CDGA gives Illinois Women’s Amateur a big boost

The Chicago District Golf Association won’t announce its 2024 tournament schedule until Dec. 6 but it will include two major additions.

For 90 years the Illinois Women’s Golf Association, a group based downstate, conducted the Illinois Women’s State Amateur as well as its state championship for senior players.  With IWGA membership dwindling, those events would likely have been discontinued had the CDGA not stepped in.

The Women’s State Amateur will be switched from a match play format to a 54-hole stroke play event.  It’ll be held June 10-12 at The Grove, in Long Grove. In addition, changes in the U.S. Golf Association’s exemption process means that the champion of both the Illinois women’s and men’s state amateur championships will receive exemptions into the U.S. Amateurs.

While The Grove also hosted last year’s Illinois Women’s State Amateur, the men’s version will make a rare departure from the Chicago area in 2024.  It’ll be held July 16-18 at the Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

LIV IN LIMBO:  Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, hosted well-received tournaments on the LIV Tour the last two years, but a return in 2024, is uncertain.  LIV owner Jerry Rich invited the circuit back, but the latest LIV schedule didn’t include a Chicago stop.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be one, though.  The circuit plans another 14-tournament international schedule and three dates are still open. An April 5-7 event is planned at a U.S. facility and the season-ending individual and team championships, like held in late August or early September, don’t have announced sites yet either.

BROZEK’S BACK:  Casey Brozek, a former Illinois PGA president, has landed the director of golf position at Medinah Country Club. He replaces Marty DeAngelo,, who took a position in Naples, FL.

Brozek was head professional at Crystal Lake Country Club for 16 years before moving to a director’s position at Quail West in Florida. Brozek arrives at Medinah as the club prepares to re-open its No. 3 course, which has undergone a year-long renovation, and is scheduled to host the President’s Cup matches in 2026.

INDIA APOLOGIZES: Deerfield’s Vince India, the reigning Illinois Open champion, regrets having  violated the PGA Tour’s Integrity Program and plans to continue competing after his six-month suspension expires on March 17, 2024.

A regular on the Korn Ferry Tour, India admitted gambling on golf tournaments in which he did not compete. He issued his apology on social media outlets.

“I’m confident I’ll grow from this….and ultimately come out a better person and player and continue my goal to play golf at the highest level,’’ said India.

JDC PAYOFF: The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, announced that its Birdies for Charity program produced a record $14.1 million payoff for its 478 participating charities from its July staging at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.




Illinois Golf Hall of Fame will get six new members

The Illinois Golf Hall of Fame will induct its 20th class on Friday, Nov. 10, and selection committee chairman Tim Cronin says “it couldn’t be more diverse or vibrant.’’

Heading the six-member class are two long-time club professionals, Tim O’Neal and Bruce Patterson, and Dr. Randy Kane, who served as the first Chicago District Golf Association turfgrass director from 1985-2006.

Also headed for enshrinement are Taylorville’s Dave Ryan, who has dominated the state’s senior amateur competition for more than a decade; Margaret Abbott Dunne, the first woman to win an Olympic competition in 1900; and Harry Collis, who excelled as a player, club professional, course architect, superintendent and turfgrass innovator over a 40-year career spent mostly at Flossmoor Country Club.

The induction ceremony will be held at The Glen View, in Glenview, which is the home of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. The Hall inducted its first class in 1989 and selections are made by a state-wide committee every two years.

O’Neal spent most of his career at North Shore Country Club, in Glenview, and Patterson was the long-time director of golf at Butler National, in Oak Brook. Patterson was instrumental in creating the Illinois PGA Foundation and O’Neal is its current president.

A SMALL MILESTONE: Mike Small, the University of Illinois’ men’s coach, finished third  in last week’s Senior PGA Professionals Championship in Florida and earned one of the 35 berths in next May’s KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, which includes touring professionals, at Harbor Shores, in Michigan.

Small’s most recent success came after he claimed two Illinois Section PGA titles in August. He took the Illinois PGA Championship for the 14th time and the Illinois Senior PGA crown for the sixth time.  The latter made Small the winningest PGA professional across all of the organization’s 41 sections.

