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Len Ziehm On Golf

IWO, State Am titles will be decided in a two-day stretch

The biggest glut of tournament golf in the Chicago area in many years reached the overload stage this week with two of the most important championships sharing almost identical dates.

The 23rd Illinois Women’s Open concludes its three-day run on Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville, and the 87th Illinois State Amateur wraps up its three days of competition on Thursday at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood.

Mistwood has hosted the last 19 IWOs, and director of golf Andy Mickelson said this year’s field was “the strongest and deepest we’ve had in years.’’ Seventy-eight players – the largest entry since 2014 – teed off in Monday’s opening round. It included 41 Illinois residents, 48 amateurs, an unusually large contingent of 27 professionals and three undeclared players.

Stephanie Miller is out to defend her title, won last year while she was still a University of Illinois golfer. Her collegiate eligibility gone, she entered this week’s tourney as a professional in search of the $5,000 check available to the champion from a $25,000 prize fund.

Among the other pros in the field was Mary Swanson, coach of the women’s team at Bradley University who was playing in her first professional event in almost 10 years.

While the women begin teeing off in their final round at 7 a.m. on Wednesday the 138 men in the Illinois State Amateur will be facing a cut to the low 35 and ties for Thursday’s 36-hole wrapup at Calumet.

Of the 138 who teed off in Tuesday’s first round 25 were exempt off previous performances and the other 113 qualified at one of nine sites across the state in June. The tourney is open to residents with handicaps not exceeding 7.4.

While the starters included seven of last year’s top 10 and 16 of the top 20, the field lacked the two biggest stars of recent years. Medinah’s Tee-K Kelly — who had finishes of first, eleventh, first and second over the last four years — turned pro and already has a victory on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour on his resume. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, soon to begin his senior years at Illinois, did not enter. His record in the tournament is almost as good as Kelly’s.

Hardy lost the State Am title to Naperville’s Ray Knoll in a four-hole playoff in 2014, finished third in 2015 and posted the most spectacular victory in event history last year at St. Charles Country Club. Hardy was a recond 28-under-par for the 72 holes and won by 10 strokes over runner-up Kelly.

That shootout in perfect scoring conditions at St. Charles, brought out the best in everybody. The course yielded 984 birdies and 41 eagles to the field over the 72 holes.

With Kelly and Mitchell gone the battle should be wide-open at Calumet, and another birdie-fest is unlikely. Calumet is hosting the State Am for the first time but is no stranger to big local events. The Donald Ross-designed layout hosted the Chicago District Amateur four times, the latest in 2016 when Andrew Price was the champion. Price, a member at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, did not enter this year’s State Am. Neither did frequent contender Dave Ryan, who won last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur.

Calumet, normally a par-71 layout, is playing at 6,619-yards and a par-70 this week. The private club hosted the Western Open in 1924 and maintains a bigger place in golf history after being the site of the eighth of Byron Nelson’s record 11 straight PGA Tour victories in 1945. His win in the Chicago Victory Open was one of Nelson’s record 18 wins that season.

Michael Grandinetti the CDGA president, is adding to Calumet’s history this week. For the first time in the long history of the State Am the host club will also be the home course of the organization’s incumbent president.

Calumet has become a hot spot for tournament play in recent years. Eight of its members, headed by club champion Lloyd Roth, qualified for the State Am and Calumet will also host the inaugural American Junior Golf Association All-Star event from July 31 to Aug. 3. It’ll feature 95 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15 competing for a national title.

Moore returns to PGA Tour in hopes of defending JDC title

The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, tees off for the 47th time on Thursday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, on the outskirts of the Quad Cities. For defending champion Ryan Moore that means a return to the PGA Tour at the course that took his career to a new level last year.

Moore has been sidelined the last six weeks with a shoulder injury but he’s informed the JDC staff that he’s ready to play again. That means he’ll be in Wednesday’s final pro-am at TPC Deere Run before the 72-hole $5.6 million championship begins its four-day run.

The JDC, named the Tournament of the Year by the PGA Tour for its 2016 staging, has usually been friendly to Moore. He has 23 straight rounds under par and three top-10s in the last five years at TPC Deere Run. Last year, though, was something special for the golfer who had one of the most storied amateur careers before turning pro.

In 2004 Moore won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Public Links (for the second time), the Western Amateur and the NCAA individual title while wrapping up his collegiate career at Nevada-Las Vegas.

