Kearfott will also go into the final event in the Chicago District Golf Association season as the defending champion. He’ll partner with Tim Sheppard in the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball at Itasca Country Club Oct. 2-5.

The Illinois Golf Hall of Fame’s next induction ceremony will be Oct. 27 at The Glen Club, in Glenview. Gary Groh, Gary Hallberg and Horton Smith, the first Masters champion, will be the honorees.

Billy Casper Golf has been selected to manage the Aberdeen course in Valparaiso, Ind..

Conway Farms will remain a popular tournament site after BMW leaves

BMW’s white motif has been a pleasant feature at Conway Farms’ tournaments.

Conway Farms’ three-year run as the site of Chicago’s PGA Tour event comes to an end this week, after the last putt drops at the BMW Championship on Sunday.

The previous two local PGA Tour sites were longer-time hosts. Butler National, in Oak Brook, hosted the Western Open from 1974 to 1990. Cog Hill, in Lemont, took over in 1991 through 2011. Neither has hosted a big event since, but that won’t likely be the case with Conway Farms.

The Western Golf Association pulled the Western out of Butler after its exclusionary membership policies (it remains an all-male club) made it unacceptable to the PGA Tour. The WGA shifted its biggest tournament – it was the Western Open through 2006 and then, after a sponsor and format change, became the BMW Championship – from the south suburbs to the north in an effort to freshen the event.

Conway Farms has been a good host in an era much different than when Butler and Cog Hill were involved. The WGA opted for a rotation in and out of Chicago in alternate years, a measure that produced more financial benefits for the Evans Scholars program. Conway hosted only every other year, starting in 2013.

The section beside the 18th green is the first reserved seating offering at the BMW Championship.

The shift to Conway created a big change in spectator viewing for Chicago golfers. Cog Hill was a premier public venue with loads of room for parking and other tournament operations. Conway, which opened in 1991, was a younger venue by two decades. While it didn’t have the space Cog Hill did, Conway had a glamorous side, with Luke Donald one of its members.

Donald at one time was the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, and he wasn’t the only Conway member with a familiar sports name. The club’s members have also included former Bears’ lineman Olin Kreutz, ex-Blackhawks’ player and general manager Dale Tallon and Scott Sanderson, who had pitched for the Cubs.

Designed by the highly respected course architect Tom Fazio, Conway has proved to be a worthy tournament site. Before the PGA Tour arrived the club hosted, among others, the U.S. Junior Amateur, Women’s Western Junior, NCAA Division I men’s championship, a U.S. Open sectional, the Western Amateur and a U.S. Mid-Amateur.

The PGA Tour players found it a decent challenge but not overly tough. Zach Johnson won the first BMW there in 2013 with a 16-under-par performance, but he wasn’t the sole star of the show. Jim Furyk shot a 59 in the second round before Johnson overhauled him with a final round 65 to beat Nick Watney by two strokes. Furyk finished third, another shot back. That tourney required a rare Monday finish, as steady rain allowed for only 12 of 60 players to complete their 72 holes on Sunday.

The second Conway BMW in 2015 was the Jason Day show. He tied the PGA Tour 36-hole record, opening 61-63 before winning by six shots over Daniel Berger with a 22-under-par performance for the 72 holes.

More low scoring is expected when the 11th BMW Championship tees off on Thursday. No matter the results, the relationship with the WGA has been a satisfying one for the Conway Farms membership.

“We’re thrilled to have the tournament back in Chicago,’’ said Conway president Bob Terwall. “We like the idea of a less than full field. I’m not sure we would want a 156-player field (which the Western Open had)) in the middle of the summer.’’

He also liked the idea of the tournament coming only every other year rather than being an annual thing.

“Three times in five years was fine, a little less taxing for all staff members,’’ he said. “Leaving Chicago every other year is great four golf. If we had it every four years or six years, that would be great. We’d very much like to remain part of the rotation.’’

The “rotation’’ is very much uncertain now. Aronimink, in Pennsylvania, will host in 2018 and the famed No. 3 course at Medinah is to host in 2019 when the tournament returns to the Chicago area. After that the BMW tourney locations have not been announced.

Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s vice president for tournaments, called Conway “a wonderful club’’ and didn’t rule out a return in future years. In the meantime, Conway won’t likely be idle as a tournament site.

