Ghim may be closing in on his first PGA Tour victory

Doug Ghim is making progress as a PGA Tour rookie, no doubt about that.

The 24-year old who grew up in Arlington Heights and attended Buffalo Grove High School before graduating from the University of Texas made the cut in five of his six tournaments in 2020, his best finish being a tie for 14th in the Bermuda Championship.

Most of the top players  competed only spaaringly in those fall events of the PGA’s wrap-around 2020-21 season, but Ghim has been up to their challenge in the 2021 events. In the first seven of those he made the cut in five and had his best finish – a tie for fifth in the American Express Championship in January.

The last two weeks have been more revealing, however.

While his finishes haven’t been great Ghim has learned what it’s like at the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard.  He made it to that lofty position in the third round of both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.  His time at the top in both Florida stops was limited, but at least he got there.

Now Ghim’s problem is staying in contention. Getting in the hunt on “moving day’’ hasn’t been a problem, but finishing the job in Sunday’s final round has.

In the API at Bay Hill he was leading for only a few minutes, and in last week’s Players he was in command for only a few holes. At Bay Hill he got into contention by shooting a 65 in the third round but followed it with  a horrendous 81 in the final round.  The result? A drop of 29 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for 36th.

The strongest field of the season was on hand last week at The Players, and Ghim came charging on Saturday with a 68 after shooitng a 67 on Friday . He gained the lead on the 14th hole before surrendering it before the day was out to Lee Westwood, the runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill.

Ghim wound up with Justin Thomas as his final round playing partner.  They went off in front of the final twosome – DeChambeau and Westwood.  The moment was not lost on Ghim.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m 257th in the world (rankings),’’ Ghim told the media members gathered around him after the pairings were announced.  “To be associated with that (leaderboard pairing) is an honor and it’s a dream come true.  It’s definitely something that I always thought I could get to, and I’m just grateful to have the chance.’’

The next day Ghim learned, again, how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.  He shot 78 and dropped 26 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for 29th.

His two runs at the top of the leaderboard helped Ghim enjoy good paydays –$42,981 at Bay Hill and $96,125 at The Players – but the checks could have been much larger had Ghim held his game together when the pressure was the greatest.

Ghim didn’t look ahead after he held sole possession of the lead with four holes left in Round 3 at The Players.

“My goal was to get to the clubhouse, post a good number, be around the lead,’’ said Ghim.. “ Having the lead is great but it really, really doesn’t matter until you walk off the 18th hole (with it on Sunday).’’

While most of the tournaments on the PGA Tour have been played without fans, there were noticeable galleries the last two weeks. Ghim, whose parents are from Korea, was paired South Korea’s Sungjae Im the first rwo rounds.

“There was some confusion of who was who when I  played with Sungjae, and that was pretty funny,’’ said Ghim, “but it was great to have the fans back.  It was great to have my first Players be with fans.  It’s just not quite the same experience without a fan base.’’

A year ago The Players event was canceled after the first round when pandemic concerns exploded. More fans will likely know who Ghim is this week when the circuit moves to another Florida stop — the Honda Classic, at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.

As was the case after Bay Hill, Ghim took Sunday’s final round struggles in stride and felt he learned something watching playing partner Thomas  come from behind to grab the victory.  He congratulated Thomas in a tweet after the tournament.

“It was an honor to see it unfold, and can’t wait to draw back on the experience.  Looking forward to being in a similar experience soon,’’ tweeted Ghim.

For the first time this season three Chicago PGA Tour players – Ghim, Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald  — will be in the same event.

 

 

Rich looks ahead to the return of the Arnold Palmer Cup

Jerry Rich, the owner of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, arrived in Florida last week while the Arnold Palmer Invitational was in progress in Orlando and he’s already looking forward to the Arnold Palmer Cup – the first big tournament of the Chicago season.  It’ll be played at Rich Harvest from June 11-13.

