Flavin is taking the Korn Ferry route to the PGA Tour now

 

Last year Highwood’s Patrick Flavin tried to make it to the PGA Tour the hard way – through the Monday qualifiers.  He wasn’t successful, but he came close.

Flavin finished No. 153 on the FedEx Cup standings.  The top 125 earned full PGA Tour membership in the current 2022-23 season and the top 150 got conditional status. Flavin had a consolation prize.  By finishing in the top 200 he earned a place in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, and that assured him full status on the PGA’s alternate tour for this season.

So, this week Flavin is playing in LeCom Suncoast Classic — the FedEx stop in Lakewood Ranch, FL. — instead of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.  He has no complaints, though.

“I took a chance last year, and it paid off,’’  said Flavin. “I’ve seen a ton of improvement in my game.  I very much appreciate playing on the Korn Ferry, but I’d like to get back to having my practice rounds with Nick Hardy (PGA Tour regular from Northbrook) again.’’

Flavin, 27, has played in seven Korn Ferry events this season and made the cut in four, his best finishes being a tie for 14th in Panama in February and a tie for 21st last week at the Veritex Championship in Texas.

“Relative to last year, it was more stressful playing in all those Monday qualifiers,’’ he said.  “This year I plan to play the whole Korn Ferry season.’’

His role on that circuit isn’t just as a player, either.  Flavin was voted onto the 12-member Korn Ferry Player Advisory Committee and is getting an up close look at the complicated inner workings of both his and the PGA Tour, which is now getting competition from the Saudi-backed LIV Tour.

“It’s a crazy time in golf, and the PGA is a massive entity,’’ said Flavin,  “but golf has never been in a better place. We’ve had purse increases that have trickled down to the Korn Ferry Tour.’’

He’s hoping to steer those purse increases down to two circuits he played on previously – the Canadian and Latinoamerica tours.

For now, though, his primary focus is getting to the PGA Tour full-time.  The opportunities he had last year aren’t available now, thanks to a series of changes made by the PGA Tour to combat the LIV Tour arrival.

“Now the only way (to get to the PGA Tour) is through the Korn Ferry Tour,’’ said Flavin. While the Chicago area had several members of that circuit in recent years, only Flavin and Deerfield’s Vince India have full-time membership now.

NO. 3 ILLINI HOST TOURNEY: The University of Illinois men’s team, now up to No. 3 in the national collegiate rankings, hosts its first tournament in the Champaign-Urbana area since the 2010 season beginning on Saturday.

A field of nine teams will battle over 36 holes starting a 7:30 a.m. on Saturday with the final 18 teeing off at 8 a.m. on Sunday at the 7,538-yard par-71 Atkins Golf Club. In addition to the host Illini the field includes Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Loyola Marymount, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern.

PGA TEAMWORK: No PGA Tour event is like this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.  It’s a two-man team event and most Illinois-connected players will compete.  Here are those in the 80-team field:

Hardy will play with Davis Riley, D.A. Points with Jimmy Walker, Luke Donald with Eduoardo Molinari and Doug Ghim with Kramer Hickok.

HERE AND THERE: The first competitions on the Chicago District Golf Association calendar are next Monday (APRIL 24) –a U.S. Open local qualifier at Cantigny in Wheaton and a CDGA Mid-Amateur qualifier at Maple Meadows in Wood Dale. There’s another Mid-Am qualifier the next day at Sunset Valley in Highland Park….The first Illinois PGA event of the season – last week’s Pro-Pro-Pro at Mistwood — was postponed because of bad weather. It was rescheduled for May 1.

 

 

 

Illini golfers await new tourney, assistant coach’s departure

The Masters, as always, hogged the golf spotlight as spring kicked in, but now that’s changing – especially at the University of Illinois.

Mike Small’s Illini men’s team is ranked No. 5 in the nation with two regular-season tournaments remaining – this week’s Tiger Collegiate Invitational in Columbia, Mo., and then the Fighting Illini Collegiate April 22-23 – the first tournament Small’s team has hosted in the Champaign-Urbana area since the 2011-12 season. That event will be played at the newly-renovated Atkins Golf Club.