He had a respectable pro career prior to 2016, winning four times, but his victory at TPC Deere Run triggered much bigger things. Moore was the last man selected to the U.S. Ryder Cup team shortly after that, then scored the decisive point in the victory over Europe at Hazeltine, in Minnesota.

“This tournament meant so much to me last year, and it really is the reason I ended up on the Ryder Cup team,’’ said Moore. “To finish my year off the way I did, it was this event that started that. I will be forever thankful. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life.’’

Moore has always played well at the JDC. Since 2012 he was tied eighth, tied 22nd, tied seventh and tied 24th prior to his win last year. This year he also played well in the first of the four major championships, finishing in a tie for ninth at the Masters before the shoulder injury sidelined him.

This year Moore will bring his family – wife Nicole and two sons – to the Quad Cities in hopes of extending his run of success at Deere Run. He shot 22-under last year with rounds of 65, 65, 65 and 67 and was bogey-free on the weekend.

“I want to go back and try to do the same thing this year,’’ he said. “(The tournament staff) has done a phenomenal job of making it a fun week, a family week, and really just a great event.’’

Since the JDC moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000 only one player has defended his title. Steve Stricker did it twice, winning three straight times from 2009 to 2011, and he’ll be in the field again.

The most notable newcomer among the touring pros is Bubba Watson, who hasn’t played in the Quad Cities since his early years as a touring pro. Zach Johnson, the JDC winner in 2012 and a long-time member of the tournament’s board of directors, will also bring along a special guest this year – the Ryder Cup trophy that will be available for photos today through Saturday.

Tournament director Clair Peterson has again been creative with his sponsor exemptions. He invited Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, the stars of the University of Illinois team; Stanford’s Maverick McNealy, winner of the 2017 Ben Hogan Award as the best collegiate player; and last year’s U.S. Amateur champion – Australian Curtis Luck.

Romo in Western Amateur

Tony Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback, will compete against the world’s best amateurs when the 115th Western Amateur tees off on July 29 at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe.

The Western Golf Association has announced that all of the world’s top 10 amateurs will compete in the tournament. In addition to Illinois’ Meyer and Hardy the field includes Braden Thornberry, who won the NCAA individual at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove in May; Arlington Heights native Doug Ghim, the Big 12 Player of the Year for Texas; and Ghim’s Longhorns’ teammate Scottie Scheffler, the low amateur at June’s U.S. Open.

Up and coming

Two of the biggest annual state championships will be contested on almost identical dates next week. The Illinois Women’s Open is Monday through Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville, and the Illinois State Amateur is Tuesday through Thursday at Calumet Country Club in Homewood.

Six straight days of LPGA tournaments are on tap at French Lick

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which ended Sunday at Olympia Fields Country Club, was a success by most every account. This week women’s golf moves in a new direction at a long-time destination.

Indiana’s French Lick Resort offers both the historic Donald Ross Course and the Pete Dye Course that was named the 2017 Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association. Both will be used in back-to-back tournaments by the other circuits encompassed by the Ladies PGA Tour, meaning there’ll be six straight days of tournament golf in the little southern Indiana town that is rich in golf history.

The developmental Symetra Tour will compete in the $200,000 Donald Ross Centennial Classic, the focal event of that layout’s 100-year anniversary, from Friday through Sunday. Then 81 stars from the LPGA’s past will do battle on the Pete Dye Course in the first Ladies Senior LPGA Championship from July 10-12. The $600,000 Monday-through-Wednesday event will lead directly into the U.S. Women’s Open, which will begin on Thursday, July 13, at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.

When the Open is over there will have been an unprecedented 10 consecutive days of women’s professional competition encompassing three tours.

French Lick’s Ross Course hosted the 1924 PGA Championship, the first of four straight Walter Hagen victories in that major championship, and was also home to the LPGA Championships of 1959 and 1960, won by Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was a renamed version of those tournaments from the past.

The LPGA Senior Championship grew out of The Legends Championship, an event jointly created by the resort and the Legends Tour, a circuit of players 45 and older who starred on the LPGA Tour. The Legends have played their major event on the Pete Dye Course since 2013 and the circuit’s Hall of Fame is located in the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel. Nancy Scranton and Sandra Palmer will be inducted during the upcoming festivities.

In launching the Senior Championship the LPGA will beat out the U.S. Golf Association in creating the first senior major for women. The USGA’s first U.S. Women’s Senior Open will be played at Chicago Golf Club in 2018.

