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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PGA Tour will make Delaware debut at the 2022 BMW Championship

 

After conducting its premier tournament in the Chicago area for two straight years the Western Golf Association will  take the BMW Championship away from the area for at least the next two.

The Glenview-based WGA announced Tuesday that the BMW Championship will be played on the South Course at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware in 2022.  Cave’s Valley, located in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Md., will host next year’s tournament.

Medinah (2019) and Olympia Fields (2020) hosted the FedEx Cup Playoff event the last two years, which interrupted a trend in which the WGA took the tournament out of the Chicago area on an every other year basis. That trend started in 2012 when the event was held at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis.

The Chicago site in 2013, 2015 and 2017 was Conway Farms in Lake Forest while the non-Chicago sites were Cherry Hills in Denver (2014), Crooked Stick (2016) and Aronimink in the Philadelphia area (2018).

Though the BMW Championship dates back only to 2007, it has deep historic roots in Chicago.  The playoff event grew out of the Western Open, which the WGA first conducted in 1899. From 1962 through 2006 the Western was held only at Chicago facilities.

The 2022 BMW Championship will mark the first time the PGA Tour has held a tournament in Delaware, but Wilmington Country Club has deep historic roots, too.  It was established in 1901 and relocated in the 1950s when Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the South Course.

Vince Pellegrino, WGA senior vice president of tournaments, called Wilmington “one of the finest clubs anywhere in the United States.’’

“We’re thrilled to be taking (the BMW there),’’ said Pellegrino.  “The South Course has everything you look for in a traditional championship layout.  It will present a strategic test for the world’s best players and a perfect venue for fans and PGA Tour partners.’’

The BMW Championship is a key component in the fund-raising efforts of the WGA.  Its Evans Scholars Foundation has provided scholarships for deserving youth caddies since 1930. Since 2007 the BMW has raised more than $35 million for Evans Scholarships. Two Evans Scholars – Owen Griffin (Illinois 1983) and Dan Walsh (a junior at Penn State) — came out of Wilmington Country Club.

“The BMW Championship at Wilmington will give us an opportunity to show a new market the power of the Evans Scholars Program,’’ said John Kaczkowski, the WGA president and chief executive officer.  “This is a critical step in our efforts to expand from coast to coast and reach more deserving caddies.’’

The tournament has been the penultimate event of the BMW Cup Playoffs, immediately preceding The Tour Championship in Atlanta.  Next year’s event at Cave’s Valley will be held from Aug. 23-29.  No dates have been announced for the event at Wilmington.

 

 

Streelman missed this year’s Masters but is in position to make it in 2021

The Masters finally tees off on Thursday, but Chicago’s best player – Kevin Streelman – won’t be there. Streelman had a great year and, in a normal season, would have been on the brink of qualifying when he held a No. 49 world ranking entering last week’s Houston Open.

In a normal year the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week before the Masters get into the field – but this, obviously, is no normal year. The pandemic caused that.

“I could have won the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup and I still wouldn’t be in this year’s Masters,’’ said Streelman, whose world ranking dropped to No. 51 after he missed the cut in Houston.

As far as this week’s 84th Masters was concerned, it didn’t matter how Streelman performed in Houston. The top 50 before the Masters was determined on March 17, the last ranking period before the Masters was originally scheduled on April 9-12. Streelman, coming off a year in which he finished No. 122, wasn’t inside the top 50 at that time. Neither were Daniel Berger, now No. 13 in the world; Viktor Hovland (23), Ryan Palmer (31) and Harris English (35).  They won’t play at Augusta National this year either.

Streelman, who grew up in Wheaton, qualified for the Masters five times between 2011 and 2016 and survived the 36-hole cut in his last three appearances.  His best finish was a tie for 12th in 2015.

The Masters had planned a field of 96 players but the original qualification standards were impacted after the pandemic shut down the PGA Tour for three months and forced many tournaments to be either canceled or rescheduled.