After that comes the Big Ten and NCAA championships.  The Illini will be strong contenders in both but the climax to the season will lead into the departure of Justin Bardgett, Small’s assistant coach the last four years. He has accepted a position as director of collegiate relations with the PGA Tour and will depart after the Illini season is over.

“The decision to leave Illinois was very difficult, but ultimately this opportunity couldn’t be passed on for my family and me,’’ said Bardgett.  “But first I’m excited to close out our strong season by chasing championship with our guys.’’

“His talents will surely be missed,’’ said Small,  “but I know Justin will continue to do great things in his new career path with PGA Tour University.’’

COURSE OPENINGS: Many area courses, impacted by changing weather conditions, make last-minute decisions on their spring openings.  A handful, though, have announced their openings already and Nickol Knoll, Arlington Heights’ fun nine-hole par-3, will open on Saturday (APRIL 15).

Facilities that have already announced their openings are Mistwood, in Romeoville; Arlington Lakes, Mount Prospect, Heritage Oaks, Settler’s Hill (Batavia), and Ravisoe (Homewood).

PGA HOPE: KemperSports and the Illinois PGA Foundation have partnered on a series of free six-week clinics that will begin in May and conclude in October. Instructors will be trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency.  The title for the nation-wide program stands for “Helping Our Patriots Everywhere.’’

The Kemper/IPGA series starts May 24 at Harborside International, Chicago.  Other starting dats are May 25 at Winnetka Golf Club, June 7 at Bolingbrook, June 20 at Cantigny in Wheaton and Aug. 31 at Deerpath in Lake Forest.

In addition to announcing the opening of registration for PGA Hope, the IPGA is ready to open its tournament season.  First event is on Monday, the Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble at Mistwood.

HERE AND THERE: Dave Lockhart’s Golf 360 TV show, hosted by Katie Kearney and featuring former Bears’ long snapper Patrick Mannelly, is scheduled to begin on June 4. It’ll be carried on NBC Sports Chicago with first one coming from Klein Creek in Winfield.  Each monthly episode with aire eight-10 times over a 30-day period.

The Masters’ conclusion triggers the return of Chicago-connect players to the PGA Tour.  Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy and Kevin Streelman are in the field for this week’s RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C.  Donald, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, needed a sponsor’s exemption to get in the field this time but Donald has had great success over the years in the event, finishing as the runner-up four times and in third place twice.

The Chicago District Golf Association opens its tournament season on Monday, April 24 with a U.S. Open local qualifier at Cantigny and at CDGA Mid-Amateur qualifier at Maple Meadows in Wood Dale. The social calendar tees off on May 2 with the CDGA/Kemper Two-Person Scramble at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

Tickets have just gone on sale for the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop.  It’ll be played July 5-9 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis.

A new PGA Superstore location has just opened in Orland Park.

 

 

 

 

 

What did this strange Masters prove? Not much

 

If ever a golf tournament merited a look-back two days after its conclusion it was this just-completed Masters. It was a strange one, to put it mildly.

I’ve been to several Masters played in bad weather, but this one had a 40-degree temperature change between Thursday’s first round and Saturday’s third. Rory McIlroy, still in search of a career Grand Slam, didn’t come close to making the 36-hole cut and an amateur finished in the top 20 for the first time in 18 years. (Sam Bennett is a fifth-year senior at Texas A&M who will play in a few PGA Tour events after his college season is over.)

Those are interesting tidbits, but the overriding issue of this Masters was the presence of LIV Tour players. That was the elephant in the room throughout.  Thankfully there was little public bickering between LIV players and their detractors on the PGA Tour and DP World (European) Tour.

What did it all prove, though? Not much, really.

The best player did win, though it’s strange how Jon Rahm did it.  Rahm opened the tournament with a four-putt double bogey, trailed Brooks Koepka well into the final round but still won by four shots.

Rahm’s a PGA Tour guy, but showings by the LIV group weren’t too shabby.  Eighteen of the 88 in the field were LIV players, and 12 made the cut. Koepka and Phil Mickelson tied for second and another, Patrick Reed, tied for fourth.

Mickelson, who had only one top-10 in the LIV Tour’s first 10 tournaments, looked much thinner than in his pre-LIV days but shot 65 in the final round at Augusta National – the best round by a player over 50 years old in Masters history. Afterwards he called it a good week for the players on the fledgling Saudi-backed circuit.

