Golf `merger’ might bring peace, but it’ll take awhile

I had just begun a 10-hour drive back home to Sarasota when I got the word, via a phone call, of the “merger’’ between the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the LIV Tour.  I was shocked by the bombshell announcement, but just because of the timing.  I expected some sort of a resolution to golf’s biggest controversy in years would come at some point – just not this soon.

As the day progressed I enjoyed the colorful responses coming via Twitter from players and fans on both sides of the issue and, upon arriving at home, I watched the slanted version of the news provided by The Golf Channel.

The long day of travel gave me plenty of time to ponder what had happened.  Since most of my golf pundit buddies had their say, I wanted mine, too.

First of all, this “merger’’ may be a step toward peace in the golf world – and that’s a good thing. It’s not a merger yet, though.  It might be called a truce, because it was at least a way for the three tours to eliminate the costly litigation that would have soon ensued.

There’s a long, long way to go before there’s anything that might bring golfing peace, however. Though there’s nearly six months left in 2023, the “merger’’ announcement said there won’t be any changes until 2024.

Said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan in a memo to his players: “Many details need to be worked through as we develop a definitive agreement, which will ultimately require PGA Tour Policy Board approval.  And I know you have many questions.’’

Dylan Wu, the young tour player out of Northwestern, had one:  “Tell me why Jay Monahan basically got a promotion to CEO of all golf in the world by going back on everything he said the past two years.  Wish golf worked like that.  I guess money always wins.’’

Monahan heard more complaints in a closed-door meeting with his players on Tuesday.  He was called a hypocrite and, I suspect, a lot worse. Monahan owned up to that in a Golf Channel interview on Wednesday.

He’s been a difficult guy for me to figure out.  Monahan did a great job bringing his tour through the pandemic. Golf was up and running long before any of the other professional sports.  As for dealing with the threat LIV presented, his actions were questionable at best.

As for LIV, I’ve been to two of its tournaments – Florida stops at Doral and Orlando.  The galleries at both were significant and enthusiastic. I’ve never been pro-LIV, and I’ve  never been anti-LIV. Journalistically I have, as always, strived to be fair.  I’ve treated LIV for what it is – a fledgling golf tour.

Still, whenever I wrote about it, there was always some negative reaction. In a few instances it evened boarded on hate mail.

I like LIV’s inclusion of team competition to supplement individual play at its events, though the team part needs some fine-tuning.  I have no problem with the 54-hole formats and shotgun starts.  Just because that’s not the way the PGA Tour does it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

If you want to see top level golf in the Chicago area LIV is good opportunity.  The PGA Tour, after making the area an annual stop for decades, last staged one of its tournaments here in 2019.  (This year the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship is at Olympia Fields Aug. 17-20 – and nothing else is scheduled until the President’s Cup in 2026.  The LIV Tour stops at Rich Harvest Farms for the second straight year Sept. 22-24).

Hopefully the “merger’’ will reduce the number of times I hear terms like “sports-washing’’ and “blood money.’’ I like Dustin Johnson’s response when asked why he left the PGA Tour to join LIV.

“I make more money and work less,’’ said Johnson.  “Who wouldn’t?’’

A simple answer to a simple question. I can live with that.







Hardy, Streelman deliver with U.S. Open berths on the line


The “Longest Day in Golf’’ always produces plenty of drama, but this year’s – held on Monday – was particularly interesting. The ten 36-hole sectional qualifying tournaments held across the country sent four Chicago players to the 123rd U.S. Open, to be played June 15-18 at the Los Angeles Country Club.

Those who made it into the 156-man finals included Kevin Streelman, the PGA Tour veteran from Wheaton, and second-year PGA Tour member Nick Hardy, from Northbrook. Both missed the 36-hole in  the Memorial tournament, last week’s PGA Tour event, but got their games together at their U.S. Open qualifier – especially Hardy.  He posted a stunning 61 in his second 18 to get back to the Open.

Streelman, 44, stayed in Columbus to compete in the traditional sectional conducted at two nearby courses.  He finished in a tie for ninth place, and his 8-under-par 136 score was just good enough to earn a spot at Los Angeles Country Club.

The Columbus field is usually the biggest and strongest of the sectionals because of its proximity to the PGA Tour event.  Eleven Open spots were available for 103 competitors there.  Streelman tied for ninth with three others, among them amateur David Nyfjali, a member of the Northwestern golf team who also made it to the Open finals.

Making the Open is nothing new for Streelman.  He’s played in eight of them, with his best finish coming in a tie for 13th at Oakmont, in Pennsylvania, in 2016.