“I’m so excited because I’m all about amateur golf,’’ said Rich, who has hosted 52 amateur events at Rich Harvest.  They included the 2015 Arnold  Palmer Cup, the 2015 Western Amateurs and the 2017 NCAA men’s and women’s finals.

Rich believes this 25th playing of the Arnold Palmer Cup could be his biggest tournament yet. The event matches teams of college stars ,one consisting of players from the United States and other an International squad. Unlike the 2015 playing this one will have men’s and women’s competition.

“I’m hoping the whole city of Chicago will turn out for it,’’ said Rich.  “I expect a lot of spectators because you can’t believe how good these collegiate players are today. These kids are unbelievable.’’

Rich is expecting crowds between 5,000 and 10,000 – much like those on the pro tours so far this year — but believes they could be bigger if pandemic restrictions are reduced.

“With our event being in June, I’m hoping that will be all over,’’ said Rich. “I’ve got space for 10,000 cars and would like to see 30,000 (spectators).’’

TOUR EDGE TIDBITS:  Batavia-based Tour Edge rocked PGA Tour Champions with its recent signing of Bernhard Langer, the circuit’s best player, but it was another Tour Edger — Tom Petrovic — who made the bigger splash in the Cologuard Championshi8p in Arizona last week.

Petrovic made two holes-in-one in the tournament, the first Champions player to accomplish that feat in 17 years.  Both were made with Tour Edge’s Exotics EXS Pro Forged irons. He made his aces at No.16 at Omni Tucson National in Round 1 of the 54-hole event and connected again at No. 14 in Round 2.

Petrovic tied for sixth in the Cologuard event, six strokes behind champion Kevin Sutherland. Langer tied for 14th.

COUNTDOWN TO AUGUSTA: Reese Wallace, of South Barrington, and Logan Keeter, of Northbrook, had a long wait to get to Augusta National, the site of next month’s  Masters, but now their coveted trip is less than a month away.  They’ll compete in the 2020 finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on April 4, even with the 2021 qualifying events already in progress.

The two Chicago area youngsters are among the 80 nation-wide who earned spots in the 2020 finals before pandemic concerns forced the Masters to reschedule its tournament from the usual April dates until November.  The club opted to further postpone the Drive, Chip and Putt preliminary, scheduling it before this year’s Masters. The two Chicago qualifiers will compete in the 10-11 age division.

This year’s Drive, Chip and Putt registration opened on March 2 and the elimination process will carry into the fall before the 80 qualifiers for Augusta at the 2022 Masters are determined.

TOUR TALK: Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, was briefly tied for the lead during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational while he was en route to posting a 65.  He faded to an 81 in Sunday’s final round, however and finished in a tie for 36th place. That meant a $42,381 payday.

Ghim, as well as Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, will be in the field for The Players Championship, which tees off Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL. Streelman is coming off a two-week break from tournament play. The Players was halted after one round in 2020 when pandemic concerns kicked in on March 12.  Play didn’t resume until June 11.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only player on the LPGA tour, earned her first check of 2021 in the circuit’s third tournament when she finished tied for 34th in the Drive On Championship in Ocala, FL., on Sunday. She earned $8,499.

BOOST FOR ESI: The number of spectators at the Chicago area’s only pro tour event of the year is uncertain, but those that do get into the May 27-30 Evans Scholars Invitational won’t have to pay an admission charge.

The PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour event will be back at The Glen Club, in Glenview, with Servpro of Glenview covering the ticket charges.  Servpro specializes in the cleanup and restoration of residential and commercial properties after fire, smoke or water damage and offers a wide range of cleaning services. The tournament proceeds go to the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars Foundation.