SETBACK FOR INDIA: Deerfield’s Vince India, the reigning Illinois Open champion, was hit with a six-month suspension by the PGA Tour for violation of its “Integrity Program.’’ The program, updated in 2021, is designed “to mitigate betting-related corruption in PGA Tour competitions.’’

India, 34, was suspended for betting on PGA Tour events in which he was not a competitor.  He has been on the Korn Ferry Tour since 2015, has made 176 starts and has career earnings on all levels of the PGA Tour of $662,823.  His suspension started on Sept. 18 and will end on March 17, 2024. India declined to comment on the matter.

HERE AND THERE: Though the LIV Tour hasn’t announced its 2024 schedule yet a tentative version did not include a return to Rich Harvest Farms or any other Chicago area course.  Rich Harvest hosted tournaments in the first two seasons of the fledgling circuit with Cameron Smith winning in 2022 and Bryson DeChambeau this year.

The CDGA has announced its Players of the Year.  Mac McClear, of Hinsdale, and T.J. Barger, of Bloomington, were named co-players of the year and Mike Henry, of Bloomington, won in the Senior division.  All three were first-time honorees in the CDGA competition.

Mike Scully, former head professional at Medinah when the club hosted the 2006 PGA Championship and 2012 Ryder Cup, has moved on to Kinsale, in North Naples, FL.  Scully will be the new club’s general manager and director of golf.  It’s scheduled to open in the fall of 2024. Scully, a member of Illinois’ 1984 Rose Bowl team, is coming to Kinsdale from Streamsong Resort, another Florida venue.





Mistwood’s Mickelson is Illinois PGA’s Player of the Year


Andy Mickelson, the director of golf at Mistwood in Romeoville, is the Illinois PGA’s Player of the Year.  He did it with only one win, in the section’s first stroke play event, but his consistency in 10 other competitions earned him enough Bernardi Player of the Year points to win the prestigious honor.

“Winning the Illinois PGA Player of the Year is a huge accomplishment for me,’’ said Mickelson.  “I put a lot of time and effort into my game, and it’s cool to see it pay off.  It seemed like I had a lot of top-10s to go along with the one win but a couple of second place finishes and good runs at our majors helped put me over the edge.’’

Mickelson clinched Player of the Year with a tie for fifth-place finish in the season-ending IPGA Players Championship.

The Assistant Player-of-the-Year award went to Rockford’s Kevin Flack who finished into the top 10 in all nine assistants competitions and won four of them.

BIG YEAR FOR THE HAWK: Brian Carroll, head pro at The Hawk in St. Charles, won, the IPGA Players title for the second straight year at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove.  He had to hold off one of his teaching staff members, Roy Biancalana, and Kevin Flack, from Rockford’s Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Country Club, to get that win.

Biancalana, though, had a great season as well.  He defended his IPGA Senior Match Play title at Chicago’s Ridge Country Club in Chicago and now stands tied with Jim Sobb, the former pro at Ivanhoe, as the only player to win that event three times.  Biancalana took his trio of titles in consecutive years.

LEADER OF THE ARCHITECTS: Michael Benkusky, of Lake in the Hills, has been elected president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.  He’ll serve in that capacity through the fall of 2024.

Originally from Iowa, Benkusky’s design portfolio includes two prominent Illinois courses, Canyata, in Marshall, and St. Charles Country Club.  His other credits include Point O’Woods, in Michigan, and Palm Aire’s Champions Course in Florida.

GOULD JOINS CDGA:  Robbie Gould, who played 11 of his 18 National Football League seasons for the Bears, has joined the Chicago District Golf Association as its Brand Ambassador.

A prominent NFL kicker, Gould holds a 2.7 handicap as a golfer and competes on the Celebrity Tour.

“Robbie epitomizes what it means to be Better Through Golf,’’ said Robert Markionni, the CDGA executive director.  “Whether competing as a talented player himself, using the game to give back, or engaging with other golfers, we have long admired Robbie’s affinity for golf.  We look forward to joining forces with him in an effort to elevate the game we all love.’’


Here are the two main reasons why Europe claimed the Ryder Cup

There’s no need to rehashing this Ryder Cup.  Europe’s 16 ½-11 ½ win in Italy on Sunday was marked by extraordinary emotion, some controversy and more frustration for Team USA, which hasn’t won on foreign soil since 1993.