JDC won’t get Spieth

Two-time winner Jordan Spieth considered returning to the John Deere Classic, which tees off in Silvis, IL., on July 13 but decided to rest up for the following week’s British Open instead. Spieth didn’t defend his last JDC win last year because the tournament was played opposite the Olympics’ golf competition in Brazil, and Spieth later decided to just not play in either event.

“I love the (JDC) tournament, I love the golf course and – more important – I love the people,’’ said Spieth, who has already won twice this year. “While my schedule doesn’t permit me returning to the Quad Cities this year, I plan to be back in the future.’’

The JDC field will be strong even without him, as Bubba Watson and Davis Love III have committed after skipping the event for several years and Ryan Moore is expected to defend his title, though he’s currently recovering from a back injury.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman will also be in the field. His play has been solid since a two-week break during the U.S. Open. Streelman tied for eighth at the Travelers Championship and tied for 17th at the Quicken Loans National since returning to action.

Here and there

Drake Bushong, a Bradley University golfer playing out of Lick Creek in Pekin, won the 98th Chicago District Amateur. He beat DesPlaines’ Michael Fastert in the title match at Briar Ridge in Schererville, Ind.

The Illinois PGA will conduct its Senior Masters Championship on Monday (JULY 10) at Onwentsia in Lake Forest. On that same day the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities Outing, which features celebrities playing with each foursome, is on tap at Twin Orchard in Long Grove.

The Palatine Hills Golf Association will conduct the Discover/Salute Charity Outing at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights on July 17. It’ll benefit the financial, physical and emotional needs of military service members, veterans and their families.

Cog Hill, in Lemont, will hold its first Junior Amateur Monday and Tuesday (JULY 10-11) on the facilities Nos. 2 and 4 courses.

Kang made her first LPGA win a tribute to her late father

Danielle Kang had been 0-for-144 in LPGA tournaments before she won her first tournament – and she picked a great event for her breakthrough.

The 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – formerly called the LPGA Championship – is rich in tradition, being second in longevity and prize money to only the U.S. Women’s Open.

On Sunday Kang became the eighth player to make this major championship her first professional victory. She did it by stringing four birdies in a row on the back nine of the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club and then hanging on to win by a stroke thanks to a two-putt birdie on the last hole.

Kang became the first American to win the event with a birdie on the 18th hole since Meg Mallon did it in 1991 and she’s just the fourth American champion in the last 20 years. Going into the tournament Kang was only No. 43 in the Rolex Rankings

Her win was built on the back nine birdie blitz, but even that wasn’t quite enough. She had a three-stroke lead after the last of those string of birdie putts dropped at No. 14 but the lead was down to one after she made bogey at the par-3 17th.

“Without drama it’s not a major,’’ said Kang when she could laugh about her near collapse afterwards. Canadian Brooke Henderson, trying to make a successful title defense, actually pulled even with Kang at 12-under-par for a few minutes.

Henderson, playing in the group in front of Kang, rolled a 30-foot eagle putt to within an inch of the cup at No. 18, a par-5 easily reachable in two shots. The tap-in birdie pulled Henderson even with Kang, who was on the tee when Henderson’s putt came so close. Both were at 12-under-par then.

Kang heard the noise from the near-miss, stepped back to regroup and then played the way champions are supposed to play the rest of the way. She blasted her drive down the left side of the fairway, put her second shot from 236 yards to 30 feet below the hole and then lagged to two feet short of the cup.

The tap-in birdie brought an end to her winless record as a professional. Now only Kang and Juli Inkster own wins in both the U.S. Amateur – Kang won it in both 2010 and 2011 – and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

“Pretty awesome,’’ said Kang. “I feel fantastic, absolutely fantastic.’’

But she still teared up when asked about her late father K.S. Kang, who passed away four years ago after battling cancer. Kang, 24, still writes to him in a journal.

“If I could wish anything I would wish that my Dad saw me win,’’ she said. “It’s been a really difficult road for me for the past four or five years. That’s life, though. You have to pick yourself up, keep working hard and believe in what you’re doing.’’

Kang’s father was of Korean descent and he took the family from California to live there briefly when Danielle and her brother, Web.com Tour player Alex Kang, were growing up. Kang developed her skills at Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles, a hot spot for celebrities, and she received congratulatory messages on Sunday from Dustin Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, Caitlyn Jenner and Marcus Allen, among many others. She now lives in Las Vegas.

