Len Ziehm On Golf

Masters memories still give rookie pro Ghim good vibes

The golf world gets back to normal this week following the tumultuous week created by Tiger Woods’ victory in the Masters. None of the American tours had tournaments during Masters week but Doug Ghim was invited by the PGA Tour to look back on his experiences at Augusta National.

Ghim was the low amateur in the 2018 Masters and made three eagles in the tournament with his father Jeff working as his caddie. Each eagle earned him a crystal goblet.

Though Ghim has established Las Vegas as his base as a tour player, those goblets are back in the family home in Arlington Heights. Ghim’s roommate in Las Vegas is fellow Web.com Tour member Maverick McNealy, and Ghim didn’t think the goblets should be kept in Las Vegas.

“Chicago is still home,’’ said Ghim. That’s where I came from so I kept them there. I just didn’t want them to get wrecked.’’

Ghim won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top male collegiate golfer and turned pro prior to last year’s Travelers Championship. In addition to playing in four PGA Tour events Ghim earned membership on the Web.com Tour with a tie for third in the qualifying school.

Going into this week’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in Alabama Ghim stands No. 30 on the Web.com point list. Former University of Iowa teammates Brad Hopfinger, of Lake Forest, and Vince India, of Deerfield, will join Ghim in the field in Alabama.

Hopfinger is No. 56 on the tour point list and India, the reigning Illinois Open champion, is 65th. The top 25 at season’s end get PGA Tour cards and the top 75 earn spots in the Web.com Tour Finals.

Those numbers are more important to Ghim now, but the Masters experience hasn’t been forgotten.

“I went off in the pro shop and bought like $600 worth of hats alone,’’ he said. “I still wear them to this day. I bought a lot of stuff, but the silver cup (as low amateur) and the eagle goblets were awesome to bring home because they were the only things that I didn’t have to pay for, so that was nice.’’

Streelman, Donald in Heritage

The PGA Tour tees off at the RBC Heritage Classic on Thursday at the Harbour Town course in Hilton Head Island, S.C. That layout has been especially good to Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star who is on the comeback trail after two years of back problems.

A former world No. 1 with two top-five finishes in the Masters, Donald has been consistently good at the Heritage. He has four runner-up finishes and two thirds in the event.

Like Donald, Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman didn’t qualify for this year’s Masters but will play in the Heritage. A former winner of the Masters Par-3 Contest, Streelman is coming off his best finish of the 2018-19 season – sixth at the Valero Texas Open two weeks ago.

Tour reports

Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, the last player to win the Illinois Open and Illinois State Amateur in the same year (2017), is doing the best of the three Illinois players with membership on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour.

Flavin won the Brazil qualifier to get him tour membership and is 25th on the money list after two tournaments, having tied for 14th in Panama and tied for 40th in Argentina. The circuit stops in Chile this week. Glen Ellyn’s Kyle Kochevar and Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly are also on the circuit.

PGA Tour Champions resumes its season this week at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Georgia. The only local player on the circuit, Jeff Sluman, is coming off his best showing of the season – a tie for 11th in the Rapsian Systems Championship in Mississippi three weeks ago.

The LPGA resumes its campaign this week at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, in her rookie LPGA season, has made the cut in two of her four tournaments and has winnings of $8,510.

Here and there

Pat Goss, Donald’s putting and short game coach since 1997, is now taking registration for his Short Game/Putting Schools. They begin on May 4 at the Luke Donald Practice Facility at The Glen Club in Glenview. Goss has also worked with PGA Tour players Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland, Trevor Immelman, Nick Watney and Patrick Cantlay.

Troy Newport, who has worked most recently with Troon Golf facilities in Wisconsin, will replace Nick Mokelke as general manager at Cog Hill. Mokelke, who will retire later this year, has been with Jemsek Golf for 56 years including 39 at Cog Hill.

Antioch Golf Club has undergone an ownership and name change. The facility is now called Valley Ridge Golf Club.

Tiger’s win in the Masters was big — but it won’t be his biggest

Sometimes it seems like yesterday when I was on hand at the Brown Deer public course in Milwaukee for Tiger Woods’ first professional tournament.

Of course it wasn’t yesterday. It was 23 years ago, and the event he was playing in was the Greater Milwaukee Open – a PGA Tour stop that ended its 42-year run in 2009 when its sponsor failed to renew and a replacement couldn’t be found.