It was, at least, great theater and there’ll be more of that when the competition is played next at Bethpage Black in New York in two years.

For now it’s most appropriate to focus on just two things: what was the main reason Europe won again, and why did the USA get soundly beaten just two years after its record 19-9 romp at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits two years ago.

The biggest reason the Euros won was obvious.  Luke Donald was by far the superior captain. And to think that the former Northwestern great wasn’t the guy the European selectors really wanted.  They gave the job to Sweden’s Henrik Stenson first, then took it away when Stenson joined the LIV Tour. Only then did Donald get the job he so badly wanted – and deserved.

Donald played on four European teams and compiled a 10-4-1 record as a player.  He most memorably played a key role in his team’s come-from-way-behind win in the “Meltdown at Medinah’’ in 2012. He also served as a vice captain on two European teams.

No wonder he was choking back tears moments after Rickie Fowler conceded a match to Tommy Fleetwood, which gave Europe the points needed for victory.

“This was always something I dreamed about,’’ said Donald, “and it’s been a wave of emotions, starting with asking myself if I could really do this.’’

Once he got the job Donald had to build a roster without some mainstays of the past.  Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and the six other DP World Tour members who defected to the LIV circuit were ruled ineligible for Ryder Cup selection. U.S. captain Zach Johnson was allowed to pick them, though he selected only Brooks Koepka with his captain’s picks.

Donald built an interesting roster that included Justin Rose, at 45 by far the oldest player in the latest Ryder Cup, and two very young untested rookies in Robert McIntyre and Ludvig Aberg. Then came the speeches at opening ceremonies.  Donald’s was outstanding and inspirational.  It carried over to the competition.

What was the main reason the U.S. lost this time?  That’s pretty obvious, too.  Nine of the 12 U.S. players didn’t compete for five weeks prior to the matches.  If it were one of the four major championships there’s no way any of those players would have bypassed five weeks of tournaments leading in. This year it was vacation time after the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Prior to Whistling Straits there was only a three-week gap.

The U.S. could event get a full team to its lone early practice on the competition site. Two players – Patrick Cantlay and best friend Xander Schauffele – skipped the team trip to Italy because it conflicted with Cantlay’s bachelor party.

The DP World Tour had tournaments right up until the Ryder Cup, and European  team members competed.  Europe players were simply more committed than the U.S. players were. Simple as that.



Only Illinois alum Adrien Dumont de Chassart has advanced from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour for next season.  The top 75 on the point list still have a chance, and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger (No. 61) and Illinois alum Brian Campbell (75) have qualified for the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship. It tees off on Thursday at Victoria National in Indiana. Only the top 30 move on to the premier circuit.

The last championship of the Chicago District Golf Association’s 110th season concludes this week when the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball ends its four-day run at Elgin Country Club on Thursday. The CDGA will also conduct the qualifier for the U.S. Four-Ball on Oct. 10 at Bittersweet, in Gurnee.

The Illinois PGA will determine its Player of the Year at the Oct. 9-10 Players Championship at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove.  Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson leads the Bernardi point standings followed by two Rockford players, Chris French and Kevin Flack.  Kyle Donovan of Oak Park and last year’s winner, Brian Carroll of The Hawk in St. Charles, round out the top five. Also on the line is the IPGA Senior Players Championship Oct. 16-17 at Ruth Lake, in Hinsdale.

Golfers on Golf, Chicago’s longest standing golf radio show, has concluded its 33rd season.

Northwestern concludes its two-day Windy City Classic women’s tournament on Tuesday at the Glen Club in Glenview.



DeChambeau adds to debate about U.S. Ryder Cup team picks

Bryson DeChambeau beat out his teammate, Aniban Lahiri, to win again on the LIV tour and also added to the debate about U.S. Ryder Cup team selections. (Joy Sarver Photo)

The results of Sunday’s LIV Chicago tourney at Rich Harvest Farms create the need for another look at the U.S. team for this week’s Ryder Cup in Italy.