A 68 in the final round gave Kang a 13-under-par 271 total for the 72 holes. Henderson was one shot back after posting a 66 – the low round of the day. Korean Chella Choi, who started the final round tied for the lead with Kang, was another shot back in third.

Kang and Choi started the final round in the last twosome and only Henderson made a serious challenge from the other groups.

“It was a great day for me,’’ said Henderson. “I got off to a pretty fast start – three birdies on the front nine – and I wasn’t really making any mistakes.’’

In her victory last year at Sahalee, in Washington, Henderson closed with a 65 and then beat New Zealand’s Lydia Ko in a playoff. Kang wouldn’t let Sunday’s battle go to extra holes.

“Danielle played great,’’ said Henderson. “When she got to 13-under pretty early in the back nine I knew I had a lot of work to do coming down the stretch. A few days ago I would have been really happy with a second-place finish and, to have the chances and the opportunities that I did the last few holes, I’m happy.’’

Defending champ Henderson is lurking going into KPMG finale

There’s no reason Canadian teen-age phenom Brooke Henderson can’t repeat as the champion of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship today. She’s again among those within striking distance of the lead with 18 holes to go.

Last year Henderson, then 18, was two strokes off the lead after 54 holes, caught New Zealand’s Lydia Ko by shooting a final round 65 and then beat Ko by sinking a three-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.

This time Henderson’s deficit is bigger. Chella Choi, of South Korea, shot 67 in Saturday’s third round to hit the 54-hole stop at 10-under-par 203 on Olympia Field’s North Course. Moments later 36-hole co-leader Danielle Kang posted a 68 to match Choi’s score. They’re the players to beat.

Henderson, at 206, is in fourth place and has another Korean, Jiyai Shin, ahead of her as well. Shin made a rapid climb up the leaderboard by shooting a 7-under-par 64 – the best score of the day. She was in the clubhouse before the leaders even hit the back nine.

Saturday was Happy Canada Day, and that added to Henderson’s support on the course.

“Canadians are very proud to be Canadian, and this is a very special day back home,’’ said Henderson. But Sunday will have to be even more special for her to repeat as the champion of the LPGA’s second major of 2017.

“With a major championship, it really comes down to the back nine on Sunday,’’ said Henderson. “If I can play solid and get myself into a good position coming down those final holes it will be a really interesting finish, and I’m just hoping I’m a part of it.’’

Choi is in the hunt because of a caddie change. Her father is back on the bag this week, and Choi has taken the approach the “Father knows best.’’

“My Dad was going to retire to spend more time with my mother,’’ said Choi. “When he started as my caddie it was to save money, and I always had dreamed of having my Dad on the bag when I was an amateur.’’

His retirement as a caddie lasted seven weeks.. Then Chella was struggling with her game and called for help.

“I lost my confidence and asked him to come back,’’ she said. “I’m feeling very good now. He gives me confidence.’’

Choi played only 18 holes on the North Course in pre-tournament preparations. She has taken her father’s advice on every shot of every hole. That’s familiarized her with the course and clearly improved her status on the leaderboard.

Kang, who grew up in California, attended Pepperdine University and now resides in Las Vegas, is downplaying her position at the top of the leaderboard.

“I’ve been working every day to get better, and I have to trust my game,’’ she said. “It would be incredible to be called a major champion, but I’m just trying to perform the best I can perform. I love the vibes of a major championship, but I’ve got to stick to my routine.’’

She said a change in attitude has help her improve, that change being “that winning isn’t everything.’’ Kang, though, has had calls of encouragement from three famous big-time winners – Wayne Gretzky, Caitlyn Jenner and Hollis Stac;y.

Kang, 24, won back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 2010 and 2011 but has yet to win on the LPGA Tour and her best finish in a major was a tie for 14th in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Choi, 26, has one LPGA win, at the 2015 Marathon Classic. Her best finish in a major was a tie for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013, back when the tournament was called the LPGA Championship.

Further down the list but not quite out of it yet are Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson and newly-minted No. 1 So Yeon Ryu. They’re all five shots off the lead at 208 and in a tie for seventh.

Wie birdied three of the first four holes. “Then I hit a wall. I got real tired all of a sudden,’’ she said.

“You never know what’s going to happen on this golf course’’ said Wie. “Tomorrow it’s a whole new day, and I’ll try my best and see where that takes me.’’