Winners of PGA Tour stops in the previous calendar year had been awarded Masters invites, but not this time. Berger and Hovland won tournaments after play resumed but that didn’t factor into Masters invitations. This week’s tournament, played seven months late, didn’t hold its popular par-3 contest and – like most PGA Tour events — won’t have spectators.

Streelman, though, has no regrets about having the week off.

“I feel blessed to have had a great year on the golf course,’’ he said.  “At my age (42), I was just a few strokes off making it to the Tour Championship.  That’s something I’m very proud of, and I came close (to winning) at Hartford and Pebble Beach. I worked very hard during the quarantine (March 13 to June 10) to stay in shape and keep my golf game sharp.’’

The Masters is still on his mind – but it’s the 2021 version and not this week’s.  He can get in by finishing in the top 50 when the 2020 season ends on Dec. 6.  After the Masters there’s two tournaments – next week’s RSM Classic at Sea Island, Ga. and December’s Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.

“If I had had a nice week in Houston I might have shut it down for the year,’’ said Streelman, “but now I’ve got some unfinished business. I’m on the bubble for the next Masters. If I have a solid week in Sea Island I could shut it down then.  If not I’ll play in Mexico.’’

If he’s in the top 50 after those two tournaments he’ll be in the 85th Masters next April.

“I hope to get my ranking into the low 40s or even into the 30s.  That’d put me in good position for next year, too,’’ he said.  “But if I don’t play well I’ve still had a great year.’’

Off the course Streelman was an active participant in helping the PGA Tour to become the first sports league to get back in action after the pandemic shutdown.

“I’m really proud of the way we worked together.  We had calls every week of the quarantine.  We talked to professional scientists, people smarter than us,’’ said Streelman.  “We figured out a way to make it work, and we did it together as a team.  This was really a shining moment for the tour.’’

 

 

 

Sluman, back in Chicago, will wind down his career on Champions tour

Life will change dramatically for Chicago’s only member of PGA Tour Champions after this week’s season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix. Jeff Sluman will enter the retirement phase of what has been a great 40-year career on both the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit.

“I’m not going to go full-time anymore after this year,’’ said Sluman, now 63.  “I will still play golf, but don’t want to do it 28 weeks a year – maybe just half of that.  I’ll pick and choose (his tournaments).  I’ve earned the right to do that.’’

No question he has, but there’s more to it for Sluman than just a reduction in tournament appearances. He’ll also be back to being a full-time Chicago resident.

Sluman lived in Hinsdale for years when he played the PGA Tour, then opted to move to Delray Beach, FL., as a Champions Tour member while maintaining a part-time residence in Chicago’s River North. Now both the Florida and River North places have been sold and Sluman and wife Linda are living in an apartment in Clarendon Hills until their new place in Hinsdale is ready.

Giving up the warm weather in Florida in favor of Chicago winters apparently isn’t a concern.

“Growing up Rochester (N.Y.), it’s not that big a deal to go back to that horrendous weather we get in December, January and February,’’ said Sluman.  “We have family and friends (in Chicago) and it’s really important at this time in our lives to have them around.’’

Their daughter, Kathryn, also is working in Chicago after her recent graduation from Sluman’s alma mater, Florida State, and that’s a factor in the relocation as well.

Sluman’s golf game tailed off in this pandemic-impacted season. His Schwab Cup ranking (No. 70) is the lowest ever and his best finish was a tie for 26th on Sunday in the TimberTech Championship at The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, FL . The course is a regular Champions Tour stop and is located just a few miles from Sluman’s former home in Delray Beach. He joined PGA Tour Champions in 2007 and the last of his six victories on the circuit was in 2014.

“I’ve been winding down,’’ said Sluman.  “It’s a common theme as guys get older.  You don’t puitt as well, and that showed up in my game the last three years.’’

