Szokol is one of few Illinois players to make it on LPGA Tour

Elizabeth Szokol (right) shared the spotlight with Annika Sorenstam before an LPGA Florida stop.

Patty Berg, a true golf legend, won 63 professional tournaments from 1937 through 1958 and was the first president of the Ladies PGA Tour.  For much of her career she represented Joe Jemsek’s St. Andrew’s facility in West Chicago but since her heyday the LPGA has been tough for Chicago players.

Berwyn native Nicole Jeray toiled on the tour for three decades. Now teaching at Mistwood, in Romeoville, she had recent success on the Legends of the LPGA senior circuit but hasn’t had a win yet. Another Illinois native, Nancy Scranton from downstate Centralia, captured one of the LPGA major titles — the duMaurier Classic, in 1991.  She had two other LPGA victories and five wins on the Legends Tour.

Otherwise no Illinois player made an impact on the LPGA Tour — until Elizabeth Szokol earned her playing privileges, that is.

Though she lives in Florida now Szokol has solid Illinois roots.  She grew up in Winnetka and was on New Trier’s varsity team for four seasons.  The Trevians finished in the top three of the state high school  tournament every year and won the title in 2010. Then Szokol spent two seasons at Northwestern before transferring to Virginia.

Last July she broke into the LPGA winner’s circle for the first time at the Dow Great Lakes Invitational in Midland, Mich. It was a team event, with Cheyenne Woods as her partner, but that still counts as a win and it meant a lot to Szokol.

“It’s been amazing,’’ she said.  “It was definitely a confidence booster and made the next few years a little bit easier, which is great. It shows me I can compete with the best in the world, and I’m looking forward to doing that.’’

A champion gets more playing opportunities on the LPGA circuit, a perk for winning on most every golf tour. Szokol had a couple of significant wins before turning pro.  She captured the Illinois Women’s State Amateur in 2012 and the Stanford NCAA Regional in 2016 after transferring to Virginia for her last two seasons as a collegiate player.

She also earned a victory on the Epson Tour – the LPGA’s developmental circuit, in 2018. Szokol was hot that entire year, finishing it off with four top-10s in her last five starts to finish fourth on the Epson money list and claim her LPGA playing privileges for the next year.

Injuries have been a problem since then. Knee surgery in December of 2017 slowed her start on the LPGA Tour and she missed the first nine tournaments of the 2022 season with a herniated disc. That issue forced her to not touch a club for 12 weeks and kept her away from the LPGA tournaments for nearly six months. No surgery was needed, just injections and rest.

The reward for her patience and determination was not only the victory. It triggered a return to the form she exhibited in 2021 when she made the cut in 13 of 23 tournaments and earned $530,570 – her best season money-wise. That season was no fluke,

In 2023 she made seven cuts in 12 starts and earned $408,497 to finish 39th on the season money list. In both of those big years she was among the 60 qualifiers for the CME Group Tour Championship, the season-ending tournament that offers one of the biggest purses in women’s golf – $7 million.

Suffice it to say that Szokol has made it on the LPGA Tour.  She had two other top 10s in 2023.  In March, the second tournament of the season, she shot an opening-round 64 and finished in a tie for eighth at the SBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore.  After the win in Michigan she tied for 10th in the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship in September.  Those finishes helped boost Szokol’s LPGA career winnings to more than $1.4 million.

She was also given celebrity status when she shared a promotional role with Annika Sorenstam at a  late-season tournament.  The Annika – a rejuvenated event to honor Sorenstam – was held at the Pelican Club in Belleair, FL.  Szokol, now a Tampa resident, is a Pelican member and her swing coach is Justin Sheehan, the club’s director of golf.

She learned that the Illinois Women’s Amateur had celebrated its 90th anniversary in the days leading into The Annika tourney. (At that time the Illinois Amateur’s future was in doubt until the Chicago District Golf Association took over the event in December).

“Hopefully that’ll inspire other Illinois girls to come out here (on the LPGA Tour) with me,’’ said Szokol. “When I was young it was great that I had that as a place to play. When I went to college at Virginia I met some teammates, and we had a contingent of players who were wanting to play on the LPGA.  It was helpful  for me to follow in their footsteps.’’

