Return at Harbour Town could provide a big boost for Donald

This could be a big week for those who follow the Northwestern golf program.  Three former Wildcats’ stars return from a week off during the Masters to take on potential career-changing challenges.

Luke Donald, the greatest player in NU in NU history, will be on the comeback trail at a course that has been good to him in the past and David Lipsky and Dylan  Wu – stars of recent vintage – will be back on the Korn Ferry Tour with  PGA Tour cards hanging in the balance.

Donald, now 43, was the world’s No. 1-ranked player for 55 weeks in 2011 and 2012. Beset by long-time  back problems, he’s now ranked No. 577 after missing nine straight cuts on the PGA Tour but he remains hopeful.  Donald will be in the field at this week’s RBC Heritage Classic, which tees off on Thursday in Hilton Head, S.C., and he also figures to get a start in the Valspar Championship later this month.

If Donald is to regain prominence on the PGA circuit, April could be a key month. He has a great history at both the Heritage and Valspar events, and they could be a springboard in his comeback plans.

Donald never won the Heritage, but he finished second  three times and third twice on the Harbour Town Links course.  His last of 16 second-place finishes on the PGA Tour came at the Heritage in 2017.

His last PGA Tour victory came in 2012 at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course, the site of the Valspar Championship in two weeks. The event was called the Transitions Championship when Donald won there.

The last staging of the Valspar was at Innisbrook in 2019, when Donald finished in a tie for ninth. He seemed on the way back to regaining his top form then, but it didn’t happen and the Valspar was canceled in 2020 due to pandemic issues.

Born in England and now a long-time resident of  Jupiter, FL., Donald has  over $36 million in career tournament winnings since his graduation from NU in 2001.  He played on four European Ryder Cup teams and in 2011 became the first player to win money titles on both the U.S. and European PGA tours. He has remained close to NU and the Chicago golf community through his many charitable efforts.

In addition to Donald the other two Chicago-connect PGA Tour players —  Kevin Streelman and Doug Ghim – will return to action in the Heritage after sitting out Masters week.

UP-AND-COMING: On the Korn Ferry front, neither Lipsky nor Wu has approached the success that Donald did in his 18-year pro career after leaving Northwestern but they appear on the brink of making it to the PGA circuit. The Korn Ferry  sends its Top 25 to the PGA Tour at the end of the season and Lipsky is No. 8 and Wu No. 20 going into this week’s MGM Resorts Championship in Las Vegas.

Lipsky, 32, was a 2011 NU graduate and Wu, 24, finished up in Evanston in 2018. Lipsky had a shot at winning the last tourney on the Korn Ferry circuit two weeks ago but lost in a playoff to Germany’s Stephan Jaeger.  Wu has had two runner-up finishes on the PGA’s developmental circuit.  They have 16 tournaments left before The Top 25 is determined.

HERE AND THERE: The Golfers on Golf Radio Show begins its 31st season on Saturday  in a new  time slot – 4 p.m. –on WCPT (820-AM).  Rory Spears, Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger return as the hosts….After two seasons at Illinois Noah Gillard has transferred to Indiana.  From Greenwood Ind., Gillard won the Indiana Amateur and Indiana Amateur Match Play titles in 2020….Mistwood, in Romeoville, will host its Pick Your Pin Scramble on Saturday and will also be the site of the Illinois PGA’s first in-state event of the year, the Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble on Monday, April 19….The popular Friday Night Fish Fry at White Deer Run, in Vernon Hills, will continue through April and May…..Entries are already closed for the first two events on the Chicago District Golf Association schedule, qualifiers for the CDGA Mid- Amateur Championship on April 26 at Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, and April 28 at Palatine Hills….As for now the June 11-13 Arnold Palmer Cup, an international team event coming to Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, will be closed to the public because of pandemic concerns.

 

 

A 10-under 60 on Korn Ferry Tour shows Hardy is ready for the big time

This week’s golf focus will be entirely on the Masters. No other pro tours are playing, and the Chicago influence at Augusta National will be minimal. Kevin Streelman, Doug Ghim and Luke Donald – the PGA Tour members with Chicago connections – didn’t qualify.

Sunday’s Drive, Chip & Putt national finals staged at Augusta National did have two Chicago qualifiers – Reese Wallace of South Barrington and Logan Keeter of Northbrook.  Reese finished sixth and Logan eighth in the 10-11 age division.

There is one recent round to celebrate, though.  On Sunday Northbrook’s Nick Hardy shot a sizzling 60 in the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour’s Emerald Coast Classic in Sandestin, FL.  With nines of 30-30, Hardy was 10-under-par on the par-70 Raven Golf Club course.