Captain Zach Johnson has been criticized for passing on Keegan Bradley as a captain’s pick and choosing Justin Thomas, who had a disappointing (for him) season, instead.  Johnson also had detractors because he put a LIV player on the 12-man team.  Brooks Koepka had played in the last three Ryder Cups, won this year’s PGA Championship and finished second in the Masters.

Second-guessing the captains is always part of the Ryder Cup preliminaries, and European captain Luke Donald has taken heat for not picking Poland’s Adrian Meronk.

In Johnson’s case, the debate resumed after Bryson DeChambeau shot 63 at Rich Harvest to rally for from an eight-stroke deficit to get the victory.  Just a few weeks ago DeChambeau won the LIV stop at Greenbriar, in West Virginia, with a 58-61 performance in the weekend rounds on a course that had hosted the PGA Tour in recent years.

Johnson tweeted about how he was impressed by DeChambeau’s accomplishment at the Greenbriar and strongly hinted he would put him on the U.S. team.  His opinion apparently changed after that but DeChambeau’s play didn’t tail off.  After his win Sunday DeChambeau said he was playing “the most consistently good golf of my life’’ and said he is in better form now than when he won the U.S. Open at New York’s Winged Foot in 2020.

“This stretch is pretty sweet to me,’’ he said, but he’ll miss playing in the Ryder Cup.

“It would have been nice to at least have a call from Zach,’’ said DeChambeau.  “That stings a little.  After all, we’re still golfers out here.  I don’t know who made the decisions, but it would have been nice for him to consider a few more of us because we’re pretty good out here.’’

The future of LIV remains a mystery despite the announcement of a “merger’’ with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.  There’s no merger yet, and negotiations have been hush-hush. The PGA Tour announced its schedule for 2024.  LIV didn’t.

Rich Harvest owner Jerry Rich declined interview requests on the status of the two-year old stop on his course, and LIV’s Greg Norman was very evident at the tourney, even walking with the leading players on Sunday, but he wasn’t making any comments, either.

A LIV source said the circuit’s schedule for next season would be announced “in four-to-six weeks.’’ LIV has two more tournaments in October to complete its 14-tournament season. It had only eight events in its first campaign.

The PGA Tour’s 2022-23 season ended with the FedEx Playoffs in August, ending its wrap-around scheduling.

As for DeChambeau he’s not reached the level of Hale Irwin in success on Illinois courses yet.  Irwin won the Western Open at Butler National, the U.S. Open at Medinah and took several titles in PGA Tour Champions events, most of them at Kemper Lakes. He retains the title of “Mr. Chicago.’’

DeChambeau’s three in-state wins are impressive, though, and he’s hard-pressed to explain it, just like Irwin was.

“It’s the bluegrass, baby!’’ DeChambeau said.  “It’s really the grass, the air.  I don’t know, but there’s something about the greens.  I’m comfortable.  I grew up on grass like that.’’

Like all the LIV players questioned about the future of their circuit, DeChambeau was quick to defend his tour.  The others, questioned in casual conversation, all said they wanted to stay with LIV rather than go back to the PGA Tour.

Sooner or later, there’ll be a breakthrough and we’ll see what golf will look like in 2024 or 2025.

DeChambeau volunteered a tantalizing picture in his final thoughts before leaving town:

“I’m not going to describe it too much, but a lot of work in the offseason is going on. What I can tell you is that something special is going to happen next year.’’



DeChambeau beats his own teammate to win LIV title


Bryson DeChambeau and Aniban Lahiri waged a friendly duel at LIV Chicago. (Joy Sarver Photos)

Golf drama doesn’t get any better than this.

Bryson DeChambeau delivered it in Illinois for the third time on Sunday to win the LIV Chicago tournament at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove. In 2015 he won the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, and in 2017 he captured the first of his seven PGA Tour titles at the John Deere Classic in downstate Silvis. His victory on Sunday was more dramatic than both of those.

DeChambeau trailed second-round leader Sebastian Munoz by eight strokes going into the final round. Things changed quickly after he covered his face in a gleeful celebration as an 80-foot downhill, bending birdie putt dropped on the No. 12 hole.

That would get any player going, but DeChambeau took it to extremes.  He birdied No. 14, made pars at Nos. 15 and 16 and then birdied the 17th and 18th.  That was his winning stretch in his round of 8-under-par 63, created in the LIV’s shotgun format. His winning total over the tourney’s 54 holes was 13-under-par 200.