Woods announced he was turning pro on the Tuesday before that tournament, saying to a packed press conference `Hello, world.’ Woods had won his third straight U.S. Amateur four days earlier and he already had signed endorsement deals worth $40 million. Still, Woods needed to borrow $100 from swing coach Butch Harmon to pay the tourney entry fee. Woods was just 20 at the time.

Though Loren Roberts won the Milwaukee tournament in a playoff with Wisconsin favorite Jerry Kelly the story of the week was Tiger Woods. He shot 67 in his first round as a pro and made a hole-in-one in Sunday’s final 18 of the tournament. His finish wasn’t impressive – a tie for 60th place – and he earned just $2,544. Still, he was off and running on a pro career that everyone even remotely connected to golf suspected would reach great heights.

It did. His first PGA win came at Las Vegas a month later and victories came fast and furious after that.

A favorite Woods moment? Most every golfer has them, but mine has nothing to do with his 15 wins in golf’s majors. In my 51st year reporting on golf for a variety of publications, I was on hand for many of Woods’ victories. My favorite came at the 1997 Motorola Western Open at Cog Hill in Lemont.

Woods had won his first Masters earlier that year by a whopping 12 strokes and his popularity soared after that. At the ’97 Western he had a comfortable lead on eventual runner-up Frank Nobilo (now one of the sport’s premier TV analysts) as he walked down the final fairway. The gallery swarmed in behind Woods in celebration long before he reached the green. That’s a sight you see in the British Open but it was basically unheard of on the PGA Tour until then.

And now we come to Woods’ latest victory, the drama-filled nail-biter in the Masters at Augusta National on Sunday. A feel good story, no doubt about it, and this world needs much more of those.

I’m one who felt the media – golf and otherwise — gave too much attention to Woods during most of his comeback attempts in recent years. There were a lot of failures along the way as Woods coped with marital problems, health issues and related personal matters. Focusing on Woods then certainly wasn’t fair to the other players.

Now, though, things have changed. Whatever Tiger does now should and will be scrutinized. Yes, he’s back – but Sunday wasn’t the end-all.

I’m afraid I’ll risk being a spoil-sport. Sunday’s win was exhilarating and may be Woods’ finest golf moment so far. Recovering from the multitude of problems he had is impressive, even inspirational.

However – despite the hyperbole voiced world-wide since his last putt dropped at Augusta – his wasn’t the greatest win in the history of the Masters. That still belongs to Jack Nicklaus. I was there, squeezed into the back row of a Quonset hut that served as the Media Center then, when Nicklaus won his record sixth Masters in 1986 at the age of 46. That was my first of 12 Masters, and Nicklaus became the tourney’s oldest champion.

I’ve been blessed to cover tons of great sports moments over the years, not all of them in golf. I haven’t experienced the electricity that Nicklaus’ back nine charge created that day before or since.

As for Woods, I’m convinced his best day is yet to come. Maybe it’ll come when he breaks Sam Snead’s record for most PGA Tour victories. Snead won 82 times, Woods 81.

Ideally, though, Woods’ greatest moment will come when he tops Nicklaus for most wins in golf’s major championships. Woods needs three wins to match Nicklaus’ record of 18. That’s been Woods’ ultimate target since the day he striped his first drive down the fairway in Milwaukee 23 years agos. No. 19 is within range now, and I believe Woods will get it.

Jennifer Kupcho wasn’t the only winner at the inaugural ANWA

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jennifer Kupcho was a convincing winner in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday, but women’s golf may have been the biggest benefactor.

For the third straight year the top women players had a new high profile event to build on. In 2017 it was the Senior LPGA Championship at Indiana’s French Lick Resort. In 2018 it was the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The ANWA had far fewer players than both of those but it had also more hoopla and far bigger galleries. The post-round awards ceremony was very Masters-like, too.

“Just walking up the fairway with so many people is a feeling like no other,’’ said Kupcho. “This tournament showed how good we are. It exceeded my expectations, and it was the most organized tournament I’ve ever played in. The women’s game will come up stronger because of it.’’

Saturday’s gallery marched four deep on both sides of the fairways when Kupcho and Mexico’s Maria Fassi were wrapping up their day-long duel for the title.

Kupcho, the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, took control thanks to a torrid stretch on holes 13 through 16. She played them in eagle-par-birdie-birdie and added another bird with a 25-footer to conclude the tournament.