“We’re all grateful that we were able to play and compete here,’’ he said, “and it’s tremendous for this tournament to have all the best player in the world.’’

The Masters wouldn’t have had nearly as strong a field had the club members opted to follow the PGA Tour’s lead and ban the LIV contingent.

Koepka, who was in charge of the tournament until the back nine on Sunday, played into the hands of LIV detractors who have criticized the circuit for its 54-hole tournaments.  The two other big circuits play 72-holers. While the Masters was in progress Koepka, who had five tournaments in 2023 (three on the LIV circuit and two others) in advance of the Masters, called himself tournament-ready.  Not so afterwards.

“LIV doesn’t prepare us for the majors,’’ he said.  “My body is used to playing three rounds.’’

Oh, well….

What happens next in this ongoing saga that has become such a negative distraction to tournament golf?  It’s anybody’s guess but Thomas Pieters, the former University of Illinois star from Belgium, wanted his parents at this Masters.  He qualified through being in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings at the end of 2022.  Now he’s a LIV player and gets short-changed in the rankings because 54-hole tournaments aren’t recognized.

“I took my parents because this could be my last one,’’ said Pieters who tied for 48th on Sunday.  “I’m just being realistic.  I don’t know what will happen.  Time will tell.’’

What we do know is that LIV players will be eligible for the last three major tournaments – next month’s PGA Championship, the U.S. Open in June and the British Open in July.  They’ll also be available for Chicago viewing when the circuit returns to Rich Harvest Farms in September.

 

 

Burns will win Masters, and LIV players will make an impact

 

When you’re a regular golf writer there’s an annual challenge.  You’re obligated to pick the winner of the Masters.

I’m in my 55th year writing about the sport and have made my pick – in print — every year since 1986. Getting it right isn’t easy.  I’ve been right only twice – Fred Couples in 1992 and Scottie Scheffler last year.

A very well-known national columnist told me that was “a gutty pick’’  after Scheffler went wire-to-wire. I see a lot of the Florida tournaments, though, and I was very comfortable with Scheffler.  He had dominated the first three months of the last PGA Tour season.

This year’s prognosticating is completely different.  For the record my pick is Sam Burns.  Like Scheffler last year, he is playing well at just the right time.  Three weeks ago he was going after his third straight win in the Valspar Championship, the last event on the annual Florida Swing.

Three-peats are rare on the PGA Tour, and Burns didn’t get this one. He hung tough, though, shooting a final round 67 at the respected Copperhead course to climb 19 spots into sixth place.

A week later he won the WCT Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Texas. Five days of matches is a good test for determining who is best ready to play, and Burns did it by beating Scheffler in the semifinals and needing only 13 holes to capture the final. Now, after a week’s rest, he’ll go after the 87th Masters.

Not that I need any advice from others on making Masters picks, but it was interesting to hear two-time U.S. Open champion turned TV analyst Curtis Strange’s assessment last week.

“We know how good a player this guy has been, but now all of a sudden he comes into the Masters in great form,’’ Strange offered on a conference call set up by ESPN.  “I look at players, their talent level, of course, but what’s their current form.’’

There’s another significant factor in studying the field this year. The year’s first major championship always lives up to its claim of being “a tournament like no other,’’ and this year it’s even more so.  The LIV factor can’t be downplayed this week.

Eighteen LIV Tour players are in the Masters field.  Six are past champions.  Those six have won a combined nine titles at Augusta National.  Phil Mickelson has won three, but has done little in his two seasons with the fledgling new circuit that has had only 10 tournaments. Same with Bubba Watson, who won two Masters.

Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson are also past Masters champions who jumped from the PGA Tour to the Saudi-backed LIV circuit.  Barred from competing on the PGA Tour, they haven’t played much tournament golf since making the switch. Whether that’ll matter this week is to be determined.

Much to the credit of Augusta National members, LIV membership wasn’t a factor in issuing Masters invitations.  They wanted their usually strong field, and that wouldn’t have been possible without hitting the LIV ranks.  Once Augusta made its decision the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open organizers followed suit.

The LIV golfers who seem the most likely to challenge this week are not former champions.  Australian Cam Smith won the last major title, the British Open, last July.  He’s been a top-10 finisher in four Masters, including the last three. The champion at last year’s LIV event at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Smith was the Masters runner-up in 2020 and tied for third last year.