HERE AND THERE: Golftec has opened a state-of-the-art instruction and club fitting center in Schaumburg…The Under Armour Junior Tour for boys and girls 6-18 has announced its Chicago spring schedule.  First event is April 11 at Cantigny, in Wheaton.  Other stops are April 17 at Downers Grove, April 25 at Zigfield Troy in Woodridge, May 1 at Cog Hill in Palos Heights, May 15 at Flagg Creek in Countryside and May 22 at Rob Roy in Prospect Heights…..University of Illinois senior Michael Feagles is the Big Ten Golfer of the Week for the second straight w afeekter leading the Illini to victories in their first two tournaments of the year……Troon, a leading club management, development and marketing company, has opened a new corporate office in Chicago.

 

 

 

An 11-month layoff is no problem for Illini golfers

This year has been filled with changes for everyone, but some things never change.

The University of men’s golf team, for one thing. The Illini had their season halted in March by pandemic concerns, then came the cold weather in the Midwest. Eleven months after their last competition, however, the Illini didn’t miss a beat.

Coach Mike Small took his team to Florida for a warmup dual meeting against Illinois State, a 9-7 victory in a match play competiton on Feb. 6. Then came the first tournament – the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate in Alabama. Though Small has built a powerhouse at Illinois, the sharpness the Illini demonstrated there was beyond belief.

The Illini won last week’s 54-hole, 15-team event by 17 strokes and Illini senior Michael Feagles was the individual champion with rounds of 67-67-66, a 16-under-par performance that was the second-best in the history of the Illinois program.  Feagles went wire-to-wire to win  his title by eight strokes over teammate Jerry Ji.

“It was fun to get out and compete,’’ said Small. “These guys were to excited to play.  To see their excitement after what happened 11 months ago was just awesome.’’

Next comes the Louisiana State Invitational, which tees off on Friday with a stronger field than the one in Alabama. The busy February triggers a hectic spring for the Illini, who have events scheduled in Arizona and Georgia before playing back in the Midwest at tournaments hosted by Purdue and ;Ohio State in April.

“We’ve built a schedule that will test our team, both mentally and physically, and will prepare us to reach all our goals this season,’’ said Small.  The Big Ten tournament starts on April 30 and the NCAA tournament on May 17.

FLORIDA-BOUND:  Both the PGA and LPGA tours hold  tournaments in Florida this week. The PGA has a new site for the World Golf Championship’s Workday Championship.  It’ll be played at The Concession Club in Bradenton opposite the Puerto Rico Open.  Both tee off on Thursday. Neither Kevin Streelman nor Doug Ghim, of the current Chicago area tour players, will compete this week.

The LPGA, meanwhile, will be playing its first full-field event of 2021 — the Gainbridge Championship, at Lake Nona, near Orlando — beginning on Thursday. This one is most notable for Annika Sorenstam being in the field.  A Lake Nona member, the legendary Sorenstam is making her first tournament appearance in 13 years.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only LPGA member, will also be making her season debut at Lake Nona.

HERE AND THERE:  The Korn Ferry Tour opened its season in Florida last week with Northwestern alum David Lipsky finishing in a tie for 23rd and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Illinois alum Scott Langley in a tie for 34th.  The PGA’s satellite circuit doesn’t have another tournament until the Chitimacha Louisiana Open tees off on March 18…..Chicago golf lost one of its most inspiring figures with the passing of Coraine (Co) McArthur.  She was a long-time leader of the Women’s Western Golf Association, serving as its Foundation director for 40 years and winning its Woman of Distinction Award in 1998.The Kenilworth resident was 106 at the time of her passing….Kevin Streelman, long active with the PGA’s Player Advisory Committee, finished third in last week’s voting for that group’s presidency.   The honor went to Rory McIlroy…..SkyTrak Simulators have been added at the Cantigny Youth Links, in Wheaton…..Silver Lake, one of Chicago’s longest-standing public facilities in Orland Park, is now up for sale.  The 45-hole facility has been owned by the Coghill family since its opening…Heading the Illinois PGA’s list of 2020 award winners was Ruth Lake’s Mark Labiak, named Professional of the Year, and Glen View’s Chris Green, as Teacher of the Year….The IPGA Foundation, celebrating its 30th anniversary,  announced the kickoff to a $1 million capital campaign to raise funds for future programing.