Fassi had opened a two-stroke lead when they arrived at the No. 13 tee, a key par-5 in Augusta National’s famed Amen Corner. Kupcho carried the creek fronting the green with a 3-hybrid second shot from 211 yards, then rolled in an eight-footer with a two-foot break for the only eagle of the tournament.

“Being two back I knew I had to make a move’’ she said. The eagle meant Kupcho and Fassi were tied again and Kupcho pulled away with her three birdies in the remaining five holes. She posted a 67 in the final round, the best score of the day.

Fassi and Kupcho are long-time friends. Fassi plays collegiately for Arkansas, Kupcho for Wake Forest. Both have already earned LPGA playing privileges and deferred turning pro until after their college seasons are over.

Finishing at 10-under-par 206 for 54 holes, Kupcho had a four-stroke advantage on Fassi at the finish but their duel was spirited in the middle of the round when they took turns holding the lead. Kupcho led the tournament until the eighth hole on Saturday, when a migraine attack hampered her for the next four holes.

That’s when Fassi made a move, but she couldn’t sustain it.

The tourney started with 72 invited players, and 25 countries were represented. Augusta National was set up at 6,365 yards for the ANWA. The men will play it at 7,475 yards when the Masters tees off on Thursday.

Fred Ridley, the Augusta National president who announced the creation of the first women’s competition at storied Augusta National at the 2018 Masters, saw nothing but positives from the first staging.

“Focusing on women’s accomplishments in general, not just in golf and sports, is good for society,’’ he said. It’s good for everybody’’

The final round started with ceremonial tee shots from four of the greats of women’s golf—Se Ri Pak, Lorena Ochoa, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam. They had the same good vibes that Ridley had.

“When they announced it last year I had chills wishing I could be an amateur again so I could come and play,’’ said Lopez.

“It was so exciting to see the players after their rounds, their smiles all up to their ears,’’ said Sorenstam. “They can’t stop smiling and it’s a dream come true. I’m so happy for them.’’

The inaugural ANWA got the climax to another season of golf at Augusta National off to a rousing start. The national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition for youngsters between the ages of 6 and 15 will be held today (SUNDAY) and then the men take over on Monday for three days of preparations for the Masters.

Four legends will get the ANWA’s climax off to a rousing start

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club has been a trend-setter since legendary player Bobby Jones led its creation in the 1930s. Jones also organized the Masters — at least arguably the world’s most popular golf tournament — in 1934. Today women finally get their chance to play the iconic course in a tournament setting.

Or at least 30 of them will. They were the survivors from the 72 invited international players who went 36 holes on the nearby Champions Retreat club this week to decide who would compete amidst loads of fanfare Saturday.

This marks the third straight year of breakthrough events for women golfers. In 2017 the Ladies PGA Tour staged its first Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana. Last year the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open was played at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The ANWA has fewer players but much more hoopla than either of them.

All the ANWA players had a closed-to-the-public practice round on Friday at Augusta National and LPGA legends Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak were on hand to greet them when they finished play. Today all four players will hit ceremonial tee shots. Pak will go first, then Ochoa, then Lopez and finally Sorenstam.

“It’s such an honor, such a great moment in golf, for us to make up a group like Arnold (Palmer), Jack (Nicklaus) and Gary (Player) did,’’ said Lopez. “It’s exciting to be part of history.’’

As for the current players one, from the beginning of the week, has stood out throughout the buildup to the final round. Jennifer Kupcho is already the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the Official World Amateur Rankings.

The Wake Forest senior was the only player seated with Augusta National president Fred Ridley and Diana Murphy, a former U.S, Golf Association president and the fourth woman member of the club, at the first of four straight nights of pre-tournament banquets. Kopcho also had the honor of hitting the first tee shot on Wednesday. She shared the first-round lead with 16-year old California phenom Zoe Santos and led solo after Thursday’s Round 2.

Kopcho played her first 31 holes of the tourney without a bogey and she still hasn’t had a three-putt. Still, her margin is just one shot over Mexico’s Maria Fassi going into today’s (SATURDAY) final 18. Fassi, a longer hitter, will be her playing partner.

“We’ll have a lot of fun’’ said Kopcho. “We are good friends, and we’re both good at golf – really good at golf. We’ll make a lot of birdies, and it will be pretty fun to watch us.’’