“We’re supportive of championship golf, amateur or professional,’’ said Terwall. “There’s been a lot of dialog involved. We’ve talked to the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Assn.) and USGA (U.S. Golf Assn.). We want to continue to be on the radar.’’

He wouldn’t rule out Conway as being the alternate site for the Illinois Open, either. The Illinois PGA needs two courses for its biggest annual event, with The Glen Club a fixture and the other chosen on a rotating basis.

“We did the U.S. Mid-Amateur (2012) with Knollwood, and that worked out fine, so we’re open to those sorts of things,’’ said Terwall. “We’re very much wide open. That’s the way to really support the game, rather than just talk about it.’’

Streelman won’t be able to play in his hometown PGA Tour event

There’s only one bad thing about the upcoming BMW Championship — the climax to Chicago’s golf tournament season. Kevin Streelman won’t be there.

The Wheaton product, last of the players with Chicago connections in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, got off to a great start in the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston last week but couldn’t keep the momentum going.

Needing to hold a spot in the top 70 in the FedEx point standings, Streelman faded in the final two rounds on Sunday and Monday and wound up No. 86 on the point list. That brought an end to his 2016-17 season.

Only 70 players will be in the BMW Championship, the third event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. That $8,750,000 event will be played Sept. 14-17 at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest.

Streelman had a bad start in golf’s postseason series, shooting 74-80 to miss the cut in the first tournament – The Northern Trust in New York. His No. 90 ranking at that time, though, still got him into the 100-man field in Boston and his 70-65 start there elevated him into a tie for second place through two rounds at the Dell Technologies Championship.

At that point Streelman was projected to jump all the way into the top 30 who would qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta — the event that follows the BMW Championship on the schedule. A shaky final two rounds, though, killed Streelman’s hopes. He finished 74-73, ended in a tie for 35th in the tournament and his all-important FedEx ranking plummeted enough to put him out of his hometown PGA Tour stop.

Losing four shots to par in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 5-9, Streelman dropped 14 places in the final round in Boston.

“Obviously I would have loved to get to Conway and see some of my buddies,’’ said Streelman. “It would have meant a lot for me to get there.’’

Joining him on the sidelines will be two of the sport’s biggest names – Bubba Watson and Adam Scott. They also failed to climb into the top 70 at Boston. Justin Thomas won the Dell tournament, Dustin Johnson was the champion in New York and Jordan Spieth finished second in both events. That trio will be the favorites when gates open at Conway on Sept. 12.

Here and there

Illinois Women’s Open stars Samantha Troyanovich and Samantha Postillion survived last week’s first stage of the Ladies PGA Tour qualifying school in California. Stage II is Oct. 16-22 in Venice, Fla., and two other Chicago players—Elizabeth Szokol and Stephanie Miller – will join Troyanovich and Postillion in the field there.

Brothers Greg and Riley Bauman, sons of Doug Bauman – long-time head professional at Biltmore in Barrington, played together in the last pairing of the final round in the 25th Illinois State Mid-Amateur at Exmoor, in Highland Park last week. Greg won the title and Riley finished in a tie for fourth.

Preparations are already underway for next year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer. The club is commemorating the 25th anniversary of its first major women’s event – the 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur — and will soon announce a name for its treacherous final three-hole stretch. The Women’s Amateur 25 years ago saw current LPGA Players Association president Vicki Goetze Ackerman defeat Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam in the title match.

Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich will host a Kids Golf Foundation Charity Pro-Am at his Sugar Grove club on Sept. 19.

The First Tee of Greater Chicago will hold a 36-hole fundraiser at Canal Shores on Sept. 29. Proceeds will support the development of a First Tee Learning Center and Short Course at the Evanston facility.

The On Par for DuPage Outing, benefitting the DuPage Country History Museum and People’s Resource Center, will be held at Arrowhead, in Wheaton, on Sept. 21.

The Tour Sponsored by Under Armour will hold its Illinois Region qualifier for its national tournament on Saturday at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood. There will be four handicapped flights with the top 10 in each qualifying for the finals on May 18-20 of 2018 in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Streelman is only Chicago player still alive in FedEx Cup Playoffs

The FedEx Cup has provided a much-needed climax to the PGA Tour season. Big money is on the line at all four of the FedEx playoff tournaments and the $10 million bonus that will go to the eventual champion is a payday that receives attention beyond the golfing world.