And then there’s Brooks Koepka, winner of four major titles.  He became the first two-time winner on the LIV circuit last week in Orlando, shooting 65-65-68 at Orange County National.

“I’m finally healthy, and able to play some good golf,’’ said Koepka.  “That showed my capabilities of what I can do when I’m healthy.  Going into next week, that’s what you want to see.  And that course was a good test for Augusta.  The greens speeds were pretty fast, similar to Augusta, and they had some good slopes.’’

Koepka doesn’t think the contentiousness that has developed between PGA and LIV players will be a problem at the Masters, but the two main anti-LIV spokesmen – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – will be there. So, stay tuned.

 

Preliminary events create early buzz for the Masters

Chicago’s hopefuls in the Drive, Chip & Putt national finals are  (left to right) Emory Munoz, William Comiskey, Ben Patel and Martha Kuwahara. (Rory Spears Photo)

 

The countdown to the year’s first major golf championship is on.  The first tee shot in the 87th playing of the Masters isn’t until next week, but – with Augusta National’s membership expanding its event in recent years — the preliminaries start this week.

Unless Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy or Kevin Streelman can pull of a win in this week’s Valero Texas Open the Masters will again be without a Chicago player next week. The last time a local player competed in the Masters was in 2016 when, Ghim, still an amateur, tied for 50th place.

Locals, however, have had success in the Masters preliminaries – the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which started in 2019, and the Drive, Chip & Putt finals, first contested at the Georgia club in 2014.

The ANWA starts its 54-hole run on Wednesday.  The first two rounds will be played at Champions Retreat, a nearby course, then all of its competitors play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday. Spectators start arriving at the Masters site for Saturday’s final round.

While several Illinois-connected players were invited to previous ANWA tourneys, the one competing this week seems a bonafide contender.  Crystal Wang, a fifth-year senior at the University of Illinois from Diamond Bar, Calif., won her first collegiate tournament on Sunday, making birdies on three of the last four holes at the Clemson Invitational.

Last year Michael Jorski, of Clarendon Hills, was the winner in the Drive, Chip & Putt’s boys 12-13 division.  He’s not among the 80 finalists this year, but four Chicago area players survived the regional qualifier held at Medinah.

Qualifiers for Sunday’s Drive, Chip & Putt finals at Augusta National hail from 29 states and Canada.  They were the survivors from 342 local qualifiers and 10 regional eliminations held across the country over the previous year. Northbrook’s Martha Kuwahara looms as a strong contender in the girls 14-15 age group.  Also a qualifier for the finals in 2022, she smacked a 268-yard drive en route to winning at the Medinah regional.

One of nine returnees nation-wide from last year’s finals, she’s excited about her return to Augusta National.

“I really want redemption from last year,’’ she said.  “This year I feel I can do a lot better.’’

The other three Chicago qualifiers are boys – Emory Munoz of Lockport in the 7-9 age group; William Comiskey, of Hinsdale, in the 10-11 category; and Ben Patel, of North Aurora, in 12-13. Kuwahara plays locally at The Glen Club, Comiskey and Munoz at Cog Hill and Patel at Black Sheep.

The first two rounds of the ANWA as well as five hours of Drive, Chip & Putt coverage will be televised on The Golf Channel and Peacock. The final round of the ANWA will be carried on NBC and Peacock.  CBS, which has televised the Masters since 1956, will again carry the main event.

HERE AND THERE: The Masters will have 89 starters plus the winner of the Valero Texas Open, assuming he hadn’t qualified previously. All 89 were invited by Augusta National, and they include 18 playing on the PGA Tour’s rival LIV Tour.  That group includes six former Masters champions. The LIV circuit competes at Orange County National in Orlando, FL., starting on Friday.

Masters invitees also include J.T. Poston, winner of last year’s John Deere Classic, and Belgium’s Thomas Detry, who starred for the University of Illinois from 2012-16.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, while not qualified for the Masters, had his best finish in 12 starts in the PGA Tour’s wrap-around season on Sunday – a tie for 16th in the Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic.

Robert Sereci has announced that he’ll end his eight-year stint as general manager and chief operating officer at Medinah Country Club on May 25.