 

 

 

 

Bernhard Langer signing is a big deal for Tour Edge

Champions Tour star Bernhard Langer  (left) joins forces with Tour Edge president David Glod.

Tour Edge, the Batavia-based golf club manufacturer, has thrived in recent years by signing top players on PGA Tour Champions.  On Monday Tour Edge president David Glod landed the biggest star on the 50-and-over circuit.

Bernhard Langer, still the Champions’ dominant player at 63 years old, has 41 wins on the circuit and that is second only to Hale  Irwin’s 45 on the all-time lists.  The German-born Langer is No. 1 on the current Charles Schwab Cup standings and leads the tour in scoring, putting, birdies and top-10 finishes  in the revised 2020-21 campaign.

Tour Edge also has Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Duffy Waldorf and Tim Petrovic on its Champions roster.  Langer will make his debut as a staff member on Feb. 26 in the Cologuard Classic in Arizona.

“I’m extremely happy to be joining the Tour Edge staff,’’ said Langer following his signing at the company’s headquarters.  “I have had some of their clubs in my bag for a long time.  They were the best option to get me exactly what I need to perform at the highest level.’’

Glod was ecstatic about the signing.

“To be able to sign this awe-inspiring icon to our staff is a crowning achievement in our 35 years as a golf brand,’’ Glod said.

STREELMAN ON THE SPOT:  This promises to be a big week for Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman on the PGA Tour.  The circuit’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tees off on Thursday and Streelman has had some strong showings in that event.

Last year Streelman finished second behind champion Nick Taylor and was one-stroke better than third-place Phil Mickelson.  Streelman also teamed with NFL star Larry Fitzgerald to win the team event for the second time in three years.  Only four teams have multiple wins in the event, which was first held in 1937.

Because of pandemic issues the team event won’t be held this year, however.  Only the professionals will compete and Streelman needs a strong showing if he hopes to play in April’s Masters. Despite a tie for 37th at California’s Torrey Pines and a tie for 22nd at Phoenix the last two weeks Streelman’s status on the Official World Golf Rankings has dropped.  He was No. 52 at the start of 2021 and is now No. 59.  The top 50 the week before the Masters get spots in the field at Augusta National.

HARDY’S FAST START: Northbrook’s Nick Hardy has been a Monday qualifier for two of the last four PGA Tour events and took advantage of the opportunities. He earned $113,850 for a tie for 14th in the Sony Open and another $23,853 for his tie for 42nd in Phoenix.  Those performances will help Hardy’s bank account, but not his status of the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour.

The Korn Ferry sends its top 25 at year’s end to the PGA Tour, and Hardy stands No. 15 after his showing in the 2020 events.  His PGA Tour winnings don’t count on the Korn Ferry standings. That circuit opens the 2021 portion of its season in two weeks at the Suncoast Classic in Florida.

Hardy needed to birdie the final five holes in the Monday qualifier at Phoenix to get into the starting field, and that burst carried over to the first two rounds of the tournament  proper (68-67) before weekend rounds of 71-70 dropped him down the leaderboard. aHHar

HERE AND THERE:  Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a PGA Tour rookie, had his best showing so far with a tie for fifth (worth $247,900) at The America Express in California.  He didn’t play in Phoenix but will be in the field this week at Pebble Beach….Matt Tullar has been named head professional at Cantigny, in Wheaton.  Tullar had been Patrick Lynch’s assistant since 2010.  Lynch resigned his post at the conclusion of last season….Sportsman’s Country Club, a Northbrook landmark since 1929, will have a new name once it re-opens following a year-long renovation. It’ll be called Heritage Oaks.,,,The Illinois PGA will conduct a new seven-tournament junior tour this year for players in the 13-18 age group. Announced sites include Merit Club, in Libertyville; Westmoreland, in Wilmette; Briarwood, in Deerfield; Flossmoor; and Onwentsia, in Lake Forest…..The next show on the Ziehm & Spears Podcast Series will spotlight Prospect Heights apparel company Golftini.