“The most consistently good golf of my life,’’ said DeChambeau.  “This stretch has been pretty sweet to me.’’

Amazingly, Rich Harvest wasn’t his best tournament of the year.  In the LIV’s Greenbriar stop DeChambeau shot 58-61 on the weekend to win.  That defies the imagination, but Sunday’s win did, too.

To get the win DeChambeau had to overtake Aniban Lahiri, his teammate on the Crushers – one of the 12 four-man teams competing in LIV tourneys.  After DeChambeau finished Lahiri needed a birdie on the 18th hole to win the tournament or a par to force a playoff with his Crushers’ captain.

Lahiri got neither. His approach on the tough par-4 was short, stopping on the front fringe of the green.  His first putt was weak, stopping nine feet short of the cup.  His par putt missed, too, and that made DeChambeau a somewhat reluctant champion.

“I still can’t believe it,’’ he said.  “I wanted ‘Ban to make that putt and settle things in a playoff, but it is what it is.  He’s an unbelievable player.’’

Lahiri has yet to win on the LIV circuit but he had three runner-up finishes. Sunday was his fourth.  He kept grinding  but “I was fighting my swing all day.’’

There was a good consolation prize for both. The Crushers won their second team title of the season and clinched a bye in the circuit’s championship.  The team was comprised by DeChambeau, Lahiri, Paul Casey and Charles Howell III.

“As a team together we’re a pretty dominant force,’’ said DeChambeau, who stressed that over his latest individual accomplishment.

Bryson DeChambeau posted a 58 a few weeks ago but his 63 was just as stunning at Rich Harvest.

“All four of us would rather win (as individuals) but the team got a win that we should pull off,’’ said Lahiri.  “I don’t think we’ve ever been off the podium (LIV’s style of honoring the top three teams and individuals at the conclusion of each tournament).’’

Another strong showing made DeChambeau’s absence from this week’s Ryder Cup matches in Italy more noticeable.  U.S. captain Zach Johnson declared DeChambeau as a captain’s pick after the 58-61 performance at Greenbriar but apparently changed his mind. The only LIV player named to a Ryder Cup team was PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka. He was deserving, but his 26th place finish Sunday doesn’t suggest great things should be expected from him this week in Italy.

The Rich Harvest stop, which drew enthusiastic crowds again, didn’t impact LIV’s player-of-year race much.  DeChambeau, with $4 million won for his individual title and his share of the $3 million prize for the Crushers’ team victory, moved him into third place with $12,995,833.  Leader Talor Gooch has won $15,070,012 for the season’s 12 events and Cameron Smith, last year’s Rich Harvest winner, has $13,755,417.

Last tournament to improve on the individual money list is in Saudi Arabia Oct. 13-15.  The LIV season, up from eight to 14 events this year, concludes with its team championship Oct. 20-22 at Doral, in Miami.





Munoz leads LIV; Koepka struggles with Ryder Cup closing in

Brooks Koepka has found Rich Harvest a long walk with the Ryder Cup closing in.


You’d think this week’s LIV tourney would – with all its crowd noise, music and other distractions – offer Brooks Koepka good preparation for next week’s Ryder Cup in Italy.

Koepka is the only LIV player on either the U.S. or European teams and he’ll be in his fourth straight Ryder Cup. LIV has arranged a special flight for him directly from Chicago to Rome, and he’ll be on his way as soon as his final round at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove is over on Sunday.

The rest of the U.S. team will be on a charter that takes off earlier on Sunday so Koepka is traveling solo.  The question is, will he be ready for the craziness that the popular team competition always creates. His play over two days at Rich Harvest hasn’t been encouraging, though he was greeted with chants of “USA! USA!’’ as Round 2 wound down on Saturday.

Koepka goes into Sunday’s final round in a tie for 14th place, and is eight strokes behind leader Sebastian Munoz of Colombia. Not only that, but Koepka departs with some concerns.  He has a new-born son in Florida with wife Jena and his younger brother Chase is struggling with his own golf game.