The Springfield, Ohio, sectional was again a charm for Hardy.  His 71-61 showing put in him third place with his sectional having 75 players battling for five spots in the Open. Though Hardy played in the Memorial he opted to compete for a U.S. Open berth in a sectional on a course where he had been successful before.

Hardy, 27, had played in four U.S. Opens and had his best showing last year with a tie for 14th at The Country Club, in Massachusetts.  He got into that one after being the first alternate in sectional play. Dylan Wu, a Northwestern alum who is also a PGA Tour member, was also a qualifier at Springfield after shooting 63-70 for a tie for fourth.

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick won last year’s U.S. Open. The U.S. Golf Association had nearly 10,000 entries for this year’s version and 84 were exempted into the starting field off past performances. Andy Pope, who qualified for five U.S. Opens and made the 36-hole cut in two of them, didn’t make it this time.  The former Glen Ellyn resident and Korn Ferry Tour regular lost out as the second alternate in a three-man playoff at Canoe Brook, in New Jersey. Pope, who won the Florida Open after dropping off the Korn Ferry circuit last year, had previously qualified via local and sectional qualifiers four times before coming up short on Monday.

The biggest contingent of Chicago-connected hopefuls was in Columbus where past Illinois Open champions Tee-K Kelly and Bryce Emory, Illinois alum Luke Guthrie and Northwestern alum and PGA Tour player David Lipsky all missed the cut.

Big news was also made off the course, at the John Deere Classic media preview for its 52nd playing at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.   John Deere and the PGA Tour announced that they have agreed to a three-year extension for John Deere to remain as title sponsor of the tourney.  Moline-based John Deere has been the title sponsor since 1998 and this year will mark its 25th anniversary in that role.

“The John Deere Classic is a significant example of one of the PGA Tour’s most engaged communities coming together to achieve great things,’’ said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. “As title sponsor John Deere has gone above and beyond to help create an outstanding experience for our players and fans while making a lasting impact with local non-profits.’’

Since its founding in 1971 the tournament has raised over $159 million for local charities. This year’s event is July 6-9.


Switching to the claw has improved Luke Donald’s putting


Luke Donald, a golfing legend from his days at Northwestern, was the No. 1 player in the world for 56 weeks back in 2011 and 2012. Then, after battling back problems, his game suffered and he even had trouble getting into some tournaments.

Now, though, Donald is Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. That’s made him a more active player again and it shows in his play. Last week he tied for 38th in the PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament in Ohio, his best finish in 11 starts this season. That’s not spectacular, but he was near the top of the leaderboard midway through the event after surviving the 36-hole cut for the fifth time in his last six events.

“My putting, since switching to the claw (grip) has gotten significantly better,’’ said Donald, who made the switch at the Valero Texas Open in April. “My statistics weren’t very good, especially from short distance.  I didn’t feel I was hitting the ball on line.  Those things happen sometimes when you to get ( to age) 45.’’

Donald called the somewhat radical grip change “a pretty easy switch,’’ and said he felt comfortable after only an hour of practicing with it.

The increase in tournament play came about because of his duties preparing the European team for Sept. 29-Oct. 1 Ryder Cup in Italy. His presence helps promote the big team event around the golf world.

“I’ve played quite a lot this year on both sides of the pond,’’ said Donald, “and I’ll be crossing the pond another couple times throughout the summer.  It’s a lot of travel, a lot of play, but I feel like me being at the courses, I can judge how the guys are playing by looking rather than watching on TV.  I can communicate with the players as well.  That’s important.’’

The Memorial wasn’t encouraging for just Donald.  A younger Northwestern alum, David Lipsky, was tied for the lead after 54 holes before finishing in a tie for 12th. Donald dropped down after shooting 76-76 on the weekend.  Lipsky blew up with a final round 77 but still cashed $410,000.

Lipsky, 34, attended the same California high school as up-and-coming hotshot Collin Morikawa. Lipsky, though, hasn’t won yet on the PGA Tour after 12 seasons as a pro.

“I’ve won at every stage of the game professionally, but I haven’t broken through on the PGA Tour,’’ said Lipsky.  “Hopefully that’s coming soon.  I know I can win.  I can close out tournaments.  I’m always excited to be in the hunt.’’

The Big Ten champion for Northwestern in 2010, Lipsky finished six strokes behind champion Victor Hovland at the Memorial, one of the circuit’s best-paying events.  Hovland won $3.6 million.