Still, the FedEx Cup concept has its confusing aspects as well.

Consider what happened to the three qualified players with Chicago connections at the The Northern Trust, first event of the series that concluded in New York on Sunday.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman had a horrible start to golf’s postseason, shooting 74-80 and missing the 36-hole cut. He managed to beat only one other player who completed 36 holes. Streelman, though, will playing in the second of the $8.475,000 tournaments in Boston this week while both D.A. Points and Luke Donald will be on the outside looking in.

Donald and Points both survived the 36-hole cut in the Northern Trust, Donald finishing in a tie for 49th place with – among others – U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. Points had a dismal weekend, shooting 74-74 to tie for 54th.

For Donald The Northern Trust brought an end to a string of eight straight missed cuts on the PGA Tour. The slump followed his best finish of the season, second at the Heritage Classic the week after April’s Masters.

“My season’s done, a very disappointing year but my optimism never waivers,’’ said Donald via Twitter.

Donald and Points bowed out of the playoffs because they couldn’t attain a place in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup point standings. Streelman – even with his missed cut – could. Points finished 104th in the FedEx point race and Donald was 105th.

Streelman had a much better regular season than Points or Donald and — even with the poor showing in New York — still stands No. 87 in the standings. He’ll have to step up his play dramatically in the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston, though, if he’s to make the field for his hometown PGA Tour event.

The Dell tourney runs Friday through Monday, rather than the usual Thursday start, to take advantage of more available holiday time for spectators. There’ll be a week off after the Boston stop ends on Labor Day and the BMW Championship, which runs from Sept.14-17 at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

The field in Boston has 100 players, but only 70 will move on to the BMW Championship. The survivors will be reduced to 30 at Conway Farms. Only that number will move on to The Tour Championship, last of the $8,475,000 events that wrap up the 2016-17 season.

Donald may not be playing at Conway Farms, but he’ll be there on behalf of a worthy cause. His annual Taste of the First Tee fundraiser will be held on Sept. 12 at Conway Farms with Sergio Garcia also attending as a special guest.

Here and there

The Illinois men and Northwestern women are in the select field at the East Lake Collegiate Match Play Championship, to be held Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 in Atlanta. East Lake is the annual site of The Tour Championship.

Casey Brozek, former Illinois PGA president, has left his post as director of golf at Crystal Lake Country Club to take a similar post at a 36-hole facility in Naples, FL.

Kemper Lakes’ Jim Billiter bounced back from a tough final round in the Illinois PGA Championship to share honors in Monday’s IPGA stroke play event at Calumet Country Club in Homewood. Billiter, the leader in the IPGA Player of the Year race, shot 67 and shared honors with Chris French of Aldeen, in Rockford, and Brian Carroll, of Royal Hawk, in St. Charles.

KemperSports has added another Illinois course to its management portfolio – Lincolnshire Fields in Champaign.

Streelman, Points, Donald are in FedEx Cup Playoffs — but for how long?

The busiest Chicago golf season in at least twenty years is approaching its climax. The BMW Championship is headed back to Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, next month and the Western Golf Association called on England’s Paul Casey to be the focal point of last week’s preview to the FedEx Cup Playoff event.

As per usual, the field at Conway Farms will be only 70 players and they won’t be determined until after the first two FedEx Cup tournaments. The series begins on Thursday with The Northern Trust, the new name for the New York stop. It’ll have the top 125 in the season-long FedEx point race, and the field includes three players with Chicago connects.

That trio – Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points and Luke Donald – will have to play well to stay in the competition after the first tournament. Streelman is No. 83, Points 104 and Donald 107. The top 100 in the standings after the New York event advance to the Dell Technology Championship Sept. 1-4 at TPC Boston and the top 70 after that tournament are eligible to play at Conway Farms from Sept. 14-17.

The 30-player Tour Championship concludes the series at East Lake in Atlanta from Sept. 21-24.

While Casey isn’t guaranteed a spot at Conway Farms, there’s a good chance he’ll be there. His game has thrived in both the Playoffs and the BMW Championship. Last year he finished in the top five in all four FedEx tournaments and he’s been runner-up to Dustin Johnson twice in BMW Championships – at Cog Hill, in Lemont, in 2010 and at Crooked Stick, in Indiana, last year.