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Hawaii pays off big-time for Nick Hardy

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim are among the very best young golfers ever produced in the Chicago area. Ghim is a rookie on the PGA Tour and Hardy in his first season on the PGA’s development circuit – the Korn Ferry Tour.

Still, what were the chances that they’d be paired together in the PGA Tour’s first full-field event of 2021?

Ghim’s participation in last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii wasn’t unexpected. He had earned his PGA membership at the last qualifying session.  Hardy made the field  through a Monday qualifier.  It provided him some needed competition since the Korn Ferry schedule doesn’t kick in until February.

While Ghim missed the cut last week, Hardy came ready to play.  After winning a three-man playoff for the final spot in the starting field he covered the regulation 72 holes in 16-under-par total and finished in a tie for 14th place.  That earned him $113,850.

“I had Monday (qualified) into a few Korn Ferry events, but never into a PGA Tour event,’’ said Hardy after earning a shot against the sport’s best players.  “I did lose in a playoff (the last spot in a four-man battle leading into the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open).  That experience helped me (in Hawaii).  Having had that experience, I knew what to expect. I learned how to handle my emotions.’’

A University of Illinois product, Hardy qualified for three U.S. Opens and made the cut in 2015.  He also got into seven other PGA Tour events through sponsor invitations. Those experiences, some of which came when he was still an amateur, weren’t all good.  He made the cut in five of his first six events but had missed his last four cuts until the strong showing in Hawaii.

“I’m a much different golfer than I was during those four (missed cuts) events,’’ said Hardy, noting that three of the misses were by just one stroke.  “I’ve learned how to handle myself better, handle my emotions and my thoughts.  That’s what really helped me play well on the Korn Ferry Tour last year.’’

He will be a PGA Tour member if he remains in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry standings this season.

“I just feel I’m ready for the PGA Tour,’’ said Hardy.  “I really do feel I belong.’’

BULL VALLEY BONANZA:  Rarely have Chicago golf organizations announced their tournament schedules in January, but both the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association did this year. Both scheduled major tournaments at Bull Valley, which has never been a major tournament venue.

The private club in Woodstock landed the 101st CDGA Amateur, which will be played June 21-24, as well as the IPGA Match Play Championship May 10-13.  The IPGA Match Play has had a long run at Kemper Lakes in recent years.

The IPGA also announced last week that its schedule will have two other major changes. The Aug. 2-4  Illinois Open finals will again be played at just one course – Stonebridge, in Aurora. The biggest event for Illinois residents had used a two-course format to expand the finals, but that was scrapped during last season’s pandemic-impacted campaign.  Originally Stonebridge was to share host duties with Naperville neighbor White Eagle, but White Eagle wound up the lone site for the last 54 holes of the month-long competition as the finals were reduced from 264 players to 156.

Ivanhoe, meanwhile, will be the site of the IPGA Championship from Aug. 23-25.  That event had used a three-course rotation in recent years, and Ivanhoe – once the site of a Korn Ferry Tour stop – was not among the venues used.

Also notable on the CDGA calendar is the return of Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course, in Palos Park, for a notable competition.  The long-time Western Open and BMW Championship site will host a U.S. Open local qualifier in May 3.  Mistwood, in Romeoville, will be the site of the 90th Illinois State Amateur for the first time from July 20-22.

HERE AND THERE:  Mistwood head professional Frank Hohenadel had a hole-in-one, dropping an 8-iron from 170 yards in a PGA of America Winter Series event in Port St. Lucie, FL…..The Ziehm & Spears Podcast Series kicked off its second season last week.  The first campaign in 2020 included 40 weekly shows and the weekly format will be used again….The Western  Golf Association has confirmed that the Evans Scholars Invitational will return to The Glen Club, in Glenview, May 24-30.  Last year’s Korn Ferry stop was moved to Chicago Highlands, in Westchester, because The Glen couldn’t accommodate a late schedule revision .