Chase, 29 and four years younger than Brooks, is in LIV’s dreaded Drop Zone. Brooks and Chase are teammates on LIV’s Smash team – but may not be for long.  Chase ranks 48th in the circuit’s point standings and those ranked 45 or higher will be relegated out of the league after the last two tournaments.

Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz was all smiles after his 63 on Saturday. (Joy Sarver Photos)

In effect, Brooks, the Smash captain, may have to drop Chase from his roster. Last year Chase tied for eighth at Rich Harvest and made a hole-in-one in the stop in Australia.  He needs two strong finishes this year, however, and he enters Sunday’s round in 46th place among 48 starters.

“We spent the last two weeks together.  He’s come to practice with me every day,’’ said Brooks.  “He works hard.  I’ll give him that.  That’s why I haven’t gotten on him.  I’m proud of him.’’

Brooks has his own issues now. U.S. captain Zach Johnson made him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. His LIV status threatened to make him ineligible but a loophole – he’s also a member of the PGA of America – made his selection possible.

“I would have liked to make it on my own, but I’m just happy to be on the team,’’ said Brooks.  “My whole mindset has been to practice for it the last few weeks.  It’s one of the six-seven biggest sporting events.  I like it when there’s a little more eyeballs, a little bit more pressure.’’

He’ll get plenty of that in Italy and figures to be paired with a Ryder Cup rookie, U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark.  They were regular playing partners in practice rounds at PGA Tour events before Brooks joined LIV on June 22, 2022.

Beset by injuries in recent years, Brooks got healthy again and won this year’s PGA Championship – his fifth major title – and tied for second at the Masters. He was no threat to Munoz in the third round, and only India’s Anirban Lahiri was.

Munoz, who played at Rich Harvest as a collegiate play at North Texas State and also represented Colombia in the 2020 Olympics, shot an 8-under-par 63 that started with three straight birdies and included two eagles after that. He’s at 13-under-par 129 for the first 36 holes and leads Lahiri by three shots.  Next in line are American Dustin Johnson and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer. They trail Munoz by five.

In the team competition Munoz’ Torque squad and Ancer’s Fireballs are tied for the lead. They are four shots ahead of Lahiri’s Crushers and Johnson’s 4Aces, who are tied for third.

Neither Munoz nor Lahiri has won on the LIV Tour.  Munoz was second at Orlando in April, edged out by Koepka.  Lahiri was runner-up in Australia and again in the last tournament at Bedminster, N.J. Munoz is 12th on the season money list, Lahiri 15th.




Garcia among LIV leaders after raucous round at Rich Harvest

Sergio Garcia moved on from Ryder Cup snub by shooting 66  in LIV tourney. (Joy Sarver Photos)

The second version of the LIV Tour’s Chicago stop at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove got off to a rousing start Friday, complete with blaring music and a countdown that created excitement for a crowd that resembled last year’s even less-than-ideal weather.

Four parachute jumpers landed on the 18th green seconds before defending champion Cameron Smith hit the first tee shot off No. 1. Then the focal point shifted to the new “Party Hole’’ – the par-3 seventeenth that was patterned after a hole in Australia but appeared a miniature version of No. 16 of the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open where over 40,000 can watch at once.

Welcome, again, to LIV Golf Chicago.  The fun atmosphere didn’t produce a clearcut leader in the first round, but one of the five co-leaders stood out.  Spain’s Sergio Garcia, usually a European mainstay in the Ryder Cup, wasn’t picked for next week’s team shootout in Italy because he was among the nine DP World Tour players who defected to the LIV Tour.  Winning at Rich Harvest might mitigate his disappointment, but the Ryder Cup snub still hurts.

“It is what it is,’’ said Garcia.  “I’m where I’m happy.  I’d love to be part of (the Ryder Cup) but we’ve got to move on. Europe has a great team.  Hopefully they’ll play well and win the Cup.’’

Garcia said he “might’’ watch the Ryder Cup on TV next week, but it’d help if won his first LIV title first.  He’s yet to win as an individual on the LIV circuit but his Fireballs team has won two wins in team play. Garcia’s 5-under-par 66 was matched by Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa; Sebastian Munoz, of Colombia;  Jediah Morgan, of Australia; and Aniban Lahiri, of India.