“If you could make sure that (Johnson) is not in the field, that would be great,’’ deadpanned Johnson. “But I’m really excited. This (FedEx Playoffs) has built through the years. It’s a great time of the season to get hot, and I typically do.’’

Each of the four Playoff events offers a purse of $8,750,000, and then there’s a $10 million bonus to the overall champion after the Atlanta stop.

The FedEx Cup Playoffs started in 2007 and the BMW Championship is an outgrowth of the Western Golf Association’s Western Open. With fall dates it took a while for the series to catch on, and Casey still rates the four-tournament climax to the season in importance behind the four major championships and The Players Championship.

“The system is still being tweaked’’ said Casey, “but the players really enjoy (the Playoffs). It is now something which is really etched in our minds all season long and is very, very exciting for us.’’

And it’ll stay around for a while, since FedEx recently renewed its financial commitment to the series.

“That’s massive for us,’’ said Casey. “It shows what place it has within the golfing community with the professionals. It’s now very, very important to us.’’

The BMW Championship is just as important to the Western Golf Association, which uses the tournament as a major way to fund its Evans Scholarship program. The last time the BMW Championship was played at Conway Farms, in 2015, it raised $2 million for the charity.

This year’s tourney ends Conway Farm’s three-year run as tourney host. Medinah will be the site in 2019 after Aronimink, in the Philadelphia area, hosts next year.

Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s senior vice president for tournaments, announced some new features for this year’s BMW Championship. Reserved seating will be available beside the 18th green for the first time. Visitors will also be able to participate in the Top Golf Crush experience, the first time it’s been held at a PGA Tour event. Fans can compete for prizes in a five-ball challenge on the Conway practice range during the championship.

Here and there

The 95th playing of the Illinois PGA Championship concludes on Wednesday on Medinah’s No. 1 course.

Doug Ghim received a consolation prize after his loss to Doc Redman in the dramatic U.S. Amateur final on Sunday. The Arlington Heights resident was named to the U.S. Walker Cup team, which will take on a European contingent at Los Angeles Country Club next month. University of Illinois golfer Dylan Meyer is the third alternate for the 10-man U.S. squad.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. will conduct the 25th Illinois State Mid-Amateur Championship Monday and Tuesday (AUG 28-29) at Exmoor, in Highland Park.

Reaching U.S. Amateur final underscoreshow far Doug Ghim has come

Doug Ghim gets interviewed by Fox TV’s Holly Sonders after advancing in the U.S. Amateur.

Doug Ghim is already one of golf’s most inspiring players, no matter how his 36-hole championship match in the U.S. Amateur turns out on Sunday.

Ghim, who grew up in Arlington Heights and ranked No. 5 academically in his graduating class at Buffalo Grove High School, was a 2 and 1 winner in his semifinal match with Theo Humphreys, a Vanderbilt University golfer, at famed Riviera Country Club in the Los Angeles area on Saturday. His opponent on Sunday is Doc Redman, the runner-up in the Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club two weeks ago.

Redman, from Raleigh, N.C., is a sophomore-to-be at Clemson. He defeated another collegian, Mark Lawrence of Virginia Tech, 1-up in his semifinal.

Both Ghim and Redman will elevate their profiles dramatically through their nationally televised duel (Fox Sports, 3:30 p.m.) in California. U.S. Amateur finalists traditionally get invitations to the Masters tournament and U.S. Open as well as other choice competitions.

That underscores how Ghim’s career in golf’s big-time golf is just beginning, and the way he got to this point is a story well worth telling.

Ghim’s father Jeff got him started in golf when he was six years old. Back then it was all about practicing, not scoring. Jeff had wanted to be a professional golfer himself, but three back surgeries ended that dream. He did, though, see considerable promise in his only son.

An invitation to play in the 2018 Masters is expected to be in Doug Ghim’s future.

The Ghims couldn’t afford the private clubs in the area. Instead father and son played the more affordable public courses, especially the Arboretum layout when twi-light rates were available. They weren’t above fishing golf balls out of water hazards at times, either. Jeff has been Doug’s only swing instructor and is his caddie at Riviera.

“I’m sure there was financial stress, but I think more than anything he wanted to see if I actually loved the game,’’ Doug told the assembled media after his semifinal victory on Saturday.