Hovland and Lipsky both stayed in the Columbus area for Monday’s 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier, one of 10 such events held around the country in what has become known as “The Longest Day in Golf.’’

With 36 holes of competition followed by the likelihood of playoffs the field for the 123rd Open proper, coming June 15-18 at Los Angeles Country Club, won’t be known until early Tuesday.   Hovland, already qualified for the Open, will caddie for Zach Bauchou.  They were college teammates at Okahoma State.

Lipsky is part of a four-man Chicago contingent in the 103-player sectional which offered 11 spots in the Open proper.  PGA Tour veteran Kevin Streelman and former Illinois Open champions Tee-K Kelly and Bryce Emory also competed there.

HERE AND THERE:  Caitlin Clark, the star of Iowa’s NCAA runner-up women’s basketball team, will play in the John Deere Classic pro-am on July 5 as part of a team anchored by Zach Johnson, the U.S. Ryder Cup champion.

The 21st Chicago District Golf Association Senior Amateur runs through Thursday at Aurora Country Club with 77 players in the 55-and-over age group in Monday’s stroke play determining the survivors for match play.

The Illinois PGA was a 3-2 winner over the CDGA in last week’s 33rd Thompson Cup matches for senior players at Chicago’s Ridge Country Club.

The Western Golf Association has established a partnership with Northbrook’s Swag Golf. Swag will become the official putter and headcover of the WGA and Evans Scholars Foundation.



PGA caddie switch; Illini advance in the NCAAs


The high drama at Sunday’s Charles Schwab Challenge on the PGA Tour centered on the eventual winner, Emiliano Grillo, and Adam Schenk, the loser in a two-hole playoff to Grillo in extra holes.  David Cooke, a two-time Illinois Open champion from Bolingbrook, was part of the drama, too. He has been Schenk’s caddie – but not last week.

“This was my first week with Brett (Swedberg),’’ Schenk said afterwards.  “We’re more or less doing a bag share towards the end of the year.  This was our first week with Brett, but David and I put in a lot of work , too.  I’m happy for everyone.  David is caddying for me next week at the Memorial.’’

Cooke was on Schenk’s bag when Talor Moore edged him in another tense tournament at the Valspar Championship in Florida in March. Cooke won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2015 at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, and took the title again in 2018 at The Glen Club, beating current PGA Tour player Nick Hardy by four shots.

Hardy, who became a winner on the PGA Tour at New Orleans in April, tied for 48th in the Schwab event.  It was played for the last time on the historic Colonial Country Club course in Texas. That layout will be torn up this week for a renovation but is to host the tournament again in 2024.

Cooke made a brief attempt to turn pro after his second Illinois Open win but decided to switch to caddying and was a regular with Schwenk, who is from Vincennes, Ind., and was a teammate of Cooke’s when both were freshmen at Purdue.  Cooke finished his collegiate career at North Carolina State.

The Schwab Challenge was also a big week for Kevin Streelman, the PGA Tour veteran from Wheaton. Though finishing bogey-bogey he finished in a tie for ninth – his best finish of the 2022-23 season.

ILLINI COACH CAN STILL PLAY:  Mike Small, the University of Illinois’ highly-successful men’s coach for the past 23 seasons, took a day off from preparing his team for this week’s NCAA finals to play in a qualifying round for the U.S. Senior Open at Flossmoor Country Club.

He wound up the co-medalist at Flossmoor, shooting a 1-under-par 71, then got back to getting one of his best teams ready for its 14th NCAA appearance in the last 15 years. The Illini did just fine, advancing through the 72-hole stroke play in third place to qualify for the two-day match play portion of the tournament that will determine the team champion.

Quarterfinals and semifinals are Tuesday  with the championship match on Wednesday (MAY 31).

While Small’s first priority is coaching the Illini, he has continued to be a competitive player.  He’s won 13 Illinois PGA Championships and four Illinois Opens.  His solid play at Flossmoor put him in his third U.S. Senior Open, on tap for June 29 to  July 2 at SentryWorld in Wisconsin. Small previously qualified for the Senior Open in 2016 and 2017.

CHITWOOD NAMED:  Joie Chitwood has been named executive director of the 2026 President’s Cup matches, to be played at Medinah Country Club.

Chitwood is a former Arnold Palmer Invitational director and longtime motorsports executive. The President’s Cup is a biannual team competition between the U.S. and an International squad. The U.S. has dominated the event, winning the most recent staging at Quail Hollow in North Carolina last year.

