Illini golf teams get a boost from course donation

Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana just upgraded their golf facilities. Now Illinois is doing the same.

The school announced that the Atkins family has donated about 300 acres in Urbana, which includes the Stone Creek Golf Course, to the University. Stone Creek opened in 2000 and was closed in January. It’s expected to re-open for public play in 2021.

“Our teams have always felt welcome at Stone Creek, and it’s been a privilege to call it our home course for close to 20 years,’’ said Illinois men’s coach Mike Small. “Now, with this gifting, we can continue to improve and update the facility with the intent to rival the top college courses in the nation.’’

Stone Creek will be renamed the Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois. The Atkins family already has its name on tennis and baseball facilities at the school. The family’s latest donation is valued at $15 million.

Small, along with women’s coach Renee Slone, have struggled along with other college coaches since the pandemic wiped our their spring seasons. Both will have players involved in the first two big national amateur events coming up this month.

Slone has three players in the field for the Women’s Western Amateur, which tees off on July 20 at Prestwick, in Frankfort. Small has five players in the field for the men’s Western Amateur the following week at Crooked Stick, in Indiana, and he could have more. Two other Illinois players are on the waiting list to get in.

The men’s event is again loaded with four college stars. Florida’s Ricky Castillo, is the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world. Georgia’s Davis Thompson is No. 4, Florida State’s John Pak No. 5 and Texas’ Cole Hammer No. 7. Hammer won the Western Amateur in 2018.

COG HILL SETBACK: For 20 years Cog Hill, in Lemont, hosted the PGA Tour. Once the BMW Championship departed in 2011 the Jemsek family — owners of the 72-hole complex — have been looking for a big event to takes its place.

They thought they had one this year when the World Long Drive Championship was scheduled there from Sept. 3-9. Those hopes dwindled this week when The Golf Channel, the owner of the World Long Drive, announced that all five of the qualifying tournaments were canceled and the finals at Cog Hill were “suspended.’’

“We’re hoping for 2021,’’ said Troy Newport, the Cog Hill general manager.

SCHACHNER’S HOT START: Michael Schachner, named the assistant men’s coach at DePaul earlier this year after spending several years playing on a variety of professional tours, had seven birdies and an eagle en route to shooting a 4-under-par 68 in the Illinois PGA’s first tournament of the season on Monday.

Kyle English, of Crestwicke in Bloomington, matched Schachner’s score at The Hawk Country Club in St. Charles. Schachner and English were one stroke better than host pro Brian Carroll. Illinois’ Small finished solo fifth.

BITS AND PIECES: The PGA Tour begins a two-week run at Muirfield Village in Ohio this week but there’s been one change in plans. Next week’s Memorial tournament was to be the first tournament since the resumption of tournament play on June 11 to be played with spectators. Now that’ll be without spectators as well.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy is skipping this week’s TPC San Antonio Challenge on the Korn Ferry Tour after notching three top-10 finishes in four starts since the PGA’s satellite circuit restarted its season.

Jerry Rich, owner of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, has promoted Vicky McGowan to director of golf. McGowan has been on the staff there for 10 years.

Reagan Davis, who spent six years as director of golf at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena, just took a similar positions at World Golf Village, in St. Augustine, FL. World Golf Village is the home of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

David Cooke, a two-time Illinois Open champion and the winner in 2019, set the Naperville Country Club course record last week with a 64.

Dave Lockhart’s Golf360 television programs have resumed for another season. They’ll be aired at various times on NBC SportsChicago.

Illinois PGA has added a team event in its revised tournament schedule

How’s this for a refreshing change of pace?

In a year where pandemic concerns forced the cancelations of tons of golf tournaments and the postponements of many others the Illinois PGA is actually adding an event to its greatly revised schedule.

The IPGA tournament season was to start in April, but the first event won’t be held until next Monday (JULY 6), with the first of five stroke play events. This one is at The Hawk Country Club in St. Charles.

New to the just-released revised schedule is a two-day team event at Metamora Fields. For now the event is being called The Fall Bestball. The IPGA tournament committee is still working on entry and format details for the event.

Also included in the revised schedule is a new site for the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship. It has been the first of the section’s four major events and was traditionally held at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove, in May. Now it will be held Sept. 15-18 and Elgin Country Club will replace Kemper Lakes as the site.

