This amateur golf doubleheader is not one to miss


Rarely has Illinois been treated to a golf tournament doubleheader as attractive as the one on tap for this week – and it’s all about the amateurs.

The Women’s Western Amateur has been played without interruption since 1901, and the 123rd staging begins on Tuesday at White Eagle, in Naperville.  The always popular Illinois State Amateur also tees off that day at Bloomington Country Club. This will be that tourney’s 92nd playing.

Obviously the players will be more familiar in the State Am, to be played at Bloomington for a record ninth time, but the Women’s Western – always one of the most prestigious events in women’s golf – may have its strongest field ever. The 120 competitors represent 29 states and 15 countries.

“Our partnership with the Western Golf Association (which began in 2019) has helped us strengthen our fields,’’ said Susan Buchanan, the WWGA president, “and our local players are getting better along with the national ones. They’ve realized that they can play in a big, strong national tournament without having to travel.’’

Geneva’s Sarah Arnold and New Lenox’ Grace Curran, who finished one-two in the Illinois Women’s State Amateur, are also Western contenders and Naperville’s Lisa Copeland,  the runner-up as a 15-year old in last year’s Western Junior. Is also in the field.

Defending champion this week is Teglao Jeeravivitaporn of Thailand, and she’ll be trying to become the first repeat winner since Meredith Duncan in 2000-01. The 2021 champion, Marissa Wenzler, is also competing.

In its rich history the tournament has had only nine back-to-back winners, the first being Chicago’s first great woman player, Bessie Anthony, who won the first three titles in 1901-03. She was the lone three-peater, and the best known of the others to win two in a row was Hall of Famer Louise Suggs, who won in 1946-47 in the years leading into the creation of the Ladies PGA in 1950.

Past Western Am winners also include Nancy Lopez (1976), Beth Daniel (1978), Cristie Kerr (1998), Grace Park (2003), Brittany Lang (2006), Stacy Lewis (2012) and Ariya Jutanugarn  (2012). Past Western competitors have won 327 times on the LPGA Tour, including 12 major titles, and made 28 Solheim Cup appearances.

While the field is stronger,  the venue is also tougher than the last two playings at Park Ridge and Sunset Ridge.  White Eagle was the site of LPGA tournaments from 1992-94 and also hosted two of the last three Illinois Opens. The original Arnold Palmer design was upgraded in recent years by Todd Quitno.

There will be 36 holes of stroke play qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday with the top 32 advancing to match play.  Matches will run Thursday through Saturday.

STATE AM: Hinsdale’s Mac McClear will defend his title at Bloomington and try to become the first repeat winner since Ethan Farnam.  He won in 2019 and 2021, with the pandemic canceling the event in 2020. Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell was the last to win in consecutive years (2002-03).

McClear, who won last year at Westmoreland in Wilmette, also captured two of the last three Big Ten individual while playing collegiately for Iowa. Last year he beat out Illinois’ Tommy Kuhl at Westmoreland, and Kuhl won’t be on hand this week.  He recently entered the professional ranks, but McClear will have one particularly tough opponent in Parker Wisdom, the home club hopeful.

Wisdom, who led Illinois Wesleyan to the Missouri Valley Conference title as a senior, tied for third in last year’s State Am.

The 132 players competing at Bloomington were determined after eight state-wide qualifying rounds in June. The full field of finalists will play 18 holes on Tuesday and Wednesday, then the field will be cut to the low 35 and ties for a 36-hole wrapup on Thursday.

Bloomington, which opened in 1896, last hosted the State Am in 2018 when Jordan Hahn was the winner.  At 6,561 yards and a par 70 it’ll be the shortest course to host the event since 2008.

Changes have boosted Nick Hardy’s golf game

Nick Hardy, along with father John, had a lot to be happy about during the John Deere Classic.

Beset by wrist problems, Nick Hardy’s rookie season on the PGA Tour didn’t go too well.  To retain his playing privileges for this season he had to perform well in the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Finals – and he did that.

Since then things have changed a lot for the University of Illinois alum who grew up in Northbrook. Now 27 and a pro since 2018, Hardy has come a long, long way in his second season on golf’s premier circuit.

Since his rookie season ended Hardy has hooked up with SWAG Golf, which meant a new putter and spiffy new golf bag.  He also showed a leaning toward Australia twice.  He married Elizabeth, who is from Sydney and spent two seasons playing golf professionally. Now together for seven years, they met when he was in college and helping coach Mike Small’s Illini win golf tournaments.

Another Australian entered Hardy’s life as well.  Gary Barter is now his coach, a replacement for long-time swing guru Brett Packee.

“I had a long relationship with Brett and learned a lot,’’ said Hardy.  “Sometimes you need extra opinions on some levels of your game.’’