Hardy, 25, is a rookie on the Korn Ferry circuit, which is a direct feeder to the PGA Tour.  The top 25 on the circuit’s point list at the end of the season get PGA Tour privileges for the 2021-22 season and Hardy stands 19th at the moment.

Sunday’s round was by far the career  best for the University of Illinois graduate.  His previous low on the Korn Ferry circuit was a 63. The hot round enabled Hardy to climb 47 places on the leaderboard in the final 18 on Sunday, as he finished in a tie for 17th place.

On the all-important point list, though, he moved up only one spot – from No. 20 to No. 19 in the battle for next season’s PGA Tour cards.

Germany’s Stephan Jaeger, who won the Emerald Classic,  finished eight shots ahead of Hardy.  Jaeger, who was at 14 -under for the 72 holes, needed an extra hole to get the win. He got it when Northwestern alum David Lipsky made bogey on the first hole of a two-man playoff.  That made Jaeger’s par good enough for the victory, his sixth on the Korn Ferry circuit.  In 2017 he captured the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe.

Hardy, though, got a big boost from his hot round.  Since the season resumed in February he had struggled a bit, making the cut in two of three tournaments prior to the Emerald Coast Classic. He  finished down the leaderboard in both and dropped two places on the point list.

Prior to the resumption of Korn Ferry play, however Hardy survived two of three Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour events and made his chances on the more lucrative premier circuit count.  He won the final spot in a three-man playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January and then tied for 14th in the main event, which meant a $113,850 payday.  He also Monday qualified at Phoenix and tied for 42nd after a 68-67 start. The money earned in those events help his bank account, but not his Korn Ferry standing. He’ll have to keep playing well to keep his spot in the top 25.

Lipsky (No. 8) and Dylan Wu, another Northwestern alum who is No. 20,  are also in good position to move up to the next level. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger, at No. 30, is also close to advancing to the PGA Tour with 19 Korn Ferry events remaining. The next is the MGM Resorts Championship, which tees off in Las Vegas on April 15.

The Korn Ferry’s annual Chicago stop,  the Evans Scholars Invitational, begins its four-day run at The Glen Club in Glenview on May 27.

 

 

 

Ex-Illinois Open champ Saenz gets another shot at the PGA Tour

This week’s PGA Tour event, the Valero Texas Open, is the last stop before next week’s Masters and it has some unlikely names in the field.

From the national stage there’s Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler.  Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, was a late entry.  Apparently feeling the need for another competitive tuneup after failing to contend in last week’s World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson will playing in the Texas stop for the first time since 2015.

Fowler also needs to play well if he’s to keep his streak of Masters appearances alive.  He has played at Augusta every year since 2010 but isn’t qualified for this year’s event yet.

Carlos Sainz Jr., the 2016 Illinois Open champion, will also get back in a PGA Tour event after several years of trying.  He played on the circuit in 2015 but lost his playing privileges for failure to meet money-winning standards. Now he’s a club professional in Houston.

Sainz, who set an Illinois Open scoring record with his five-shot victory at Royal Fox in St. Charles, competed on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour and also played with limited success on the Canadian and Latinoamerica circuits before entering the club professional ranks last year. He proved he could still play, winning the title in his Texas PGA section to get a spot in the Valero Texas Open.

Born in Chicago and growing up in Elgin, Sainz attended Larkin High School and had great success in the Chicago area before making a run at the big tours following his collegiate days at Mississippi State.  Before his hot tournament at Royal Fox six years ago Sainz lost an Illinois Open title in a playoff and won the now defunct Chicago Open in 2013.

His best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for ninth in the Sanderson Farms Classic but he last played regularly on any of the pro tours since 2018 when he missed the cut 11 times in 21 events on the PGA’s Korn Ferry circuit.

BROADCASTING CHANGE:  The Golfers on Golf Radio show was to open its 31st season on Saturday but the host Rory Spears said the show has  opted to move in a new direction from previous Chicago golf show broadasts.

Virtually all have been weekend morning shows over the years, but Golfers on Golf will be an afternoon attraction. It’ll  take a 4 p.m. time slot on WCPT (820-AM) on Saturdays, starting on April 17. Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger return as co-hosts with Spears.

“We could have started the season earlier with a return to our previous station (WNDZ, 750-AM) but the response was overwhelmingly positive to our move to WCPT in 2020, so we decided to stay there in 2021,’’ said Spears.  “This also allows us to keep most of our production crew together and gives us the opportunity to reach a bigger audience, as we’ll be live during the third rounds of PGA Tour events or major championships.’’