In his days on the PGA Tour Sluman was a big-time player despite his 5-7, 140-pound frame.  He won a major title, the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree in Oklahoma, and five other tournaments.  Two of the others came at the now defunct Greater Milwaukee Open, and Sluman also had a then-course record 63 at Cog Hill’s famed Dubsdread course when the Western Open was played there. (The record was since bettered by Tiger Woods’ 62 in a BMW Championship played there).

Rarely injured, Sluman played in over 1,000 PGA Tour-sanctioned tournaments, which translates to over 3,000 competitive rounds and over 59,000 holes.  Thanks to his consistent play over four decades he has over $30 million in career winnings, and he’ll be adding at least a little bit to that total in the next few years.

“There’s still golf in my future, just not as much,’’ said Sluman.  “This is a great way to wind down your career, semi-retire and still get those competitive juices going.  You can’t do that in any other sport.’’

His last full season isn’t one to remember fondly.  The pandemic led to eight of 27 Champions Tour tournaments being canceled and many more rescheduled. Still, the Champions was the first circuit to allow spectators and – unlike the others – conduct weekly pro-am events.

“It’s been difficult for everybody in the world,’’ said Sluman, “but personally we did all right.  My family’s healthy, and my daughter graduated from college.  She spent four-five months with us, which normally wouldn’t have happened.  She’s working now, but probably would have gotten an apartment in downtown Chicago earlier than she did. The pandemic is what it is, and we’re all going to have to live with it and get on with our lives.’’

HERE AND THERE

Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, had a $75,000 payday thanks to a tie for 14th at the Bermuda Open on Sunday.

Even though July’s John Deere Classic was canceled due to pandemic concerns the event’s Birdies for Charity program announced a $12.2 million payout to charities in the Quad Cities.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Northwestern alum Luke Donald are in the field for this week’s Houston Open – the last tournament before the Masters.

 

 

Hopfinger has begun his run for a PGA Tour card

This is a local golf success story that is still in the making. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger put himself in position to earn his PGA Tour card in the last eight weeks of his tour’s season.  He has another full year before he can join golf’s premier circuit, but his chances of making it to the big time are much brighter now than they were a year ago..

Hopfinger, 31, has played on the Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com, Nationwide, Ben Hogan) since 2015. That was a few months after he won his only pro tournament, the 2014 Illinois Open. He turned pro in 2011 after winning that year’s  Illinois State Amateur.

Only 10 players own titles in both events, but Hopfinger found that carrying his in-state success to the next level wasn’t easy.  He never considered giving up, though.

“I don’t like the question, but that’s the reality of sports,’’ he said.  “I’m a professional golfer.  That’s what I do.’’

And lately he’s been doing it quite well. He started 2020 with only conditional status on the Korn Ferry. Now he’s inside The 25 – the circuit’s coveted status that assures advancement to the PGA Tour at season’s end.

“It doesn’t mean much with this wrap-around season,’’ said Hopfinger, “but when the year started, with conditional status, I wasn’t even sure when I could play.’’

Because of the pandemic the end point for determining The 25 was pushed back to the end of the 2021 season. The PGA and Korn Ferry circuits endured a three-month layoff before resuming play on June 11. Lots of tournaments on both circuits were either canceled or postponed.

Hopfinger was quarantined in Chicago for seven weeks, then had a brief tuneup in Scottsdale, Ariz., before the tournament scheduled resumed in Florida on June 11.

A tie for 16th in Mexico in the last tournament before the pandemic-induced stoppage of play assured Hopfinger more tournament opportunities once play resumed, and when it did he missed only one cut in the remaining 15 tournaments.

“(Mexico) was huge,’’ he said. “I wasn’t sure what would happen when we could get back out, but I did well in Boise (tie for sixth), which is one of our bigger tournaments.  I kept chipping away, and the momentum kept building.’’

In the last eight tournaments he had two finishes – a tie for third in Wichita and a tie for fourth at the Evans Scholars Invitational at Chicago Highlands in Westchester – that were even better than in Boise. Hopfinger went from No. 64 in the rankings all the way up to No. 21. He has some local company in The 25. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy is No. 15 after a solid rookie pro season, and Northwestern alums David Lipsky (11) and Dylan Wu (16) are also in the hunt for PGA cards.