So, Hardy turned to Barter, who also works with Matt Jones – an Australian golfer who is playing on the LIV Tour.

The switch, in some ways, is a strange one.  Hardy and Barter don’t see each other very much.

“He comes here (to the U.S.) every few months and we make it work,’’ said Hardy.  “Every few months we meet face to face. Sometimes that’s a help.  Maybe sometimes you get too much help. I take ownership of my game, and we’ve sprinkled in a lot of new things in the last year. But I’m very aware of certain things about golf that Brett has taught me.’’

The bottom line is that Hardy proclaims himself healthy, and the statistics show he is playing better. The winter months were difficult, as Hardy had a string of five straight missed cuts in February and March.

Then he teamed up with Davis Riley to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the PGA Tour’s only team event. Unlike an individual win Hardy didn’t get an invitation to the Masters or world ranking points, but it did give him a PGA Tour exemption through 2025 and FedEx Cup points.

Since that big win Hardy has made the cut in five of seven starts. Last week he finished with a 65 and wound up tied for 21st in the John Deere Classic. That boosted his FedEx Cup standing to No. 47, so he’s comfortably into the first event of the lucrative three-tournament postseason series and will be in the second – in August at Olympia Fields – if he can maintain that ranking.

Under new rules this season only the top 70 qualify for the playoffs and the top 50 after that one earn spots in the BMW Championship at Olympia. Only 30 go to the season-ending Tour Championship.

“I’m making strides at getting better,’’ said Hardy.  “I’m happy where I am now, and I feel very blessed for the help I’ve received to get where I am in this game.’’

HERE AND THERE: The 123rd Women’s Western Amateur tees off on Monday (JULY 17) at White Eagle in Naperville.  The field of 120 includes players from 29 states and 15 countries and the competitors also include Geneva’s Sarah Arnold and New Lenox’ Grace Curran, who finished one-two in this year’s Illinois Women’s State Amateur.

Shaun McElroy is departing as head professional at North Shore Country Club, in Glenview, to take a job at Estancia in Arizona.

The 92nd Illinois State Amateur begins its three-day run next Tuesday (JULY 18) at Bloomington Country Club.  Hinsdale’s Mac McClear, who has starred for Iowa in college golf, is the defending champion.



No 59, but Straka still wins at the John Deere Classic


Austrian Sepp Straka posted the best final round by a John Deere Classic champion.

SILVIS, IL. – Low numbers are nothing new at the John Deere Classic, and Sunday was no exception. Sepp Straka, far down the leaderboard at the start of the final round, shot 28 on the front nine at TPC Deere Run and strung four birdies on holes 11-14.

With four holes left Straka needed just one more birdie to shoot a 59.  Only one other player – Paul Goydos in 2010 – hit that milestone at the JDC.

Straka’s hot round took a strange twist, however.  That much-needed birdie never came. After three pars he hit an 8-iron approach shot from 180 yards into a pond left of the 18th green.

“My only bad shot.  I pulled it about seven yards left of my target,’’ said Straka.

A chip and two putts later he had a double bogey and – though Straka’s scorecard showed a 9-under-par 62 – the title was up for grabs.

The 62, matching the best round of the week, put Straka at 21-under-par 263 for his 72 holes.  Third-round leader Brendon Todd and Alex Smalley, aiming for his first PGA Tour win, had six holes left and Straka’s lead was down to two strokes.

“I wasn’t thinking about a 59,’’ insisted Straka, who was born in Austria but has lived in Georgia since he was 14 years old.  “As fun as it would have been to shoot a 59, I wasn’t going to change my game plan. It’s always better to win a golf tournament.’’

Straka went to the clubhouse to watch Todd and Smalley on television.  Todd got within a shot at one point but, when both players failed to make par at the par-5 seventh hole, Straka had his two-stroke lead back.

He was warming up on the practice range in anticipation of a playoff when both his rivals went to the No. 18 tee.  Both needed to make eagle on the finishing hole to force a playoff, and neither came close.

“It was stressful,’’ said Straka.  “Thankfully the playoff didn’t happen.’’

Post round concerts by Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton near the 18th fairway swelled the galleries for the JDC’s weekend rounds. (Photos by Joy Sarver)

Straka posted the lowest final round by a JDC champion, beating Payne Stewart’s 63 in 1982. It was also Straka’s career low on the PGA Tour, and he also had a 63 in Friday’s second round.

“It was pretty awesome,’’ he said. “The key here is getting the putter hot, and mine stayed hot.’’

A reason for that came via text from his putting coach on Thursday.

“We made a little tweak in my putting setup,’’ said Straka. “The toe of my putter was sticking up a little bit. All of a sudden I got hot.’’