HERE AND THERE: TPC Deere Run, in downstate Silvis, is hosting a big tournament event even before the John Deere Classic returns in July.  The Advocates Professional Golf Association is conducting a 36-hole professional tournament Monday and Tuesday (MAY 29-30) with the winner getting $7,500 from a $25,000 purse. The APGA was formed in 2010 to bring greater diversity to golf.

Groundbreaking for the Canal Shores course in Evanston will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday (JUNE 1). The 100-year old public course is headed for a major renovation.

Cantigny Golf, in Wheaton, is waiving its base caddie fee of $20 throughout June in an effort to encourage customers to try caddies. The caddies will still receive the $20 fee directly from Cantigny.

Chad Proehl, teaching pro at Sugar Creek in Villa Park, finished 77th in the KitchenAid Senior Players Championship on Sunday.  It was the first tournament played at the PGA’s new headquarters in Frisco, TX. and Proehl was on the leaderboard in the club professional category.

Roy Biancalana, who also earned a spot in the Senior Players Championship, will lead the Illinois PGA team into the 33rd Thompson Cup matches at Chicago’s Ridge Country Club  on Thursday (JUNE 1).  It matches senior teams from the IPGA and Chicago District Golf Association.

Crystal Wang, a fifth-year senior on the Illinois women’s team, was named a first-team All-American by the Women’s Golf Coaches Assn.  Wang is the first Illini player so honored since her coach, Renee Sloan (formerly Heiken), was picked in 1993.



Len Ziehm is co-host of the Golfers on Golf Radio show that starts at 10 a.m.  on Saturdays at WNDZ (750-AM). His writings are available at






Lots of Illinois golfers could make it to the U.S. Open


It may seem weird, but golf’s second major championship of the year ended Sunday with Brooks Koepka’s victory in the PGA Championship after the third of the four majors was already – at least technically – well underway.

The 123rd U.S. Open proper doesn’t begin its 72-hole run until June 15-18 but that tournament annually draws a huge entry.  This year’s drew 9,693 players, and that number has to be whittled to 156 for the 72-hole finals at Los Angeles Country Club.

The elimination process started on April 17 with 109 local qualifiers held all around the U.S. as well as in Canada, Japan and England. Entering this week only one of those 18-hole sessions remained – on Monday (MAY 22) in Palmer, Alaska.  Next up are 13 sectionals, which send survivors directly to the U.S. Open.  Most will be held on June 5.

While Chicago again will be without a sectional qualifier, the Chicago District Golf Association conducted three locals and they produced some good results for local players.

In the first, at Cantigny in Wheaton, former Northern Illinois University star and 2020 Illinois Open champion Bryce Emory of Aurora was the medalist with a 68, one shot better than Park Ridge’s Tony Albano. They were among the five who advanced to sectional play and Brian Carroll, the reigning Illinois PGA player-of-the-year from The Hawk Country Club in St. Charles, was first alternate among the 84 starters.

The second was at Illini Country Club in Springfield, and the red hot University of Illinois men’s team had two of the five players to advance.  Sophomore Jackson Buchanan, the medalist with a 64, and Adrien Dumont de Chassart have a U.S. Open sectional coming up right after their college season ends with this week’s NCAA Championship in Arizona.

Luke Guthrie, an Illinois alum who has spent time on the pro tours, also was among those advancing and Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly, a two-time Illinois State Amateur champion and 2021 Illinois Open winner, was first alternate.

The third local, at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake, produced the best score – a 9-under-par 63 by Hinsdale’s Mac McClear, last year’s Illinois State Amateur champion and this year’ co-medalist in the Big Ten tournament while playing for Iowa.  It was also a bonanza for Northwestern, with current Wildcats James Imai and David Nyfjall advancing. Others  making it from Stonewall were Spring Grove’s Jordan Hahn and Wilmette’s Daniel Tanaka.

Some area players opted for locals outside the area.  Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope, a long-time Korn Ferry Tour player, advanced in Palm City, FL. Pope, no longer a tour player, won the Florida Open last year and has qualified for five U.S. Opens, making the cut in two of them.

Illinois alums Bryan Baumgarten and Varun Chopra qualified in South Bend and Lexington, FL., respectively.

Only 52 players, among them reigning John Deere Classic champion J.T. Poston,  were given exemptions into the final field by the U.S. Golf Association.  The locals cut those still eligible for a spot in Los Angeles to 530 for sectional play.

ILLINI ON THE SPOT: Coach Mike Small has a solid contender for the NCAA title when the finals begin a five-day run on Friday (MAY 26). The Illini, second to Georgia in last week’s regional play in Michigan, have been as high as No. 2 in the collegiate polls.