STREELMAN SITS: Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, the best of the Chicago area PGA players, decided against taking one more shot at a spot in the Masters in Texas.  He reached the Sweet 16 of last week’s Match Play event before losing to eventual champion Billy Horschel.

His reward for reaching th quarter-finals was $189,000, and that pushed Streelman  over the $1 million mark in winnings for the 2020-21 season. He’s 60th on the season money list and No. 56 in the Official World Golf Rankings.  The top 50 after the Valero Texas Open qualify for the Masters.

Despite Streelman’s absence, the field in Texas includes three players with Illinois connections – Doug Ghim, Luke Donald and D.A. Points. Former world No. 1 Donald missed his eighth straight cut on the PGA Tour in last week’s secondary stop in the Dominican Republic. Ghim, in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, didn’t compete last week.  He had brief third-round leads in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players events before final round of 81 and 78 dertailed his chances. Points, a PGA Tour veteran, is in the field on a medical exemption.

HERE AND THERE: Golf Now! Chicago is now available in both print and digital versions.  Publisher Cheryl Justak is marking the 19th year for Chicago’s premier golf destination guide…..The first Augusta National Women’s Amateur, played in 2019 before the pandemic, had three Illinois players in the field.  The second version tees off on Wednesday without any.  It’ll be strong, though, with 28 of the top 30 in the women’s amateur world rankings included in the 85  who will complete the 54-hole event on Saturday as the first attraction of Masters Week…..Like the ANWA, the Drive, Chip & Putt national finals weren’t held when the Masters was last played in November.  The 2020 finals will be staged on  Sunday with Reese Wallace of South Barrington and Logan Keeter of Northbrook representing the Chicago area.

 

Match Play might help Streelman get into the Masters

This may be the best week of this golf season. At least those who love match play competition will feel that way.

The World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play tees off on Wednesday on  the Pete Dye-designed Austin Country Club course in Texas, .and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is in the elite 64-player field. Every player has matches on the first three days.  Then the winners of the 16 four-man groups settle the championship in weekend matches.

With Doug Ghim and Luke Donald not qualified for the event Streelman is the lone player with Chicago ties in the field, and he may be facing his last chance to qualify for the Masters – the first major championship of the season.  It tees off in two weeks at Georgia’s Augusta National.

Streelman will probably have to win either this week or at next week’s Valero Texas Open to get into the Masters field.  A win will get him in, and so will a ranking in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Streelman has struggled to crack the top 50 since the last two tournaments of the 2020 portion of the PGA Tour’s wrap-around season.

He goes into the Match Play at No. 58 in the rankings and the top 50 after the Valero Texas Open make it.

Streelman has had his chances to get the high finish that would propel him up in the rankings.  Last week he was done in by the fearsome Bear Trap – the three-hole stretch on holes 15-17 at PGA National, the Florida site of the Honda Classic. Two are par-3s and the other a par-4, and they may be the toughest stretch on the PGA Tour – at least they were for Streelman last week.

In the first round of the Honda Streelman made bogey on all three holes of the Bear Trap. That put him in trouble, but he made eagle at No. 18 to salvage a 69 and get back into contention. In Round 2 he made a double bogey at No. 15, in the third he had a bogey at the 16th and on Sunday he made bogey at the 17th and added to his problems with a finishing bogey on the par-5 18th.

During his four rounds on the three-hole stretch Streelman made just two birdies, so he was 5-over-par on those holes and the bogey to finish the tournament was a killer, as it dropped Streelman into a tie for 36th place.

The Match Play represents a good opportunity  to bounce back, though.  Streelman will battle three foreign players – Norway’s Victor Hovland, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger – for the the group’s spot in this weekend’s Sweet 16. At No. 53 Streelman has the highest seed in that group.  Hovland, playing the tournament for the first time, is No. 13, Ancer No. 27 and Wiesberger No. 43.

Sunday’s champion gets $1.82 million from a $10.5 million purse and the last-place finisher receives $35,000.

HERE AND THERE:  Luke Donald will compete in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship,  the PGA Tour’s alternate event in the Dominican Republic this week, while Doug Ghim is taking the week off…The Golfers on Golf Radio show will begin its 31st season on April 3 on WNBZ (750-AM)…Foxford Hills, in Cary, has scheduled its Spring Scramble for April 3….Lohman Quitno Architects will begin a $2.5 million renovation of Abbey Springs, in Fontana, WI., in August….Troon Golf has been named to manage Atkins Golf Club in Urbana, the home course of the University of Illinois teams that was formerly called Stone Creek….The Patriot Education Classic has been scheduled for June 1 at Aurora Country Club.

 

 

 

 

Ghim may be closing in on his first PGA Tour victory

Doug Ghim is making progress as a PGA Tour rookie, no doubt about that.