Straka’s second win on tour – he captured the Honda Classic in Florida in WHEN – gave him a winner’s check of $1,258,000 from a purse of $7.4 million but he had an immediate expense, too.  He was staying with six other players at a home in Geneseo.  Among the others was defending champion J.T. Poston. Poston picked up the tab for the group of renters, and Straka did the same.

Ironically Todd was to be in the group but his family decided to join him so he rented a hotel room.

“I’ve known Sepp since he was in college at Georgia,’’ said Todd.  “He’s just a great guy, good personality, always happy for those around him.’’

With the win Straka moved up to No. 18 in the FedEx Playoff standings and No. 27 in the Official World Golf Rankings. He won in his third JDC appearance, having tied for 26th in 2019 and missing the cut in 2021.

Poston finished tied for sixth in his title defense after leading wire-to-wire last year. He was six shots behind Straka.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who shot a 65 on Sunday, was the best of Chicago connected players with a tie for 21st.  Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim was a shot behind Hardy in a tie for 26th and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who had a second-round 63 sandwiched in between three rounds at par 71, tied for 51st.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim had to escape a bunker on his last hole Sunday to happily finish in a tie for 26th at the John Deere Classic. Ghim was 65-67 in his middle in between to 70s.





Another first-time winner in the JDC? Smalley could be the man

Alex Smalley had his game in top form in the third round of the John Deere Classic. Can he do it again and become the 24th first-time winner at Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop?  (Joy Sarver Photos)

SILVIS, IL. – Every year a prominent story line at the John Deere Classic is who will be the next first-time winner on the PGA Tour and this year is no exception.

The JDC has had 23 champions who won for the first time in its 51-year history. That’s an extraordinarily high number, and they range from big names like Deane Beman, D.A. Weibring, Payne Stewart, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau to the not-so-famous like Mike Morley, Blaine McCallister, J.L. Lewis, Michael Clark II, David Gossett and Michael Kim.

The stage was set to add another first-timer to the list Saturday when Alex Smalley charged into contention with the best score of the week – a 9-under-par 62 —  in the third round at TPC Deere Run.

Smalley will start Sunday’s final round one shot behind leader Brendon Todd, who shot 66 on Saturday. He stands at 16-under-par 197 after 54 holes and won’t be in the “first win’’ battle because he already has three titles on the PGA Tour. That doesn’t lessen the intensity ahead in the final 18 holes.

“You always want to be the guy being chased,’’ said Todd. “It’s just head down and made birdies.  It’s going to be hard to run away and hide here.’’

Especially considering his closest pursuers. Smalley’s colleagues at one back include Denny McCarthy and Adam Schenk. They’re also hungry for that first win, but Smalley fits into the list of new champions perfectly if he can get the job done. He has special ties to the JDC.

The JDC has always been receptive to giving promising young players a chance through its issuing of sponsor’s exemptions each year.  Smalley wasn’t one of those lucky ones, but he has his own story to tell.

Smalley Monday qualified for the JDC in 2021 with his mother Maria  working as his caddie.

His agent landed Smalley a veteran caddie, Don Donatello, in time for the tournament that year and he tied for 47th. That meant a $17,339 payday for a young player just out of Duke University who hadn’t earned his PGA Tour card yet.

Donatello became his regular caddie and last year they came back and did even better. Smalley tied for 16th and earned $115,141.

Now TPC Deere Run seems the perfect place for Smalley’s first PGA Tour win after his hot round Saturday. He started birdie-eagle, shot 30 on the front nine and added four birdies on the back side.

“It was a dream start,’’ admitted Smalley. “I feel comfortable here.  After my first experience here in 2021 I liked the course. I like the atmosphere, the vibes, at the tournament. I don’t know why the next first-time winner here couldn’t be me.’’

The only trouble with that is that a few other players know the JDC’s reputation for first-time winners. They feel the same way and have come tantalizingly close already this year.

McCarthy lost to Norway’s Viktor Hovland in a playoff at the Memorial. Schenk, who also used Donatello as his caddie in the past, has two runner-up finishes.

When the last putt drops the champion will get $1,258,000 from a $7.4 million purse.  A spot in the British Open, coming up in two weeks at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, is also on the line.

That’s particularly enticing for Smalley, who will play in next week’s Scottish Open no matter how the JDC turns out but still hopes to play in the British, the year’s last major championship.

Last year he missed a spot in the British when he made bogey on the last hole of the Scottish Open. He has a history at Hoylake, though. The 2019 Walker Cup amateur team matches were played there, and Smalley was a star for the U.S. team.

“I was 3-1 in the matches, and that was the first Walker Cup we won on foreign soil since 2007, so I certainly have good memories there,’’ said Smalley. “It was also the first time I played links golf.  It would be great to go back and draw on those memories.’’

Brendon Todd took the lead in the JDC but there’s still one round to go.