The answer was a resounding “Yes!’’ Doug loved the game and worked to get better throughout his high school years. He didn’t play for the school team after his freshman year because the Ghims felt there were better growth options in national junior tournaments.

He didn’t take the usual path to the pros by making a mark in the two biggest state events – the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open – either, but he still earned enough notoriety to land at a college with a top golf program. Though nearby Illinois and Northwestern also had strong programs, Ghim wound up at Texas a year after Jordan Spieth departed that school for the pro ranks after one college season.

Jeff was giving golf lessons at the since closed Golf Nation indoor facility in Palatine then and Doug’s signing announcement with the Longhorns was held there. Only two media members showed up. I know. I was one of them.

“I always felt pretty underrated,’’ said Ghim. “My decision to go to Texas was because I was going to be associating with incredible golfers. I knew every day I’d have to put my name and game up against theirs.’’

With Spieth gone, the main teammate to look up to for two years was Beau Hossler. In previous years Texas had such stars as Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. Now Ghim, at 21, is the man. Before his strong showing at Riviera he won the Pacific Coast Amateur so his game is peaking at a good time.

His final collegiate season may be delayed a few days because the U.S. Amateur champion gets an automatic berth on the U.S. Walker Cup team, and the U.S. Golf Association will pick nine others to play against the European team next month. Ghim looms as a good bet to make that team one way or another.

If he does win today he’ll be part of collegiate golf history. Another Texas student, Sophia Schubert, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur this year and no school has ever swept both the men’s and women’s titles at the national championship.

Ghim’s headgear at Riviera is also noteworthy. He wore a Masters cap during his semifinal match and will wear a Cubs’ cap in the final.

“I don’t take lightly how significant it is to be playing out there tomorrow and having a chance at being in the history books,’’ Ghim said. “ The great champions of this game all started here.’’

Now it’s his turn.

Ghim is only Illinois golfer to reach match play in U.S. Amateur

Nick Hardy, coming off playing the Western Amateur and Illinois Open back-to-back, was understandably tired last week – but not too worn out for one (or maybe two) more big events before he returns to the University of Illinois.

This week’s 117th U.S. Amateur in California presented a huge opportunity for both the Illini senior-to-be from Northbrook as well as Doug Ghim, an Arlington Heights resident about to enter his senior season at Texas.

If either or both played well in the U.S. Am they could be playing for the U.S. in the biennial Walker Cup matches before their final collegiate seasons tee off. The Walker Cup is the most prestigious event in amateur golf, and 10 players will be named to the U.S. team by captain John “Spider’’ Miller after the U.S. Amateur concludes on Sunday at the famed Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.

Ghim played well in the tourney’s 36-hole stroke play qualifying, finishing in a tie for eighth, and advanced to match play. Hardy didn’t, and his Walker Cup hopes are solely in Miller’s hands.

The Walker Cup matches against a team from Great Britain and Ireland will be held Sept. 9-10 at Los Angeles Country Club and both Hardy and Ghim are serious contenders for selection. They were among 16 players invited by Miller to play the Walker Cup course four straight days in December. Neither were guaranteed spots on the team, though, so their play in the U.S. Am will likely decide whether they make the team or not.

Hardy played the busier summer schedule. Both were in the Western Amateur two weeks ago at Skokie Country Club. Hardy made the Sweet 16 match play qualifiers for the third straight year while Ghim didn’t. Hardy also tied for second in the Illinois Open, which started two days after the Western ended. Ghim skipped that event at The Glen Club and Briarwood Country Club.

“I’ve played a lot of golf, but I’ll be ready for the U.S. Amateur,’’ said Hardy. “Then, hopefully, there’ll be the Walker Cup. It’s definitely hard to get that out of your mind, to not think about it. Do I think I’m one of the top 10 amateurs in the country? Sure, but there’s a lot of great players with a chance to make the team. It’s out of my control.’’

Both were among the 312 finalists who had to survive 36 holes of stroke play competition on Monday and Tuesday to get into the 64-man match play competition that started Wednesday. Ghim was a shoo-in after shooting a 67 on Monday. Hardy, after opening with a 73, was eliminated after shooting a 76 in the second round and didn’t reach the stroke play portion of the tournament.