Szokol can attest to the fact that getting to the LPGA won’t be easy.

“Hopefully there’s enough information out there for any girl to get an understanding of it, an understanding of the process,’’  said Szokol.



Here’s the most interesting products from the PGA Show

Gary DiSalvo shows how Poptical sunglasses can benefit golfers. (Joy Sarver Photos)

ORLANDO, FL. – Every year it’s the same thing – only different.

The 71st PGA Show again showcased the newest of the new in golf gear and attire. There were more than 1,000 companies and brands to entice the approximately 30,000 industry members who gathered at Orange County National Golf Center, for the traditional Demo Day, and the Orange County Convention Center for three days of indoor browsing.

This massive gathering began with merchandisers showing their wares from the trunks of cars in 1954 and grew into one that had representatives from 84 countries and all 50 states this year.  More than 7,000 PGA professionals attended this year’s gathering, and they’ll be bringing much of what they saw to their shops and stores back home.

That should intrigue the reported 41.1 million Americans who play golf and create a $22.6 billion total economic impact in America.

It’s not easy to wade through the lines of exhibits at the OCCC, where each day began with traffic nightmares for attendees trying to find parking spots.  It was all worthwhile once they got inside, however. The products were diverse and – in most cases – worthwhile additions to American golf consumers.

Enough said for the scene-setting.  Let’s get to the good stuff, and there was a lot of that. Interestingly much of it was brand new to the show, and organizers made a well-received change in how the newbies were displayed.  The New Products section was expanded and easier to walk through. It was a busy place and included some items judged – by me at least – as the most interesting at the overall show.

Whether they work is up to the golfers who try them.  Golf’s an individual sport and some things work better for some than others. We stayed clear of the major equipment companies for this report because they have their own promotional styles, but these are worthy of your attention, too.

Two of the most eye-catching products are the PGA Show were the Omnix golf bags (left) and LagMaster training aid.




1, POPTICALS – This is a sunglass company with its products hand-made in Italy.   What’s intriguing here is that the company makes sunglasses designed specifically  for various sports and needs.

“Our most popular is our golf line,’’ said Gary DiSalvo, chief executive officer for the company’s headquarters in Ellisville, Mo.  “These glasses are specifically made for golf. ”

The violet-tinted lens accentuate the contour of the greens on the course.

DiSalvo says the difference in viewing will be immediate.

“As soon as you put on a pair on a golf course you’ll notice something different.  You’ll see different shades of green and that’ll help in putting,’’ he said.  “You’ll be able to tell the levels of the green and whether your putt is uphill or downhill. The second you put these glasses on they’ll show miniscule differences in the grass — the elevation changes and where the break in your putt might be.’’

The golf sunglasses, listed on the Popticals website at $143, are collapsible for storage. Dr. Craig Farnsworth, “The Putt Doctor,” endorsed the product, and he works with the likes Dustin Johnson and Nick Faldo.

2, PERFECT HANDS GOLF – Training devices abound at all PGA Shows, but this one was billed as “the world’s first ever swing and strength trainer.’’ It’s equipped with a belt, four accleration bands that come in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-pound increments, gloves for both hands and a carry case.

If used as suggested, this device is said to help a player both get his swing on plane and increase his strength and range of motion.  In short, Perfect Hands can develop proper technique and increase swing speed. The listed website price is $199.99.

Chicago-based Zero Friction’s last creation is the Stride, and it comes in a variety of colors.

3, WHEEL PRO STRIDE – This electric bag trolley, is the newest innovation by Chicago-based Zero Friction, one of the most active creators of new golf products in recent years.  The Stride is an offshoot of the Wheel Pro, which was part of the 2023 show, and the Stride was a winner in the International Network of Golf’s  Industry Honors at this year’s show.

The Stride’s 35-pound bag has a pocket-sized remote control that uses Smart  Technology to follow within three feet of the golfer. It’s a versatile product, though, as you can push it, carry it or put it on a cart.

It comes with an umbrella holder, a cooler that can hold up to six cans or bottles, two invisible magnets to secure a rangefinder or Bluetooth speaker and a built-in USB port.  Its price at the PGA Show was $2,499.