Streelman posts his best round ever in the John Deere Classic

Kevin Streelman celebrates his best round ever in Illinois’ only annual PGA stop.


SILVIS, IL. – Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman has been Chicago’s best PGA Tour player for years, but this season hasn’t been one of his best. Qualifying for the FedEx Cup Playoffs was even in serious doubt when the John Deere Classic teed off this week.

Only players ranked in the top 70 in the FedEx point standings qualify for the first  event of the lucrative three-tournament series that starts on Aug. 10. Streelman is No. 116 now, but still hopeful.

He should be, especially after shooting Friday’s low round – an 8-under-par 63 – in the second round of the JDC.

“My goal was always to get to 45 (years of age), then be home with my family for a few years before Champions,’’ said Streelman, who is 44 and can’t play on PGA Tour Champions until he’s 50. “But now that I feel I can shoot scores like this I’m not ready to give it up yet.’’

Streelman went from being in danger of missing the 36-hole cut to getting into a tie for 10th place. He’s within five shots of leader Cameron Young, last year’s PGA Tour rookie-of-the-year who had a 65-64 start.

A strong weekend showing at TPC Deere Run would help Streelman’s playoff hopes significantly and – if he does crack the top 70 – there’s the fact that one of the $20 million playoff events is like a home game.  The BMW Championship is back in the Chicago area, at Olympia Fields’ North Course. It tees off on Aug.17

Streelman played that course when it was used in the 2020 playoffs. The BMW hasn’t been back in the Chicago area since then.

“I love that golf course and I love the renovation it had,’’ said Streelman, “but the course was really rough in that playoff year.’’

Streelman will play in next week’s Barbasol tourney in Kentucky, then take a week off before the last two regular season tournaments – the 3M Open in Minnesota and the Wyndham Championship in South Carolina. Then, even if he cracks the top 70 to get into postseason play, he needs to be in the top 50 after the first playoff event to qualify for Olympia Fields.

“I’ve had my PGA Tour card for 16 years, and I’m proud of that,’’ said Streelman, “but what you really remember are the chances that you’ve had. If I have two more rounds like this one (the 63) I should be fine.’’

Making it to this year’s playoffs is a big challenge now, but there have been other distractions this year in addition to his results in tournament play.  First came the retirement of Tim Clarke, the long-time president of Wilson’s Golf Division. He is Streelman’s “dear friend, like a big brother,’’ and Streelman’s contract with the Chicago equipment manufacturer ends after this year. He’d like an extension.

Then there has been the ongoing battle between the PGA and LIV Tour.  Streelman, a member of several PGA committees, has been an outspoken critic of LIV. The announcement of a “merger’’ of the two tours has left the players in the dark and the month-long leave of absence of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is puzzling, even though the PGA Tour announced Friday that Monahan would resume his duties on July 17.

“Honestly we don’t know much more than anybody else,’’ said Streelman.  “The media articles seem accurate, but we haven’t heard from Jay, and that’s strange.  I hope he’s OK, but you’d think we would have heard something by now.’’

Streelman heard something from his caddie, Mike Bestor, that triggered his great round on Friday. His par 71 in the first round was not encouraging.

“I actually hit the ball fine, but Mikey helped me with my putting last night,’’ said Streelman.  “It was one of those 7 p.m. emergency sessions.  He had me adjust my eye line to the left a touch, and I could see the putt line a little cleaner.  I had been tilting.’’

There’s  no time for “tilting’’ now. Low scores are usually commonplace at the JDC, and that’s more so the case this year.  Streelman posted one of five 63s on Friday.  One of the others was by Michael Thorbjornsen, and his was the lowest round ever by an amateur at the JDC.

Still, Streelman climbed 72 places on the leaderboard with his big round.




How `Swede’ it is at the John Deere Classic

A golfer from Sweden was expected to contend in the John Deere Classic this week, but it wasn’t Jonas Blixt in Thursday’s opening round.

Blixt, a 39-year old journeyman, has won three times on the PGA Tour, the last time in the 2016-17 season. He hadn’t even played in a PGA Tour since the Byron Nelson tournament in May, and hadn’t survived a 36-hole in five of his eight tournaments this season.

All that changed once he got to TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis, IL. Blixt, an early starter playing in ideal weather conditions, made four birdies and a 43-foot eagle putt in his final eight holes to post a 9-under-par 62.

Blixt also made an eagle on the par-5 second hole.  He shot 29 on TPC Deere Run’s back side and ended the day with a two-stroke lead on Grayson Murray, a player who has been similarly unspectacular the last few years.  His 64 was his best round in three years.

Though their scores were great on Thursday, their games have been in decline.  Blixt arrived in the Quad Cities with a No. 210 ranking in the FedEx Cup standings, with only the top 70 advancing to postseaon play, and he is No. 842 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Murray, 29, is No. 221 in the FedEx and 225 in the OWGR. He got a big boost by winning an event on the Korn Ferry Tour a month ago.