Neither did any of the other eight Illinois players in the field. It took a 4-over-par score to qualify for match play. Wheeling’s Brian Ohr missed a playoff for the final spots by one stroke, Blaine Buente of downstate Troy was plus-8 and Hardy, at plus-9, was five off the cut mark.

Geneva’s Tyler Isenhart, Chicago’s Charles Waddell, Plainfield’s Derek Mason, Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Rockford’s Kyle Slattery were at least six strokes behind Hardy and Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell was disqualified after posting a first-round 67 because he failed to sign his scorecard. The match play qualifiers, though, did include Dylan Wu — a collegiate star at Northwestern.

The tourney drew 7,149 entrants and most were eliminated in nation-wide qualifying rounds last month. The 36-hole champions match will be played on Sunday.

Billiter’s in the driver’s seat

Just getting to play in the Illinois Open could finally get Jim Billiter the Illinois PGA Player of the Year Award. He missed out in 2015 despite winning two of the section’s four major events – the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Championship – because club duties as an assistant pro at the Merit Club prevented him playing in the biggest event, the Illinois Open.

Billiter became head pro at Kemper Lakes this year and was low IPGA pro at this year’s Illinois Open with a tie for 13th last week. Already the IPGA Match Play champion again, Billiter opened a big lead in the Bernardi point race and the next major – the IPGA Championship, which tees off on Monday on Medinah No. 1. Billiter won the IPGA Championship the last time it was played there, in 2015.

“My boss (general manager John Hosteland) has been super supportive,’’ said Billiter. “Others have had to step up when I’m gone. I hadn’t played in the Illinois Open in 10 years, and I was glad to be back.’’

Here and there

The first round of the U.S. Amateur produced a shocker among the seven Illinois players in the field. Two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Todd Mitchell of Bloomington shot a 67, then left without signing his scorecard and was disqualified. Mitchell took the blame for his mistake via Twitter on Monday night.

David Inglis, the Northwestern men’s head coach since 2014, has signed a contract extension through the 2021 season.

WGN’s Dan Roan, always the king of Chicago media golfers, outdid himself last week. He shot 63 at Chicago Highlands in a round that included a hole-in-one.
PGA Champions veteran Chip Beck has appearances scheduled on Sunday at Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, and Monday, at Eagle Brook in Geneva on behalf on behalf of Arcic Golf.

John Ramsey and Chadd Slutzky won the Chicago District Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Wynstone, in North Barrington, even though they had to overcome holes-in-one by their opponents in both semifinal and final matches.

No Illinois Open for Small; he’s back in the PGA Championship

Mike Small has been prominent on the Illinois golf scene for years, either as a player or as the coach of the University of Illinois’ powerhouse men’s team.

This week it’s as a player – even though he’s not making his usual run at an Illinois Open title. Small has won that event four times and needs another to tie Gary Pinns’ record of five tournament titles. This year presented a good chance to get No. 5, too. The tourney, which concludes today (WEDNESDAY) at The Glen Club in Glenview, is on the same course that Small captured his previous four titles.

Small believes it’s his first Illinois Open absence since 2000, when an elbow injury prevented his participation. He has a good reason for being a no-show, though.

On Thursday Small tees off in the year’s final major, the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina. He understandably opted for the three days of preparation at Quail Hollow while the Illinois Open was in progress

“My first PGA since Oak Hill (2013),’’ said Small. “I’m looking forward to playing well.’’

No reason he shouldn’t. Small, 51, has been in eight previous PGA Championships and was the low club pro in 2007 at Southern Hills, in Oklahoma, and again in 2011, at Atlanta Athletic Club. This year’s appearance, though, is something special. It’ll be Small’s first appearance in the event as a senior.

Small will be paired with PGA Tour regular Jason Kokrak and Satoshi Kodaira, a four-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, in the first two rounds at Quail Hollow.

In his 17h season coaching the Illini, Small has the rare ability to blend playing with coaching. This year he played in three PGA Tour Champions events and tied for 43rd in the U.S. Senior Open. He got into the field at Quail Hollow by tying for third in the Professional Players National Championship in Oregon, an event he won three times between 2005 and 2010.

In a final tuneup for the PGA Small won the 36-hole Illinois PGA Senior Championship by six shots at Merit Club in Libertyville. That won’t be his last tournament locally, though. He will go after his 13th title in 17 years in the Illinois PGA Championship Aug. 21-23 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Five days later classes begin in Champaign, and Small will focus on coaching again.