In addition to Friday’s practice round Kopcho had a look at Augusta National during a practice with her Wake Forest teammates. Though she’s yet to play the course in competition she has watched the Masters on television and believes “I know it well.’’

“But you don’t see the greens on TV, and that’s the toughest part of the course,’’ said Kopcho. “So, I think I know the course, but not the greens. If you’re above the hole you’re just trying to two-putt. You don’t want to be having a five-footer coming back. That’s going to be a big thing out there.’’

She was told the greens at Champions Retreat were similar to what Augusta National will offer today.

“But I’m sure they will be faster.’’ said Kopcho, “and I would say I’m a pretty good fast green putter. I’m pretty good at figuring out how hard to hit it.’’

The tourney started with players from 25 countries ranging in age from 14 to 23. Of the 30 still in contention 17 are from countries outside the U.S. NBC Sports will broadcast the final round from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Local players won’t be among first 30 women to compete at Augusta National

Jennifer Kupcho has been at the top of the leaderboard throughout the first 36 holes.

EVANS, Ga. — The 30 women who will be the first to compete on Augusta National’s famed course were decided on Thursday. NCAA champion Jennifer Kopcho, the Wake Forest senior and No. 1 in the Official World Amateur Rankings, headed the list after playing two rounds at Champions Retreat in 5-under-par 139.

Champions Retreat, a private club that has one nine designed by Arnold Palmer and the other by Jack Nicklaus, was the warmup site for the ground-breaking tourney’s grand climax – the final 18 on Augusta National on Saturday.

All the select players in the international field will get in a round on the famed course today. For the three players with Illinois connections among the 72 invited by Augusta National that will be the end of their tournament road. None came close to making the 36-hole cut.

Illinois junior Tristyn Nowlin tied for 52nd after posting a 76 on Thursday. She was 9-over-par for the tournament and six shots shy of the cut line. Northwestern senior Stephanie Lau tied for 69th after shooting an 81 on Thursday and Missouri junior Jessica Yuen, from Bolingbrook, had an 82 and tied for 71st. None were happy about bowing out of the competition without playing the final round.

Jennifer Kupcho, the world’s No. 1-ranked women’s amateur, celebrates with her father and caddie Mike after Thursday’s second round.

“I have to keep in mind that it was special to be part of something historic and play a small part in it,’’ said Lao, who was named the Big 10 Women’s Golfer of the Week on Wednesday off on her performance in last week’s Arizona State tournament. She shared medalist honors in that one and will leave on Saturday for Northwestern’s next tournament – the Silverado Showdown in California. It tees off on Sunday.

Lao will enter the professional ranks after Northwestern’s season is over and she looks on the Augusta experience as only a minor setback.

“I just try to look at it on a micro level and a macro level,’’ she said. “On the macro level I have to remember the big picture. On the micro-level, it’s still golf at the end of the day. I’m just trying to hone my skills and enjoy it as long as I can.’’

Nowlin is also off to a college event, the Clemson tournament, on Saturday after getting in her first competition of 2019 at Champions Retreat. She had been recovering from February wrist surgery until being cleared to play to weeks ago.

“I’m very glad to be back in competition,’’ she said. Her Illini team still has the Big Ten tournament and NCAA eliminations coming up.

Yuen’s Missouri team is doubtful for the NCAAs based on its current ranking but that could improve if the Tigers do well in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Like Nowlin, Yuen has battled a wrist injury and received her ANWA invitation only last week after another player withdrew because of injury.

“I wasn’t fully aware of this tournament until I got here,’’ said Yuen. “It’s huge, bigger than the U.S. Amateur.’’

At first, though, she wasn’t sure she should go because her game was struggling

“I’m glad I got the phone call,’’ she said. “I earned my way in, and my coach said I had to go. Playing here has been great. I’m so honored to be here.’’

Kupcho has either led solo or shared the lead throughout the first 36 holes. Her first bogey didn’t come until the 31st hole and she is still without a three-putt. Her lead, however, is only one shot over Mexico’s Maria Fassi.

Zoe Campos, a 16-year old California phenom, is in seventh place entering the final round.

Illini golfer tops the locals in the debut of the ANWA

Illinois’ Tristyn Nowlin, flanked by parents Elizabeth and Phillip, celebrate the start of ANWA.

EVANS, Ga. – The weather couldn’t have been better for the first round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club. Augusta National president Fred Ridley and Diana Murphy, a former U.S. Golf Association president who became the fourth woman member of Augusta National, were on hand when Jennifer Kupcho smacked the first tee shot.