So, what happened to turn their games around?

“I saw my swing coach back home (he lives in Jacksonville, FL., now) and, after six weeks off I just tried to put some swings on it,’’ said Blixt, who played collegiately at Florida State.  “It worked out.’’

The two eagles were obviously the key.

“Those holes, if you take advantage of them, you’re really happy,’’ said Blixt.  “I was happy to make those (eagles) and get going.’’

Murray was bogey-free in the afternoon until his approach to No. 18 landed in a green-side bunker.  He couldn’t get up-and-down to save par but had no complaints.

“I missed a couple of birdie chances early, but stayed patient and it worked out,’’ he said.  “I had such a solid back nine. I’ll take it, even with the bogey to finish.  I’m in a good position going forward.’’

The question is can Blixt and Murray stay there?  Time will tell.

Pre-tournament talk centered on another Swede, 23-year old Ludvig Aberg. He’s shown great promise since sweeping all three collegiate player-of-the-year awards in his final season at Texas Tech. He’s in his fourth PGA Tour event since turning pro and finished in the top 25 twice.

Counting his amateur days Aberg appeared in five PGA Tour events and made the cut in every one. He has been getting noticed, and the JDC gave him a special pairing in Wednesday’s pro-am.  He played the front nine with the event’s celebrity, Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark. The popular Clark swelled the galleries and impressed Aberg.

“She’s a rock star.  I was just a passenger,’’ said Aberg.  “It was cool.’’

Last week in Detroit he was paired for two rounds with Luke Donald, the European Ryder Cup champion. That spiked talk of Aberg possibly being a Ryder Cup selection for Europe. He called Donald “a great guy’’ but was guarded about the Ryder Cup.

“If I was asked about the Ryder Cup a few weeks ago I’d have said `no way’ because I was still in college,’’ said Aberg.  “All I can do is prepare for every tournament and see where that takes me.’’

Next week it’ll take him to the Scottish Open, the last stop before the year’s final major – the British Open.

Aberg’s 68 on Thursday matched the score of defending champion J.T. Poston, who – like Blixt – started with a 62 en route to leading wire to wire last year.

Best of the Illinois contingent was Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who is tied for 13th after posting a 67. Doug Ghim, D.A. Points and Dylan Wu all carded 70s and Kevin Streelman is at 71.



Poston faces a tough title defense in the JDC

The John Deere Classic tees off for the 52nd time on Thursday with a new tournament director, a pro-am with a celebrity participant whose fame comes in basketball, a pair of weekend post-round concerts featuring high-profile entertainers and a new contract with the PGA Tour that will assure the tournament stays in the Quad Cities for at least three more years. The prize money is also higher, to $7.4 million – a $300,000 increase.

What’s not new is the defending champion who brings the same good vibes that he always brought to the tournament.  J.T. Poston was a wire to wire winner last year, his second win on the PGA Tour but the first was back in 2019.

“This is such a great community.  I’ve said it for several years, even before winning,’’ said Poston.  It just feels like home.  I’m a North Carolina guy, and it matches the community where I grew up.’’

The new tournament director is Andrew Lehman, who replaced the retired Clair Peterson.  The celebrity in Wednesday’s pro-am is Caitlin Clark, the star of the Iowa women’s team that was the runner-up in the NCAA tournament.  The entertainers are Darius Rucker, on Saturday, and Blake Shelton, on Sunday.

When the tourney begins its 72-hole run on Thursday the focus won’t all be on Poston.  The field is stronger this year, with seven players ranked in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings.  There were none the last two years.

Figuring to be Poston’s top challengers are Cameron Young (ranked 19th), Russell Henley (29th), Denny McCarthy (34th), Sepp Straka (37th), Chris Kirk (41st), Nick Taylor (45th) and Seamus Power (50th). Poston is No.  62 in a year that saw him tie for 34th at April’s Masters and then miss five of his last seven cuts. He took the last two weeks off to prepare for his JDC title defense.

There are also 53 of the top 100 in the FedEx Cup rankings.  The top 70 qualify for the post-season playoffs as compared to 125 in previous years.  Ranked high in that category are Canadian Open titlist Taylor (9), Grillo (20), McCarthy (21), Power (23), Kirk (24) and Taylor Moore (28).

The U.S. Ryder Cup champion, Zach Johnson, is also back for his 21st consecutive playing in the JDC and he’ll also be paired with Clark in the pro-am.