In last year’s stop at Rich Harvest Garcia finished fourth behind Smith, Peter Uihlein and Dustin Johnson. Oosthuizen, a former champion in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, was sixth.

LIV commissioner Greg Norman mingled with young fans prior to the start of play.

Oosthuizen’s Stingers took the team lead Friday at 13-under-par with Garcia’s Fireballs and Lahiri’s Crushers a stroke back.  While the 48-player individual competition offers unusually big money — $4 million to Sunday’s champion from a $20 million purse, the team battle is lucrative, too, with $5 million on the line in that category.

Nineteen players are within two strokes of the individual lead.  The group a 3-under includes Brooks Koepka, the only LIV player in next week’s Ryder Cup; Dustin Johnson, who dominated LIV’s first season; and Talor Gooch, who is seeking his fourth win of 2023.  Gooch is one swing ahead of Smith, his lone rival for LIV’s tour champion in its second season.  Phil Mickelson, paired with Koepka and Smith, finished 48th (dead last) with a 4-over-par 75. Last year he was eighth in the tournament.

LIV broke with tradition by initiating a new scoring procedure.  Players no longer sign their scorecards in a tent after their rounds.  They signed off on the 18th green Friday, a measure seemingly designed to cut the waiting time for fans wanting to attend the post-round concerts.

That was a fan-friendly alteration, but it wasn’t as noticeable as the “Party Hole.’’ The fans fed off this one, set up at 160 yards. Covered bleachers lined both sides of the fairway and the players enjoyed the atmosphere.

In Friday’s round the team captains were paired in the first four groups.  On Saturday Munoz, Oosthuizen and Morgan will start at No. 1 and Lahiri and Garcia will join Jason Kokrak on No. 2. Kokrak is one of 10 players one stroke off the lead, and the others include Illinois alum Thomas Pieters and former Masters champion Patrick Reed.

The new “Party Hole,” the par-3 seventeenth, was a big hit with the fans at Rich Harvest.


Gooch is the man to watch at Rich Harvest

The big stars were Cameron Smith and Dustin Johnson when the LIV Tour made its Chicago debut at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove last year.  No surprise there.

Smith was the reigning British Open titlist and will be the defending champion when the Saudi-backed circuit returns to Rich Harvest this week. Johnson, winner of two major titles and the hero of the U.S. Ryder Cup romp in 2021 at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, was the big money winner in LIV’s first season and his 4Aces team won at Rich Harvest en route to topping the season standings.

When the circuit makes its Rich Harvest return this week, however, they must share the spotlight with  Talor Gooch.  He was one of Johnson’s 4Aces teammates last year but now plays for the RangeGoats. He also has won more individual titles than any other LIV player in the first 12 tournaments of the season. Succeeding Johnson as the individual champion is very much a possibility, as only Smith is a serious challenger with two individual events left.  Smith leads in the point stands but Gooch — with over $14 million in season winnings as an individual and team member — tops the money race.

“For sure, to be able to beat those guys over the course of a season is no easy task,’’ said Gooch, a 30-year old Oklahoma State product who turned professional in 2014.  “If you’re able to do it, that speaks volumes, so hopefully we can do that over the next two tournaments.’’

There’s big money on the line in both the individual and team events.  The purse for each of the two remaining individual competitions is $20 million, with the champion receiving $4 million.  There’s also $5 million available in team play at each event.

Rain or shine, Talor Gooch has contended on the LIV Tour this season. (Joy Sarver Photos)

The individual season champion will be decided in the next two tournaments – at Rich Harvest and the finale Oct. 13-15 in Saudi Arabia.  The team winner will be finalized after the season-ending team championship Oct. 20-22 at Trump National Doral in Florida.

Gooch won his three individual titles this year in a five-week stretch – in Australia, Singapore and Spain. Then Smith mounted a late season charge, winning twice in the last three events – in London and Bedminster, N.J.

This week’s Rich Harvest stop is thus key for Gooch, particularly on the individual side.

“I didn’t have a great tournament there last year, so I’m ready to go try and up for it,’’ he said.  His best finish in 2022 was a sixth-place at Boston, so his improvement this season has been dramatic. Once Smith got hot, however, Gooch cooled off with finishes of 22nd, 11th and 15th in the last three events.

