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Len Ziehm On Golf

Another near-miss at Heritage puts Donald’s game on upswing again

How do you explain this?

Luke Donald was, for 40 weeks in 2011 and 2012, the world’s No. 1 golfer. Then, by his own admission, his game tailed off – except when he plays in the RBC Heritage Classic on the Harbour Town course in Hilton Head, S.C.

Donald was the runner-up there for the fifth time on Sunday, losing to Wesley Bryan by one stroke, and he also has two third-place finishes at Harbour Town in the last nine years.

“I’ve done everything but win,’’ said the former Northwestern star who has maintained close ties to golf in Chicago despite living in Jupiter, Fla., now. “I just keep trying. Obviously it’s a place I feel comfortable. I’ve got to just keep pounding away and hopefully I’ll get there.’’

Harbour Town has the smallest greens on the PGA Tour and Donald has always been a short game wizard. He also likes the “family-oriented vibe’’ that Hilton Head offers. His three daughters were on spring break and joined him at the tournament last week. That apparently was a tonic for a game that had been misfiring.

Donald had missed the cut at Florida’s Valspar Championship, where he was a past champion, and didn’t qualify for either the Masters for the World Golf Championship Match Play event. To offset those events usually on his schedule Donald entered the Shell Houston Open the week before the Masters, though he never had much success in previous visits there. He didn’t this time either, finishing in a tie for 69th place.

Then, after sitting out the Masters, came the always welcome return to Harbour Town. Donald led alone after a first-round 65 and was tied for the lead after a 67 in Round 2. A third round 72 dropped him down the leaderboard and a double bogey on the par-5 second hole – one of the easiest on the course – dropped him further back early in Sunday’s final round.

Donald, however, rallied on the back nine. He holed a bunker shot for birdie at No. 11 and spent time sharing the top spot on the leaderboard before Bryan held him off. Still, the runner-up finish was Donald’s first top 10 of 2017 and he’s hoping for another strong finish this week at the Valero Texas Open.

“I still believe I have the ability to win a major and win more tournaments,’’ he said. “I’m not hanging up the clubs yet. I’m committed to working hard on my game and get past a little lull in my results the last couple years.’’

He looks on Sergio Garcia’s victory in the Masters as incentive. They played junior matches when both were 12-year olds and were frequent partners for Europe in Ryder Cup matches.

“I grew up knowing him,’’ said Donald. “He came to my wedding, and I’ve been invited to his. He’s in a great place now. He proved to himself he could do it.’’

Now maybe it’s Donald’s turn to do the same.

“I still believe I’m good enough,’’ he said. “Anyone who can get to No. 1 in the world for over a year has the ability to bounce back, and hopefully I will.’’

Kevin Streelman, the PGATour regular from Wheaton, is also in the field at the Valero Texas Open. He’s coming off a two-week break, will play tournaments in six in the next seven weeks and won’t return to his Arizona home until that busy stretch is over. He’ll attend his niece’s wedding during the week he’s off from tournament play.

Here and there

A critical week looms for the women’s teams at Northwestern and Illinois. Both compete for the Big Ten title starting on Friday at TPC Rivers Bend in Mainville, Ohio, then will await the April 27 NCAA selection announcement for the start of its national championship. The finals are May 19-24 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy of the Illinois men’s team are among nine semifinalists for the prestigious Ben Hogan Award. They’re the third and fourth Illini golfers accorded that honor, following Charlie Danielson and Scott Langley.

Dave Erickson of St. Andrews, Billy Rosinia of Flagg Creek and Eric Ilic of the Merit Club formed the winning team in the Illinois PGA’s first event of the season – the Pro-Pro-Pro competition at Chicago’s Harborside International. The IPGA holds its first stroke play event next Monday (APRIL 24) at Weaver Ridge in Peoria.

Tin Cup, a golf-themed pub, has opened at the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort.

Can Luke Donald continue his hot play at the Heritage?

Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman weren’t part of this year’s Masters, which climaxed with Sergio Garcia’s pulsating playoff victory on Sunday. Chicago’s top two touring pros have had their moments at Augusta National in the past but didn’t qualify this year.

Look for both to be back in the limelight, soon, however — perhaps as early as this week’s RBC Heritage Classic at Hilton Head, S.C. Donald, once the world’s No. 1-ranked player and a top-five finisher twice in the Masters, has made the Heritage one of his favorite tournaments. Last year marked his fourth runner-up finish at Harbour Town and he also was third twice. He’s always a player to watch in that tournament.

Streelman, a past winner of the Par-3 contest at the Masters, wasn’t happy to have last week off.

“It was a bummer not playing the Masters after I’d been there five of the last six years,’’ he said. Still, Streelman won’t play this week, either. He’s making a schedule change and expecting the hot spurt that has marked his summers of the past.

“If I’d played Hilton Head it would have been five tournaments in a row,’’ he said. He deemed it too much and will play at San Antonio (the Valero Texas Open) in two weeks after a two-week break. After that he’ll compete in a revitalized tournament at New Orleans (the Zurich Classic) and play the usual weekly stops at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., and The Players in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

The decision to go to New Orleans is interesting in that the tournament has changed its format. It’ll be a two-man team event this time, with Streelman teaming up with Russell Knox.