Only past winner Brian Harman is notable among the late withdrawals but the most intriguing of the 156 starters is another past champion.  Michael Kim won his first PGA Tour title in the 2018 JDC and set the tournament scoring record of 27 under par in the process.  Then his game went sour, as he missed 19 of 20 cuts the following year.  That dropped him to the Korn Ferry Tour, but Kim has since regained his PGA Tour membership.  He’s yet to show the spectacular form that he did at TPC Deere Run five years ago, however.

HERE AND THERE:  Jaime Fischer, a teaching professional at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, tied for seventh in last week’s rain-hampered Senior LPGA Championship in Jasper, Ind.  She played the 54 holes in 1-under-par 215 and was nine strokes behind champion Angela Stanford, who will compete in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Caliifornia’s Pebble Beach.

Bernard Langer notched his 46th  win on PGA Tour Champions at the U.S. Senior Open in Wisconsin on Sunday, breaking a record set by Hale Irwin.  Langer’s accomplishment provided another big boost for Batavia’s Tour Edge club manufacturer which had the foresight to sign Langer as an ambassador. At 65 Langer’s achievement is impressive, but he revealed afterwards that his health isn’t.  “I’m very human,’’  he said.  “I’ve got two bad knees and it hurts bending down and staying down.  Reading putts is very hard because I figure I’m bending down 200 times a day when I play 18 holes.  That’s a lot of bending down.’’

Geneva’s Sarah Arnold and New Lenox’  Grace Curran, the finalists in the Illinois Women’s State Amateur two weeks ago, survived the qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Indian Hill, in Winnetka, but DeKalb’s Emma Carpenter was the medalist there with a 1-under-par 70.  The finals are Aug. 7-13 at California’s Bel-Air Country Club.

Barrington’s Robert Beaubien was the winner of the 103rd Chicago District Amateur at Lake Shore, in Glencoe.  The Biltmore member and fifth-year senior at Illinois Wesleyan, beat Lake Forest’s Danny Fisher 6 and 5 in the title match. Fisher plays out of Lake Bluff Golf Club.







This PGA tourney shows it can change with the times


The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, has never had a staging like the one coming up in two weeks.  Professional golf has changed dramatically this year, and so has the JDC.

Andrew Lehman is the JDC’s new tournament director, replacing the retired Clair Peterson. This isn’t Lehman’s first rodeo, but he inherited a challenging situation. Just a few months ago there was even concern that this JDC would be the last.  The sponsor for 25 years, Moline-based John Deere, and the PGA Tour did not have a contractual agreement beyond this year’s tournament.  It runs July 5-9.

“In my estimation – and we (the tournament staff) didn’t have a seat at the table in the negotiations – we never had a fear that the tournament was going away,’’ said Lehman. “A lot of people in the community had some doubts because everyone was tight-lipped.  Not much information was going out, so there was a lot of uncertainty.’’

The uncertainty ended when the JDC and PGA Tour announced a three-year contract extension on June 5. Three-year commitments seem short in tournament golf, but the arrival of the LIV Tour and the developments surrounding it have changed everything.

“The golf world has flipped upside down more than once,’’ said Lehman.  “There aren’t seven-eight year extensions any more.  Now it’s more like three to five years, and Deere was smart to look at it that way.  Who knows what the golf world will look like in three years?’’

Lehman does know what the 52nd playing of the JDC will look like.

“This is Year 17 for me, and I was blessed to be with Clair for 16,’’ said Lehman.  “This one looks entirely different.’’

For starters there’s big name entertainers performing on the 18th fairway after play ends on Saturday and Sunday.  On Saturday it’ll be Darius Rucker and on Sunday it’s Blake Shelton.  Music has been a part of other JDC’s, but not like this one. There’ll be no seating, but the on-course viewing is targeted to accommodate between 5,000 and 7,000 spectators with the concerts start at 5:45 p.m.

“We’ll close our gates at 4 p.m. on those days.  Our goal is for tickets to drive people to the golf tournament and have them stay for the concert,’’ said Lehman.

The Wednesday pro-am will be different, too.  Caitlin Clark, the star of the Iowa women’s basketball team that made a run to the title game of the NCAA tournament, will play with Quad Cities favorite Zach Johnson.  Clark will be the first “celebrity’’ in the pro-am since Bill Murray participated in 2016.

Young stars – former Western Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, NCAA medalist Gorden Sargent and Illinois alum Tommy  Kuhl — again dominate the sponsor exemptions but the whole field will be stronger.  The JDC had no players in the top 50 of the world rankings the last two years, but seven have entered this time and a few more might sign up before the deadline on Friday.

The influx of PGA Tour players may be due in part to the return of a jet.

The availability of a jet across the pond – a brainchild of Peterson’s – boosted the field when the tourney was played the week before the British Open.  The jet was dropped when the JDC was given new dates for a year.

“Our charter is back,’’ said Lehman, “albeit to the Scottish Open instead of the British.  That has helped us, too.’’