Kupcho, the reigning NCAA champion for Wake Forest and No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, continued on to post a 4-under-par 68 and claim a share of the first-round lead with 16-year old California phenom Zoe Campos.

That made for a fitting start to Augusta National’s long-awaited entry into women’s golf. It came 84 years after the club founded the Masters tournament, an event that gave an immediate boost to the men’s game.

Three players with Illinois connections were among the 72 players invited by the club for the historic event. The first round didn’t bring out the best in any of them. Tristyn Nowlin, a University of Illinois junior, did the best. She posted a 76 and is in a tie for 40th place.

Jessica Yuen was honored to be a part of the select field at the ANWA.

Jessica Yuen, a Missouri junior from Bolingbrook, carded an 80 and is tied for 66th and Northwestern senior Stephanie Lau posted an 81 and is tied for 69th. The top 30 after today’s second round at Champions Retreat will become the first women to play a tournament round at Augusta National, the site of Saturday’s final 18 of the 54-hole test.

Those who miss the cut can play Augusta National during Friday’s practice round before their time at the tournament comes to an end. After today’s round the scene here shifts to iconic Augusta National. The women’s tourney will wrap up there on Saturday and the national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt youth event will be held on Sunday before the Masters entries take over the course for the first major men’s championship of 2019.

Of the locals Nowlin has the best chance of competing on Saturday but it’d be a shocker if she did it. Nowlin is playing in her first tournament of the year. She had wrist surgery in February, missed every event of the Illini’s spring season so far and wasn’t cleared to even practice until two weeks ago.

“I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I’m working with what I’ve got,’’ said Nowlin, the runner-up and low amateur at last summer’s Illinois Women’s Open.

Northwestern’s Stephanie Lao squeezed in ANWA between two big college tournaments.

Nowlin got through Illinois’s fall season thanks to two cortisone shots that lessened the pain of tendinitis.

“Then this past winter break it got worse, to the point I couldn’t grip a club at all,’’ she said. Her invitation to the ANWA came on Jan. 10 and – after two more cortisone shots didn’t help – she decided on surgery. It was performed in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 5.

Nowlin didn’t want to miss the opportunity of being in the first field of Augusta National’s first women’s tournament, however. When she’s done with it she’ll head directly to South Carolina to rejoin her college team for the Clemson tournament.

Lau is also off to a college event on Saturday, with the NU women competing in California. Yuen, who has had her own wrist problems, had to miss a fall tournament during a stretch in which she was sidelined for three weeks. Still she was happy to be one of two late invitees to the ANWA. Yuen got the call last Wednesday after another player withdrew because of injury.

“I’m so honored to be here,’’ said Yuen after getting her first look at Augusta National on Tuesday. “I was surprised how green it is. It’s like another world.’’

Yuen, Lau, Nowlin ready for Augusta National’s new women’s tourney

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Last year the biggest new event in golf was the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which was conducted in July at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. This year’s biggest new event tees off today in Augusta, Ga., with three Chicago-connected players in the international field of 72.

This one is called the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. It’s a 54-hole competition put on by the members of Augusta National Golf Club. They have staged the Masters tournament, arguably the most popular golf competition in the world, since 1934 when legendary player Bobby Jones organized the event on the course he created.

That tournament had an immediate Chicago connection as well. Horton Smith, then the head professional at Oak Park Country Club, won the first title and also won it again two years later.

In more recent years Augusta members have been pushed to do more for the good of the game and they responded. Augusta National eventually welcomed black members, then added women. In more recent years the club opened its gates the Sunday before the Masters to host the national finals of the nation-wide Drive, Chip & Putt competition.

This week Augusta National is a trend-setter again. In an effort to bolster women’s golf the club created the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The 72 elite players invited by the club membership start the tournament with rounds at Champions Retreat, another Augusta club, Wednesday and Thursday. The low 30 qualify for the final round, which will be played on the Augusta National layout that will again be the site of next week’s Masters.

All the players in the field players will get a closed-to-the-public practice round at Augusta National on Friday and the reward for winning the title on Saturday is substantial. Not only will the first champion assume a significant place in golf history, she will also be given a five-year exemption to play in the tournament, receive spots in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open and Women’s British Open and be welcomed at events put on by the U.S. Golf Association, PGA of America and Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

The final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur will be televised from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (CDT) by NBC Sports.