Hopfinger grew up playing at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park and still plays most of his Chicago  golf there.  In college he spent one year at Kansas and three at Iowa.  This season’s Korn Ferry season ended on Oct. 11 and the start of the 2021 tournaments hasn’t been announced yet. He is just thankful that 2020  went as well as it did in very trying times.

“The big thing for all of us was that it presented so many challenges,’’ said Hopfinger.  “We were all incredibly fortunate that the PGA gave us the opportunity to keep working, and doing it the right way. We were the first sport back, and that was good for us and also good for the game.’’

 

HERE AND THERE

 

Justin Fetcho has resigned after six seasons as men’s coach at Southern Illinois.  A former assistant at Illinois, Fetcho guided the Salukis to two Missouri Valley Conference championships and three NCAA appearances.  Assistant Eric Gilpin will guide the team on an interim basis. Fetcho plans to remain in Carbondale and pursue opportunities outside of golf.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is sharpening his game with three weeks left before the Masters. A final round 64 on Sunday gave him a tie for 28th in last week’s Zozo Championship in California.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Illinois’ only LPGA player, had her best showing since the pandemic stoppage with a tie for24th in the Drive On Championship in Georgia on Sunday. Her best showing is a tie for 21st in the Australian Open in February, before the LPGA halted play for five months.

 

 

Unexpected problems didn’t faze Biancalana at Senior PGA tourney

In this chaotic year for scheduling golf tournaments the Illinois PGA did the best of the three major local organizations.  The pandemic forced the cancelation of the Western Golf Association’s two national junior championships and the Chicago District Golf Association had to call off its two biggest events – the Illinois State Amateur and Chicago District Amateur.

The IPGA, though, was able to salvage its four major events even though its tournament schedule couldn’t begin until July.

Last of the section’s majors was last week’s IPGA Senior Players Championship at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove. Black Sheep’s Kevin Healy won it, then led eight other of his competitors to O’Hare for a flight to the Senior PGA Professional Championship in Port St. Lucie, FL. A 10th IPGA member, Illinois coach Mike Small, was already there after opting to bypass the Players event.

Then things got very interesting – especially for Roy Biancalana, a veteran teaching pro who divided his time between St. Andrews, in West Chicago, and Blackberry Oaks, in Bristol, this year.

The Illinois contingent had to test negative for the Covid virus before they were allowed at the PGA Golf Club, where its Wanamaker and Ryder courses were used for the 32nd playing of the senior national championship. Their flight arrived in Florida at midnight on Tuesday and their tests were at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.  Results weren’t available until 7 p.m., meaning none of the players at Twin Orchard could get in a practice round.

Small did, but he had his problems, too.  He started the first round in spectacular fashion, going eagle-birdie on the first two holes, but – after finishing the first 18 in a tie 27th of the 266 starters – he became ill and had to withdraw from the tournament.

The field was cut from the 266 starters to the low 90 and ties after the second round, and only Biancalana; IPGA Senior Player of the Year David Paeglow, of Kishwaukee in DeKalb and David Hannon, a teaching pro at Links & Tees in Addison, survived to play in the third round. Paeglow and Hannon didn’t advance to Sunday’s final 18, when the field was limited to the low 70 and ties after 54 holes.

Biancalana didn’t think he did either when he finished his third round, but winds picked up after he was done and he managed to squeak into the field for the last round.  By then, though, the week had taken an understandable toll on him.

When he arrived in Florida he learned that his laptop was missing – and that was just for starters. His rental car broke down the same day he picked it up and a tooth that had been bothering him for awhile was acting up as well.

“It took two days to get a new rental car,’’ said Biancalana, “and I was on the phone trying to get the computer six-eight times a day.  That was distracting.  By the time I started the first round I felt tired.’’