SENIOR STARS: Mike Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, is back in player mode in a big way this week.  He was in the field for the Illinois Senior Open Monday and Tuesday at The Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and will compete again in the U.S. Senior Open, which tees off on Thursday at SentryWorld in Wisconsin.

Two Illinois teaching pros – Nicole Jeray of Mistwood in Romeoville, and Jamie Fischer of Conway Farms in Lake Forest – will be in the Senior LPGA Championship, which begins on Thursday (JUNE 29) at Sultan’s Run, in Jasper, Ind.

HERE AND THERE: The 103rd Chicago District Amateur teed off on Monday for a 36-hole qualifying session.  The top 32 advance to match play, which begins on Tuesday and concludes with the championship match on Thursday.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim tied for 15th in the PGA Tour’s Travelers tourney on Sunday – his third straight top-20 finish after having only one in his first 11 starts this season.

Hans Risvaer, an 18-year old Floridian, captured the 105th Western Junior title at Midlothian last week.  He’ll be back in the area to play in August’s Western Amateur at North Shore, in Glencoe.

The Western Golf Association’s 96th Women’s Junior tournament begins its four-day run Tuesday at Greenbriar Hills in Kirkwood, Mo.

A long-time Illinois golf tournament is in limbo

Last week the Illinois State Women’s Amateur celebrated its 90th anniversary with one of its most interesting tournaments. Two past champions decided the title in sudden death and an up-and-coming star emerged, too. That’s the good news.

Geneva’s Sarah Arnold couldn’t protect a 2-up lead in regulation play at The Grove, in Long Grove, but her 18-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole made her the champion again.

Arnold, who plays collegiately at Western Kentucky, was also the winner in 2019.  This time her victim in the final was Grace Curran, of New Lenox.  Curran, a college player at Minnesota, won the title in 2021 and lost in the finals the last two years.

A future star also surfaced. Campbell Ray, an eighth-grader, was the youngest player among the 32 who qualified for match play last week.  She will enter Stevenson High School in the fall.

Now for the bad news.  The Women’s State Am future is in limbo for 2024.

The Illinois State Women’s Golf Association, a downstate-based organization, has run short of volunteers and is planning to close operations.  A few years back the IWGA had 25 active board members.  Now it has 12 and six will be retiring at the end of this year. The Chicago District Golf Association and U.S. Golf Association provided rules officials and referees last week.

“I’m definitely bummed out that it may not continue next year,’’ said Arnold.  “It’s been awesome that I’ve been able to be a part of it, but maybe the CDGA will pick it up.’’

That’s a possibility, but no decision will be made on the tourney’s future until after this season.  The IWGA also conducts a junior tournament, the 44th playing of which will be Aug. 1-2 at Aldeen in Rockford, and a senior tourney, the 54th playing of which will be Sept. 19-21 at Oakwood in Coal Valley.

Arnold will have lots of tournaments left before school resumes. Arnold, who also works as a caddie at Glen Oak Country Club in Glen Ellyn, will play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier at Indian Hill, in Winnetka, on Monday (JUNE 26); the Women’s Western Amateur at White Eagle, in Naperville, July 17-22; and the Illinois Women’s Open at Mistwood, in Romeoville, July 24-25.

U.S. OPEN FLASHBACK: Los Angeles Country Club was kind to three of the Illinois-connected players who qualified for last week’s U.S. Open.  Northbrook’s Nick Hardy did the best, shooting 67 on Sunday to finish in a tie for 20th.  He earned $200,152.

Northwestern alum Dylan Wu and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman both failed to break 70 on the weekend.  Wu tied for 32nd and Streelman tied for 50th.

Gordon Sargent, a junior at Vanderbilt, was the low amateur, finishing in a tie for 39th.  He’ll be a sponsor’s exemption at next month’s John Deere Classic.

SHOCKED: Jerry Rich, owner of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove – the site of a LIV Tour event in September – was caught by surprise by last week’s announcement of a merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV last week.

“While I suspected this to be the inevitable result, I did not think it would happen so soon,’’ Rich said in his latest message to friends of Rich Harvest Farms.  “I am very happy.  What a great day for golf! LIV Golf has a fantastic product, bringing change to the golf world that it so sorely needed.’’

HERE AND THERE: Illinois alum Adrien Dumont de Chassart, won his first tournament on the Korn Ferry Tour after turning pro and on Sunday he nearly  made it two in a row.  Dumont de Chassart blew a four-stroke lead in the final round of the Wichita Open and lost the title to Ricky Castillo in a three-man playoff.

The Chicago District’s amateurs beat the Illinois PGA’s best 11 ½-5 ½ in the 61st Radix Cup matches at Oak Park Country Club.  It was the CDGA’s largest margin of victory since 2012, but the professionals still lead the series 37-22-2.