Mom’s fighting spirit inspires Lexi Thompson

These are not easy times for Lexi Thompson, the best American player in women’s golf.

Frequently the face of the LPGA Tour – at least at U.S. tournaments – Thompson uncharacteristically took a break from pre-tournament interviews at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields this week. She didn’t want to field questions about either her mother’s health or the controversial four-stroke penalty that she was assessed in the LPGA’s first major tournament of the season, the ANA Inspiration.

The penalty handed that title to Korean So Yeon Ryu, who is now the top-ranked woman in the game. Thompson is No. 4, with Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn and New Zealand’s Lydia Ko standing second and third, respectively.

Ranking points aren’t very important right now, not with her mother Judy battling uterine cancer. Thompson unexpectedly ended her silence on that topic late Thursday night after shooting a 1-under-par 70 in the first round at Olympia Fields. She had barely reached the clubhouse when dangerous weather suspended play for the day, and she got in just ahead of another suspension of play in Friday’s second round after posting a 69.

Reports of her mother’s health problems surfaced as players started arriving at Olympia Fields on Monday. They were confirmed by Thompson’s agent on Wednesday but Thompson has been struggling with her mother’s health diagnosis since winning a tournament in Kingsmill, Va., in May.

“It’s been rough,’’ admitted Thompson. “She’s my best friend. So hearing that, then just dealing with a lot of things this year, it was a breakdown moment for me. She’s doing better now, and hopefully she’ll be at the U.S. Women’s Open and support me there.’’

The U.S. Women’s Open is July 13-16 at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.

Judy Thompson and husband Scott live in Florida and are the parents of three professional golfers. Lexi’s brothers, Nicholas and Curtis, are also competitive players but don’t have the high profile that Lexi has. She stormed onto the national stage when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as a 12-year old and was only 15 when she turned pro in 2012.

While Lexi, now 22, was just starting to make her mark as a golfer her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Luckily they caught it pretty early, when it was a small size,’’ said Thompson. “That was a challenging time for me when I was younger. She’s about an eight- or 10-year survivor, but hearing this news was just not good. Seeing how much she’s fighting is inspirational.’’

Judy Thompson, 60, had the third of her four radiation treatments just 23 days after undergoing surgery for uterine cancer with Lexi holding her hand during the procedure in Coral Springs, FL. The quick treatment came with the help of fellow competitor Morgan Pressel, who has a breast cancer foundation in nearby Boca Raton.

“I can’t give big enough thanks to Morgan,’’ said Thompson. “My mom wasn’t going to be able to get in the hospital for a few weeks once she heard the news. Obviously with a few weeks, it can spread and Morgan helped out. Morgan knows a lot of people and got her into the hospital two days later.’’

The entire LPGA community has supported the Thompsons since Judy’s diagnosis, and that’s been a big help.

“She’s always been the biggest fighter, no matter what she’s going through,’’ said Lexi. “She’s always been a role model of mine. I always aspire to be the woman – even half the woman – that she is. She just says `No matter what, I love you. Just go out, do your best. That’s all you can do.’ That’s her message every week, and that’s why I absolutely love her.’’

Thompson started her play at Olympia Fields with bogeys on the first two holes on Thursday, but she battled back and is now 3-under-par through 36 holes. That put her within striking distance of the leaders going into the weekend rounds.

Olympia satisfies LPGA’s desire to play courses that have hosted men’s events

The tournament now known as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is the second oldest event on the LPGA Tour, right behind the U.S. Women’s Open, but this week’s staging at Olympia Fields will mark the first time the tournament has been played in the Chicago area.

Olympia Fields will host the second of the five annual majors on the women’s tour. It was first played in 1955 as the LPGA Championship and took on its present name three years ago after an unprecedented collaboration with the PGA of America.

The site is critical in this arrangement, as the LPGA wanted more events on famous courses used for men’s tournaments. The first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was played at Westchester, in New York, in 2015. Westchester was a frequent PGA Tour site from 1963-2007, then hosted the Senior Players Championship in 2011.

Sahalee, in Washington, hosted last year. It was the PGA Championship venue in 1998 and welcomed the U.S. Senior Open in 2010. Olympia Fields has a more impressive resume than both Westchester and Sahalee, having hosted U.S. Opens in 1928 and 2003 PGA Championships in 1925 and 1961, the 1997 U.S. Senior Open and five Western Opens.