“It’ll be great for television,’’ predicted Streelman. “The tour was looking for something outside the box.’’

Streelman is a member of the PGA Tour policy board now, and that’s just one of the extra issues on his plate. He’s also been the main tour player using the much-publicized new driver that his equipment sponsor Wilson introduced during the winter.

“I’ve had it in and out of my bag. I’ve used it in four of my nine events (in 2017),’’ said Streelman. “I’ve been pleased with it. It’s a high-quality product but it’s a club I’m very hard on because I’m such a perfectionist. I’m still trying to dial it in.’’

As a policy board member he’s also followed the latest controversial ruling affecting all of golf – the four-stroke penalty assessed LPGA star Lexi Thompson for an incorrect mark in one of her circuit’s major tournaments two weeks ago after a fan called in to report the infraction.

“It would have ben a nightmare if the decision had been made on Monday,’’ said Streelman. “There’s a lot of inconsistencies because not everyone is on camera at the same time. I don’t like people calling in and affecting our play, but I don’t know that it’ll change on our tour for now.’’

Here and there

Chicago’s longest-standing golf radio show, Golfers on Golf, will start its 22nd season this weekend. The show, featuring a host foursome of Rory Spears, Mike Munro, Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger, will move from Sunday to a 9 a.m. start on Saturday and be carried on a new station, WNDZ (750-AM).

The Illinois PGA has decided on its alternate course for the finals of the Illinois Open. Briarwood Country Club, in Deerfield, will be used in two of the three rounds of the finals with The Glen Club, in Glenview, the sole site for the last round. The finals run Aug. 7-9 and Briarwood will be a site for the first time since 1966 when Emil Esposito won the title.

Harborside International, the premier course in the Chicago city limits, will undergo a major transformation this season that management firm KemperSports says won’t interfere with play. Nine holes will be worked on at a time, and Harborside is a 36-hole facility. Main focus will be on the bunkers with the Better Billy Bunker technology instituted to improve drainage..

PGA Tour star Jason Day will headline the Golf Gives Gala on May 22 at St. Charles Country Club. He’ll join Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps in the new event.

Registration is now open for one of the biggest annual charity events, the May 30 Illinois Patriots Day at Medinah.

This Masters tournament will be lacking on several fronts

The Masters tournament never lacks much. Even though it has the smallest and perhaps the weakest field of any of golf’s four major championships, the annual visit to Georgia’s Augusta National is arguably more popular with golf’s fan base than the U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship.

However, this upcoming 81st playing of the Masters — which tees off on Thursday – is lacking on a few fronts.

For one, Arnold Palmer won’t be there for the first time in 63 years. The King died in September, and he’ll be missed.

Also missing – except for the preliminary events – is Tiger Woods. This is the 20th anniversary of his first professional victory. It provided the Masters with its best-ever turnout of television viewers – 44 million. Woods, still not healthy after three back surgeries, kept hopes alive for his participation while he promoted his new book on his 1997 triumph but last Friday he made his withdrawal official.

Jason Day, one of the game’s brightest young stars, was on hand for Monday’s first practice day but his head isn’t fully into it. Worried about his mother’s health, he walked off the course six holes into his first match at the World Golf Championship Match Play two weeks ago and didn’t enter last week’s Shell Houston Open. He didn’t touch a club until last Friday, when he arrived in Augusta for early work on his game. His mother, battling cancer, had part of her left lung removed in surgery while Day was off the tournament trail.

The tournament won’t have a local hope, either, but Thomas Pieters comes close. The NCAA champion for Illinois in 2012, Pieters is in the field for the first time off his No. 18 world ranking at the end of 2016 and last week he was given a Special Temporary Membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season after posting two top-five finishes in six starts on the circuit this year.

Good weather is also lacking. Monday’s practice session was suspended by storms and the forecast is for much worse weather on Wednesday – when the popular Par-3 Contest and final practice rounds are scheduled.

One thing this 81st Masters does have is a clearcut favorite. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has won this last three tournaments and arrived rested after his last-minute withdrawal at Houston. Johnson’s recent hot streak assured him the favorite’s designation even though Jordan Spieth’s finishes in the last three Masters were 2-1-2.

“Dustin Johnson is the guy to beat in golf no matter where you are,’’ insisted Spieth.

Rickie Fowler could also be a popular contender based on his two wins and eight top-10 finishes this season. He’s been in the top-five at all four majors and this is his eighth Masters, so he knows the Augusta National layout which is known for having the fastest greens on the PGA Tour.

The field has only 94 players, all invitees by the host club, and it includes the top 62 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The usual belief is that only 12-15 have the skills to win but several players who haven’t been in that category at the start of the week have gone on to win, most recently last year’s champion Danny Willett.

In fact, this is the 30th anniversary of the most unlikely Masters upset. In 1987 two of the game’s legendary stars — Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros — went into a playoff for the title with Larry Mize, an Augusta native. Mize beat them both with a chip-in, earning a place forever on the tournament highlights reel.

A LOOK BACK AT LEXI

Reaction to the four-stroke penalty assessed on Lexi Thompson during Sunday’s final round of the ANA Inspiration – the LPGA’s first major championship of the season – has run the gamut from the many club professionals and players who have contacted me personally as well as the golf world nation-wide.