Plus, he was also out $1,800 for the computer that was never located.

Though he had played the tournament courses many times in past years, the lack of a practice round was a problem.  Biancalana, who won two Illinois Opens and made the cut in a PGA Championship, has been a tournament player for 45 years and this was the first time he went into competition without a practice round.

“I did feel a little uncomfortable. I didn’t feel I read the greens right,’’ said Biancalana.  “I’ve played these courses hundreds of times, but it was a problem getting used to the grass.’’

He eventually did. Biancalana finished in a tie for 49th place, finishing at 5-over-par 292 for the 72 holes.  He was 23 shots behind champion Omar Uresti, who set a tournament scoring record with an 18-under performance and won by six strokes. The top 35 qualified for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2021.

Biancalana, though, will be back to PGA Golf Club’s courses.  Thanks to a fifth-place finish in the IPGA Championship he’s qualified for the PGA Professional Championship there in April where he will be “playing against the kids.’’ Now 60, he plans to beef up through weight-training and diet changes in time for that competition

 

 

Healy wins, but Paeglow is IPGA Senior Player of the Year

Kishwaukee’s David Paeglow didn’t win the last Illinois PGA event of the season but still clinched Senior Player of the Year honors. (Photo by Rory Spears)

 

It’ll be the senior members of the Illinois PGA in the spotlight this week as the Chicago golf tournament season wraps up.

The IPGA Senior Players Championship concluded on Tuesday at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove, and the key players in it headed for Port St. Lucie, FL., for the Senior PGA Professional Championship, which begins its 72-hole run on Thursday.

Ten IPGA members are in the field for the 50-and-over national tourney at PGA Golf Club, and they included five of the top seven on the Errie Ball Player of the Year point race prior to the 36-hole competition at Twin Orchard. David Paeglow, head pro at Kishawakee in DeKalb had the local award all but locked up before play began at Twin Orchard with only second place Roy Biancalana, a teaching pro at Blackberry Oaks in Bristol, having a remote chance to catch him.

Paeglow protected his lead by finishing fifth  at Twin Orchard. Biancalana was third as Kevin Healy, of Black Sheep in Sugar Grove, won the title. Healy was the only player to finish under par in the 36-hole competition.  All three hurried to O’Hare afterwards to catching their flights for the national event in Florida.

Last year Biancalana tied for 22nd and Paeglow tied for 49th in the national tournament. Paeglow, 53, won the Illinois Senior Open this year, was second in the IPGA Senior Match Play and tied for second in the IPGA Senior Championship.  He also won two of the section’s senior stroke play events. The highlight of Biancalana’s season was a victory in the Illinois Super Seniors Championship.

While the IPGA doesn’t make its Player of the Year awards official until a banquet in mid-November, the winners are determined on point standings after the tournament season is over.

Ironically neither Paeglow, Healy nor Biancalana may be the section’s best bet in the national event in Florida.  Mike Small, though beaten out by Paeglow for senior honors, still was the IPGA over-all Player of the Year.  A 13-time winner of the IPGA Championship, he skipped the local finale at Twin Orchard to get ready for another run at a national title.

Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, is a three-time winner of the PGA Professional National Championship.

Illinois club pros also qualified for the national event in Florida are Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb, Bilmore’s Doug Bauman, Chicago Golf Club’s John Guyton and Beverly’s John Varner.  Also making the trip to Florida were David Hannon, from Links & Tees, and Kevin Rafferty, of Golf Galaxy in Vernon Hills.

HERE AND THERE

Tim Sheppard, of East Peoria, and Tom Kearfoot, of El Paso, won the Chicago District Senior Amateur Four-Ball title for the third time in the event’s five-year history, beating Mike Karney, of Crystal Lake, and Mike Mcloone, of Arlington Heights, in the championship match. The event at Aurora Country Club was the fourth and final championship on a CDGA schedule that was heavily modified by pandemic issues.