Three of the four majors, including the Match Play, were re-structured. In the case of the Match Play the first round will revert to a stroke play qualifier for seeding into the event with the low 64 advancing to the second round..

The Aug. 3-5 Illinois Open, first of the majors, had its field for the finals previously cut from 264 to 156 and only one site, White Eagle in Naperville, will be used instead of the two used of recent years.

Last of the majors, The Players, had been held at either Eagle Ridge in Galena or Metamora Fields in recent years. Now it’ll be played at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, from Oct. 5-6, and only the top 35 players on the season point standings will be eligible. The Illinois PGA Championship, Aug. 24-26 on Medinah’s No. 1 course, is the only one of the majors with the same format and place from the original schedule.

Streelman bounces back

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman finished one shot behind champion Dustin Johnson in the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship on Sunday and credited his time on two Wheaton courses — Cantigny and Arrowhead – for his runner-up finish at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut. He said the two Wheaton courses were similar to the tour site where he last won in 2014.

“Coming off (three straight) missed cuts, I’m very happy with this,’’ said Streelman, “but being away from my family for three weeks is difficult. That was probably one of the hardest runs for me. The quarantine life out here – you just go back to the hotel, sit there by yourself and try to stay healthy. It gets lonely.’’

The PGA Tour isn’t allowing players’ families to travel to tournaments. Streelman’s wife and two children live in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Korn Ferry climbers

Northwestern alum Dylan Wu tied for fifth in the Utah Championship and moved into the No. 3 sport on the Korn Ferry Tour’s season standings. The Top 25 at the end of the 2021 season automatically advance to the PGA Tour.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who tied for 27th in Utah, is No. 19 and Deerfield’s Vince India, bouncing back from a final round collapse the week before, tied for 18th and improved to No. 35 in the standings. The Korn Ferry circuit is in Colorado this week.

JDC champ tests positive

Dylan Frittelli, the reigning champion of the John Deere Classic, tested positive for the coronavirus after missing the cut in the Travelers Championship.

“I am experiencing no issues and feel great physically,’’ said Frittelli. “I was surprised and disappointed to learn of the positive test.’’

Because of the JDC’s cancelation, Frittelli’s JDC title defense was postponed until 2021. The tourney announced this week that it will be held July 5-11, the same dates on the PGA Tour calendar that is has held in recent years.

A good time to reflect on career highlights for Irwin, Streelman

Last week gave us a glimpse of what golfers might be missing thanks to the PGA Tour’s revamped schedule. It would have marked the 30th anniversary of — at least arguably – of the greatest U.S. Open among the 13 played on Chicago courses. Hale Irwin, who got into the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah via special exemption from the U.S. Golf Association, went on to become the first golfer to win the championship in a sudden death playoff. The drama was unforgettable.

Irwin, who won the first of his three U.S. Opens at New York’s Winged Foot, will have to wait to get his just historical due. It’ll come when the Open is played in September.

Fast forward to this week the PGA Tour stops in Hartford, Ct., for the Travelers Championship. It’s the first tournament on the revised schedule, created since the pandemic hit, that will be played in its original spot on the calendar. It’s had its share of drama, too – more, in fact, than most tour stops.

Hartford has produced some of the most spectacular scoring in PGA Tour history, and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is part of it. In 2014 Streelman won for the last time on the PGA Tour – and he did it with one of the most impressive performances ever. Streelman birdied the last seven holes en route to a 28 on the back nine, and that led to a one-stroke win over Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi in the Travelers.

Streelman is in the Travelers field again, and in need for a solid showing. He missed the 36-hole cut in both tournament played since the circuit resumed play after a three-month break caused by pandemic concerns. He’s on a string of three straight missed cuts going back before the stoppage in play but did have a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach back in February.

Milestone scoring isn’t unusual at Hartford. Prior to Streelman’s sizzling finish six years ago the TPC River Highlands course was the site of the lowest round ever shot by an amateur on the PGA Tour – a 60 by Patrick Cantlay in 2011.

After Streelman had his big day Hartford was in the spotlight again for Jim Furyk’s 58 – the lowest 18-hole round in PGA Tour history — in 2016. Whether there’s more magic in Hartford, in another tournament played without spectators, remains to be seen and a proper look back at Irwin’s illustrious career may have been missed last week but it’ll come eventually.