In addition to Buchanan and Dumont De Chassart, the Illini could have had a third survivor of the U.S. Open local qualifiers. Tommy Kuhl shot 62 at Illini Country Club before realizing he had improved his lies multiple times on aerated greens. That was against the rules and led to his withdrawal.

Matthis Besard and Piercen Hunt round out the squad that Small will take to the NCAA finals. He’s particularly high on Dumont DeChassart’s future in the game.

“He has another gear, and that’s something he wants to call upon more often,’’ said Small.  “He’ll be a first-team All-American.’’

Fifth-year seniors Dumont DeChassart and Kuhl have provided the leadership all season but it’s been a team effort for the Illini.

“Matthis, Jackson and Piercen have been a huge part of the last month of the season,’’ said Small.  “They’ve all had flashes of real good play.  If we can sustain that, then we’ve got something special.’’

HERE AND THERE:  The PGA Championship was tough on the five Illinois-connected players in the field. Only Illini alums Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry survived the 36-hole cut.  Detry, Luke Donald, Nick Hardy, Kevin Streelman and Dylan Wu are in the field for this week’s PGA Tour stop, the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas.

John Ramsey, of Glenview, defeated Chadd Slutzky, of Deer Park, in 19 holes in last week’s battle for the Chicago District Mid-Amateur title at Merit Club, in Libertyville. Then they boarded a plane together to compete as a team in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C. It ends on Wednesday (MAY 24).

John Schlaman is again the full-time director of golf at Eagle Ridge Resort, in Galena.


French has momentum going into PGA Championship


Club professionals rarely have an impact in the PGA Championship, but this week one might.  Chris French, the head professional at Aldeen — a public course operated by the Rockford Park District — is certainly playing well enough going into the event that tees off on Thursday at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.

Only the top 20 club professionals in their national championship two weeks ago in New Mexico earned spots in the PGA Championship field, and French was the only Illinois qualifier.  He needed a 4-under-par 68 in the final round to finish in a tie for 17th.

The good times didn’t stop there.  French won the Illinois Section’s first major of the season, taking the IPGA Match Play title at Bull Valley in Woodstock last week. He did it by taking two dramatic victories over players from Mistwood, in Romeoville, in his first and last matches.

Bobby Schmelter had French 2-down with two holes to play in the first round, but French won the 17th and 18th before closing out Schmelter on the 21st hole. In the final French trailed Andy Mickelson, Mistwood’s director of golf, entering the back nine.  French then won four straight holes before wrapping up the title 2 and 1.

And now for the big test.

“I’m just happy to be going,’’ said French. “I don’t have too many expectations.  I’m just going to try to have fun and maybe make the cut.’’

The PGA Championship brings out the world’s best players.  Justin Thomas won last year at Southern Hills in Oklahoma, edging the now injured Will Zalatoris in a playoff.  Mito Pereira had dominated that tournament until putting his tee shot in the water at the 72nd hole, dropping him into a tie for third. Pereira is one of 18 players on the controversial LIV Tour who are in the field at Oak Hill.

This field also has a bigger Illinois flavor than most years.  In addition to French  Northbrook PGA Tour member Nick Hardy will be in the tournament for the first time.  He qualified off his victory in April’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.  J.T. Poston is in thanks to his win in last year’s John Deere Classic. Belgian buddies Thomas Detry and Thomas Pieters – like Hardy former University of Illinois players – earned spots off their play in Europe and Luke Donald will tee off thanks to his being Europe’s Ryder Cup captain.

MINOR BLIP FOR ILLINI: Tommy Kuhl, a fifth-year senior at Illinois, shot a course record 62 at Illini Country Club in Springfield during last week’s U.S. Open local qualifying round.  That sounds great, but it wasn’t.

Kuhl was watching a playoff involving teammate Adrien Dumont de Chassart with another Illini player, Jason Buchanan.  Buchanan mentioned how hard it was putting on aerated greens.  That made Kuhl “feel sick to my stomach.’’ He had repaired aeration marks multiple times in his record round, realized that was against the rules and immediately told the rules official. His infraction took him out of sectional qualifying for the Open.


Kuhl and his teammates began a more important competition on Monday (MAY 15) when they took their No. 1 seed into an NCAA regional at Eagle Eye in Michigan.  The Illini women’s team bowed out of the NCAAs in their regional last week in San Antonio, TX.