The 24-year old who grew up in Arlington Heights and attended Buffalo Grove High School before graduating from the University of Texas made the cut in five of his six tournaments in 2020, his best finish being a tie for 14th in the Bermuda Championship.

Most of the top players  competed only spaaringly in those fall events of the PGA’s wrap-around 2020-21 season, but Ghim has been up to their challenge in the 2021 events. In the first seven of those he made the cut in five and had his best finish – a tie for fifth in the American Express Championship in January.

The last two weeks have been more revealing, however.

While his finishes haven’t been great Ghim has learned what it’s like at the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard.  He made it to that lofty position in the third round of both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.  His time at the top in both Florida stops was limited, but at least he got there.

Now Ghim’s problem is staying in contention. Getting in the hunt on “moving day’’ hasn’t been a problem, but finishing the job in Sunday’s final round has.

In the API at Bay Hill he was leading for only a few minutes, and in last week’s Players he was in command for only a few holes. At Bay Hill he got into contention by shooting a 65 in the third round but followed it with  a horrendous 81 in the final round.  The result? A drop of 29 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for 36th.

The strongest field of the season was on hand last week at The Players, and Ghim came charging on Saturday with a 68 after shooitng a 67 on Friday . He gained the lead on the 14th hole before surrendering it before the day was out to Lee Westwood, the runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill.

Ghim wound up with Justin Thomas as his final round playing partner.  They went off in front of the final twosome – DeChambeau and Westwood.  The moment was not lost on Ghim.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m 257th in the world (rankings),’’ Ghim told the media members gathered around him after the pairings were announced.  “To be associated with that (leaderboard pairing) is an honor and it’s a dream come true.  It’s definitely something that I always thought I could get to, and I’m just grateful to have the chance.’’

The next day Ghim learned, again, how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.  He shot 78 and dropped 26 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for 29th.

His two runs at the top of the leaderboard helped Ghim enjoy good paydays –$42,981 at Bay Hill and $96,125 at The Players – but the checks could have been much larger had Ghim held his game together when the pressure was the greatest.

Ghim didn’t look ahead after he held sole possession of the lead with four holes left in Round 3 at The Players.

“My goal was to get to the clubhouse, post a good number, be around the lead,’’ said Ghim.. “ Having the lead is great but it really, really doesn’t matter until you walk off the 18th hole (with it on Sunday).’’

While most of the tournaments on the PGA Tour have been played without fans, there were noticeable galleries the last two weeks. Ghim, whose parents are from Korea, was paired South Korea’s Sungjae Im the first rwo rounds.

“There was some confusion of who was who when I  played with Sungjae, and that was pretty funny,’’ said Ghim, “but it was great to have the fans back.  It was great to have my first Players be with fans.  It’s just not quite the same experience without a fan base.’’

A year ago The Players event was canceled after the first round when pandemic concerns exploded. More fans will likely know who Ghim is this week when the circuit moves to another Florida stop — the Honda Classic, at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.

As was the case after Bay Hill, Ghim took Sunday’s final round struggles in stride and felt he learned something watching playing partner Thomas  come from behind to grab the victory.  He congratulated Thomas in a tweet after the tournament.

“It was an honor to see it unfold, and can’t wait to draw back on the experience.  Looking forward to being in a similar experience soon,’’ tweeted Ghim.

For the first time this season three Chicago PGA Tour players – Ghim, Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald  — will be in the same event.

 

 

Rich looks ahead to the return of the Arnold Palmer Cup

Jerry Rich, the owner of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, arrived in Florida last week while the Arnold Palmer Invitational was in progress in Orlando and he’s already looking forward to the Arnold Palmer Cup – the first big tournament of the Chicago season.  It’ll be played at Rich Harvest from June 11-13.

“I’m so excited because I’m all about amateur golf,’’ said Rich, who has hosted 52 amateur events at Rich Harvest.  They included the 2015 Arnold  Palmer Cup, the 2015 Western Amateurs and the 2017 NCAA men’s and women’s finals.

Rich believes this 25th playing of the Arnold Palmer Cup could be his biggest tournament yet. The event matches teams of college stars ,one consisting of players from the United States and other an International squad. Unlike the 2015 playing this one will have men’s and women’s competition.

“I’m hoping the whole city of Chicago will turn out for it,’’ said Rich.  “I expect a lot of spectators because you can’t believe how good these collegiate players are today. These kids are unbelievable.’’

Rich is expecting crowds between 5,000 and 10,000 – much like those on the pro tours so far this year — but believes they could be bigger if pandemic restrictions are reduced.