The U.S. Open was to be played June 18-21 at Winged Foot course, and last Sunday would have marked 30 years since Irwin beat Mike Donald in the historic playoff at Medinah. That was Irwin’s third win in the U.S. Open, a victory that helped lead to his earning the label of golf’s “Mr. Chicago.’’ He also won the Western Open at Butler National in 1975 and captured the Ameritech Senior Open, a Champions Tour event played on Chicago courses, in 1995, 1998 and 1999.

“I don’t know what it was – the people, the courses, the culture – but Chicago always felt warm and fuzzy to me,’’ said Irwin during a stop last week in St. Louis. He has a home there, but spends most of his time at another residence in the Phoenix area.

While Streelman is struggling to find his game since the pandemic started Irwin isn’t sure he’ll even play again. Now 75, Irwin appeared in three Champions Tour events before the pandemic hit and his play wasn’t impressive.

“The reality is, if you’re spending more than you’re making, that’s a bad formula,’’ he said. “Four-five years ago I took retirement, which means you can start dipping into (his PGA) retirement fund. That also means you can play only 11 events. My game isn’t what it once was. Whether I’ll play again I just don’t know.’’

Irwin’s feats at least will be recognized eventually. He’s working with former USGA staffer Pete Kowalski on a project called Keeler1930. Scheduled to launch later this year, it will provide personal looks at various golf legends of the past.

India misfires in his shot at first win on the Korn Ferry Tour

Vince India’s breakthrough win on a professional tour will have to wait. The former University of Iowa golfer from Deerfield, took a four-stroke lead into the final round of the King & Bear Classic on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour on Saturday and couldn’t protect it.

India soared to 4-over-par 76 in the final round, thereby handing the title to Chris Kirk who started the day in second place. Kirk, who has five wins on the PGA Tour, took his third on the Korn Ferry circuit thanks to a final round 67.

The story of the day, though, was more India’s collapse than Kirk’s victory. India, 31, was red hot for the first three rounds on the King & Bear Course at World Golf Village. He opened with rounds of 63, 66 and a course record-tying 62 before his collapse on Saturday.

India wound up in an eight-way tie tie for sixth place with, among others, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy. Hardy started the day nine strokes off the lead and wound up matching India’s 21-under-par showing for the 72 holes. Kirk’s 26-under set the pace and was worth $108,000.

“It was definitely a day that didn’t play out as I envisioned’’ said Kirk. “With Vince playing so well I thought I’d need to be 30-under to have a chance.’’

“I just tried to stick to my plan,’’ said India. “I wanted to get to 30-under.’’

Low scores were commonplace on the King & Bear – the only course jointly designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on grounds that include the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL.

India – one of just 10 players with victories in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open – is capable of putting up low numbers. He was leading the Portland Open, last event of the Korn Ferry’s 2019 season, when he made double bogey on the final hole. That left him outside of the circuit’s postseason playoffs and send him back to the tour’s qualifying tournament. He was undaunted, though.

“It was certainly inspiring,’’ said India. “Things just didn’t go my way on the last hole.’’

India made five eagles in the subsequent qualifying tournament at Orange County National in Florida and finished in a tie for 30th. That earned him a place in the first eight events of the 2020 season. The first six were played before the pandemic halted tournament play in March. At that point India had made just three cuts and was in danger of losing regular playing privileges.

When play resumed two weeks ago, however, he came out with solid play in two new events in Florida. He finished in a tie for 10th in the first in Ponte Vedra prior to his tie for sixth in St. Augustine. Those two weeks boosted him from 134th on the Korn Ferry standings to 38th and it’ll keep him on the tee sheet for the next segment of Korn Ferry events. The circuit resumes on Thursday with the Utah Championship.

Due to the pandemic, the top 25 on the Korn Ferry circuit who gain admittance to the PGA Tour won’t be determined until the fall of 2021. That leaves India with plenty of time to move up to the premier circuit.

“There’s such a fine line between this tour and the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “Not a lot of people really know that. There are a lot of guys who can gel with the PGA Tour fellas and win majors right away. The talent out here is supreme.’’