Jake Mendoza is back on the maintenance staff at Rich Harvest Farms, the Sugar Grove club that hosts the LIV Tour in September. He was at Rich Harvest from 2005-08 and has also had stints at Medinah, Winged Foot and Detroit Golf Club.

 

Two-time Illinois Open champion now thrives as PGA Tour caddie

PALM HARBOR, FL. – The final round of the PGA Tour’s four-week Florida Swing was an unusual one.  Taylor Moore won the Valspar Championship on Sunday, but Adam Schenk and Jordan Spieth – paired in the final group – created all the drama.

It was their shortcomings on the three tough finishing holes at the Copperhead Course – the stretch is called the Snake Pit – that allowed Moore to win and Schenk and Spieth to have animated talks with their caddies  at critical moments. They were evident as TV cameras zeroed in.

That wasn’t unusual for three-time major champion Spieth, whose relationship with bag-toter Michael Greller has been well publicized, but Schenk has a special caddie, too.  David Cooke was a two-time Illinois Open champion, and Schenk regularly brought him into post-round discussions with the media during the tournament.

“David and I did about as good as we could have done with how I hit it (on Sunday),’’ said Schenk, who finished one stroke behind Moore in second place and one ahead of Spieth.  “I told David I wasn’t worried about the field.  I wasn’t worried about Jordan.  I wanted to play my game. I wanted David and I just to do the best that we could do from what we did. We did that.’’

Unfortunately for the Schenk-Cooke team, a bad drive on the last hole prevented both from claiming a first PGA Tour victory.

Schenk led the tournament most of the way and provided more subjects for conversation than just his caddie.  His wife Kourtney, expecting their first child in a month, made an overnight trip from Indiana the night before the final round in hopes of seeing Adam win. She walked the final 18 with Spieth’s wife,  Annie, but neither could celebrate a win when the tournament was over.

Cooke, who grew up in Bolingbrook, and Schenk were golf teammates at Purdue when they were freshmen.  Then Cooke transferred to North Carolina State for his final three collegiate seasons and Schenk finished at Purdue.

While still an amateur Cooke won the 2015 Illinois Open by five shots after shooting a final round 63 at Royal Melbourne in Long Grove.  The win came just eight months after his brother and sometimes caddie Chad had died for a heart disorder playing a pickup basketball game.

Three years later, after turning pro, Cooke won the Illinois Open again – this time by four shots over current PGA Tour player Nick Hardy at The Glen Club in Glenview.

That win was special, too, as Cooke hurried from there to his wedding and then took his new bride, Clair, to Europe where he made a short – and unsuccessful – bid to earn a place on the pro tour there. It was during that year that he altered his career plans.

“I loved Europe but played terrible,’’ Cooke said then.  “I love caddying and getting exposure to the PGA Tour.’’

Only four players – Gary Pinns, Mike Small, Dick Hart and Marty Schiene – have won more Illinois Opens than Cooke, but he was on the bag of PGA Tour player Chesson Hadley when his title defense approached. Cooke opted for the steady job as a caddie and stuck with it.

His hookup with Schenk is a comfortable one.  Schenk grew up and still lives in Vincennes, Ind., and he remains a Hoosier at heart. His swing instructor is Anthony Bradley, at French Lick Resort, and he’s represented another Indiana facility, Victoria National.

Though that first big win eluded him, Schenk – who played his 10th straight week of tournaments at the Valspar — wants Cooke by his side as their PGA Tour adventure continues.

“We have a lot of discussions.  I love working with David,’’ said Schenk.  “We know our trouble areas, we know what we’re good at, and we just try to play to our strengths.’’

That philosophy is working.  Schenk has won $6 million since joining the PGA Tour in 2018.  This season he has made 12 of 17 cuts, including seven of his last eight starts.

 

 

 

 

 

Valspar’s Copperhead is ideal course for Chicago PGA Tour players

Life on the PGA Tour hasn’t been easy for the Chicago-connected players, but that could change this week.

Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy, Kevin Streelman and Dylan Wu are all in the field for the Valspar Championship, the last of the four tournaments on the circuit’s Florida Swing.

With a paint company as the title sponsor, the Valspar bills itself as “the most colorful tournament on the PGA Tour’’ and it has some other unusual features.