4, OMNIX BAGS – This company specializes in customizing bags, and some of its creations were the most eye-catching items at the show. They had an interchangeable outer shell, seven multiple pockets, 14-way club dividers – and, most importantly, a distinctive appearance. The company calls it “revolutionary’’ with its combination of advanced technology, functionality and edgy style.

The models that caught my eye the most were mostly in the company’s Rainbow Series.  The Black Vodka and Sex on the Beach models in that series are both priced at $540.

“Omnix bags will illuminate the course and feed free spirits,’’ according to the company’s website. No argument there.

Want a beer on the course? Chris Hurry might be able to help you with his Zigit Dispenser.

5, ZIGIT BEER AND DRINK DISPENSER – This one could be controversial because it might involve dispensing alcoholic beverages on golf courses.  The Phoenix-based company has it in operation at, among other places, the American Airlines Center in Dallas  and wants to make inroads into the golf community

“We’re targeting golfers because they could use it year-around,’’ said Zigit’s Chris Hurry.

Zigits can serve beverages on the course, but the choice of which ones is up to the course owners. They’ll decide what beverages are offered, but Zigit has technology that can screen out under-age buyers and limit the alcoholic daily intake of others.

6, RIMAC BALL TESTER – Golfers want to know the compression of their golf balls to ensure they’re all the same.  This  machine, patterned after one used in the auto industry starting in 1930, can do this.

Rimac isn’t just a clever tool.  It reveals the precise compression of each ball far beyond the vague labels like “firm,’’ “soft,’’ “softer’’ or “soft feel.’’

Understanding compression enables golfers to select balls more knowledgeably and find the best-suited ball for their style of play. The company’s website lists the price at $1,495.

Alcide Deschesnes’ One Club trainer  can also double as a warmup tool.

7, ONE CLUB TRAINING DEVICE – This One is engineered to enhance a golfer’s swing mechanics and engrains the correct neuromuscular paths for swing consistency. Thanks to technology it provides instantaneous tactile, audible and sensory feedback.

Alcide Deschesnes, a Canadian-born mechanical engineer, was an outstanding athlete in multiple sports. He developed the One Club and sells it with a training guide designed to increase golfers’ swing speeds.

“It’s more than a weighted club,’’ said Deschesnes.  “It combines the principles of dynamic inertia resistance with instant feedback and can be used as an exercise tool.’’ It retails for $197.98.

8, TOWELTAG – A Canadian company, TowelTag  manufactures popular golf towels, I have two versions on my bags, one customizes a radio show and the other a golf organization. The company’s product that intrigues me this year is a ball marker that can help golfers draw straight lines on their balls for identification purposes but is more valuable after play begins.

“It can be used as an alignment tool,’’ said Craig Holub, who labels himself as TowelTag’s “founder and visionary.’’

The ball marker comes with a dial that can help line up putts, be it on the putting green before a round or on the course. Listed price at the PGA Show was $19.99.

9, LAGMASTER – Another training aid, this one looks like the drain pipe under your kitchen sink. Mike Dickson is the founder and believes it can accomplish big things for golfers who use it.

The Lagmaster is said to “teach movement that gets the body, arms, hands and club synced correctly and trains the power swing, weight shift, sequence, low point and finish.’’

And, according to promotional material, “it keeps it simple.’’ You’ve got to see it and use it to believe it.  Cost is $119.99.

10, ZOOM BREEZE – This product is the golf version of the Zoom Broom — a name that I love because it has a nice ring to it. It’s also fun to use.  On a windy day it can be a ball-saver.  Turn the battery-powered gadget on, and the leaves get out of your way.

It weighs only two pounds, fits in a golf bag and the sound it makes – according to creator Randy Kuckuck – isn’t a negative.“In a room it’s a little noisy, but on a wide open course it isn’t bad,’’ Kuckuck said.

Kuckuck, a Michigan State alum, got the idea for the Zoom Broom after a few of his rounds as a retiree were negatively impacted by too many leaves. The Zoom Broom can also be used around the house and is priced at $189. The golf-specific version is $179.

Randy Kuckuck’s Zoom Broom and Zoom Breeze can eliminate leaves as a problem for golfers.