The Korn Ferry Tour has two Illinois stops – the Lincoln Land Championship at Panther Creek in Springfield Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at Chicago Highlands in Westchester Sept. 10-13. Both are $600,000 events that had been scheduled earlier in the season and then were postponed due to pandemic concerns.

New schedule salvages Illinois PGA’s four major tournaments

The Illinois PGA had planned to open its tournament season in March, but it still has yet to hold a competitive event. Twelve have been canceled and another nine postponed, and the state’s club professionals won’t have a competitive event until July 6.

Give the IPGA credit, though. The Section has – barring sudden changes in anticipated governmental restrictions imposed by pandemic concerns – salvaged its biggest annual events.

This is in sharp contrast to the Chicago District Golf Association, which had to scrap its two oldest and most prestigious events – the Illinois State Amateur and Chicago District Amateur – when those same governmental restrictions made their annual stagings unrealistic.

The IPGA took a different approach, particularly regarding its Match Play, Illinois Open, Section Championship and Players Championship. The first was postponed and has been rescheduled, the second restructured and downsized and the fourth received a major format change. All, though, are expected to be played before this season is over following a series of organizational meetings involving section members and staffers and host club personnel.

“It was important for us to keep our majors this year,’’ said IPGA executive director Carrie Williams. “It was a super collaborative effort working with our professionals and their facilities. We appreciate the flexibility they showed in working with us to schedule these events.’’

Brad Slocum, assistant executive director of operations, oversees the IPGA tournaments. He’s expected to announce the full schedule for the section’s four majors this week. Only a site for the IPGA Match Play Championship is in doubt. It had May dates at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer, but the pandemic ruled out playing at that time.

Kemper, one of Chicago’s main tournament venues, hosted the IPGA Section Championship for 24 straight years before becoming the home venue for the Match Play. This year, amidst all the rescheduling of tournament and social events, the site is not available Sept. 14-17, the rescheduled dates for the tournament. Williams expects the Match Play will return to Kemper in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Open – the section’s biggest event — retained its Aug. 3-5 dates at White Eagle in Naperville but the field for the finals was reduced from 264 to 156 players and the state-wide qualify tournaments cut from eight to four. Two sites had been used for the finals in recent years. This time, though, White Eagle will host all 54 holes and the alternate site, Stonebridge in Aurora, will wait its turn in future years.

The Illinois PGA Championship won’t change at all. It remains Aug. 24-26 on Medinah’s No. 1 course but a major change is planned for the fourth and final of the section majors. The Players Championship, generally played at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena in recent years, will be played at an always tournament-ready layout – Conway Farms in Lake Forest – on Oct. 5-6.

The 36-hole season-ending event will become a 35-player invitational this year for the top players on the section’s Bernardi point standings. That’ll provide a more dramatic conclusion to the IPGA season than was created in the past.

Despite all the scheduling adjustments made by other pro tours and golf organizations, the IPGA’s Open series will go on virtually as originally planned. The Illinois Open will wrap up on the originally announced dates at White Eagle. The Super Senior Open remains on tap for Sept. 1-2 at Pine Meadow in Mundelein and the IPGA Senior Open is still at Royal Fox, in St. Charles, from Sept. 28-29.

The other section majors at the Assistants Championship, July 13 at Cress Creek in Naperville, the Senior Championship Aug. 10-11 at Merit Club in Libertyvile, the Senior Match Play Sept. 21-23 at Biltmore, in Barrington; and the Senior Players Oct. 12-13 at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove.

First of the Illinois Open qualifiers is July 14 at Flossmoor Country Club.

All was not salvaged on the IPGA calendar, however. Two team events, the Radix Cup and Thompson Cup, were canceled. So was the Drive, Chip & Putt and PGA Junior League playoffs. Still on the docket among the non-tournament attractions are the Birdies for Charity event Sept 8 at River Forest Country Club, in Elmhurst; and the Ryne Sandberg IPGA Foundation Pro-Am Oct. 1 at Onwentsia in Lake Forest.

PGA, Korn Ferry tours re-open; WGA names Chicago Highlands for ESI tourney

The men’s pro golf tours resume tournament play on Thursday (JUNE 11), ending three months of inactivity because of Covid-19 pandemic concerns.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and the next four players in the world rankings will be in the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Texas. The strong 148-player field there will also include Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a struggling PGA Tour rookie who starred collegiately at the University of Texas.