All five courses at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, just outside of Tampa, were designed by legendary Chicago architect Larry Packard and the resort’s owner is Sheila Johnson, who went to Proviso East High School and the University of Illinois.

The Chicago fivesome  in the field will battle for a share of the $8.1 million in prize money when the tournament tees off on the Copperhead Course on Thursday. Donald (2012) and Streelman (2013) are past champions.

Only Wu, the former Northwestern star, has played well lately, however. Hardy has missed his last four cuts, Ghim has missed seven of his last eight and Streelman three of his last four.

Donald, 45, and Streelman, 44, are PGA veterans who won when the tournament had other names.  It was the Transitions Championship when Donald won and the Tampa Bay Championship when Streelman took the title.

Wu, though, has blossomed in the last two months.  He had strong finishes in his two starts in Florida, tying for 10th in the Honda Classic and tying for 35th at last week’s Players Championship.  He was the last player to make the field at The Players, getting in off his position on the FedEx Cup point list.

In addition to earning $114,166 in in one of golf’s best-playing tournaments Wu was up close to the excitement as Aaron Rai, his third-round playing partner, made one of the tourney’s three holes-in-one.

At the end of the 72 holes Wu matched the score of Sam Burns, who will be in the spotlight this week at Innisbrook.  Burns will be going after his third straight title on the Copperhead course.

Only nine players have won a PGA Tour event three straight years since World War II.  Tiger Woods did it four times at four different tournaments, last accomplishing the feat in 2007.  Arnold Palmer did it at two events in the 1960s.

Last player to notch a three-peat was Steve Stricker, who ruled the John Deere Classic from 2009-11. Other three-peaters since World War II were Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Stuart Appleby.

None of the Chicago fivesome has qualified for the Masters yet, and time is running out.  Each will probably have to win a tournament to play at the year’s first major tournament at Augusta National starting on April 6. The Valspar and Valero Texas Open are the only tournaments before then that advance champions to the Masters.

The Valspar has a stronger field than usual, despite the PGA Tour’s creation of “elevated’’ tournaments to lure the top stars.  Valspar is not an “elevated’’ event but this week’s field includes Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick and Jordan Spieth. They have rarely competed in previous Valspars.

Thomas (PGA Championship) and Fitzpatrick (U.S. Open) will defend major titles later this year. Spieth, who has wins in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, won the Valspar in 2015.

HERE AND THERE:  Mark Hensby, had wins at the Illinois State Amateur, Illinois Open and John Deere Classic earlier in his golf career.  Now, at 51, he’s making a splash on PGA Tour Champions.  Hensby tied for third in the Cologuard Classic in Arizona on Sunday, and that was his second top-three finish in three starts on the 50-and-over circuit in 2023.

 

 

Last Honda created a career first for Northwestern alum

Dylan Wu, second only to Luke Donald as a Northwestern golfer, had a breakthrough on PGA Tour.

 

Dylan Wu, the former Northwestern star, won’t look back on last week’s Honda Classic because it was the event’s last-ever playing on the PGA Tour.  He’ll remember it as the spot where he notched his first top-10 finish on golf’s premier circuit.

Wu won three college tournaments while at NU and compiled the second-best scoring average in school history behind Luke Donald, who parlayed his college success into a stint as the world’s No. 1 golfer during his early years on the PGA Tour.

Donald, the current Ryder Cup captain for the European side, missed the cut in the last Honda — a tournament played near his Florida home — but there’s still a big difference between Donald and Wu on the professional level.

Wu, 26, turned pro in 2018 after his college career ended.    After a brief stint on the Canadian PGA tour Wu earned a spot on the Korn Ferry circuit and won an event before earning his PGA Tour card for the 2022 season. He barely retained it for this year, finishing No. 150 in the FedEx Cup standings as a PGA rookie. That’s the last spot to earn a tour card.

In his two seasons on the circuit Wu made 18 cuts in 36 starts and earned $834,286.  He’s improving, though.  In the 2022-23 season he’s made six-of-nine and the 66 he shot in the final round of the Honda matched his best round of the year.

NEXT UP: BAY HILL – Despite his strong finish last week at PGA National Wu won’t be in the field for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the second of the four-week Florida Swing.  It tees off on Thursday in Orlando and is one of the newly designated Elevated Tournaments, meaning it has more prize moy than most events and is guaranteed most of the game’s top stars. Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is the defending champion.