Price, Leadbetter will be a great team in creating Soleta course

Nick Price (top) and David Leadbetter are working together on a new Florida course.


MYAKKA CITY, Florida – When you put Nick Price and David Leadbetter together on a golf project you most likely will have a winner.

This week those two were in the spotlight at the ground-breaking for the Soleta Golf Club on the outskirts of Sarasota, FL.  Soleta’s expected opening is in late 2024 and will be the centerpiece for a private residential golf community that will include 93 residences and other amenities.  Needless to say, it’ll be highly upscale with the initiation fee for a full golf membership set at $100,000.

Both Price and Leadbetter are long-time Floridians. Price lives in Hobe Sound and Leadbetter has lived in the Sarasota area for the past eight years. Both were closely involved in the planning stages at Soleta and will be on site frequently during the course’s construction phase. Price is the course designer while Leadbetter is designing a 30-acre practice facility called Field of Dreams and an indoor center that will include a biomechanics studio, club fitting, a putting studio, simulators and other advanced training technologies.

“My buddy Nick and I go back a long way,’’ said Leadbetter. “I designed a course once, but it was in China.  I figured it was far enough away that nobody would know about it.  I thought Nick and I could be co-designers here, but he was afraid I’d screw it up.’’

Clearly they enjoy working together. Though the Soleta home sites will be worth a look, the most interesting aspect at this stage of the project is the pairing of Price and Leadbetter. Leadbetter was once Price’s swing coach.  Leadbetter’s tutelage helped Price make a swing change in 1982 and that worked out so well that another Nick, this one named Faldo, underwent the same treatment a few years later and achieved even greater success.

Though Price is in the World Golf Hall of Fame, his playing career is not be as appreciated as it should be.   That’s my perception, and I was up close and personal in witnessing just how good Price was. Being a Chicago-based writer then, I was most impressed by his back-to-back victories in the 1993 and 1994 Western Opens.  In the first he beat Greg Norman by five strokes. Price had a shot at a third Western title in 2000 but lost in a playoff to Robert Allenby.

Sadly that late, great Western championship – first played in 1899 — was shut down in 2006 when the PGA Tour and Western Golf Association opted to convert it into a FedEx Cup Playoff event called the BMW Championship. Golf in Chicago hasn’t been the same since.

I was also on hand to watch Price win two PGA Championships, at Bellerive in St. Louis in 1992 and Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oka., in 1994. Oh, yes, there was also that eye-opening day in 1986, when I covered the Masters for the first time.  Price set the tournament record with a 9-under-par 63.  It’s a record that still stands, though Norman tied it in 1996. Throughout his playing career Price was a class act on and off the course.

Now 66, he notched the last of his 18 PGA Tour victories in 2003 at a time when he was just getting involved with golf course architecture. Not all great players turn out to be good course designers, but Price has held his own. His design website lists a portfolio of 13 courses, the first five of which were outside of the United States.  One of those, TPC Cancun in Mexico, is the only TPC layout outside of the U.S.

Price plays out of one of McArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound, a course he co-designed with Tom Fazio. The only Price course I’ve played is Grande Dunes – one of the very best layouts in the golf mecca of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

So what will Soleta be like?  Other than the fact that it’ll be separated from the home sites, Price could give only an inkling.

“We’re here to create a special place for golfers to play, spend time with friends and have fun,’’ he said.  “The property has wetlands, uplands, open grassland and some great trees.  We’ve laid out the course to take advantage and incorporate those natural features into the design of the holes. I’m really happy that no wetlands have been impacted or eliminated anywhere on the property.  These natural elements will be part of what gives the course its natural look and feel.’’



LIV’s second season is over; now the fun begins


LIV Tour’s second season is history.  The team championship at Doral created great drama and was an appropriate ending to the 2023 campaign.

Now, however, the real fun begins.

LIV chief executive officer Greg Norman took at least a brief look ahead during lulls in the action at Doral..  He started by confirming that he hasn’t been a part of the mysterious negotiations between LIV, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour and still declaring that he’s not worried about his job.

There’s no reason he should be. LIV made progress in Year 2 and Norman was a big reason, but there’s so much more to do.