“It’s a big deal for us to be here, and that was one of the stipulations we gave KPMG,’’ said LPGA star Stacy Lewis. “The history of the men playing here and, more specifically, the fact that the women have never played here. We need to be on golf courses we have historically not played in the past. That’s what the PGA has helped us to do.’’

The tournament will be played next year at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer, which hosted the 1989 PGA Championship, and the 2019 version is scheduled for Hazeltine, the Minnesota course that has hosted multiple big events, most recently last year’s Ryder Cup.

All of the top 100 on the LPGA Tour money list are among the 156 players who will tee off at Olympia Fields on Thursday. That group includes 26 winners of major championships and those 26 have combined to win 53 majors.

The first major for the women this year was the ANA Inspiration, formerly the Dinah Shore tourney, played in March in California. It was won by South Korean So Yeon Ryu, who claimed the No. 1 spot in the women’s Rolex Rankings this week after her victory in the LPGA’s Northwest Arkansas Classic on Sunday.

After the tourney at Olympia is over the LPGA stars have three other majors – the U.S.Women’s Open, Ricoh British Open and Evian Championship.

Six locals in U.S. Senior Open

Chicago-based Champions Tour veteran Jeff Sluman isn’t the only local player in this week’s U.S. Senior Open – and not by a long shot. Six qualified for the 72-hole test that tees off on Thursday at Salem Country Club in Massachusetts. That’s the tourney biggest local contingent of qualifiers in years.

Mike Small, the Illinois men’s coach, comes in on a roll. He tied for third in the Professional Players National Championship in Oregon and followed with a tie for 20th in the Champions’ American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin on Sunday. By virtue of his top-20 finish in the PPNC Small will again play in August’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina.

Also in the Senior Open field are club professionals Danny Mulhearn of Glen Oak and Doug Bauman of Biltmore and teaching pro Jim Buenzli.

Here and there

Nancy Scranton, who came out of downstate Centralia to become one of the few Illinois players to make it to the LPGA Tour, and Sandra Palmer, a former U.S. Women’s Open champion, were selected for induction into The LPGA Legends Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be July 8 at French Lick, Ind.

It was an all-Kelly final in last week’s Illinois Women’s State Amateur at Pine Meadow in Mundelein. Kelly Sterling of Mokena defeated Kelly Anderson of Wheaton in the championship flight’s title match.

Next month’s John Deere Classic, the PGA Tour stop in the Quad Cities, landed two big names this week. Bubba Watson and Davis Love III will compete at TPC Deere Run.

William Mouw, a 16-year old Californian, was a wire-to-wire winner of the 100th Western Junior Championship last week at Park Ridge Country Club. His 14-under-par score for 72 holes enabled Mouw to win by eight strokes and match Hunter Mahan’s tournament record score, posted in 1999.

Koepka played like Dustin’s double in claiming U.S. Open title

ERIN, Wis. – No, Dustin Johnson didn’t defend his U.S. Open title on Sunday. In fact, the game’s No. 1-ranked player didn’t even qualify for the weekend rounds at Erin Hills.

But Brooks Koepka did win, and he might well be a reincarnation of Johnson. They are close friends. They play lots of practice rounds together, and they frequently dine together on the road.

On Saturday night Johnson called Koepka.

“It was probably not that interesting,’’ said Koepka. “For us it was a long conversation – about two minutes. We played a practice round here on Tuesday, and he basically just said `you’re good enough to win.’’

And he was.

Koepka, 27, played just like Johnson does when he’s on his game. He dominated the final round of the 117th playing of America’s national championship and tied the tournament record for lowest 72-hole score in relation to par. He posted 16-under 272 after a 67 on Sunday and won by four strokes over third-round leader Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.

Veteran tour player Bill Haas, who had his best-ever finish in the Open with a tie for fifth, was quick to compare Koepka with Johnson.

“He’s just really impressive physically,’’ said Haas. “He just pounds the ball and he hits it very straight. He’s got a lot of Dustin Johnson in him, and he’s going to overpower golf courses. He’s got a great demeanor. Just like Dustin, nothing seems to bother them.’’

Koepka started the day one stroke behind Harman and tied with Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood. Thomas, paired with Harman in the last twosome, struggled after his record 63 round of Saturday and finished in a tie for ninth. Fleetwood, paired with Koepka, was solo fourth.