Here’s my take on the strange ruling that led to South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu beating out Thompson for the coveted title.

My first reaction was that Thompson had simply made a sloppy mark – but that’s not to downplay the infraction. Though I’m sure Thompson made an honest mistake, the two strokes assessed for it were necessary. Players can improve their lie by moving their ball just an inch on the green to avoid ball marks and spike marks. Such a practice should be penalized, though I doubt it seldom is unless a playing partner speaks up. That rarely happens.

I have a problem with the assessment of the other two strokes Thompson was penalized, however. Her infraction came a day earlier, in the third round. She signed her scorecard without being informed of a possible infraction. A TV viewer called attention to the infraction too long after the fact.

The LPGA handled the Thompson issue better than the U.S. Golf Association handled a similar situation involving Dustin Johnson when he was en route to winning the U.S. Open last June. Johnson was told – in the middle of his round – that a penalty might be called on him for a possible infraction. To his credit he played well enough to win despite the distraction but – as Rickie Fowler noted at a Masters press conference on Monday — “We’ve seen stuff in the past year that’s not making the game look good at all.’’

Commonsense is lacking in some of the Rules of Golf, a problem that was addressed in proposed changes that could go into effect in 2019. Until then, here’s what should be done immediately. Rules questions should be handled strictly by officials on site. TV viewers should play no part in it, and once a round is over the scores should stand. Honesty is an integral part of golf but changing scores after another round begins creates more problems than it’s worth.

Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course started with white sand in its bunkers. Now white sand is coming back back — just a different variety of it. Here’s how it’ll affect the 18th hole. (Rory Spears Photo)

HERE AND THERE

The white ProAngle sand used in the bunkers at Augusta National will be in evidence at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont when the former PGA Tour site for both the Western Open and BMW Championship opens on April 22. Owner Frank Jemsek said that 11 of the course’s greenside bunkers were transitioned to grass bunkers and the others will get the new, eye-catching white sand before the course opens.

A major change in the head professional ranks has Frank Hohenadel moving from an assistant’s job at Westmoreland, in Wilmette, to the head job at Mistwood, in Romeoville. Hohenadel, a long-hitting lefthanded golfer, made a big impact on the local scene when he snapped Mike Small’s record eight-year run as champion of the Illinois PGA Championship in 2011 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Small rebounded, winning four more times in the last five years.

The PGA Tour has decided to give distance measuring devices a chance, but only in a few tournaments on its secondary circuits. One event where the devices will be allowed is the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship coming to Ivanhoe June 5-11.

Points’ win boosts his chances for returning to the Masters

The Masters is next week. Even though the PGA Tour has been conducting big-money tournaments every week for three months, this is when the golf season kicks into high gear, and that’s a good thing for D.A. Points.

Points hasn’t qualified for the Masters yet, but he’s peaking at the right time and seems the best bet of Illinois’ four PGA Tour players to earn the one remaining berth in the field at Augusta National.

The last Masters spot goes to the winner of the Shell Houston Open, which tees off on Thursday. Points, from downstate Pekin, is in the field there, as are former world No. 1 Luke Donald, the ex-Northwestern star, and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman. Elmhurst resident Mark Wilson isn’t in the field at Houston.

While Donald and Streelman have played much better than Points the last few years, it’s Points – down to No. 254 in the Official World Golf Rankings — who has the momentum going now. He won the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday with an unusual final round – birdies on the first five holes and on four of the final six to offset some rough spots in between.

Points also is a past champion at Houston, having won the second of his three PGA Tour titles there in 2013. His other PGA Tour win was in 2011, a spectacular week in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he not only captured his first victory on golf’s premier circuit but also teamed with comedian Bill Murray to win the team title.

Champions of the top PGA Tour event each week get spots at Augusta. The Puerto Rico Open, though, was played opposite the more prestigious World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas. The Masters berth went to the winner there, though champion Dustin Johnson – the current world No. 1 – had already earned his spot via other qualifying criteria.

Still, Points regained his PGA Tour playing privileges for two more years through his victory and also earned spots in The Players Championship and PGA Championship. He will also get into the Memorial and Colonial – lucrative small field invitational events.

“I can’t begin to tell you what this means,’’ said Points, who won the Illinois State Amateur three times between 1995-99 before turning pro. “I had a couple really awful years. I pretty much hit rock bottom. I put my family through a lot.’’

His sudden revival in Puerto Rico was triggered by his changing to a left hand low putting stroke. His 20-under-par for 72 holes there left him choked up, but also optimistic about his chances at Houston. He got into the 2013 Masters (where he finished tied for 38th) by virtue of that win at Houston.

“The way I’m playing, there’s no reason I can’t be in the hunt again,’’ he said.

Points started his collegiate career at Clemson but transferred to Illinois after two seasons. His game got tour-ready there and he could be playing with two other former Illini products, Belgium-born Thomas Pieters and veteran Steve Stricker, if he gets to Augusta. Pieters qualified for the Masters off his No. 18 world ranking in 2016 and Stricker by finishing in the top four in last year’s British Open..

Donald and Streelman come to Houston well-rested. Neither qualified for the WGC Match Play event and both opted to skip the alternate event in Puerto Rico.