“Our next couple months are probably going to be my most exciting time,’’ Norman told a small but select media contingent.  “We’re going through the relegation process, the trade process, building out the teams to a position that each captain wants to negotiate. All that stuff is really going to energized it.’’

True, but there are some things that concern me and should concern others who have closely followed this changing world in golf:

WORLD RANKINGS:  Something has to change, for the good of the game as a whole and not just for LIV, which continues to be snubbed by the Official World Golf Rankings.  The OWGR are a joke without LIV players being recognized. Limiting their appearances in the major championships only denigrates those tournaments, all of which should want the strongest fields possible.  How do you get that with a LIV presence?

LIV players can try to qualify for the U.S. Open and British Open but won’t be eligible for the Masters or PGA Championship.  Those are basically the only opportunities for the best players in the world to compete against each other. How should Talor Gooch, for instance, be kept out of anything after winning three times on the LIV and have seven other top-15 finishes – and winning over $33 million – this season? Oh, yes.  Gooch’s current world ranking is No. 201. Ridiculous!

SCHEDULE:  At this time LIV hasn’t announced its 2024 schedule.  Sports Illustrated presented an unofficial version a few weeks ago, and it concerns me. It listed only 14 events – the same as this year.  I would have expected a bigger schedule in Year 3. The SI version – if accurate – didn’t include a return to Chicago.  That strikes home with me, of course, as my long-time home base has been short-changed by the PGA Tour regarding annual tournaments in recent years. LIV’s stop at Rich Harvest Farms in the suburb of Sugar Grove helped alleviate the problem and that event was generally recognized as one of LIV’s most popular stops the first two years.  So what happened?  It’s a story that I’ll be following, to be sure.

TEAM ASPECT:  I’ve been on hand at three LIV events and each time the team aspect was improved.  Having a Brooks Koepka-Phil Mickelson matchup to start play at Doral was terrific.  Still, the teams need to be differentiated better.  Same color team shirts each day perhaps?

RELEGATION:  LIV is doing it right.  A three-day Promotions event was announced at Doral.  It’ll be played Dec. 8-10 in Abu Dahbi — a 54-hole event, a $1.5 million purse and a cut to the low 20 after 36 holes. Size of the field and identity of the participants will be key.  It should provide some meaningful offseason drama.

SCOREBOARDS:  I’m still not happy with what I see, either at the courses or on the TV telecasts.  The scoreboards are hard to follow, which may be inevitable given the shotgun start format. On TV the score list with players names abbreviated in some instances makes for difficult reading, as the type is inevitably small to accommodate all the information that is bring provided.  While I don’t have all the answers to this one, more thought is needed to upgrade the situation.

That sums up 2023, an overall good year for this fledgling circuit.  Let’s see some significant new player signings, some eye-catching trades and a bigger schedule.  That “framework agreement’’ with the PGA can wait.  It’s not much of an “agreement’’ anyway.

Norman and Bubba Watson revealed that numerous  inquiries to purchase teamwould be  were already in the works.  Phil Mickelson has been talking to more PGA Tour players and “knows’’ more will be making the jump to LIV.

Gooch and Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers  are now the champions to beat in what promises to be LIV’s best season yet in 2024.  Bring it on!!


Walters’ `Gambler’ is about a lot more than Mickelson

This, most recent, book that merits your attention had some unusual pre-release promotional literature. “Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk’’ by Billy Walters with Armen Keteyian  (Avid Reader Press) hinted that it was more about golfer Phil Mickelson than it was about Walters, who created his own autobiography.

If that was intention it worked with me. I wanted to know more details about Mickelson’s long reported gambling habits so was quickly on Barnes & Noble’s waiting list for its arrival.  Walters, who had a five-year gambling relationship with Mickelson, provided some insight – mostly in the 20th of 28 chapters in the 356-page book.

Walters claimed that Mickelson once owed him $2.5 million and, during the 2012 Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club, asked him to place a $400,000 bet for him on the U.S. team to win. Walters said he refused the request and Mickelson later denied making such a bet.

According to Walters, Mickelson wagered more than $1 billion during the past three decades and believes the golfer could have helped him avoid a five-year prison sentence for insider trading. Instead Mickelson told Waters that “his (Mickelson’s) lawyers didn’t want him to face questions on the stand.’’