A birdie-birdie start put Koepka into the lead and he protected it the rest of the way. Matsuyama, playing six groups in front of Koepka, shot the day’s low round of 66 and his 12-under score was the target that Koepka needed to beat with five holes left in his round. He did it with birdies of Nos. 14, 15 and 16 and two closing pars.

The one thing that eluded him was sole possession of the tournament 72-hole scoring record in relation to par. He could only match the standard set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011. Still, Koepka had only one three-putt in the heat of Sunday’s final round and he missed only 10 greens in regulation all week.

“That’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and to do it on Father’s Day is pretty neat,’’ said Koepka. `I didn’t exactly get my dad a card, so I hope this works. This is probably the first major that anyone in my family missed. I don’t know if that’s saying anything.’’

Well, it does suggest that Koepka can take care of himself, as he did immediately after making an unusual decision to start his professional career. After playing collegiately at Florida State he turned pro in 2012. Rather than compete for a spot on one of the PGA tours Koepka opted to start in Europe. Few American players do that, but for Koepka it worked.

He won four times on the European Challenge Tour, then once on the European Tour and once in Japan. His U.S. Open title came after only one win on the PGA Tour.

“I have felt like I’m an under-achiever because I tried so hard to win. I felt like I should be winning more,’’ he said. “I needed to stay patient and not get ahead of myself.’’

For 72 holes at a new U.S. Open venue he was able to do that, and the emotions showed on his cart ride from the 18th green to the scoring tent.

“I played real solid from the moment I got here,’’ said Koepka, “but that was probably the most emotion I have ever showed.’’

Women’s major at Olympia Fields tries to match a successful U.S. Open

These are unprecedented times for spectator golf around the Chicago area. Last week it was the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Next week it’s a women’s major – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields.

The best players in women’s golf start showing their skills at the south suburban private club on Tuesday in a star-studded pro-am. After a day of practice the 72-hole battle for a $3.5 million purse – one of the biggest in women’s golf — is on the line beginning on Thursday, June 29.

Once named the LPGA Championship, the tourney became an unprecedented collaboration between the Ladies PGA Tour and the PGA of America three years ago at Westchester Country Club in New York. Last year’s event was at Sahalee, in Washington, and Chicago gets the next two—at Olympia Fields and then at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer, in 2018.

Tuesday’s pro-am, which tees off at 7:30 a.m., features former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, comedian George Lopez and Chicago sports legends Brian Urlacher, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux.

The 156-player field in the tournament proper includes defending champion Brooke Henderson. World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn and American mainstays Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson.

U.S. Open aftermath

Back in 1990, when Medinah hosted the last of its three U.S. Opens, members weren’t happy with the record low scoring. Ideal weather, much like that last week at Erin Hills, led to the low scores but Medinah members felt the course setup wasn’t challenging enough as well.

With one exception, those U.S. Open scoring records set 27 years ago are no more thanks to the shootout in Wisconsin. Medinah yielded 28 sub-par scores for the 72 holes in 1990. Thirty-one players finished under par at Erin Hills.

The total number of sub-par rounds at Erin Hills was 140, which surpassed the previous record of 122 at Medinah, and the 44 sub-par scores in the first round at Erin Hills erased the record of 39 at Medinah. The one Medinah record still on the books is for most sub-par scores in one round. Medinah yielded 47 on its most vulnerable day while the most in any one round at Erin Hills was 46.

Medinah unveils new Nos. 2 course

Medinah’s No. 2 course is back in operation after undergoing a unique $3.6 million renovation jointly created by architect Rees Jones, superintendent Curtis Tyrrell, head professional Marty DeAngelo and instruction staffers Travis Johns and Rich Dukelow.

No. 2 was basically untouched since original architect Tom Bendelow designed it in 1927. The new course will be the most versatile of the three layouts at the club. Each hole has seven tee placements and will be the base for a “Golf for Life’’ program that DeAngelo has created “to bring enjoyment for all skills without the use of handicaps.’’

“The No. 2 course was always known as the ladies course, but now it’s the most appropriate venue for higher handicappers and casual golfers,’’ said Jones. “It has the potential to become the most popular golf course in the entire city of Chicago.’’

Here and there

Three of the 12 Illinois PGA members who qualified for this week’s Professional Players National Championship in Sunriver, Ore., survived the 36-hole cut. Curtis Malm, of White Eagle in Naperville; Mike Small, the Illinois men’s coach; and Jim Billiter, of Kemper Lakes, will compete through Wednesday (TODAY) and the top 20 qualify for August’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina.