 

 

 

Golf developments in 2020 were shocking, unprecedented

 

I’ve been reporting on golf for 52 years and never encountered a year like this one. The dreaded pandemic certainly made 2020 infamous in many ways, and that included the golf world.

What I’ll remember the most happened on March 12, when PGA commissioner Jay Monahan called a press conference during the first round of The Players Championship in Florida to announce that the remaining three rounds would be played without spectators.

That shocked all of us who were there, but later that night Monahan announced that the tournament would be canceled entirely and that the tournaments of the next four weeks were off as well.  That’s when we realized how serious this was. The shutdown was on.

On the local level the Chicago District Golf Association canceled the Illinois State Amateur and CDGA Amateur.  Mistwood Golf Club decided the Illinois Women’s Open wouldn’t be held.  The Western Golf Association dropped its two national youth championships.  The Illinois PGA didn’t even schedule an event until July.

While the drama of March 12 sticks out as the most impactful day of the golf season, the rest of it wasn’t so bad at all.  In fact, golf – more than any other sport – showed its resiliency.  No professional league got back in business quicker than the PGA Tour did.

The PGA Tour resumed tournament operations on June 11, and the three major American tournaments – the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship – were played, albeit at unusual times of the year. So was the BMW Championship, the FedEx Cup Playoff event at Olympia Fields that was the highlight of the Chicago golf calendar.  Sadly, the 50th anniversary of the John Deere Classic was a no-go.

Basically, the PGA and LPGA tour events were TV shows.  There were virtually no spectators, and media admissions were limited to only a handful of people who covered the tournaments on a weekly basis. From my perspective I saw but one event in person – a PGA Tour Champions event in late October.

Though my golf columns and even a few travel destination stops continued, watching all the big competitions only via television represented a major — and most unwelcome — lifestyle change.

On the more positive side, Western Golf Association personnel worked diligently to get youth caddies working again and its most high-profiles tournaments – the BMW, Korn Ferry Tour’s Evans Scholars Invitational and the Western Amateur – did get played. The Illinois PGA salvaged the Illinois Open and its next three biggest championships and the CDGA managed to conduct a few of its late-season events.

No golf segment was more determined than the women’s side, however. Who would have thought that  both the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA’s season-climaxing CME Group Championship could be played in December?

The tournament side, though, wasn’t the highlight of this golf season.  Some have suggested the pandemic may have even “saved’’ golf because it was one activity that allowed play outdoors during these difficult times.  Recreational play, despite restrictions nation-wide, boomed in 2020 and so did equipment sales.

No where was that more evident than in the Chicago market where public venues like Sportsman’s in Northbrook, Schaumburg Golf Club and Settler’s Hill in Geneva tackled major renovations despite the pandemic and new clubhouses were in the works at the Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and Fox Run, in Elk Grove,

By no means did the pandemic “save’’ golf, but it certainly stimulated interest in some quarters where it might have been lagging for a while.

Playing-wise the star of the show in 2020 was Dustin Johnson, winner of both the FedEx Cup and the Masters. Tiger Woods wasn’t a winner, but his 11-year old son Charley was when they paired up in the  PNC Championship this month.  TV viewers couldn’t help but note that father and son have identical swings despite the age difference.

While golf in 2020 turned out about as good as it possibly could in pandemic times, the 2021 season should be more exciting.  The British Open should be back.  The Olympics should have a golf competition in Tokyo.  The Ryder Cup, postponed a year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, will still be a fall attraction — just a year later than originally anticipated.

The pandemic didn’t diminish golf in 2020, and it may have even enhanced the sport for both its viewers and participants in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PGA Tour will make Delaware debut at the 2022 BMW Championship

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HERE AND THERE

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

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

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

 

 

Hopfinger has begun his run for a PGA Tour card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HERE AND THERE

 

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

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

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