Walters said all he wanted Mickelson to do was to tell “the truth’’ and – after the jail time was over — he said Mickelson apologized.

Anyway, enough about Mickelson.  This book is all about Walters and he has led a very interesting life. He came out of extreme poverty growing up in Kentucky to become successful – and very rich – in the gambling industry. He did well in other ventures, among them golf.

Walters details how his company revived or developed courses across the country, a list of 13 that includes Golf Club of Illinois, Burr Hill, Black Hawk and Eagle Brook in the Chicago area.

He also was successful in building 22 car dealerships and some ventures in residential and commercial real estate.

In his autobiography Walters is especially willing to share his secrets on sports gambling.  I certainly learned a lot about that from reading this book.

Walters did  more learning than that: “I beat my addictions and overcame my worst vices to become a successful gambler, entrepreneur, businessman, investor, philanthropist, father and husband.’’

Walters is a complicated man with a story to tell. In “Gambler’’ he does it well.  His book is interesting, and – more importantly – well worth reading.

How `Swede’ it is at the John Deere Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what happened to turn their games around?

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

The two eagles were obviously the key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Stanford beats Johnson — and weather — to win Senior LPGA


England’s Trish Johnson was the focal point of the Senior LPGA Championship, as she chased her third title in six years at Sultan’s Run. She didn’t win, however. (Joy Sarver Photos)


JASPER, Indiana – The Senior LPGA Championship, only six years old, is the youngest of golf’s designated major tournaments. It was first played at French Lick’s Pete Dye Course in 2017 and England’s Trish Johnson was the winner.

This year’s tourney was played only 20 miles away, at Sultan’s Run Golf Club, and Johnson was in position to win for the third time — but she didn’t.  A triple bogey-bogey finish by Johnson handed the title to Texan Angela Stanford, who reached the tourney’s 45-year old age requirement only seven months ago.

That wasn’t the only strange happening at the event, either.  The weather almost trumped the competition, and it was touch-and-go whether the event would finish on time.

Not only could no one in the 72-player field finish the first 18 holes on Thursday’s opening day, but two threesomes couldn’t even tee off.  The day-long rains were that bad, making a marathon second day inevitable.

Angela Stanford celebrates her firs title in the Senior LPGA Championship. (Mike May Photo)

Rain couldn’t dampen Round 2, but some players had to play 36 holes.  That long day ended with Johnson, shooting the day’s low round of 66, opening a three-stroke lead over defending champion Karrie Webb and Becky Morgan with Stanford five strokes back in her first Senior LPGA appearance.

Bad weather was in the forecast for Saturday’s final round, and players were to begin play at 7:30 a.m. with threesomes starting off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees to get the round in as quickly as possible.

Even that strategy didn’t work, and it wasn’t even close.  The first tee shots weren’t hit until 1 p.m. Though the Sultan’s Run course held up well despite the heavy deluge of rain the cart path only rule was put into effect. That slowed up play, and late in the afternoon tournament officials were warned that more bad weather – including tornado threats – was on the way.

Australian Karrie Webb finished third in her Senior LPGA title defense.

Johnson had a four-stroke lead, though, so hopes of a finish before darkness or more storms set in were high.

And then Johnson hit a bad tee shot off at No. 17. That led to a triple bogey.  Stanford, playing a group in front, made birdie at 18 and the four-shot swing left them both at 10-under-par. A Johnson birdie on the finishing hole would still give her the win but a par would force a playoff and more golf in – to put it mildly – questionable weather.

Johnson couldn’t shake off the nightmare at the 17th.  She hit another bad tee shot on the 18th and had a 12-foot putt for birdie that would have led to extra holes.  For better or worse, the putt missed.  Stanford was the champion and the weather issues were then of minimal importance. (They would have been a factor, as storms and strong winds emerged as darkness was setting in).

The end result was that Stanford was $60,000 richer after claiming the biggest prize from a $400,000 purse.  The low round of the tournament – a 65 – got her the win, which will go together with the seven she captured on the LPGA Tour.  Stanford then hurried off to California for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach.