The PGA’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will re-open where the PGA Tour played its last round on March 12 – at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL. This time, though, the competition will be on Sawgrass’ Dye Valley Course instead of the more famous Stadium Course.

A new event, the tourney at Sawgrass will be called the Korn Ferry Challenge and it’ll precede another new event – the following week’s King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village – which is just a few miles away. Those events are where the bulk of the players with Illinois connections will be competing.

The Korn Ferry has two players ranked in its Top 25 – Northwestern alum Dylan Wu (5) and Illinois alum Nick Hardy (23). In previous years the top 25 at season’s end would be awarded PGA Tour cards for the following season. Not so now.

“I can’t get my PGA card until the end of 2021,’’ said Hardy. “The season will be around 50 events by the time it ends next year.’’

Because of all the cancelations and postponements the top 25 won’t be determined in 2020. The events over a two-year span will determine who moves up to the big tour.

Hardy, though, is in good shape with play resuming – even though he didn’t spend the pandemic layoff in an ideal golf atmosphere. He experienced golf much the way all Chicago golf enthusiasts did.

“I came back to Illinois from Arizona the first week of April, during the early beginning of this whole (pandemic) thing,’’ he said. “Illinois restrictions were pretty strict – no golf,’’ he said. “So I went to Indiana 12-15 times in April and played with my buddies (a mix of college players and club pros).’’

He found a course there – Palmyra Golf Club in St. John – via Google and that kept him sharp until May 1 when he resumed practicing at Merit Club in Libertyville. Hardy has no regrets about taking the imposed tournament layoff away from warmer golf destinations.

“It was nice to be home with my family at that time,’’ he said. “All my family is in Illinois, so I spent the quarantine time with them.’’

Hardy departed for Florida on Sunday (JUNE 7) to get familiar with his tournament courses of the next two weeks and was mentally prepared for a major change in tournament atmosphere. As is the case with the PGA Tour event no spectators will be allowed at TPC Sawgrass and media will be basically tour personnel and The Golf Channel staffers. Family members and friends of the players can’t even come to the courses and there won’t be any live TV coverage there.

“It’ll be odd, pretty quiet,’’ said Hardy. “The Korn Ferry doesn’t have the number of spectators the PGA Tour gets anyway, but I’ve played in a lot of tournaments where there weren’t many spectators.’’

In addition to Wu the Korn Ferry event will have six other Illinois players resuming their bids for coveted PGA playing privileges. Luke Guthrie, another Illinois alum, isn’t in the top 25 but — at No. 51 – he’s in position to qualify for the Korn Ferry Playoffs. The top 75 make it.

Five others have to improve to get there. Another Illinois alum, Scott Langley, is No. 85. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger is tied for 86th, Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope 111th, former PGA Tour winner Mark Hensby tied for 118th and Deerfield’s Vince India 134th. Hopfinger, Hensby and India are among the 10 players who own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open.

The Korn Ferry Tour held a new tournament, the Evans Scholars Invitational, at The Glen Club, in Glenview, last year and the event was to return there in May. It was postponed as part of the concerns over the pandemic and rescheduled for Sept. 9-13.

The Glen Club was not available during those dates, and this week the Western Golf Association named the new site. The ESI will be played at Chicago Highlands, a private club in Westchester. An Arthur Hills design that opened in 2010, the tournament will mark Highlands’ first pro tour event.

Illinois Open is downsized after major restructuring

Though some restrictions were lifted for Illinois golfers on Friday, the season remains a trying one for the state’s golf organizers. Tournament scheduling remains a fluid thing due to concerns over the COVID-19 Pandemic.

First it was the Chicago District Golf Association canceling the Illinois State Amateur and the CDGA Amateur – its two oldest and most prestigious championships – and joining the Illinois PGA in dropping the Radix Cup matches.

Then came Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville, calling off the Illinois Women’s Open and, on Thursday, the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic was canceled.  It was scheduled to celebrate its 50th anniversary at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

Now it’s the Illinois Open in the spotlight – but at least it’s not because of a cancelation.  The Illinois PGA announced a major restructuring of the 71st staging of the championship.