“With our event being in June, I’m hoping that will be all over,’’ said Rich. “I’ve got space for 10,000 cars and would like to see 30,000 (spectators).’’

TOUR EDGE TIDBITS:  Batavia-based Tour Edge rocked PGA Tour Champions with its recent signing of Bernhard Langer, the circuit’s best player, but it was another Tour Edger — Tom Petrovic — who made the bigger splash in the Cologuard Championshi8p in Arizona last week.

Petrovic made two holes-in-one in the tournament, the first Champions player to accomplish that feat in 17 years.  Both were made with Tour Edge’s Exotics EXS Pro Forged irons. He made his aces at No.16 at Omni Tucson National in Round 1 of the 54-hole event and connected again at No. 14 in Round 2.

Petrovic tied for sixth in the Cologuard event, six strokes behind champion Kevin Sutherland. Langer tied for 14th.

COUNTDOWN TO AUGUSTA: Reese Wallace, of South Barrington, and Logan Keeter, of Northbrook, had a long wait to get to Augusta National, the site of next month’s  Masters, but now their coveted trip is less than a month away.  They’ll compete in the 2020 finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on April 4, even with the 2021 qualifying events already in progress.

The two Chicago area youngsters are among the 80 nation-wide who earned spots in the 2020 finals before pandemic concerns forced the Masters to reschedule its tournament from the usual April dates until November.  The club opted to further postpone the Drive, Chip and Putt preliminary, scheduling it before this year’s Masters. The two Chicago qualifiers will compete in the 10-11 age division.

This year’s Drive, Chip and Putt registration opened on March 2 and the elimination process will carry into the fall before the 80 qualifiers for Augusta at the 2022 Masters are determined.

TOUR TALK: Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, was briefly tied for the lead during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational while he was en route to posting a 65.  He faded to an 81 in Sunday’s final round, however and finished in a tie for 36th place. That meant a $42,381 payday.

Ghim, as well as Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, will be in the field for The Players Championship, which tees off Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL. Streelman is coming off a two-week break from tournament play. The Players was halted after one round in 2020 when pandemic concerns kicked in on March 12.  Play didn’t resume until June 11.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only player on the LPGA tour, earned her first check of 2021 in the circuit’s third tournament when she finished tied for 34th in the Drive On Championship in Ocala, FL., on Sunday. She earned $8,499.

BOOST FOR ESI: The number of spectators at the Chicago area’s only pro tour event of the year is uncertain, but those that do get into the May 27-30 Evans Scholars Invitational won’t have to pay an admission charge.

The PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour event will be back at The Glen Club, in Glenview, with Servpro of Glenview covering the ticket charges.  Servpro specializes in the cleanup and restoration of residential and commercial properties after fire, smoke or water damage and offers a wide range of cleaning services. The tournament proceeds go to the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars Foundation.

HERE AND THERE: Golftec has opened a state-of-the-art instruction and club fitting center in Schaumburg…The Under Armour Junior Tour for boys and girls 6-18 has announced its Chicago spring schedule.  First event is April 11 at Cantigny, in Wheaton.  Other stops are April 17 at Downers Grove, April 25 at Zigfield Troy in Woodridge, May 1 at Cog Hill in Palos Heights, May 15 at Flagg Creek in Countryside and May 22 at Rob Roy in Prospect Heights…..University of Illinois senior Michael Feagles is the Big Ten Golfer of the Week for the second straight w afeekter leading the Illini to victories in their first two tournaments of the year……Troon, a leading club management, development and marketing company, has opened a new corporate office in Chicago.

 

 

 

An 11-month layoff is no problem for Illini golfers

This year has been filled with changes for everyone, but some things never change.

The University of men’s golf team, for one thing. The Illini had their season halted in March by pandemic concerns, then came the cold weather in the Midwest. Eleven months after their last competition, however, the Illini didn’t miss a beat.

Coach Mike Small took his team to Florida for a warmup dual meeting against Illinois State, a 9-7 victory in a match play competiton on Feb. 6. Then came the first tournament – the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate in Alabama. Though Small has built a powerhouse at Illinois, the sharpness the Illini demonstrated there was beyond belief.

The Illini won last week’s 54-hole, 15-team event by 17 strokes and Illini senior Michael Feagles was the individual champion with rounds of 67-67-66, a 16-under-par performance that was the second-best in the history of the Illinois program.  Feagles went wire-to-wire to win  his title by eight strokes over teammate Jerry Ji.

“It was fun to get out and compete,’’ said Small. “These guys were to excited to play.  To see their excitement after what happened 11 months ago was just awesome.’’