The men may be coach Mike Small’s best team yet.  Kuhl and company are ranked No. 2 nationally in the GolfWeek poll and No. 3 in the Golf Stat rankings.  The Illini have won five regional titles, the last in 2019 at Myrtle Beach, S.C., and are making their 14th straight regional appearance.


The Chicago District Golf Association also began its 110th year of championship events on Monday with the CDGA Mid-Amateur at Merit Club in Libertyville. Like the NCAA regionals, it’ll wrap up on Wednesday.

French is Illinois’ hope in the PGA Championship


Having an Illinois club professional in the PGA Championship is a rarity, but there will be one this year. Chris French of Rockford made it into the field for the year’s second major championship at Oak Hill, in Rochester, N.Y. from May 15-21.

Though he works part of the year in California and spent time on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour French has a strong Illinois background.

He was an Illlinois high school medalist in Class 1A when he attended downstate Byron High School, and he also attended Rock Valley College, in Rockford, before turning pro in 2014.

After working as an assistant at Aldeen, Rockford’s well-respected public course, from 2014-19 the 37-year old French was  named the club’s head professional in 2021.  While he’s been a frequent contender in Illinois PGA  tournaments throughout his time at Aldeen French needed three tries in the PGA Club Professional Championship before making it to the PGA Championship.

“It means the world to me to have qualified,’’ said French.  “I’ve put my life into the game, like all PGA Professionals do.  I take a ton of pride in the amount of work I’ve put into my game, and the sacrifices I make to do so.’’

The top 20 in the PGA Professional Championship get spots against the top touring pros. As second alternate in the Illinois PGA qualifier, French almost didn’t make it to this month’s PGA Professional Championship.  Ten spots were available for Illinois pros, and French advanced only after two of the top 10 withdrew.

The PGA Professional Championship was played at Santa Ana Pueblo, in New Mexico. French shot 70-75 in the first two rounds to survive the 36-hole cut and a third-round 73 was good enough to get him into the final 18.

French was sharp when it counted the most, shooting a 4-under-par 68 – the third lowest score of Round 4 – to get him a tie for 17th.

“I felt my game was decent heading into the week, but with the poor weather we’ve had in Illinois lately it was tough to prepare,’’ he said.  “I got off to a good start in Round 1 but made some mental mistakes in Round 2, which put me in a tough spot.’’

He knew how tough it would be to get to the PGA Championship because he couldn’t crack the top 20 in his two previous PGA Professional Championships.  He tied for 29th in 2021 after qualifying as a Southern California Section member and he missed the cut last year when he played out of the Illinois Section.

The third time was a charm as French got by the 54-hole cut after a third-round 73 and then recorded a 4-under-par 68 to get his spot at Oak Hill.

“Heading into the final round I just wanted to get some momentum early and try to get into red figures,’’ said French.  “I rolled in a few nice putts and took some chances on the par-fives.  I just tried to stay patient and take what the round gave me.’’

Now, of course, his task will be much more difficult.  The best players in the world will be in the field at Oak Hill, with Justin Thomas the defending champion.

HERE AND THERE:  French was in the field when the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship – first of the section’s four majors – began its four-day run at Bull Valley in Woodstock on Monday. Chris Nieto of Exmoor, in Highland Park, is the defending champion.

Both the women’s and men’s teams at the University of Illinois were Big 10 champions and qualified for the NCAA tournament.  The women conclude three days of regional play on Wednesday at TPC San Antonio, in Texas, and the men, ranked third in the nation, will compete in a regional at Eagle Eye, in Michigan, beginning on May 15.

Wheaton veteran Kevin Streelman had his best finish on the PGA Tour this season, a tie for 18th in last week’s Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina. It earned him $285,000.





Is an NCAA title next for the Illini men golfers?


Could this be the year that the University of Illinois men’s team finally wins the NCAA title?

Illini coach Mike Small has had some powerhouse teams but this year’s version could be his best.  The nation’s No. 3 ranked team captured the school’s eighth straight Big Ten championship (and 13th in 14 years) on Sunday by a whopping 17 strokes at Galloway National in New Jersey.

The romp ended after only 36 holes after heavy rains forced cancelation of play with the third and final round in progress.  Illinois stood at 8-under-par 560 after the finish was made official.

“To lead by 17 shots in the second round of a tournament takes a total team effort,’’ said Small.  “To do it in just two rounds – not a three-round tournament – is a pretty big win.’’

Tommy Kuhl and Matthis Bezard tied for third in the individual competition, a shot behind co-champions McLear of Iowa and Daniel Svard of Northwestern.  McLear is the reigning Illinois State Amateur champion.