Cog Hill owner Frank Jemsek has been named the winner of the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

The first of seven qualifiers for the 74th men’s Illinois Open is Wednesday at Deerfield Golf Club.  The 54-hole finals begin July 31 at Flossmoor Country Club. The 103rd Chicago District Amateur begins its four-day run on Monday at Lake Shore, in Glencoe, and the 105th Western Junior concludes a three-day run at Midlothian on Thursday.

Oak Park’s Cameron Beeler won the Illinois PGA Assistants title at Briarwood, in Deerfield.



Illini alums come up big in Korn Ferry tourney


Michael Feagles, one of the University of Illinois’ stars of the recent past, shot the ninth sub-60 score in the history of the Korn Ferry Tour at last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am but he wasn’t the Illini alum to win the tournament.  Adrien Dumont de Chassart was – and it came in his first pro tournament.

The twists in this tournament on the PGA Tour’s alternative tour couldn’t match what happened when Nick Taylor snapped a 69-year dryspell for Canadian players by winning the Canadian Open on the PGA Tour, but it added to another big season for the Illini.

Feagles turned pro after his Illini career ended in 2021. He quickly made it to the Korn Ferry circuit, but was struggling until last week’s first round of the BMW event in South Carolina.

Then everything came together. Feagles made 12 birdies en route to carding his 59. His best finish during this year’s Korn Ferry campaignhad been a tie for 25th and he stood just 143rd in the circuit standings before his game caught fire.

“If you looked at my scores of late you probably would not see me doing this,’’ said Feagles in the immediate aftermath of his hot round.  “Golf’s just been doing that to me.  Certain weeks parts of my game will feel really good, and the other will feel like I never played before.  I’m finally feeling like I’m piecing it all together.’’

Feagles came to Illinois after growing up in Scottsdale, Ariz.  He needed just 23 putts in his milestone round, then posted rounds of 71-73-67 and finished in a tie for 15th.

Then it was Dumont de Chassart’s turn.  He was a star on coach Mike Small’s powerhouse that ended its season in the match play portion of the NCAA finals.  Thanks to a last round 65 Dumont de Chassart finished tied with Josh Teater at the top of the leaderboard at 21-under-par 264, then won the title in a playoff.

Illinois Women’s Amateur turns 90

The 90th playing of the Illinois Women’s Amateur began on Monday (JUNE 12) at The Grove, in Long Grove. Monday’s qualifying round determined the 32 players moving into the championship flight.  The first round of match play is on Tuesday (JUNE 13) with the quarterfinals and semifinals on Wednesday and the championship match on Thursday.

Megan Furtney, from St. Charles and a collegiate player at Duke, won the title last year at The Grove after being the tourney’s runner-up in 2021.

New pro at Kemper Lakes

Jim Miller, a former head professional at Evanston Golf Club, is back in the Chicago area as the head pro at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer.  Miller, who had been an Evanston assistant, moved up to the head job there when his father Hal retired.  Hal Miller went on to be named to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

After five years at Evanston Jim Miller moved to Bloomington Country Club as its head professional and served as president of the Illinois PGA from 2018-20. He replaced Matt Simon at Kemper.  Simon is now at The Grove.

HERE AND THERE – Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim was lost in the drama of Taylor’s dramatic win in the Canadian Open, but his tie for 12th was his best finish in 19 tournaments this season.

More drama could be coming this week in the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club.  Kevin Streelman, Nick Hardy, Dylan Wu and Northwestern amateur David Nyfjall are the local qualifiers. Thomas Pieters, an Illini alum, is also in the field.

Small has named his new assistant.  It’s Ruben Sondjaja, who played at Iowa State and was the assistant at his alma mater the last two years. He replaces Justin Badgett, who left to become director of collegiate relations with PGA Tour University.

Small was named GolfWeek men’s college coach of the year for the second time in three seasons. With the Illini season over Small returned as a tournament player and finished tie for 22nd in the PGA Tour Champions’ American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin. Steve Stricker, Small’s former college teammate at Illinois and the tournament host, won the title.

The 61st Radix Cup matches between the Illinois PGA’s best players and the top amateurs in the Chicago District Golf Association will be played Thursday at Oak Park Country Club.   The competition consists of six better ball matches.  The IPGA leads the series 37-21-2 but the CDGA won last year’s match 10-8.

Ted Pecora, a Winnetka resident and Bob O’Link member, captured the 21st CDGA Senior Amateur at Aurora Country Club, beating Terry Werner of Briarwood and Schererville, Ind., 5 & 3 in the final.

University of Illinois golfers Crystal Wang and Tommy Kuhl teamed up to win two matches and help the U.S. team to a 32-28 victory over an International squad in the 27th Palmer Cup matches at Laurel Valley, in Pennsylvania.