Unlike next week’s Masters, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur will have a noteworthy local contingent. Topping the list is Northwestern junior Stephanie Lau, who is coming in on a hot streak. She posted a 7-under-par 209 for 54 holes to finish in a three-way tie for first place in a big college tournament – the Ping/Arizona State Invitational – last week. It pales in comparison to this week’s event, however.

“When I heard he announcement of this event I was more than excited for women’s golf,’’ said Lau. “The message that Augusta National brings to the table with its deep-rooted history is tremendous and speaks volumes to every woman golfer out there. I am so humbled and grateful to be invited and be a small part of it.’’

A mainstay on coach Emily Fletcher’s powerhouse teams of the past three years, Lau is making a big name for herself even before finishing her collegiate career. In addition to being invited to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur she also was named to the first U.S. women’s team that will compete in the Palmer Cup matches in June. For the last 23 years that event has been limited to male collegiate players.

Two other college stars will join Lau in bidding to be in the first women’s field to compete on Augusta National’s historic links. Illinois junior Tristyn Nowlin was runner-up in last year’s Illinois Womens’s Open at Mistwood in Romeoville. Nowlin, from Richmond, Ky., was beaten for that title by Hannah Kim, one of Lau’s NU teammates who was making her professional debut and would also win the Tennessee Women’s Open the following week.

Third member of the Augusta trio is Jessica Yuen, a junior at Missouri who developed her game in the elaborate teaching program at Mistwood. Yuen was invited only last week when another player withdrew because of injury. Yuen had four top-10 finishes in five starts in 2018 fall collegiate season. She also owns two of the top three single season scoring averages in Mizzou history.

On to the finals

While entries have just opened across the country for the 2020 Drive, Chip & Putt competition the best in 2018 will compete Sunday at Augusta National in the climax to that year’s competition. The finalists include four from the Chicago area – Lilian She, 9, from Buffalo Grove; Luciano Giangrossi, 9, from Evanston; Joseph Luchtenburg, 13, from West Chicago; and Joshua Pehl, 14, from Sugar Grove.

The Illinois PGA conducted 10 qualifying tournaments and two sub-regionals last year and those events drew over 2,000 participants in the 7-15 age range. Sunday’s finals will be televised from 7 a.m. to noon on The Golf Channel.

Donald’s strong showing at Valspar provides uplifting start for local season

Luke Donald is back. Could there be a better feel-good story to mark the start of another Chicago golf season?

One of the greatest players to ever come out of the Chicago amateur ranks, Donald has gone through over two years of difficult times. A herniated disc in his back severely curtailed his play, but – if his strong showing in last week’s PGA Tour stop is any indication – Donald is finally on the comeback trail.

Donald, born and raised in England, blossomed at Northwestern. He was the NCAA champion in 1999 and – after a stunning series of successes — rose to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings in 2012. He stayed there for a while, too – 40 straight weeks and 56 overall. Donald also stayed connected to the Chicago scene, as a member of Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, and a major contributor to the First Tee of Greater Chicago and the Northwestern golf program.

Pat Goss, Donald’s coach at Northwestern, has remained one of his swing instructors and the present Wildcats benefit from the practice facility Donald created at The Glen Club in Glenview. It was only in the last few months that Donald sold his Northfield home. He has also been a long-time resident of Jupiter, FL., where he can practice year-around at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear’s Club.

Donald’s back problems started in 2017, a year in which he endured eight straight missed cuts after a second-place finish at the RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C. In 2018 he made only eight tournament starts and missed the cut in six. This year he missed the cut in his first tournament, the Sony Open in Hawaii, in January and then didn’t play again until last week’s Valspar Championship in Florida.

“Backs are tricky, and there were a few things the physios I’ve been working with didn’t like. They thought if I went too hard too early that I could run into some issues,’’ said Donald. He’s playing this season on a Major Medical Extension, meaning he has 15 starts available to earn enough FedEx Cup points to retain full membership on the PGA Tour.

Donald made his second of those starta at the Valspar — the last tournament Donald won, in 2012, and the last in which he survived a 36-hole cut, 376 days earlier. With all the forced time off his world ranking had dropped to No. 919.