“I’m leaving with more confidence than when I came here, that’s for sure,’’ she said. “I just figured some things out and got my mind right this week. I’ve had some confidence issues lately.’’

Now confidence issues might be Johnson’s problem.

“My game was great for about 16 holes, then I ended triple bogey-bogey to finish,’’ she said. “There’s not much more you can say, really. It was just a horrible finish. It was very disappointing, literally throwing the tournament away, but life goes on. There are worse things.’’

No. 18, the classic finishing hole at Sultan’s Run, was the scene of great drama in the 2023 Senior LPGA Championship. It’s a great hole for viewing from the clubhouse, too.


Sultan’s Run brings Senior LPGA tourney back to Indiana

Sultan’s Run boasts that its 18th hole is the most dramatic in Indiana.


JASPER, Indiana – Golf’s top senior women players found a home at French Lick Resort, which hosted big tournaments for nine straight years. The senior run ended in 2021 when the last of three Senior LPGA Championships was played on the Pete Dye Course there.

“A great run for them, and a great run for us,’’ said Dave Harner, long-time director of golf at French Lick Resort. He triggered the arrival of the Legends Tour, a circuit for players who had starred on the Ladies PGA Tour and wanted to continue to compete after reaching their 45th birthday. And now, 10 years later,  his team at French Lick played a major role in bringing the Senior LPGA Championship back to Southern Indiana.

The Legends Championship was a French Lick fixture from 2013 to 2016.  Then the event was upgraded, to the Senior LPGA Championship – the first major tournament for women in that age group.

French Lick opted to focus on the LPGA’s up-and-coming stars after that, and hosted a Symetra Tour event on its Donald Ross Course. That evolved into the biggest-paying event on what is now the Epson Tour when it makes its final appearance in the small southern Indiana town from Aug. 3-6 with a $335,000 purse on the line.

Women’s championship golf isn’t leaving the area, though, and Harner remains very much a part of it.  He helped steer the Senior LPGA back to Southern Indiana for this year ‘s Senior LPGA.  It’ll be played at Sultan’s Run, a public course located about 20 miles from the resort.

Sultan’s Run, which opened in 1992 and was remodeled by Pete Dye protégé Tim Liddy four years later, has been named the site for this year’s Senior LPGA.  It’ll run from June 26 to July 2.

“Salina Country Club (in Kansas) was the site last year, but there’s a renovation going on out there, so they had no site for 2023,’’ said Chris Tretter, co-owner and general manager of Sultan’s Run. “They reached out to Dave.’’

“Salina had really done a good job and wanted to come back,’’ said Harner. “They wanted to make sure the tournament had an appropriate venue for this year, and Sultan’s Run in a quality venue.’’

The relationship between the French Lick Resort and Sultan’s Run has always been a warm one. There were even talks about the resort buying Sultan’s at one point.  The resort staff managed Sultan’s for two years and Harner considers it “a sister course.’’  When there’s an overflow of play at French Lick or some guests want an extra course to play he sends them to Sultan’s Run.

“It adds another dimension to our golf experience,’’ he said.  “Having the Epson Tour has been super, and I wouldn’t be surprised – based on how the Senior LPGA goes – if the Epson came back here to play at Sultan’s Run.’’

That’s a topic for another day, but Tretter is excited about Sultan’s Run getting its biggest tournament  yet.  The course has received numerous state awards and been well received as the site for many Indiana amateur and professional events.

The course got its name from a legendary race horse, Supreme Sultan, who trained on the grounds before the course was built. The course has what’s been billed as “the most dramatic finishing hole in Indiana.’’

Tretter and Harner invited Tim Kramer of the PGA out for a visit in October.  They toured the course and Kramer immediately said “We’re coming.’’  More details, however, had to be worked out before the announcement could become official.

“This will be our first big women’s event, and we’re thrilled,’’ said Tretter.  “The history of the women’s tour is really robust, and very interesting.’’

The last Legends event at French Lick was won by England’s Trish Johnson in 2016.  Johnson also won the first Senior LPGA the following year. Laura Davies was the Senior LPGA champion in 2018 and Helen Alrfredsson in 2019.  The tourney was cancelled in 2020 due to pandemic issues, then Johnson won again in 2021.