The Illinois Open normally draws about 700 entries from all parts of the state and they’re whittled to 264 for the 54-hole finals through eight state-wide qualifying rounds. Now the tourney – the biggest event for Illinois residents — has been downsized.

White Eagle Club, in Naperville, remains as the host of the Aug. 3-5 finals, but there will be only 156 finalists instead of 264.  There won’t be the usual alternate site for the finals.  Stonebridge, in Aurora, was to co-host for the first two days.

“We are hopeful to bring the event back to Stonebridge in the near future,’’ said Carrie Williams, executive director of the Illinois PGA.  “We are confident this revised format will provide a competitive test for players and continue the tradition of crowning a champion of Illinois Golf.’’

Qualifying rounds will also be reduced.  Four have been canceled and the remaining four will be July 14 at Flossmoor Country Club, July 16 at Deerpath in Lake Forest, July 22 at The Hawk in St. Charles and July 29 at Willow Crest in Oak Brook Hills. The survivors will join the players exempt off past performance in the finals.  Players who registered for earlier qualifiers have until July 8 to transfer to another qualifying event.

The Illinois PGA is already assured of a lean tournament season.  Normally its season starts in May, but now the first of the stroke play events is July 6.  The CDGA schedule is also filled with cancelations, and its next event is on July 8.

Two bigger Chicago area events remain on the Western Golf Association schedule – the Women’s Western Amateur at Prestwick in Frankfort from July 20-25 and the BMW Championship, a FedEx Cup Playoff event for PGA Tour players, is Aug. 25-30 at Olympia Fields Country Club.  The WGA also has the Evans Scholars Invitational, a stop on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour, rescheduled from May to Sept. 9-13 but no site for that event has been announced.

John Deere Classic is canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

John Deere Classic canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

Illinois won’t have its longest-standing PGA Tour stop this year.  The John Deere Classic was cancelled on Thursday.

The JDC, the only PGA Tour event held annually in the state, was to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a July 6-12 playing of the $6.2 million championship at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.  It was to be the first PGA Tour event to allow spectators since tournament play was stopped on March 12 after the first round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, FL.

Tournament play will resume on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, Tex.

Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic had led to the immediate cancellations of the next six tournaments on the schedule after The Players.  The Charles Schwab Challenge was moved from May 21-24 dates to become the first event after the PGA Tour re-opened its tournament schedule.

“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic the difficult decision was made to cancel,’’ said Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director.  “While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad City community at large.’’

“We know this announcement will come as a disappointment to the Quad City area and to the broader golf community,’’ said Mara Downing, John Deere’s vice president of global brand and communications.

She said the tourney’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021.

The JDC has proven a successful fundraiser with its Birdies for Charity program that has benefitted a variety of organizations in the area. Last year’s tournament raised $13.8 million for 543 local and regional charities.  That brought the tourney’s all-time total to $120 million since its first playing in 1971.

 Ninety-one percent of the charity money raised has come since John Deere assumed title sponsorship of the event in 1998.  Peterson said the participating organizations will receive a five percent bonus over what they raised for this year’s event.

“Thanks to John Deere’s ongoing support, we are able to promise a bonus, even though we are not having the tournament,’’ Peterson said.

One PGA Tour event in Illinois, the BMW Championship, remains on the schedule.  The FedEx Cup Playoff event will be played at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs from Aug. 27-30.

The JDC cancellation was the first since PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a greatly revised schedule to finish out 2020.

The RBC Heritage Classic, in Hilton Head, S.C., had been scheduled for April 16-19 – the week after the Masters.  Now it’ll be the second tournament after the re-opening.  It’ll be followed by the Travelers tourney in Hartford, Ct., and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.  Those are the tournaments that would have led into the JDC.  All will be played without spectators.

Now the Memorial tournament, on July 16-19 at Ohio’s Muirfield Village course, figures to be the first PGA Tour event to welcome spectators since the pandemic began.  The Memorial also was postponed earlier but it was moved into the July dates after the British Open was cancelled.

The PGA Tour’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will also re-open play on June 11 on the Dye Course in Ponte Vedra, FL.  That tour has two Illinois tournaments – the Lincoln Land Classic, at Panther Creek in Springfield, on Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at a Chicago area course still to be determined the following week.