Next comes the Louisiana State Invitational, which tees off on Friday with a stronger field than the one in Alabama. The busy February triggers a hectic spring for the Illini, who have events scheduled in Arizona and Georgia before playing back in the Midwest at tournaments hosted by Purdue and ;Ohio State in April.

“We’ve built a schedule that will test our team, both mentally and physically, and will prepare us to reach all our goals this season,’’ said Small.  The Big Ten tournament starts on April 30 and the NCAA tournament on May 17.

FLORIDA-BOUND:  Both the PGA and LPGA tours hold  tournaments in Florida this week. The PGA has a new site for the World Golf Championship’s Workday Championship.  It’ll be played at The Concession Club in Bradenton opposite the Puerto Rico Open.  Both tee off on Thursday. Neither Kevin Streelman nor Doug Ghim, of the current Chicago area tour players, will compete this week.

The LPGA, meanwhile, will be playing its first full-field event of 2021 — the Gainbridge Championship, at Lake Nona, near Orlando — beginning on Thursday. This one is most notable for Annika Sorenstam being in the field.  A Lake Nona member, the legendary Sorenstam is making her first tournament appearance in 13 years.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only LPGA member, will also be making her season debut at Lake Nona.

HERE AND THERE:  The Korn Ferry Tour opened its season in Florida last week with Northwestern alum David Lipsky finishing in a tie for 23rd and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Illinois alum Scott Langley in a tie for 34th.  The PGA’s satellite circuit doesn’t have another tournament until the Chitimacha Louisiana Open tees off on March 18…..Chicago golf lost one of its most inspiring figures with the passing of Coraine (Co) McArthur.  She was a long-time leader of the Women’s Western Golf Association, serving as its Foundation director for 40 years and winning its Woman of Distinction Award in 1998.The Kenilworth resident was 106 at the time of her passing….Kevin Streelman, long active with the PGA’s Player Advisory Committee, finished third in last week’s voting for that group’s presidency.   The honor went to Rory McIlroy…..SkyTrak Simulators have been added at the Cantigny Youth Links, in Wheaton…..Silver Lake, one of Chicago’s longest-standing public facilities in Orland Park, is now up for sale.  The 45-hole facility has been owned by the Coghill family since its opening…Heading the Illinois PGA’s list of 2020 award winners was Ruth Lake’s Mark Labiak, named Professional of the Year, and Glen View’s Chris Green, as Teacher of the Year….The IPGA Foundation, celebrating its 30th anniversary,  announced the kickoff to a $1 million capital campaign to raise funds for future programing.

 

 

 

 

Bernhard Langer signing is a big deal for Tour Edge

Champions Tour star Bernhard Langer  (left) joins forces with Tour Edge president David Glod.

Tour Edge, the Batavia-based golf club manufacturer, has thrived in recent years by signing top players on PGA Tour Champions.  On Monday Tour Edge president David Glod landed the biggest star on the 50-and-over circuit.

Bernhard Langer, still the Champions’ dominant player at 63 years old, has 41 wins on the circuit and that is second only to Hale  Irwin’s 45 on the all-time lists.  The German-born Langer is No. 1 on the current Charles Schwab Cup standings and leads the tour in scoring, putting, birdies and top-10 finishes  in the revised 2020-21 campaign.

Tour Edge also has Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Duffy Waldorf and Tim Petrovic on its Champions roster.  Langer will make his debut as a staff member on Feb. 26 in the Cologuard Classic in Arizona.

“I’m extremely happy to be joining the Tour Edge staff,’’ said Langer following his signing at the company’s headquarters.  “I have had some of their clubs in my bag for a long time.  They were the best option to get me exactly what I need to perform at the highest level.’’

Glod was ecstatic about the signing.

“To be able to sign this awe-inspiring icon to our staff is a crowning achievement in our 35 years as a golf brand,’’ Glod said.

STREELMAN ON THE SPOT:  This promises to be a big week for Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman on the PGA Tour.  The circuit’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tees off on Thursday and Streelman has had some strong showings in that event.

Last year Streelman finished second behind champion Nick Taylor and was one-stroke better than third-place Phil Mickelson.  Streelman also teamed with NFL star Larry Fitzgerald to win the team event for the second time in three years.  Only four teams have multiple wins in the event, which was first held in 1937.

Because of pandemic issues the team event won’t be held this year, however.  Only the professionals will compete and Streelman needs a strong showing if he hopes to play in April’s Masters. Despite a tie for 37th at California’s Torrey Pines and a tie for 22nd at Phoenix the last two weeks Streelman’s status on the Official World Golf Rankings has dropped.  He was No. 52 at the start of 2021 and is now No. 59.  The top 50 the week before the Masters get spots in the field at Augusta National.