Masters Week officially starts on Monday (April 3) with the tournament rounds Thursday-Sunday, April 6-9. There will be plenty of early activity at the course this Sunday, however. That’s when the nationally televised Drive, Chip & Putt finals are held to climax a year-long series of nation-wide qualifiying competitions for youngsters in the 7-15 age range.

Last year the Chicago area had an age group winner, Vernon Hills’ Christian Kim in the Boys 10-12 division. This year there will be two more local finalists hoping for the same result – Naperville’s Lisa Copeland in the Girls 7-9 division and Buffalo Grove’s Chelsea She in the Girls 10-11 category.

Lisa survived a local elimination at Cog Hill and Chelsea did the same at Randall Oaks. Then they earned their spots at Augusta by advancing through a sub-regional at Bolingbrook and a regional final at Medinah.

Chelsea played in the PGA Junior League program at White Deer Run and Lisa plays out of both Cog Hill and Mistwood.

Chicago Golf Show’s arrival also reveals The Glen’s return as an Illinois Open site

SOMETHING NEW FOR THE JDC: PGA Tour players will have a tougher approach shot when they visit the par-5 second hole at TPC Deere Run in July. The pond on the left side of the fairway is being expanded, meaning the second shot at the green will be more demanding. Tournament director Clair Peterson said the work is being done to improve aesthetics on the hole. Last year the JDC was selected as the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year. (John Deere Classic Photo)


The Chicago Golf Show is always a tantalizing event, in that a mid-winter walk through the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont is an early forerunner to golf courses opening in the spring.

This year that’s not quite the case, as many courses have taken advantage of unusually warm winter weather to already announce their openings for the season. Still, the 33rd annual show, which opens its three-day run on Friday, will still provide a preview to what’s coming on the courses, in the pro shops and at the resorts when golf is in full swing here.

The arrival of Chicago’s biggest of three golf shows is also a good time to catch up on winter developments on the local scene. Biggest of those was the Illinois PGA’s decision to bring the Illinois Open back to The Glen Club in Glenview.

Though The Glen hosted the tourney finals a record nine times since 1991, it wasn’t used after the IPGA went to an expanded field and two-site format for the finals in 2015. The 54-hole finals were played at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, and Hawthorn Woods in 2015 – the first time 258 finalists were welcomed instead of the previous 156 — and St. Charles neighbors Royal Fox and Royal Hawk hosted last year.

With the IPGA headquartered at The Glen, the use of the Tom Fazio-designed course as the main site for the finals made sense. Finalists will play 36 of their 54 holes at The Glen. The alternate site for the other 18 holes hasn’t been determined.

Here’s some other tidbits created after the last putt dropped in the last Chicago tournament of 2016:

The par-4 16th is typical of the new Preserve at Oak Meadows layout. (DuPage Forest Preserve Photo).


NAME CHANGE: The massive renovation project engineered by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District and Batavia architect Greg Martin in Addison will be completed in the spring and the course – known in the past as both Elmhurst Country Club and Oak Meadows – will be called The Preserve at Oak Meadows. While the 288-acre Preserve’s opening will be a Chicago season highlight, the adjoining Maple Meadows course will host the most unique event of the year – a One Club Tournament on April 15.

Welcome to the course chosen as the best of 2016

A TIME TO CELEBRATE: French Lick, the Indiana resort that is the presenting sponsor for the Chicago Golf Show, is celebrating more than the centennial of its Donald Ross Course. The resort just learned that its Pete Dye Course has been named Golf Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association. In July the LPGA’s Symetra Tour will hold a tournament on the Donald Ross Course and the next day the first LPGA Senior Championship will tee off on the Dye.

MOVING ON: Madasyn Pettersen created a sensation when she won the 2015 Illinois Women’s Open by a five-stroke margin at Mistwood in Romeoville as a 15-year old. She recently left her hometown of Rockford, moved to Arizona verbally committed to play collegiately at Grand Canyon University.

LEGENDS ARE COMING: The Legends Tour, the official senior circuit for the Ladies PGA, has relocated its Walgreens Charity Championship from Delray Beach, Fla., to Geneva National Resort in Lake Geneva. The event, featuring 60 of the top women players who have passed their 45th birthday, will compete in the $300,000 Red Nose Day Walgreens Charity Championship from May 20-21 after two days of preliminary festivities.

KPMG QUALIFIERS: The 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which comes to Olympia Fields beginning June 29, has its first four qualifiers. Karen Paolozzi, of Atlanta; Alison Curdt, of Woodlands, Calif.; Jessica Carafiello, of Stamford, Ct., and Amanda McCurdy, of Arlington, Tex.; earned berths in Florida qualifying events this month.

SHOW TIME: The Chicago Golf Show opens at noon on Friday. Doors close at 7 p.m. that day and the hours will be from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The last two days have been dubbed Hall of Fame Weekend with Tim Raines featured on Saturday and Ryne Sandberg on Sunday.

LPGA, French Lick create a senior major with weekday dates

French Lick’s Pete Dye Course is always a challenge, but the views are spectacular.


The Ladies PGA Tour added a major championship to its 2017 schedule on Tuesday, and it’s one with a very untraditional format.