Onwentsia, in Lake Forest, has agreed to host the Western Junior championship in 2021.  The club was to host this year but was canceled because of the pandemic.  Naperville Country Club, which was to host in 2021, will now be the site in 2022 and Midlothian will take it in 2023.

Toptracer — a popular attraction at the Mistwood Golf Dome, in Bolinbrook — is being added to the Mistwood Performance Center, in Romeoville, as well.  The Performance Center will also have winter hours this year.

 

PGA’s fall tournaments have been good to rookie Doug Ghim

 

The PGA Tour’s top stars generally sit out the fall tournaments after the FedEx Cup Playoffs are over. That’s been the case again this season, even though the Masters – rescheduled from April until Nov. 12-15 because of pandemic issues – is still to be played.

Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, is benefitting from the absence of golf’s big guns as the circuit’s season winds down.  He’s had two of his best tournaments in the last three weeks.

His best finish on the premier circuit was a tie for 14th in the Safeway Open in California the first week of the 2020-21 campaign.  It was played a week after the Fed Cup Playoffs concluded last month.  Last week he added a tie for 23rd in the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.

The money he earned from those two events was $159,720 and that gives him the No. 46 spot on the 2020-21 money list for the PGA Tour’s next wrap-around season that won’t conclude until the 2021 FedEx Cup Playoffs are over in August.

Ghim’s rookie season didn’t matched those of Cameron Champ, Matt Wolff and Collin Morikawa – all college rivals who have already won tournaments on the PGA Tour.  Ghim, 24, was the 2018 Ben Hogan Award winner at the best male collegiate golfer during his senior season at Texas.

“Watching them win tells me I also have the game,’’ said Ghim during his strong showing in the Sanderson tourney.  “We’ve played countless rounds together and I know I can compete with those guys. It is an added sense of relief that it’s possible, and that we have the game.  It’s just a matter of being more consistent week in and week out.’’

Ghim isn’t in the field for this week’s tournament in Las Vegas and may not get into an event until the Bermuda Open, which tees off on Oct. 29.

“Just this whole fall in general is a big opportunity, especially for us rookies, to get settled in and cement our place within our category,’’ said Ghim.  “Hopefully we get into a lot of events next spring. I’ve set a lot of goals for this season, then you try to get better every single day and hopefully those goals will become a reality.  Each week is its own battle.’’

LPGA: Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, the only Chicago player on the LPGA Tour, will be in the field for that circuit’s third major event of the year – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It tees off Thursday at Aronimink, in Philadelphia.

Szokol, 26, made 10 cuts in 20 starts last year in her rookie season on the circuit, earning $105,814 for No. 108 on the year’s money list.  She retained her playing privileges with a tie for 11th in the eight-round qualifying series and made her fourth cut in 10 starts in the 2020 campaign in last week’s Shop-Rite Classic in New Jersey.  Szokol is No. 86 on this season’s money list with $57,157.

CDGA: Libertyville resident Connie Kowal, a former executive with the Cubs and New Orleans Saints, is in the field for the last championship of the Chicago District Golf Association season this week, and those in his playing groups might find him a good luck charm.

Kowal witnessed two holes-in-one by playing partners in a four-day span recently.  Both were named Ray and both made their first aces.  Ray Burg of Mundelein did it at Arrowhead, in Wheaton, and Ray Bening, of Des Moines, had his ace at Western Illinois University’s Harry Mussatto course.  Kowal will partner with James Duszak, a former teammate on the WIU baseball team, in the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship that runs through Thursday at Aurora Country Club.

IPGA: The Illinois PGA Players Championship concluded on Tuesday at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest.  Now the Senior version of that event takes the spotlight starting Monday at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove. The two-day event  features Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, the IPGA and IPGA Senior titlist this year; Kishwakee’s David Paeglow, who edged Small for the Illinois Senior Open crown last week; and Zigfield Golf Club’s Michael Troy, who won the Senior Match Play event.