U.S. Amateur up next

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, the stars of Small’s current Illini team, will be in the field at next week’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera in Los Angeles. That event tees off on Monday with a big Chicago contingent among the entries.

Like Meyer and Hardy, Arlington Heights resident and Texas standout Doug Ghim figures to be among the leading contenders for the title. All are in the top 50 in the world amateur rankings.

Six others from the Chicago area survived qualifying tournaments. Wheeling’s Brian Ohr was medalist at a session at Midlane, in Wadsworth. Northwestern’s Dylan Wu, Derek Mason of Plainfield and Tyler Isenhart of Geneva advanced through an elimination at Village Links of Glen Ellyn; and Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Chicago’s Charles Waddell went out of the area to earn their berths.

The Glen returns as `permanent’ home of the Illinois Open

No sooner will this week’s Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club wrap up on Saturday than the 68th Illinois Open will tee off at two other north suburban locations next week.

The Illinois Open remains a 54-hole affair for 264 finalists, the survivors of eight state-wide qualifying rounds. The first two rounds of the finals, on Monday and Tuesday, will be played at both The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Briarwood Country Club, in Deerfield.

After 36 holes the low 50 and ties will go for the title at The Glen, and that was particularly significant after Illinois PGA executive director Carrie Williams announced the tournament details last week.

The Glen will be hosting for a record 10th time, and Williams declared “I hope this is the permanent home for the Illinois Open.’’

So does Steve Skinner, executive director of KemperSports – the Northbrook-based firm that has managed The Glen since its opening in 2001.

“The course was built around the Illinois Open, to host it,’’ said Skinner. “There was a lot of competition to host it. We were competing with the PGA Tour, which wanted to bring the Western Open here. We partnered with the Illinois PGA and (architect) Tom Fazio to deliver a full package – the (IPGA) section offices, the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame and the Illinois Open (to The Glen Club).’’

Michael Miller was the midst of his 23-year run as IPGA executive director when The Glen hosted for the first time in 2002. When Miller took a similar post in Arizona in 2015 Williams took over and negotiated a new lease with KemperSports. It apparently cleared up the relationship between the club and the IPGA’s biggest tournament.

Williams said “it was always the intent’’ to hold the Illinois Open at The Glen.

It frequently didn’t happen that way, though. Five times in the last 15 years – including the last two — the tournament went elsewhere.

“Sometimes the dates didn’t work out,’’ said Williams, “but I love the idea of staying with The Glen Club as the anchor. We want to keep the tournament as convenient for the players as possible.’’

Armed with a two-year contract that automatically renews from year to year, she plans to rotate the companion courses from among the many high-quality layouts on the North Shore – much like the Western Golf Association has done with its Western Amateur.

Briarwood was a great choice to start the arrangement. It hosted the Illinois Open in 1966, when Emil Esposito won the title for the first time. Esposito was on hand for the pre-tournament festivities, which also commemorated his 50 years as a PGA member.

Esposito won’t be playing this year, and neither will four-time champion Mike Small. The University of Illinois men’s coach, who needs one more win to match Gary Pinns’ record five Illinois Open victories, will compete in the PGA Championship in North Carolina instead. Small won all of his four titles at The Glen.

The field will, however, include defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. as well as Tee-K Kelly and Nick Hardy, whose battles dominated the Illinois State Amateur the last four years. Kelly has since turned pro and already won on the PGA Latinoamerica circuit. Hardy is approaching his final season playing for Small at Illinois.

Hardy was low amateur at last year’s Illinois Open, finishing tied for fourth – eight strokes behind Sainz’ 17-under-par performance at Royal Fox and Royal Hawk, two St. Charles courses. Kelly tied for ninth.

Twelve former champions are in the field along with Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, the recently-crowned Illinois State Amateur champion, and Hinsdale’s Brendan O’Reilly, an Illinois recruit who won the Illinois State Junior Amateur an unprecedented three times between 2013 and 2017.

The field won’t include any women this year, though some have qualified in the past. Oldest finalist is 72-year old ex-champion Gary Groh, the former head professional at Bob O’ Link in Highland Park and a recent selection to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. Youngest is Dominic Scaletta, 15, of Inverness. Using a caddie who is only 11, Scaletta shot 2-over-par 73 and tied for fifth in a qualifier at Makray Memorial, in Barrington.