Commissioner Mike Whan announced that the first LPGA Senior Championship will be played July 10-12 – Monday through Wednesday – at French Lick Resort in southern Indiana. Most pro golf events conclude four days of competition on Sunday, but it was difficult to find weekend dates for the LPGA’s senior members, former stars now in the 45-plus age group.

To compensate the LPGA – at the suggestion of French Lick chairman Steve Ferguson and director of golf Dave Harner – put two of its smaller tour events together. The LPGA’s developmental circuit, the Symetra Tour, will hold a 54-hole event on French Lick’s Donald Ross Course from July 7-9 immediately before 81 senior members battle for a $600,000 purse the next three days on the acclaimed Pete Dye Course. There will be no cut in the senior event. The Symetra tournament, also played at 54 holes, will have a $200,000 purse with $30,000 going to the champion.

The Ross was the site of Walter Hagen’s win in the 1924 PGA Championship and victories by Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls in the LPGA Championships of 1959 and 1960. The biggest event on the much younger Dye layout — it opened in 2009 — was Colin Montgomerie’s victory in the 2015 Senior PGA Championship.

Scheduling gets even more complex for senior women than just the assignment of weekday dates. The first LPGA Senior Championship follows one of the circuit’s regular major championships – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship Sept. 30 to July 2 at Olympia Fields Country Club — and the U.S. Women’s Open will be played the following week at Trump National in New Jersey.

Scotland’s Trish Johnson was the center of attention after her win in a six-hole playoff with Juli Inkster in last year’s Legends Championship.


“This creates a great opportunity for us to showcase our stars of yesterday, the players who really built this game, and our stars of tomorrow,’’ said Whan, who said the creation of the new event was over six months in the planning stage.

It also could mean the end of The Legends Championship, a previous brainchild of the French Lick staff who had been working with Legends Tour executive director Jane Blalock. Blalock created that circuit – acknowledged as the “official’’ senior tour of the LPGA – in 2000. The LPGA and Legends, though, operated independently.

“We’ve had a close relationship with the Legends Tour for four years,’’ said Harner. “We felt this was the right thing to do, to give the senior ladies a major event.’’

Last year’s Legends Championship, in which Scotland’s Trish Johnson whipped defending champion Juli Inkster in a dramatic six-hole playoff, had a purse of $325,000. In its four-year run The Legends Championship couldn’t get any television coverage. The first LPGA Senior Championship will have six hours of coverage on The Golf Channel. Both French Lick and The Golf Channel have multi-year agreements with the LPGA on the new senior tournament.

The Legends Hall of Fame is located at the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, and the Legends Championship has been the biggest event on Blalock’s circuit. For now, the tourney announced on Tuesday mainly amounts to a name change but the future of The Legends Championship is in doubt. Harner said it won’t be held at French Lick if it is held at all.

In addition to Inkster and Johnson, the Legends roster has included such prominent names as Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Joanne Carner, Jan Stephenson and Pat Bradley.

Harner is hopeful that Annika Sorenstam will end her long break from competition and join those stars at French Lick. Sorenstam wasn’t mentioned at Tuesday’s televised announcement, however. Michelle McGann, a seven-time LPGA winner, represented the senior players.

“This is amazing,’’ said McGann. “I went on tour when I was 18 and never thought I’d be playing in an LPGA Senior Championship. I’m so excited. French Lick has a fabulous golf course, and the people there have been so supportive of our Legends Tour.’’

Senior women had been the lone segment of the golf population largely ignored by the sport’s organizing groups until recently. The U.S. Golf Association announced in 2015 that it would conduct at U.S. Women’s Senior Open, but that event won’t debut until 2018 at Chicago Golf Club.

BIT AND PIECES: Tiger Woods announced that he would play in the PGA Tour’s Genesis Open Feb. 13-19 at Los Angeles’ Riviera Country Club. It was the site of his first PGA Tour event in 1992, when Woods was a 16-year old amateur.

Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray, long the only Chicago player on the LPGA Tour, could wind up playing in both the Symetra and senior events at French Lick. She’s one of only two players to earn money on all three women’s circuits in 2016. Jeray has full status on the Symetra in 2017 and expects to get into most of the Legends tournaments as well, but she fears conflicts with the accompanying pro-ams may limit her to playing one or the other tournament at French Lick. The first LPGA Senior Championship also includes pro-ams on the Friday and Saturday of the Symetra tournament.

Deerfield’s Vince India has regained his place on the PGA’s Web.com Tour. He finished third in last week’s qualifying school in Winter Garden, FL.

Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Good has been at least temporarily thwarted in its well-publicized bid to launch its new Triton driver. The club’s development was the focal point of a nationally-televised golf reality series, but the U.S. Golf Association says the club doesn’t conform to its rules. Wilson is working to correct the issue.

The John Deere Classic, despite having new dates and a weakened field due to the return of golf to last summer’s Olympics, was named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year.

Illinois men’s coach Mike Small will be inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame on Wednesday night in Norman, OK.

Tournament organizers have announced that tickets are now on sale for the NCAA Championships at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove; the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship; the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL; and the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

LPGA and Symetra golfers will have this view as they play the 18th hole of the Pete Dye Course.

Will the U.S. meltdown at Medinah carry over to Hazeltine?