Adrien Dumont de Chassart and Jackson Buchanan of the Illini tied for fifth and Piercen Hunt completed the scoring unit in a tie for 13th. The Illini have won 20 Big Ten titles, and this year’s came 100 years after the first, in 1923.

All that is left for the Illini is the NCAA tourney.  Regional assignments will be announced at 1 p.m. on Wednesday on The Golf Channel and play begins May 15-17.

NCAA WOMEN – Big Ten champion Illinois is the No. 9 seed in the San Antonio Regional and runner-up Northwestern is the No. 3 seed in the Palm Beach Gardens Regional, in Florida, when the NCAA tourney begins next Monday (MAY 8).  NU is the highest-seeded Big Ten team in the tournament.

The Illini and Wildcats also dominated in the league’s individual honors. Crystal Wang of Illinois was the Big Ten medalist and player-of-the-year and Northwestern’s Dianna Lee was the freshman-of-the-year.  Emily Fletcher, in her 12th season as the NU coach, was named the Big Ten coach-of-the-year for the fifth time.

NU is making its 13th straight appearance in the NCAA women’s tourney and 20th overall.  Illinois is in for the fourth straight year and 10th overall.

LANCE TEN BROECK: One of the best golfers ever to come out of the Chicago area passed on this week in West Palm Beach, FL., after a sudden illness.  Ten Broeck, who grew up in Chicago and developed his game at Beverly Country Club, was 67.

He made the cut as a 19-year old at the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah, made 162 cuts on the PGA Tour from 1975-2010 and was a successful caddie, mainly for Jesper Parnevik, after that.


HERE AND THERE:  Northbrook’s Nick Hardy was a late withdrawal from last week’s Mexico Open after teaming with Davis Riley to win the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans team event.  It was the first PGA win for both players, and both will be back in action at this week’s Wells-Fargo Championship in North Carolina.

Mike Weiler has resigned as director of golf at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena and John Schlaman, the head professional at the resort’s South Course,  has taken over on an interim basis.

Illinois stars Crystal Wang and Tommy Kuhl will be teammates on the U.S. team in the Arnold Palmer Cup matches against Team Europe June 8-10 at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania.

The Illinois PGA Match Play Championship, first of the section’s four major tourneys, begins its four-day run on Monday at Bull Valley in Woodstock.

U.S. Open local qualifying resumes on Monday at Illini Country Club in Springfield and on Tuesday at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake. Aurora’s Bryce Emory was the medalist at the last local qualifier, shooting a 4-under-par 68 last week at Cantigny in Wheaton.



Hensby, Illini teams joined Hardy in big Illinois golf weekend

Last weekend was like no other as far as Illinois golf is concerned, and Nick Hardy’s first PGA Tour win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was just one of the extraordinary developments.

Here are the others:

PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS – Mark Hensby, whose best golf came on Illinois courses years ago,  notched his first win on the 50-and-over circuit in the Invited Celebrity Classic at Las Colinas, in Texas. Hensby, 51, had only conditional status on the tour until he beat Charlie Wi on the fourth hole of a sudden death playoff on Sunday after both played the regulation 54 holes in 12-under-par 201.

Hensby was still an amateur when he left his native Australia to move to Chicago  in 1994. He won the Illinois State Amateur that year. Two years later he took the Illinois Open. In 2000 he earned membership on the PGA Tour and in 2004 he won the John Deere Classic.

After that he moved on from Illinois and his career tailed off.  In 94 PGA Tour starts between 2007 and 2022 he collected just four top-10 finishes but he fit right in when he became eligible for PGA Tour Champions.  He had two top-three finishes this year prior to his win in Texas.  He’s now third in the Charles Schwab Cup standings behind David Toms and Steve Stricker.

“Now I can set a schedule. I know what I’m going to get in now,’’ said Hensby, who earned $300,000 from the tourney’s $2 million purse.

ILLINI WOMEN – Coach Renee Slone’s team won its first Big Ten title in program history and Crystal Wang became the first Illini medalist since Slone (formerly Heiken) won the title in 1993.

Wang fired a 9-under-par 62 to match the Illini record for low round, and it was also the lowest round in tournament history.  Wang finished the 54 holes in 12-under-par 201 and was the only player to finish under par for the tournament.

The Illini finished solo second in the Big Ten in 1976, the school’s first year with a women’s golf team, and tied for second in 2018 and 2019. Wang was the fourth conference medalist from the school.  Slone was the individual champion in both 1991 and 1993.  Becky Beach (1976) and Becky Biel (1992) were also Big Ten medalists.