Romo in the Skokie spotlight

As for the Western Amateur, the first cut comes after Wednesday’s round when the 150 starters will be cut to the low 44 and ties and the contestants will be whittled to 16 after a 36-hole session on Thursday.

The talk of the early round was former NFL quarterback Tony Romo, who played after an invitation from the Western Golf Association. He survived local qualifying for the U.S. Open in May but expected a bigger challenge against the world’s top amateurs.

“I’ve played plenty of tournament golf over the years. I just haven’t played much over the last four or five years, so I’m trying to feel get back to feeling comfortable. I want to start playing good enough to start competing.’’

This could be last shot for Ghim, Hardy to win the Western Amateur

The history-rich Western Amateur isn’t always played in the Chicago area, but in recent years it has been – and that’s a good thing. It merits a prominent place on any golf calendar because it brings together the very best amateurs in the world — not just those from the United States.

Next week’s 115th playing of the tournament will have even more special meaning because of the prominence of local players. The 156 starters at Skokie Country Club, in Glencoe, include Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, who is coming off his victory in the Pacific Coast Amateur at 2015 U.S. Open site Chambers Bay in Oregon, and the University of Illinois’ dynamic duo of Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer.

Ghim, Hardy and Meyer were all in the Sweet 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of last year’s Western Amateur at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest, and Meyer is the defending champion at Skokie. They’ll be taking on a field that includes 2015 Western Amateur winner Dawson Armstrong; reigning NCAA titlist Braden Thornberry; Stewart Hagestad, low amateur at the Masters in April; and a foreign contingent headed by Kyle McClatchie of South Africa and Harrison Endycott of Australia.

The local trio have been frequent Western Am competitors – Hardy, in particular, is in the field for the fourth time — but this might be their last time chasing the prestigious trophy won over the years by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw. Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins and Tiger Woods. All three are college seniors headed for the professional ranks.

“It’s definitely special growing up in this area and having the Western Golf Association running their events around here,’’ said Hardy, from Northbrook. “I played in at least two or three Western Juniors, too, I just thank the Western Golf Association for everything they’ve done for my career.’’

Prior to his win in the Pacific Coast Amateur Ghim was the Big 12 Player of the Year for Texas and joined Hardy on the U.S. team for the Palmer Cup matches vs. collegiate stars from Europe.

Meyer, ranked No. 3 in the world amateur rankings, can join a very select group if he repeats as Western Amateur champion. Only six have done it, the last being Justin Leonard in 1992-93. The first was Chandler Egan, in 1904-05, and the others ranged from Chick Evans in the 1920s, to Bud Ward in the 1940s, to Frank Stranahan in the 1950s to Hal Sutton in 1979-80. Evans and Stranahan, both lifetime amateurs, won the title more than twice in the tournament’s early years.

Hardy and Meyer helped Illinois reach the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, in May and then took to the national scene. Both competed against professionals in this month’s John Deere Classic but the Western Am presents a much different challenge. It’s basically two tournaments wrapped up in one.

Players gather for practice on Monday (JULY 31) with the full field playing 18-hole rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the field is cut to the low 44 and ties for two more rounds on Thursday, Aug. 3. Those 72 holes over three days will decide the 16 qualifiers for the two-day match play portion of the tournament. The champion will be crowned on Saturday, Aug. 5.

Skokie hosted the tournament in 2010 when David Chung won the title, beating a field that included PGA Tour stars Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Like the tournament itself, the host club has a rich history for hosting big events. Originally a Donald Ross design, Skokie has also hosted the 1909 Western Open, the 1922 U.S. Open and 1998 U.S. Senior Amateur. Skokie was one of 11 charter clubs that established the WGA in 1899 to spread the game of golf across the Midwest. Only seven still exist.

Oak Meadows timetable

The long-awaited opening of The Preserve at Oak Meadows, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s renovated facility in Addison, is closing in.

The range and practice area opens on Monday (JULY 31) and that also coincides with what Ed Stevenson, executive director of the District, dubs Test Drive Week. Season tee time members and various golf industry personnel will get a sneak preview opportunity from July 31 to Aug. 6 and the course will open to all golfers on Aug. 7.

The formal grand opening will be held next April and the potential ground-breaking on a new clubhouse is expected in the summer or fall of 2018.