CHASKA, Minnesota – The last Ryder Cup played on American soil came four years ago at Medinah. The next one is here this week at Hazeltine National. Though Medinah and Hazeltine aren’t rivals, there’s bound to be comparisons on and off the course as the 41st Ryder Cup unfolds.

In a meltdown of epic proportions the U.S. blew a 10-6 lead on the last day of singles matches at Medinah and lost to the Europeans – something that’s happened eight times in the last 10 meetings.

The Medinah Ryder Cup also represented a breakthrough in terms of magnitude. Never had the event been such a bonanza in terms of corporate involvement.

Whether the U.S. team – with the same captain, Davis Love III, returning – learned from the meltdown at Medinah won’t be determined until the matches begin on Friday. On the preparation side, however, the lessons from Medinah have been utilized already. Hazeltine has sold even more corporate chalets than Medinah did and has the biggest merchandise tent..

“On the big picture side, the best thing Medinah did for us was setting a high bar,’’ said Patrick Hunt, Hazeltine’s Ryder Cup chairman. “We’re competitive. We always want to beat previous records, and they set all the records at Medinah.’’

Hazeltine set its own goals and that turned the Medinah success into healthy motivation. Hunt and his Hazeltine crew had one challenge that Medinah didn’t have. Golf was added to the Summer Olympics program for the first time since 1904, and that meant a 72-hole tournament for top players in Brazil a month before the Ryder Cup came to Hazeltine. One of Europe’s stars, Justin Rose, won the gold medal and another, Henrik Stenson, took the silver in Brazil.

That might not bode well for the U.S. chances in this week’s matches but the Olympics but weren’t a problem in Hazeltine’s preparatory effort.

“I never thought the Olympics would be a distraction or a negative,’’ said Hunt. “It created a more compacted schedule, but at the end of the day the competition was a good thing.’’

Crowds will be about the same as Medinah, with 250,000 expected for the week.
“We learned from (previous host clubs) Valhalla, Medinah and Oakland Hills, but Hazeltine is an ideal venue to host a Ryder Cup because of the resources available,’’ said Jeff Hinz, in his first stint as a Ryder Cup tournament director at Hazeltine. “The club had experience hosting events and, with the land that they have and the vision of the club to host championships, that was critical.’’

The Hazeltine Ryder Cup will be the first to have on-site signage for its main corporate partners. It also conducted a national trophy tour and will have the largest merchandise tent in golf history. New twists in marketing were also evident, most notably the use of the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning hockey team as ambassadors

Hazeltine is even better qualified historically to host this Ryder Cup than Medinah was four years ago. Hazeltine didn’t even open until 1962, roughly 40 years after Medinah, but it has already hosted two U.S. Opens (1970, 1991), two U.S. Women’s Opens (1966, 1977), two PGA Championships (2002, 2009), the U.S. Senior Open (1983) and the U.S. Amateur (2006).

The Ryder Cup is all that’s missing from the club’s resume, and that will soon be corrected. Only one club has hosted all those big events plus the Ryder Cup. That would be North Carolina’s Pinehurst No. 2, which opened in 1907 – 55 years before Hazeltine.

Hazeltine looks much different than Hazeltine. Medinah has the bigger clubhouse but Hazeltine has the newer one. It was built in 2010.

Medinah has three courses on its premises. It also offers a variety of other activities for its members – like tennis, swimming and skeet and trap shooting. Hazeltine is all about golf. Though it has only one, very respected, course there is plenty of open space around the club and that makes it a most desirable tournament venue.

Robert Trent Jones designed the Hazeltine course, but it won’t play as he envisioned it for the Ryder Cup. The hole rotation has been altered since the 2009 PGA was played there to accommodate the construction of chalets for corporate hospitality. The last four holes of each nine were switched to make for a better spectator experience.

At Medinah overall course conditioning was a major problem leading right up to the start of play, but all went well in the end. At Hazeltine there wasn’t as much tension. What there was came in the installation of a new bunker system. Work on that was completed in the dead of winter, two months before the course even opened for play.

Bunkers are a key part of the Hazeltine playing experience, and the course has 108 of them. They account for the same square footage as the putting surfaces – about three acres each. That’s an eye-catching statistic, because bunkers typically are about one-third the size of the putting surfaces.

Arnold Palmer’s passion for golf was infectious — and I’m proof of that

Arnold Palmer and I, after Palmer gave an exhibition at Rolling Green in Arlington Heights in 1969.


Arnold Palmer is gone. Where do I begin to tell you how impactful this is to golf – and to me personally?

I’m not sure I would have taken up this sport – one that I love with a passion but don’t play very well – had it not been for Arnold Palmer.

It was back in the mid-1950s when my family lived on Chicago’s Northwest side. I was about 11 years old and my mother wanted me to see an exhibition event at Medinah. (Actually, I think she wanted to mainly see Arnold, the most charismatic athlete of our time).

We went, he didn’t win but the day was enjoyable. My mother took me out to play on a course shortly thereafter, and a life-long love affair with the game began.

Over the years I covered some of his tournaments, the first being the 1968 Western Open at Olympia Fields – my first PGA Tour event as a golf writer working for a major metropolitan newspaper. Palmer didn’t win that one, either, but he was accessible to the dozen or so media that attended. The media crowd and the galleries would, of course, grow considerably from those days.