Lincoln Land had been scheduled in July.  The Evans Scholars event, put on by the Western Golf Association, was originally May 21-24 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, before being postponed.  The Glen Club had schedule conflicts with the September dates, forcing the tourney to find a new home course.

USGA should award Pope a spot in this year’s U.S. Open

Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope has played his way into four of the last five U.S. Opens. That’s an extraordinary feat, given that around 10,000 golfers file entries each year and only 156 make it to the 72-hole finals.

This year, though, Pope can’t play his way in. Instead he’s relegated to campaigning for a spot in the field for the 120th playing of the championship Sept. 17-20 at New York’s Winged Foot course.

Pope, 36, has struggled to stay on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour since 2012 but he has gotten his game together for the Open qualifiers. This year the U.S. Golf Association had 108 local qualifiers – all at 18 holes – scheduled in May and 12 sectionals – all in one day over 36 holes in late May and early June — scheduled to determine the finalists competing at Winged Foot.

Not surprisingly the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that. The finals, originally June 18-21, were pushed back to September. Then, as golf restrictions varied across the country, the USGA decided that qualifiers wouldn’t be possible.

“Qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,’’ said John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA. “We take great pride in the fact that many thousands typically enter to pursue their dream of qualifying for the U.S. Open, and we deeply regret they won’t have the opportunity this year.’’

Pope, who attended Glenbard West High School and Xavier University, resides in Orlando, FL., now and is married with two children. His golf career has been put on hold since March 12 because of the pandemic but will resume when the Korn Ferry circuit restarts its season on June 11 at St. Augustine, FL. Then he’ll have seven tournament weeks in a row as his bid to earn a place on the PGA Tour continues.

He doesn’t want to miss the U.S. Open, though. The USGA selection committee will determine the field, making the Open more like an invitational this year. Pope hopes his record over the last five years will get the selectors’ attention. He survived the 36-hole cut in two of his four Opens, including last year’s.

“At first I got excited, thinking that possibly having made the cut last year might get me in. That would have been awesome,’’ said Pope. Then he called Jason Gore, the USGA player relations director.

“I’ve known him for 15 years,’’ said Pope, “and I asked if giving me that kind of exemption had been brought up. He said `To be honest, no.’ That really hurt.’’

Fifty players are exempt based on past performance categories so roughly 100 spots will be invitees. Pope is relegated to writing letters to make his case for a place in the field. His first letter will go to Gore, who said he’d forward it to all members of the board of selectors.

“I just hope the USGA doesn’t take it off the world rankings,’’ said Pope. “All the players know that that’s a completely flawed system. My understanding is they’ll pick 15 amateurs and the top eight on the Korn Ferry Tour.’’

Pope believes he’ll play well at Winged Foot if he does get in the field. Last year he played the historic course for the first time and shot a 67.

“I just hope the USGA has a soft spot for me,’’ said Pope. “I’m not as optimistic as I was at first, but who knows?’’

NOTES: The Women’s Western Golf Association has announced that Sandra Fullmer will be the next winner of its coveted Woman of Distinction Award. Fullmer’s selection was long overdue. A life-long amateur, she won national titles in Mexico, Germany and Spain in the 1950s and was a dominant player in the Chicago ranks from 1964-91. A past president of the WWGA, she was named to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 1997.

The Chicago tournament season apparently won’t resume until July. Latest event to be cancelled was the June 1 Radix Cup matches, which pitted the best amateurs from the Chicago District Golf Association against the top professionals from the Illinois PGA at Oak Park Country Club.

Woodstock Country Club is now for sale. The nine-hole private course, designed by Tom Bendelow, opened in 1916. Asking price is $895,000. Bendelow was a prolific designer in the early years of Chicago golf with Medinah’s famed No. 3 course among his creations.

Golf starts the return of live TV sports events — and I can’t wait

It won’t be long now. Live televised sports competition is about to return, and golf is leading the way. While tentative tournament schedules were drawn up months ago, now there’s something concrete and – as a purely personal perk – the first two big events will be conducted almost in my Florida backyard.

A four-player charity skins game put on by equipment manufacturer TaylorMade will kick things off on Sunday. It’ll have three of the game’s top stars – Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler – participating along with a promising up-and-comer, Matt Wolff.