HARDY’S FAST START: Northbrook’s Nick Hardy has been a Monday qualifier for two of the last four PGA Tour events and took advantage of the opportunities. He earned $113,850 for a tie for 14th in the Sony Open and another $23,853 for his tie for 42nd in Phoenix.  Those performances will help Hardy’s bank account, but not his status of the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour.

The Korn Ferry sends its top 25 at year’s end to the PGA Tour, and Hardy stands No. 15 after his showing in the 2020 events.  His PGA Tour winnings don’t count on the Korn Ferry standings. That circuit opens the 2021 portion of its season in two weeks at the Suncoast Classic in Florida.

Hardy needed to birdie the final five holes in the Monday qualifier at Phoenix to get into the starting field, and that burst carried over to the first two rounds of the tournament  proper (68-67) before weekend rounds of 71-70 dropped him down the leaderboard. aHHar

HERE AND THERE:  Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a PGA Tour rookie, had his best showing so far with a tie for fifth (worth $247,900) at The America Express in California.  He didn’t play in Phoenix but will be in the field this week at Pebble Beach….Matt Tullar has been named head professional at Cantigny, in Wheaton.  Tullar had been Patrick Lynch’s assistant since 2010.  Lynch resigned his post at the conclusion of last season….Sportsman’s Country Club, a Northbrook landmark since 1929, will have a new name once it re-opens following a year-long renovation. It’ll be called Heritage Oaks.,,,The Illinois PGA will conduct a new seven-tournament junior tour this year for players in the 13-18 age group. Announced sites include Merit Club, in Libertyville; Westmoreland, in Wilmette; Briarwood, in Deerfield; Flossmoor; and Onwentsia, in Lake Forest…..The next show on the Ziehm & Spears Podcast Series will spotlight Prospect Heights apparel company Golftini.

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Hawaii pays off big-time for Nick Hardy

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim are among the very best young golfers ever produced in the Chicago area. Ghim is a rookie on the PGA Tour and Hardy in his first season on the PGA’s development circuit – the Korn Ferry Tour.

Still, what were the chances that they’d be paired together in the PGA Tour’s first full-field event of 2021?

Ghim’s participation in last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii wasn’t unexpected. He had earned his PGA membership at the last qualifying session.  Hardy made the field  through a Monday qualifier.  It provided him some needed competition since the Korn Ferry schedule doesn’t kick in until February.

While Ghim missed the cut last week, Hardy came ready to play.  After winning a three-man playoff for the final spot in the starting field he covered the regulation 72 holes in 16-under-par total and finished in a tie for 14th place.  That earned him $113,850.

“I had Monday (qualified) into a few Korn Ferry events, but never into a PGA Tour event,’’ said Hardy after earning a shot against the sport’s best players.  “I did lose in a playoff (the last spot in a four-man battle leading into the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open).  That experience helped me (in Hawaii).  Having had that experience, I knew what to expect. I learned how to handle my emotions.’’

A University of Illinois product, Hardy qualified for three U.S. Opens and made the cut in 2015.  He also got into seven other PGA Tour events through sponsor invitations. Those experiences, some of which came when he was still an amateur, weren’t all good.  He made the cut in five of his first six events but had missed his last four cuts until the strong showing in Hawaii.

“I’m a much different golfer than I was during those four (missed cuts) events,’’ said Hardy, noting that three of the misses were by just one stroke.  “I’ve learned how to handle myself better, handle my emotions and my thoughts.  That’s what really helped me play well on the Korn Ferry Tour last year.’’

He will be a PGA Tour member if he remains in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry standings this season.

“I just feel I’m ready for the PGA Tour,’’ said Hardy.  “I really do feel I belong.’’

BULL VALLEY BONANZA:  Rarely have Chicago golf organizations announced their tournament schedules in January, but both the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association did this year. Both scheduled major tournaments at Bull Valley, which has never been a major tournament venue.

The private club in Woodstock landed the 101st CDGA Amateur, which will be played June 21-24, as well as the IPGA Match Play Championship May 10-13.  The IPGA Match Play has had a long run at Kemper Lakes in recent years.

The IPGA also announced last week that its schedule will have two other major changes. The Aug. 2-4  Illinois Open finals will again be played at just one course – Stonebridge, in Aurora. The biggest event for Illinois residents had used a two-course format to expand the finals, but that was scrapped during last season’s pandemic-impacted campaign.  Originally Stonebridge was to share host duties with Naperville neighbor White Eagle, but White Eagle wound up the lone site for the last 54 holes of the month-long competition as the finals were reduced from 264 players to 156.