In addition to chasing Smith Gooch is hopeful his RangeGoats team can get to the top of the leaderboard.  It’s now in fifth place with Johnson’s 4Aces still on top.  Gooch’s teammates this year are captain Bubba Watson, Harold Varner III and University of Illinois alum Thomas Pieters. The team battle remains very much up for grabs with three tournaments left.

“It’s just got to be us,’’ said Gooch.  “We’ve got four guys who can win any week.  Thomas hasn’t had a great season, but we all know he’s a great player, and Bubba has shown signs of being Bubba again.  Obviously Harold and I have played well, so at any point in time any of the four of us can carry the torch for this team.  Harold and I have to keep being us, and we know Bubba and Thomas are going to be great.  It’s just a matter of time.’’

It might be Pieters’ turn at Rich Harvest. His college career at Illinois ended 10 years ago and he joined LIV late, so didn’t play at Rich Harvest last year. He did spend time there in his college days, however

This week’s 48-man field includes 13 major championship winners, among them 2023 PGA Championship titlist Brooks Koepka who will join the U.S. Ryder Cup team for next week’s matches against the Europeans in Italy as soon as the last putt drops at Rich Harvest.



LIV Tour has found Chicago a welcoming place


The LIV Tour was a controversial mystery when it made its first Chicago appearance last year at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.

This week the Saudi-back circuit returns and its TV host, Jerry Foltz, can’t wait.  Pre-tournament festivities are on tap for Wednesday and Thursday before the 54-hole tournament tees off on Friday. (SEPT 22)

Foltz, who worked for The Golf Channel for 27 years, took a chance in signing on with what was immediately a serious rival for the long-established PGA Tour. He calls his decision “agonizing.’’

“Last year no one knew what to expect, and we were pleasantly shocked when we got to London for our first tournament,’’ said Foltz. “But, in every place we went, we were facing a strong campaign against us from a public relations standpoint from the monopoly that had gone on before us.’’

It wasn’t easy, given LIV’s limited TV coverage and the unusual format. LIV had only eight tournaments in its first season, and its shotgun starts, no-cut formats and team concept required some adjustment.

“It was tough from the TV standpoint because golfers were all over the course at the same time,’’ said Foltz. “Before that we only knew one way to cover golf.  In London we had these weird team names but the players like Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were completely for it.’’

Still the fans turned out in big numbers for the sixth tournament of the inaugural season at Rich Harvest.

“When we got to Chicago the world changed,’’ said Foltz.  `Everyone had a great time.’’

Working in LIV’s favor was the fact that the PGA Tour had not held a tournament in the Chicago area since 2020 and only sporadically in the few years before that.

“In Chicago that was an absolute shame,’’ said Foltz.  “The fans were so thirsty for it.  They deserved more than they have been getting.  I can’t see us ever leaving Chicago.’’

“I’m pumped to get back there,’’ said Australian Cameron Smith, last year’s individual champion.  “Obviously I had a good time last year.  I love the golf course, and the fans were awesome.  That’s what I remember the most.’’

This week’s tourney will be the 12th of the 14 slated for LIV’s second season with the individual tourney climax at Trump National Doral in Miami Oct. 20-22 and the team championship Nov. 3-5 in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV announced a “merger.’’   It’s hardly that, as no contracts have been signed and negotiations between representatives of the tours have been hush-hush. The PGA Tour has announced a schedule for 2024, LIV hasn’t.

“Next year we were told it’ll absolutely be business as usual,’’ said Foltz, “but there could be some change if they hammer out an agreement.  It would be nice if we could have interchangeable players and everybody got along.’’

That may be difficult, but Foltz insists “the team format won’t go away.  It brings in new fans. Golf had been stagnant for so long, but 30 percent of the people who attend LIV events had never been at a golf tournament before.’’

As per last year, LIV Golf Chicago will have 12 four-man teams competing.  The 48 players will also compete as individuals over 54 holes. Foltz predicts the names of teams and players will change for the 2024 campaign.

“Our first year of free agency will get crazy,’’ he predicted.  “There’ll be potential new signings and our owner/captains will have financial decisions that will go into it. They are completed invested in the team concept.  They all feel like renegades, but it brings a different passion to golf.’’