Last week he did much more than survive the cut, and you had to be there to fully appreciate that accomplishment. Donald tied for ninth place and was in contention to win through 10 holes of Sunday’s final round. Then a double bogey on a par-5 derailed his chances of overhauling another Englishman, Paul Casey. Casey became the first repeat champion in the tournament’s 19-year history but Donald left with an optimistic outlook.

“People go through injuries. It’s just part of our sport,’’ he said. “I’ve been pretty lucky. This is my 18th season and I only had six months off with a wrist injury. The goal for (the Valspar) was to play four rounds and feel pretty good at the end of the tournament. It had been awhile since I’d done that.’’

Donald is taking this week off, then will play in the Valero Texas Open. He’s not eligible for the Masters the week after that but will be back in the field at the Heritage Classic April 18-21. Donald has a great record there, finishing second five times and third twice.


BITS: Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim moved into the critical No. 25 position in the Web.com Tour standings with his 19th place finish in last week’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open. If he can stay in the top 25 through the end of the season Ghim will earn PGA Tour membership for the 2019-20 season.

Lisa Quinn, executive director of the First Tee of Greater Chicago the past seven years, has announced her resignation from the post. She will remain on the job though May 31 to assist in the transition process.

Two new directors of golf have been named at Chicago area facilities. Brian Hilko has taken over at Orchard Valley, in Aurora, and Ben Nactwey at Fox Bend, in Oswego.

Batavia-based club manufacturer Tour Edge has re-signed three-time World Long Drive champion Phillis Meti to play its EXS driver.

Two Illinois golfers have posted resounding victories in collegiate tournaments. Illinois freshman Adrien Dumont de Chassart was a six-shot winner at North Carolina’s Tar Heel Invitational and Illinois State’s Trent Wallace won the South Florida Invitational by five.

For 36 years the Chicago Golf Show has provided a flashy start to the local season

The weather outside might not suggest it, but the Chicago golf season officially starts on Friday. That’s when the 36th annual Chicago Golf Show tees off at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

The three-day show, presented by Indiana’s French Lick Resort, offers more than 350 exhibitor booths; a 3,000-square foot driving range; guest appearances by former Bears Robbie Gould, Patrick Mannelly and Emery Moorehead; a trick shot exhibition by Peter Longo and the every-popular Chicago’s Longest Putt contest — an 85-foot challenge that offers two premium tickets (a $1,590 value) to this year’s BMW Championship at Medinah.

All paid attendees among the expected 17,000 visitors to the show will receive a free round of golf from one of the courses operated by Mundelein-based GolfVisions. Travel destinations, equipment manufacturers, tournament organizers and Chicago golf groups will all be represented at the show. The champion’s trophy for the June 27-30 U.S. Senior Open will also be on display, courtesy of the tourney host Warren Course at Notre Dame.

Show hours are noon-7 p.m. on Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $6 on Friday and $11 on Saturday and Sunday. Youth 12-15 can get in for $4 and those 11 and under will be admitted free with a paid adult.


Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim have already made splashes on the PGA Tour this season.

Finishing with a 65, Streelman tied for seventh at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am and earned most of his $347,445 in season money at that one tournament.

Ghim, a member of the Web.com Tour, has been given two sponsor’s exemptions to PGA Tour events so far in 2019 and he cashed in at the Farmers Insurance Open where he tied for 20th and earned $79,804. Ghim also has a tie for third at Bogota, Colombia among his three Web.com starts.

Deerfield’s Vince India, the area’s other Web.com member and the reigning Illinois Open champion, survived the 36-hole cut in four of his five Web.com starts with his best finish a tie for 17 in the last one at the LECOM Suncoast Classic in Florida.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, who earned a place on the Ladies PGA Tour, made her debut with two tournaments in Australia this month. She claimed her first paycheck in last week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, picking up $3,360 for a tie for 58th place.

Highwood’s Patrick Flavin and Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly finished one-two in the Brazil qualifying tournament for the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour. They begin the circuit’s regular season next month in Panama.


Chris Gumbach, head man at River Forest Country Club in Elmhurst, has been named Professional of the Year – the top award presented annually by the Illinois Section of the PGA of America — for work done in 2018.

Onwentsia Club, in Lake Forest, was honored twice. Head pro Nick Papadakes won the Horton Smith Award for his development of educational opportunities within the section and Claire Castetter was the Assistant Professional of the Year. The awards will be presented on March 11 at a private ceremony in Woodridge.