Ivanhoe, meanwhile, will be the site of the IPGA Championship from Aug. 23-25.  That event had used a three-course rotation in recent years, and Ivanhoe – once the site of a Korn Ferry Tour stop – was not among the venues used.

Also notable on the CDGA calendar is the return of Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course, in Palos Park, for a notable competition.  The long-time Western Open and BMW Championship site will host a U.S. Open local qualifier in May 3.  Mistwood, in Romeoville, will be the site of the 90th Illinois State Amateur for the first time from July 20-22.

HERE AND THERE:  Mistwood head professional Frank Hohenadel had a hole-in-one, dropping an 8-iron from 170 yards in a PGA of America Winter Series event in Port St. Lucie, FL…..The Ziehm & Spears Podcast Series kicked off its second season last week.  The first campaign in 2020 included 40 weekly shows and the weekly format will be used again….The Western  Golf Association has confirmed that the Evans Scholars Invitational will return to The Glen Club, in Glenview, May 24-30.  Last year’s Korn Ferry stop was moved to Chicago Highlands, in Westchester, because The Glen couldn’t accommodate a late schedule revision .

 

 

 

Golf developments in 2020 were shocking, unprecedented

 

I’ve been reporting on golf for 52 years and never encountered a year like this one. The dreaded pandemic certainly made 2020 infamous in many ways, and that included the golf world.

What I’ll remember the most happened on March 12, when PGA commissioner Jay Monahan called a press conference during the first round of The Players Championship in Florida to announce that the remaining three rounds would be played without spectators.

That shocked all of us who were there, but later that night Monahan announced that the tournament would be canceled entirely and that the tournaments of the next four weeks were off as well.  That’s when we realized how serious this was. The shutdown was on.

On the local level the Chicago District Golf Association canceled the Illinois State Amateur and CDGA Amateur.  Mistwood Golf Club decided the Illinois Women’s Open wouldn’t be held.  The Western Golf Association dropped its two national youth championships.  The Illinois PGA didn’t even schedule an event until July.

While the drama of March 12 sticks out as the most impactful day of the golf season, the rest of it wasn’t so bad at all.  In fact, golf – more than any other sport – showed its resiliency.  No professional league got back in business quicker than the PGA Tour did.

The PGA Tour resumed tournament operations on June 11, and the three major American tournaments – the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship – were played, albeit at unusual times of the year. So was the BMW Championship, the FedEx Cup Playoff event at Olympia Fields that was the highlight of the Chicago golf calendar.  Sadly, the 50th anniversary of the John Deere Classic was a no-go.

Basically, the PGA and LPGA tour events were TV shows.  There were virtually no spectators, and media admissions were limited to only a handful of people who covered the tournaments on a weekly basis. From my perspective I saw but one event in person – a PGA Tour Champions event in late October.

Though my golf columns and even a few travel destination stops continued, watching all the big competitions only via television represented a major — and most unwelcome — lifestyle change.

On the more positive side, Western Golf Association personnel worked diligently to get youth caddies working again and its most high-profiles tournaments – the BMW, Korn Ferry Tour’s Evans Scholars Invitational and the Western Amateur – did get played. The Illinois PGA salvaged the Illinois Open and its next three biggest championships and the CDGA managed to conduct a few of its late-season events.

No golf segment was more determined than the women’s side, however. Who would have thought that  both the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA’s season-climaxing CME Group Championship could be played in December?

The tournament side, though, wasn’t the highlight of this golf season.  Some have suggested the pandemic may have even “saved’’ golf because it was one activity that allowed play outdoors during these difficult times.  Recreational play, despite restrictions nation-wide, boomed in 2020 and so did equipment sales.

No where was that more evident than in the Chicago market where public venues like Sportsman’s in Northbrook, Schaumburg Golf Club and Settler’s Hill in Geneva tackled major renovations despite the pandemic and new clubhouses were in the works at the Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and Fox Run, in Elk Grove,

By no means did the pandemic “save’’ golf, but it certainly stimulated interest in some quarters where it might have been lagging for a while.

Playing-wise the star of the show in 2020 was Dustin Johnson, winner of both the FedEx Cup and the Masters. Tiger Woods wasn’t a winner, but his 11-year old son Charley was when they paired up in the  PNC Championship this month.  TV viewers couldn’t help but note that father and son have identical swings despite the age difference.

While golf in 2020 turned out about as good as it possibly could in pandemic times, the 2021 season should be more exciting.  The British Open should be back.  The Olympics should have a golf competition in Tokyo.  The Ryder Cup, postponed a year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, will still be a fall attraction — just a year later than originally anticipated.

The pandemic didn’t diminish golf in 2020, and it may have even enhanced the sport for both its viewers and participants in 2021.