Wu, Donald and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy were the only Illinois-connected players cing at PGA National.  Donald and Hardy are in the field at Bay Hill along with Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, Illinois alum Thomas Detry and Northwestern alum David Lipsky.

Wu will compete in the PGA’s alternate field event, the Puerto Rico Open, along with Pekin’s D.A. Points, who won that event in 2017.

CAPTAIN’S COURAGEOUS: Donald had an interesting pairing in his two rounds at the Honda.  He played with Padraig Harrington, European’s Ryder Cup captain when the U.S. scored its record victory at Whistling Straights in 2021, and Zach Johnson, who will be Donald’s rival U.S. captain in this year’s Ryder Cup in Italy.

Johnson knows he won’t be able to use players competing on the  controversial Saudi-backed LIV Tour but Donald isn’t sure. The European powers that be have been non-commital.

“There is some differences, some subtle and some substantial between what he’s going through and I’m going through,’’ said Johnson.  “I don’t even understand it all with his team, but I don’t need to.  I feel for him.  It’s not the easiest thing to navigate. And  I’m not sure what clarity I really have, to be honest with you,  because it’s ever changing.’’

FLORIDA DILEMMA: Florida native Billy Horschel was not happy that the Honda – the longest-running title sponsor on the PGA Tour – won’t return in 2024.  The tournament began in Ft. Lauderdale, as the Jackie Gleason Inverarry Classic, in 1972.  Honda was the title sponsor since 1982 and PGA National was the site since 2007.

“We used to have two tournaments in South Florida – here and Doral,’’ said Horschel.  “Now we only have one, and we’re not going to lose this one.  I’ve been told we’re going to stay here.’’

Difficult dates led to weak field for the Honda in recent years.

“You’ve got 30 to 40 PGA Tour pros who live within a couple miles of this place, and only a handful played last week.  That’s disappointing.  The PGA Tour needs to make sure this event is put in the right spot (on the schedule) so they get all the top players here on a regular basis.’’

Like Horschel, Jack Nicklaus – whose nearby children’s hospital was the Honda’s main beneficiary – also believes the tournament will be back at PGA National once new sponsorship is finalized.

The PGA Tour has lost a long-standing title sponsor. (Greg Wise Photo).

 

 

Two-year hiatus is finally over for the Chicago Golf Show

 

For 37 years the Chicago Golf Show was considered the unofficial start to the Chicago golf season.  And then the pandemic hit.

The show was cancelled in 2001 and 2022 because of pandemic concerns, but it’s back this weekend in full force at the Stephens Convention  Center in Rosemont. It’ll feature Colt Knost, an on-course TV reporter for CBS, and Paige Spiranac, a prominent social media influencer on golf, sports and fitness.

Knost is one of the most decorated amateurs in golf history, having won the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Public Links and was a member of the U.S. Walker Cup team in 2007.  He won the Public Links title at Cantigny, in Wheaton, then played on various pro tours before retiring in 2020.

Spiranac and Knost will appear together on the show’s Daily Herald Main Stage at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and Knost will also be there at 11 a.m. on both days.

Show visitors can also sign up for free rounds at the 13 Chicago area courses operated by SportsVisions and Illinois PGA professionals will be offering free lessons.  There will also be deals available on equipment, apparel, shoes, golf bags and balls, swing aids, indoor putting greens and range finders.

Show hours are noon to 6:30 p.m. on Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday.

IPGA MAJORS ARE SET:  The Illinois PGA has announced its 2023 schedule and its two oldest and biggest major championships will have major venue changes.  The Illinois PGA Championship, first held in 1922, will make its first appearance at Thunderhawk, in Beach Park, Aug. 14-16 and the 74th staging of the Illinois Open will be at Flossmoor July 31-Aug. 2.

The Illinois PGA was played at a first time venue last year, at Makray Memorial in Barrington, when player-of-the-year Brian Carroll edged 13-time winner Mike  Small for the title.

Flossmoor hasn’t hosted the Illinois Open since 1984 when former PGA Tour player Lance Ten Broeck won the title.  That south suburban club also was the site for Bob Harris’ victory in 1955.