The Western Golf Association has issued a call for volunteers for the Aug. 13-18 BMW Championship at Medinah. More than 2,000 will be needed to conduct the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoff event and the WGA hopes to have all the positions filled by June 15. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and be committed to work at least three shifts, each of which is between four and six hours in duration.

The three-course rotation for the Illinois PGA Championship will end in 2019. Olympia Fields’ South Course, Stonewall Orchard in Grayslae and Medinah’s No. 1 layout had taken turns hosting the tournament. This year Ruth Lake, in Hinsdale, will be the site of the championship.

Ridgemoor, in Chicago, has been named the alternate site for the finals of the 70th Illinois Open in August. The Glen Club, in Glenview, returns as the main site for the 54-hole final and the last round will again be played there.

Austin Kopp has departed as head professional at The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison for a job in Iowa. He’ll be replaced by Jamie Nieto, who has spent the last six years as the head professional at Pheasant Run in St. Charles.

Chicago area’s Wilson, Tour Edge are big hits at PGA Merchandise Show

Wilson’s Tim Clarke claims his company produced “the prettiest driver” of 2019.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. – The 66th annual PGA Merchandise Show lived up to its billing as “the biggest show in golf’’ last week. Over 40,000 industry members from 83 countries spent four days hiking the 10-mile stretch of exhibits at the Orange County Convention Center. There were over 1,000 exhibitors.

Such a massive turnout was nothing new. The show always brings out the world’s top equipment manufacturers, organization leaders, travel destination personnel and lots of the stars from the pro tours. This show, though, had something none of its predecessors did. Two Chicago club manufacturers dominated the Industry Honors competition, conducted annually by the International Network of Golf.

Wilson’s golf division, now based in Chicago after a long run in River Grove, won the Business Achievement Award for its Driver vs. Driver TV series and Batavia-based Tour Edge was the winner of the Product Ingenuity Award – Market Leaders for its Exotics EXS driver.

There were six Ingenuity awards handed out, and the Chicago area had another winner in the Miscellaneous Products category. Zero Friction, based in Oakbrook Terrace, won for its colorful Spectra Supertube.

Tour Edge president David Glod has benefitted from signing PGA Tour Champions stars.

The wins by Wilson and Tour Edge, however, came in the highest profile categories. Tim Clarke, general manager of Wilson’s golf division, and David Glod, president of Tour Edge, were happy campers after picking up their coveted awards.

Driver vs. Driver was an innovative campaign developed by Wilson two years ago and carried over several weeks each year on The Golf Channel. Amateur designers brought their club creations to the competition and worked with Wilson personnel and various club testers to determine the driver that the company would eventually put on the market.

The first year of the series was intriguing just for being something new and different. Driver vs. Driver 2 was closely followed throughout the golf community and Evan Hoffman of San Diego won with his cortex model that was widely tested on the recent Show’s Demo Day.

“The success of Driver vs. Driver in Season 2 shows we have a model that would work with other products,’’ said Clarke, who claimed that Hoffman’s design is “the prettiest driver on the market.in 2019.’’

“We had four models that could have won in Season 2,’’ said Clarke, “but – realistically – just two in Season 1.’’

Wilson added Gary Woodland, a notable long hitter on the PGA Tour, to its staff recently and he may wind up using the club. Whether he does or doesn’t, however, there’s no guarantee than Wilson will stage a Driver vs. Driver 3.

“We’ve been having a lot of sessions on what’s coming next,’’ he said. “Seven-iron vs. 7-iron has been in the conversation.’’

Wilson used that format to entice visitors to try its clubs at the PGA Show’s Demo Day. Clarke, though, said a decision on the next promotional format won’t be made for at least two months.

Glod, in his 33rd year at Tour Edge, is taking an aggressive advertising approach with his new hot club now on the market. He’ll be pushing more than just his well-received driver while working with some of golf’s top name players.

Within the last four years Tour Edge began signing stars on PGA Tour Champions, and the biggest signee yet came two weeks ago when Tom Lehman joined the Tour Edge team. Lehman immediately won a tournament wearing the Tour Edge logo.

Tour Edge also has another Champions Tour star, Scott McCarron, on its team and Glod hopes to elevate his presence on it. Glod has elevated his company’s profile by hooking up with players on the 50-and-over circuit.

“We saw an opening in the marketplace and they saw a place for us, too,’’ said Glod. “Last year was our best sales year ever. We were up 25 percent with seven tour wins and 60 top-10s on all tours.’’