On the professional level, my best up close and personal experience with Palmer came in Boston. I was sent there to cover something else, but wanted to do a feature on Palmer in advance of the budding Senior PGA Tour (now called the Champions Tour) planning a Chicago visit. A few other writers from around the country had the same idea, and we gathered at a restaurant where Palmer was planning a private dinner with friends.

He knew we’d be there, and we expected a brief, friendly chat. We’d get a story and he’d be back with his friends in a few minutes. Not so. He stayed and talked with about half dozen scribes he barely knew for a good hour as his friends waited (I hope) patiently.

Much more recently we visited Palmer’s Bay Hill Club in Orlando, FL, as part of golf/travel-writing adventures in 2015. Palmer was there, dining with his guests, getting his picture taken, just being Arnie. I have a treasured piece of golf art from that visit signed by the king himself.

Palmer’s competitive career was winding down when I came on the golf-writing scene. He won his last PGA Tour event in 1973, but he kept playing – and that’s a big reason the golf kept growing and the Champions Tour became a viable part of the pro sports scene.

In 49 years playing the PGA Tour Palmer earned $1,784,497 and won 62 tournaments including seven major titles. He earned much more than that in endorsements and other ventures, of course. His income from 2014, for instance, was reported at $42 million by one respected business publication.

Palmer is certainly not about money, though. He walked with kings and played golf with presidents, but he never lost touch with more common folks.

Rather than dwell on his playing record and businesses success, I thought you might enjoy some tidbits – provided in no particular order — about Palmer’s life that I feel tell more about this extraordinary man:

After winning the 1954 U.S. Amateur he served three years in the U.S.Coast Guard, a stint that interrupted but hardly stymied his plans to be a touring pro.

He beat prostate cancer himself and created the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, which is ranked among the best such hospitals in the world. His grandchildren called him “Dumpy.’’

One U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, sent Palmer a picture of his swing in hopes he would critique it. Another president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, flew to Palmer’s home in Latrobe, Pa., to make a surprise appearance at his birthday party. The day after Gerald Ford left the presidency he had a golf game with Palmer.

Perhaps Palmer’s biggest victory came when he rallied from a seven-stroke deficit in the final round to win the 1960 U.S. Open, but he also blew a big lead on the back nine of another U.S. Open before losing to Billy Casper in a playoff in 1966.

Palmer built the first golf course in China and designed more than 300 courses around the world. Among them are three in Illinois including Hawthorn Woods Country Club in the Chicago area.

The son of a greens superintendent, Palmer broke 100 for 18 holes when he was just 7 years old. He met his first wife Winnie on a Tuesday and asked her to marry him four days later. They were married 45 years until her death in 1999.

He signed what must be a zillion autographs and – unlike most every other athlete – his name was always provided in a legible manner. He was confident enough to wear pink before that color was fashionable.

He has a drink in his name – an Arnold Palmer, iced tea and lemonade – that is known world-wide. He also had his own winery.

He played in 50 Masters tournaments and was a major factor in the creation of The Golf Channel.

He became a pilot to overcome his fear of flying.

He has both the Congressional Golf Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the only sports figure to have both.

He attended Wake Forest, where a statue stands in his honor. In 2013 he rode into one of that school’s football games on a motorcycle.

In 2010 Esquire magazine named him one of the 75 best dressed men of all time.

Palmer had his very own Army, and it was always vocal and supportive, but Arnie’s Army isn’t the only segment of society that will sorely miss him now that he’s gone.

Streelman, Urlacher hook up on Wilson’s Driver vs. Driver TV series

Another PGA Tour season ended for Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star, at Sunday’s BMW Championship in Indiana. Both failed to qualify The Tour Championship – last event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs – in Atlanta next week and won’t be competing in the Ryder Cup matches the week after that in Chaska, Minn.

Streelman and Donald tied for 39th place in the BMW at Crooked Stick, a finish that enabled Streelman to climb from 63rd to 59th in the Playoff standings and Donald to drop from 56th to 57th. They needed to be in the top 30 to play for another $8 million purse at East Lake in Atlanta.

Chicago’s top two players also finished very close on the PGA Tour season money list, Donald earning $1,634,515 and Streelman $1,601,177 in the 2015-16 wrap-around season.

Neither, though, is going into hibernation even though their tournament seasons won’t kick into high gear again until 2017.

Donald was honorary chairman for his Taste of the First Tee wine-tasting fundraiser on Monday, and he brought a special guest – BMW winner Rory McIlroy – to Medinah Country Club for the annual even benefiting the First Tee of Greater Chicago.

Streelman was happy to head home to Arizona.

“That was the end of a long run,’’ he said. “My body is pretty tired and my wife and kids were ready to be home. We’d been away for a month straight.’’

Streelman, though, is anxiously awaiting a new series televised on The Golf Channel. Created by Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Good, it’s called Driver vs. Driver and follows the trials and tribulations of aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for $500,000 and the opportunity to have their driver concept brought to life and sold under Wilson’s name.

About 300 ideas were submitted. Tim Clarke, head of Wilson’s golf division, along with former U.S. Golf Association director Frank Thomas and ex-Bear great Brian Urlacher formed the panel of judges.