In winning the conference title the Illini received the league’s automatic NCAA regional birth, and they’ll find out where they will be playing when selections are announced on Wednesday.

ILLINI MEN – Coach Mike Small’s team won the first event at the recently renovated home course at Atkins Golf Club in Urbana by a whopping 26 strokes. The Fighting Illini Spring Collegiate featured nine teams with fifth-year senior Adrien Dumont de Chassart of the host team edging out Northwestern’s Daniel Svard by two strokes for medalist honors.

Dumont De Chassart notched his fourth collegiate win and had four second-place finishes since his last one at Purdue’s Boilermaker Invitational in 2022.

Small’s team, ranked No. 3 in the nation, will go after its eighth straight Big Ten title and 13th in the last 14 years beginning on Friday at Galloway National in New Jersey. The NCAA regionals follow that.

HERE AND THERE: Both Nick Hardy and Davis Riley took home $1,242,700 for winning the Zurich Classic on Sunday.  The total purse was $8.6 million….Brett Barcel has retired as director of golf at Mount Prospect. He’s been on the staff there since 1994.  Jeff Langguth, moving up from head professional, replaces Barcel as director of golf….The Bill “Soup’’ Campbell Open For Prostate Cancer has been scheduled for June 2 at Hilldale, in Hoffman Estates.  The event honors the late former relief pitcher who spent 14 seasons in the major leagues including 1982-83 with the Cubs.




Nick Hardy is now a winner on the PGA Tour

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy is now a winner on the PGA Tour. He teamed up with a long-time friend, Davis Riley, to capture the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Sunday in Avondale, La.  It was the first win on golf’s premier circuit for both of them.

The Zurich Classic is the only team event on the PGA Tour schedule, but the champions receive exempt status on the circuit for two years.  That’s especially important for Hardy, who had been using a medical exemption to get into some tournaments.

Last year, on the fourth hole of the final round of the Zurich Classic, Hardy suffered a wrist injury that put him out of action for a month in his rookie PGA season.  He had to have a strong finish in the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour playoff series to retain his PGA Tour card for this year.

The pairing with Riley was a spur of the moment thing, but it worked out big-time.

Hardy, who starred at the University of Illinois before turning pro, had planned to partner with another Thomas Detry, another Illini alum.

“Detry got asked by the Ryder Cup captain (Luke Donald) to play with Victor Perez, so the Illini pairing was vanished after that,’’ said Hardy. “A couple or three weeks ago we (Hardy and Riley) texted each other, and we got hooked up then.’’

The two had known each other since being paired in an American Junior Golf Assn. event when Hardy was 14 years old. Hardy is 27 and Davis, who played collegiately at Alabama, is 26.

Hardy became the first Illinois player to win on the PGA Tour since Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman was the Travelers champion at Hartford, Ct., in 2014.

“Once Nick texted me and was looking for a partner I was excited,’’ said Riley. “He’s a good buddy of mine and obviously a real good player.  It was a perfect match. We have very similar games. We’re both solid ball strikers.’’

Hardy, who turned pro in 2018, was making his 51st PGA Tour start in the Zurich Classic. He had made 29 of his first 50 cuts and earned $1,688,360 before he and Riley split the $1,242,700 first-place check in the Zurich Classic.

In this wrap-around season, prior to the big win, Hardy had four top-25 finishes, his best being a tie for fifth in the Sanderson Farms tournament in October. He had missed the cut in six of his last eight starts before everything came together in the Zurich Classic.

“I’ve been hitting the ball great all year,’’ said Hardy. “Finally, to get some momentum going into this format with Davis, seeing the ball go in, it’s definitely been nice.  The only difference is a little momentum here and there.  That’s really all it takes.’’

The Zurich format calls for best ball scoring in the first and third rounds and alternate shot in the second and fourth.  The Hardy-Riley team posted a tournament record 30-under-par 258 score for the 72 holes and won by two strokes over the Canadian pairing of Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin.

While Hardy contributed significantly throughout the four days Riley made the key shots on Sunday on back nine par-3s.  His tee shot at No. 14 stopped within inches of the cup, leaving Hardy a tap-in for birdie, and Riley holed a putt from off the green for another deuce at No. 17.

They became the 20th and 21st first-time PGA Tour winners at the Zurich Classic, which dates back to 1970. The only PGA Tour event with more first-time champions is the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop. The JDC has 23 in 51 years.

Both Hardy and Riley will play in this week’s Mexican Open, where world No. 1 Jon Rahm, winner of the Masters three weeks ago, is the defending champion.