They’ll play at Seminole Golf Club, a famous course in Juno Beach that has never been seen on television. McIlroy and Johnson will take on Fowler and Wolff, both Oklahoma State alums, in a four-hour telecast that will be played without spectators. It’ll raise at least $4 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.

Not only that, but the event — called TaylorMade Driving Relief – will provide the first look at what tournament golf will be like in the “new normal.’’ The players won’t have caddies. They’ll be carrying their own bags, practicing social distancing and adhering to a variety of new policies designed to make golf safe in these trying times.

Seminole, an ultra-private club, usually closes for the season on Mother’s Day but the Donald Ross design that opened in 1929 is staying open a few more days to help raise money for pandemic relief efforts.

“We have a big responsibility on ourselves to make sure that we practice all the guidelines that the PGA Tour is going to set in place,’’ said Johnson. “Obviously everyone is going to be watching what we’re doing, so it’s very important for us to do it all correctly.’’

“It’s really cool to be able to bring some live sports back,’’ said Fowler. “Everyone is taking the right measures to make sure it’s done the correct way.’’

Next week the first major tour event since the pandemic concerns kicked in will tee off. The Korean LPGA Championship will have three members of the world’s top 10 — all Korean players — among those competing for a $1.8 million purse. There won’t be any American players or TV coverage for that one, but on May 24 another televised event will put the spotlight back on South Florida.

“The Match: Champions for Charity,’’ another four-player televised event featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, will be played at Medalist Club in Hobe Sound, which is 18 miles from Seminole. This will be more of a fun thing, with legendary quarterbacks rounding out the foursome. Woods will team with Peyton Manning and Mickelson with Tom Brady.

There’s some interesting, off-course sidelight to this one, which also won’t have spectators. Mickelson is in the process of establishing a residence in South Florida and is joining Michael Jordan’s new club, Grove XXIII, which is also in Hobe Sound. Brady, who signed with a new team – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – in football’s off-season, recently became a member at Seminole.

Medalist is where Tiger Woods does most of his practicing. Before May is over Medalist will host another Woods-Phil Mickelson match, but this one will be much different than the one they staged last year because both will have partners.

Golf is already in full swing, since the last of the 50 states re-opened their courses for play this week and there have been some smaller events played. One is this week’s Outlaw Tour Scottsdale (Ariz.) Open, and Wheaton’s PGA veteran, Kevin Streelman, was in the field.

Streelman, along with other PGA Tour players, received a 37-page Health and Safety Plan from PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan this week that outlined the procedures that will go into effect when tournament play resumes. The men’s PGA and Korn Ferry Tours will get into the swing of things on June 11, the PGA in Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge and the backup Korn Ferry at Ponte Vedra, FL., for a new event.

“The message from Jay was that we’ve talked to doctors, talked to professionals, talked to politicians. These are the steps we need to take to be safe,’’ Streelman told reporters at the Scottsdale Open. “Now are you guys comfortable playing competitive golf in this arena? The answer was a resounding yes.’’

The last televised golf was played on March 12, at the first round of The Players Championship. The PGA Tour cancelled the remainder of the tournament and a series of cancellations followed. Last year the PGA Tour schedule had 49 events. This year, if all still scheduled are held, the total will be 36. The Korn Ferry had 28 events last season; this year’s it figures to be 17.

Billy Horschel is one PGA Tour player who has made the most of the difficult stretch without tournaments. He hunkered down with his wife and three children in Ponte Vedra.

“We’re just fine,’’ said Horschel. “We’re very fortunate that my wife and kids and our friends are all healthy. We’ve been getting by just like everyone else. Every day is a different day. Every day seems to be Groundhog Day with my kids. We have a lot of the same meltdowns and timeouts – all those things you have with three kids under 5, but it’s been an enjoyable time to spend with them.’’

Horschel, who has five PGA Tour victories and won the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus in 2014, also did some business during the time away from tournaments. He became in investor in beam CBD, a wellness product.

“I’m very happy because it looks like we’ll have some special golf in the future,’’ said Horschel. “I never had any doubts that we’d play again, but it was just when. With sports we provide a sense of relief that allows fans to take their minds off their own worries and struggles. It’ll be nice to see the world get back to a sense of normalcy.’’