“It’s a great concept and the filming came out great,’’ said Streelman, who is one of the guest judges on the show that debuts Oct. 4. The winner will be announced on Nov. 22, and Streelman plans to have the winning driver in his bag when he returns to the PGA Tour in February HOPE check.

“Wilson is making a huge move to become one of the big hitters in golf, and this was a pretty cool idea,’’ said Streelman. “The ideas for the drivers were incredible. I was very, very impressed.’’

Illini roll on

The University of Illinois men’s team rallied to win its season-opening event, the Wolf Run Invitational played just a few miles from the BMW Championship in Zionsville, Ind. Northbrook junior Nick Hardy also won the individual title just days after Illini coach Mike Small signed a new six-year contract extension.

“It’s nice the university committed to us, and that they appreciate what we have accomplished,’’ said Small. “We have great facilities, and I’m where I want to be the rest of my career.’’

Small’s squad will host at its own tournament starting Friday at Olympia Fields Country Club – the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. It’s considered one of the top collegiate competitions in the fall season.

Here and there

Next big local event is the Illinois Senior Open, which begins its two-day run on Monday at McHenry Country Club.

Steve Sawtell and Michael Natale combined to win the Merit Amateur, a 54-hole event conducted in a modified Stableford format at Merit Club in Libertyville. Mark Esposito and Ted Zurkowski won the senior division.

Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, will host the men’s and women’s NCAA finals next spring and that won’t be the only national collegiate championship event played in Illinois. TPC Deere Run, the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic site in Silvis, has landed next May’s National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament.

Indiana’s French Lick Resort has signed on to sponsor next February’s Chicago Golf Show in Rosemont.

The Chicago District Golf Association will combine with Odyssey Golf Club to host the Fore Our Veterans outing on Sept. 28 in Tinley Park.

FedEx Cup hopes are on the line for Streelman, Donald at BMW Championship

Only three events remain in the PGA Tour’s 2015-16 season, and all will have very select fields.

This week’s BMW Championship, at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., will feature the 70 survivors in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The top 30 after it’s over advance to The Tour Championship Sept. 22-25 at East Lake in Atlanta and then the season concludes with the Ryder Cup – the high-profile competition between 12-player teams from the U.S. and Europe – Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

The BMW could well be the season-ender for both Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star. They remained in the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings after the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston concluded on Monday but need great weeks at Crooked Stick to be among the 30 who will tee it up at East Lake, where a $10 million bonus awaits the playoff champion.

Donald was bypassed in the selections for Europe’s Ryder Cup team and Streelman is a highly unlikely candidate for the four wild card spots available on the U.S. squad. Captain Davis Love III will announce three after the BMW Championship and his final one after The Tour Championship.

Both Streelman and Donald survived the final 36-hole of the season at the Deutsche Bank Championship, but that was about all. Streelman tied for 57th place and Donald tied for 65th. Both dropped in the FedEx standings because of those finishes, Donald from 53rd at the start of the week to No. 60 and Streelman from 57th to No. 63.

Still, both are assured big paydays this week, as there’s no 36-hole cut in the BMW Championship. The 70 qualifiers will share the hefty $8 million prize fund — the purse at all four of the playoff events.

The BMW Championship, conducted by the Chicago-based Western Golf Association, rotates in and out of Chicago every other year. Last year it was played at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, with Jason Day winning the title. It’ll be back at Conway in 2017 and the only other future sites that have been determined are Aronimink in Pennsylvania in 2018 and Medinah in 2019.

Crooked Stick, a Pete Dye design in the Indianapolis suburbs, hosted the BMW Championship in 2012 with Rory McIlroy winning. A suddenly revived McIlroy also won the Deutsche Bank title on Monday after putting a new putter in his bag and hiring a new putting coach. Going 19-under-par in his final 69 holes he overcame a six-stroke deficit in the final round to climb to No. 4 in the FedEx standings.

Any player ranked in the top five who wins at East Lake will also pocket the $10 million bonus. The top three going in are Patrick Reed, Day and Dustin Johnson while Adam Scott is No. 5. If none of the top five win The Tour Championship the top prize will be up for grabs.

As for Streelman and Donald, both will have to play their best at Crooked Stick and hope that’ll be good enough to get into the top 30. Dramatic climbs in the standings are possible in the volatile scoring system, however. Billy Hurley, for instance, improved from 77th to 51st with a strong showing at Boston and Hudson Swafford climbed from 82nd to 61st.

Here and there

The start of the Web.com Tour Playoffs will coincide with the BMW Championship. First of the four events, which bring together the top 75 from the Web.com circuit and those ranked between 125 and 200 on the PGA Tour, is the DAP Championship at Canterbury in Cleveland. The field includes Elmhurst’s PGA veteran, Mark Wilson, and former University of Illinois golfers Luke Guthrie and D.A. Points.

Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell won the 24th Illinois State Mid-Amateur for the fifth time last week at Flossmoor Country Club. The fifth title pulled Mitchell into a tie with Jim Frisina for most wins in a single state amateur championship. Frisina won the Illinois State Amateur five times between 1942 and 1958.

Next big event on the state calendar is the 30th Illinois State Senior Amateur, which runs Monday through Wednesday (SEPT 12-14) at Bloomington Country Club. Mistwood’s McWethy Cup is also on tap for Monday in Romeoville.