First of the section’s four majors, the Match Play Championship, will make its second appearance in three years at Bull Valley, in Woodstock, May 8-11 and The Players Championship will conclude the big events Oct. 9-10 at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove.

HERE AND THERE: Thomas Pieters, who grew up in Belgium before starring collegiately at Illinois, will reportedly join the LIV Tour this week.  He was the 2012 NCAA champion for the Illini and holds a No. 34 world ranking after spending most of his professional time on the European tour. The LIV circuit begins its second season on Friday in Mexico.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim snapped a string of six straight missed cuts on the PGA Tour at last week’s Genesis tourney in Los Angeles.  He finished in a tie for 62nd place.  Northbrook’s Nick Hardy missed his second cut in eight starts at the Genesis event.  He’ll play in this week’s Honda Classic, the start of the PGA’s Florida Swing.

Four Illinois players were in the 78-man field in last week’s PGA Tour Champions Chubbs tourney in Florida where Bernhard Langer tied Hale Irwin’s record for most wins on the 50-and-over circuit.  Mark Hensby tied for 18th, Jeff Sluman tied for 25th and Illinois Golf Hall of Famers Gary Hallbeg and Jay Haas tied for 66th and tied for 70th respectively.

Palatine Hills has landed a qualifying round for the U.S. Women’s Open.  The qualifier, one of 26 nationwide, will be held on June 7 and the main event will be July 6-9 at California’s Pebble Beach.

 

 

 

Langer pulls even with Irwin in Champions’ wins

NAPLES, FL. – Bernhard Langer now shares the honor of being the winningest golfer in the 43-year history of PGA Tour Champions.  In winning the Chubbs Classic on Sunday Langer notched his 45th win on the 50-and-over circuit to pull even with Hale Irwin.

The 36th playing of the Chubbs was like a home game for Langer, who has lived in nearby Boca Raton for over 30 years.  Langer has won the Chubbs five times and came into Sunday’s final round on the Tiburon Golf Club’s Black course as the defending champion.

Moving ahead of Irwin could come as early as the next tournament, the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Ariz., in two weeks. Langer has won there in the past, but he was savoring win No. 45 Sunday without looking past that.

“It was extremely special because I never thought it would happen,’’ said the 65-year old Langer, who extended his record of being the oldest Champions Tour winner to four events.

Irwin won the first of his 45 tournaments in 2007, the same year that Langer won his first.  Irwin got his 45 in 217 starts and Langer has made 319.

Langer was tied for the lead after the first round on the Black Course at Tiburon Golf Club and led by one after Saturday’s second round.  He bettered his age in posting a 64 on Friday and matched his age with a 65 on Sunday.  His 17-under-par SCORE resulted in a three-stroke victory margin but the historic win wasn’t that easy.

Fred Couples knocked Langer out of the lead by making four birdies in the first six holes on Sunday.  When he cooled off Padraig Harrington shot 29 on the front nine to take the lead and Dicky Pride, in the field as a sponsor’s exemption, used a hole-in-one at No. 10 to also move into the top spot.

Langer wasn’t aware what was happening to them as the back nine unfolded, but it was to his benefit.

Harrington put his tee shot near a pond at No. 14 and needed three more shots to just get out of the hazard.  That led to a double bogey, and Harrington was done.  Steven Alker, one of Langer’s playing partners, threatened until putting a fairway bunker shot into the water at No. 13. That also meant a double bogey and finished Alker.

Pride his tee shot tee deep in the woods on No. 17 and finished bogey-bogey. That left Langer a stroll to the finish, where the gallery piled in behind him in appreciation of his accomplishment.

“My whole life has been an improbable story,’’ said Langer after the celebrating had died down.  “I should have died as a kid when I had an extremely high fever.  Doctors told my mother not to have a child, but she got pregnant anyway.  They told her to abort me, but she decided not to take a chance of killing herself and me.  We both survived.’’

Then came his start in golf.

“I was just a German kid from a village of 800 who started as a caddie,’’ he said.  “Nobody started a career in golf in Germany.  They thought I was crazy.  Just to earn a living at it was incredible.  Maybe some day we can make a movie about it.’’

That may take a while, as Langer has no intention of cutting back on his tournament schedule any time soon.