More than 150 of the world’s top junior golfers are competing in the 100th Western Junior Championship this week at Park Ridge Country Club. The field will be cut to the low 44 and ties after today’s (WEDNESDAY) round and the survivors will play 36 holes on Thursday to determine the champion. Sean Maruyama, a UCLA recruit from Los Angeles, is bidding to become the tourney’s first repeat champion in 76 years.

The 98th Chicago District Amateur begins its four-day run on Tuesday (JUNE 27) at Briar Ridge in Schererville, Ind. The tournament has been played outside of Illinois only five times, the last in 1998 when The Dunes Club in Michigan hosted.

Canadian Maddie Szeryk captured last week’s 117th Women’s Western Amateur at River Forest in Elmhurst.

Medinah’s Tee-K Kelly followed up his win in the Dominican Republic with a fourth-place finish in Jamaica on Sunday on PGA Tour Latinoamerica. Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr., the reigning Illinois Open champion, tied fors seventh in Jamaica.

Thomas’ 63 is the best round in U.S. Open history

ERIN, Wis. – No, Justin Thomas isn’t leading the U.S. Open going into today’s final round but he’s definitely the man of the hour at Erin Hills.

The 24-year old from Louisville, Ky., shot the lowest round in the 117-year history of America’s premier golf championship on Saturday – a 9-under-par 63. He trails Brian Harman by one stroke going into the final 18 holes.

Johnny Miller posted the first 63 in U.S. Open history in the final round of the 1973 championship at Oakmont, in Pennsylvania. Oakmont was a par-71 course then, so Miller was 8-under par.

Three other players posted 63s in the Open. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf did it in 1980 and Vijay Singh in 2003. All were on par-70 courses, so they were 7-under. Only Thomas reached 9-under, and he did it despite making two bogeys along the way.

“That means I’m a part of history. It means I have a lot better cce to win the tournament than I did when the day started,’’ said Thomas. “It’s all pretty self-explanatory in terms of what it means. But just for me, I’ve been playing pretty well all week and didn’t quite have the numbers to show for it. Obviously today I definitely had something to show for it.’’

Thomas started the day at 2-under-par after a 73-69 start. He was in a 9-way tie for 24th place when he teed off and is tied for second with American Brooks Koepka and England’s Tommy Fleetwood heading into the tournament’s first-ever staging in Wisconsin and first in the Midwest since Olympia Fields hosted in 2003.

Thomas’ card featured 10 threes and a two. Put another way, he had 10 birdies, two bogeys, five pars and – in a finish that couldn’t have been more spectacular – an eagle. It came at the second-longest hole in Open history. Erin Hills’ finisher was set up at 637 yards on Saturday. Oakmont’s No. 12 played at 694 yards in the first round of last year’s U.S. Open.

Coming off a birdie at the 17th, Thomas hit 3-wood off the tee to stay clear of fairway bunkers and had a tough decision to make on his second shot.

“I had 310 to the hole, but it was downwind to where I knew if I hit it solid I could definitely get it there,’’ he said. “I also knew my miss, if I hit it off the bottom or got spiny, it was going to be in those front bunkers, which was fine. That was perfect. All my caddie and I were trying to do was give ourselves a chance to make four and get out of there.’’

Thomas went with the 3-wood and put it eight feet from the cup as the huge gallery around the green went crazy. Then Thomas had to wait to attempt his eagle putt because playing partner Jonathan Randolph was struggling his way to a bogey before Thomas could putt.

Once he did, though, the ball went straight into the hole and the cheers got even louder.

Thomas said Friday night rains helped on his long second shot. Without a softer-than-usual green he couldn’t have stopped a 3-wood on the putting surface. Once he did the considerations of posting a 63 came to mind.

“I knew what it was score-wise. I knew it was for 63. You’ve got leaderboards everywhere and you usually have an idea what you’re doing,’’ said Thomas. “But I had no idea in terms of 9-under being the best in the U.S. Open.’’

Thomas is no stranger to low scores. He became the youngest player to shoot a 59 on the PGA Tour when he did it en route to winning the Sony Open in Hawaii in January.

Prior to turning pro Thomas became the third youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event. He did it at age 16 in the 2009 Wyndham Classic before heading to the University of Alabama. He turned pro in 2013 and – prior to Saturday – his career highlight was back-to-back wins in Hawaii to begin the 2017 part of the PGA Tour season.