 

 

 

 

Revised Players tourney will determine IPGA Player of the Year

 

In moves that are sure to bring more drama, the Illinois PGA will unveil a new format for its Players Championship next week at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest.

Only the top 35 players on the season-long Bernardi Player of the Year standings, plus the host professional, received invitations to the 36-hole event that runs next Monday and Tuesday.  (OCT  5 AND 6). While the final field has not been announced, the battle for the title as well as Player of the Year honors figures to center around the top five in the standings going into the competition.

Leader is Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, who won the IPGA Championship for the 13th time this year.  Second is  Medinah’s Travis Johnson who was the Player of the Year in 2018 and runner-up to Skokie’s Garrett Chaussard last year.

Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson, who defeated Small in the last of the IPGA majors — the Match Play Championship at Elgin Country Club – is third and Butler National’s Jeff Kellen is fourth.  Chaussard lost the title match to Elgin’s Jon Duppler in his bid for a Match Play three-peat but – being  in fifth place in the standings –he’s in position to retain Player of the Year honors with a good showing at Conway Farms.

Conway has been a frequent site for big competitions, most notably hosting the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship three times.  The IPGA Players had been held at either Eagle Ridge, in Galena, or Metamora Fields in recent years.

The section’s Senior division is having an even busier wrapup to its season.  Michael Troy, of Zigfield Golf Club in Woodridge, defeated David Paeglow, of Kishwaukee in DeKalb in the title match of the IPGA Senior Match Play Championship last week at Biltmore, in Barrington.

Making that title match unique was the fact that the sons of Troy and Paeglow are roommates at Illinois State and teammates on the Redbirds’ golf team.

The Match Play was the last regular season event on IPGA Seniors’ schedule, but hardly the end of the tournament run.

Virtually the same field of players battled for the Illinois Senior Open title at Royal Fox, in St. Charles. Paeglow edged Small by one stroke for that title on Tuesday. After the Errie Ball Senior Player of the Year standings are updated the top 32 on the point list will advance to the IPGA Senior Players Championship Oct. 12-13 at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove.

CDGA: The Chicago District Golf Association usually hosts the bulk of state and national qualifying tournaments each year.  Pandemic restrictions led to most of them being cancelled this year, but one was held last week with Michael Fastert, of Wheeling, and Dusty Drench, of Davenport, IA,  capturing the lone berth offered in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. That qualifier was held at Odyssey, in Tinley Park.

Meanwhile, the CDGA is preparing for its Members Appreciation Day on Oct. 8 at Glenview Park.  Entries close on Thursday (OCT 1).

COLLEGIATE:  The pandemic has virtually wiped out the fall season, but not at Northern Illinois.  Men’s coach John Carlson has scheduled the Heidi Wealth Management Series, which consists of five fall events at top local courses.

Next event is Oct. 3-4 at Michigan’s Kingsley Club and sites of the remaining events include Rich Harvest Farms, the Huskies’ home course in Sugar Grove; Crystal Tree, in Orland Park; White Eagle, in Naperville;  The Glen Club, in Glenview; Black Sheep, in Sugar Grove; and Chicago Highlands, in Westchester.

FIRST TEE:  The First Tee of Greater Chicago is on a fundraising mission, the main goal being to raise $1.5 million for its Waveland Capital Campaign. Its designed to renovate and operate the First Tee’s facility at Chicago’s Marovitz course. Over $230,00 was raised in a Corporate Challenge event at North Shore Country Club, in Glenview.

Luke Donald — the former Northwestern star, world No. 1 player and long time First Tee benefactor – has agreed to assist in the designing of an outdoor short game area.

“First Tee provides so many kids with the opportunities that I was so lucky to have growing up,’’ said Donald.  “This is an unbelievable site, and we have an opportunity to create something really amazing for the kids.’’

COMING SOON: Tour Edge, the Batavia club manufacturer, plans to launch its largest product launch in the company’s 34-year history. It’ll be done in stages beginning on Oct. 6.