Australian Karrie Webb was the winner last year in Kansas, and now Sultan’s Run is looking to add similarly great  champions to its resume like the ones who won at French Lick.  In addition to the Senior LPGAs played there the Legends winners included Lori Kane, Laurie Rinker and Juli Inkster, and Jan Stephenson won the Super Senior Division when it was part of the Legends format.

The winner at Sultan’s will receive the Steve Ferguson Trophy, honoring the chairman of the board of Cook Group, just like the previous champions did.

French Lick won’t be out of the tournament spotlight either.  The Pete Dye Course will become the site of the men’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship beginning in 2024.  That event will end its run at another Indiana course, Victoria National, this fall.  French Lick has a five-year agreement to take over that big event.






New owners will boost Mission Inn’s prominence on Epson Tour

Mission Inn, one of Florida’s best golf resorts, has a big tournament coming up on a special course.

HOWEY-in-the-HILLS, Florida – Mission Inn, one of Florida’s oldest golf resorts, is no stranger to hosting tournaments. The fourth playing of the Epson Tour’s Inova Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship is coming up in May, but this time it’ll be different.

On Dec. 9 the resort changed ownership.  The Beucher family, with deep roots in Illinois, had owned the resort for 58 years, before selling it to MMI Hotel Group, a similar family operation based in Jackson, Mississippi.  The Sturdevant family has been part of the ownership group of MMI for 67 years.

The family ownership aspect played a part in the sale. The Beuchers still reside in the area, are members of the club and still own some of the land on which it was built.

MMI used an elaborate media day event as a means of getting involved with the golf side of the Mission Inn operation. Attendees included two of the top international players on the Epson circuit – Sophie Hausemann, from Germany, and Klira Riihijarvi, from Finland — and Mary Mills, winner of three major titles in her career as an LPGA player. Also on hand was Kay McMahon, a member of the LPGA Professionals Hall of Fame.

The Mississippi group, with roots in the Southeast, has had hotels in Florida but its portfolio includes only one golf facility – The King & Prince Beach and Golf Resort in St. Simons Island, Ga.  The company is all in with the golf operation at Mission Inn, however.

“We’re a golf resort, and golf is critical to our success and always will be,’’ said Dominick Buompastore, MMI vice president of operations. “We’re thrilled to be part of this tournament.  These (the Epson Tour) are the next level of players.  That’s really great for us, and we have a contract for future years.”

Buompastore said an investment in technology has been the first order of business in the first three months of MMI’s ownership.  Next comes an analysis of what should be done with the two golf courses – El Campeon, site of the Inova event with roots back to 1917, and Las Colinas, an 18-holer designed by ex-PGA Tour winner turned broadcaster Gary Koch in 1992.

The Epson Tour will visit Mission Inn for the fourth straight year on the historic Ek Campeon layout.

El Campeon is one of the oldest and most challenging courses in Florida.  It was designed by a Chicago architect, George O’Neil, and was brought into prominence after the Beuchers took over the resort in 1964. It’s hosted a variety of high school, college and state professional tournaments, and its steeply-elevated terrain sets it apart from other Florida courses.

“It’s a tough track, a cool track,’’ said Riihijarvi, who played in the tournament last year.  “We don’t see many of these on the Epson Tour.’’

The tournament rounds are May 26-28.  The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after 36 holes and two scramble pro-ams, on May 24 and 25, will precede the tournament rounds.

Riihijarvi, who recently earned her LPGA membership, will play on the premier women’s circuit when it reaches the Drive On Championship in Phoenix but she was still willing to promote the event a Mission Inn.

Three players who won on the Epson Tour in 2022 – Jillian Hollis, Daniela Iacobelli and Britney Yada – are in this year’s field at Mission Inn as are Cydney Clanton and Silvia Cavalleri, both of whom have won tournaments on the LPGA circuit.

Previous winners are Missi0n Inn were Matilda Castren (2020), Min Lee (2021) and Gina Kim (2022). This year’s 144-player field will compete for $200,000 in prize money, with $30,000 going to the champion.

Michael Bowery (left) and Dominick Buompastore are leaders in Mission Inn’s ownership change.


Golf-wise the ownership change produced a significant staff adjustment.  Michael Bowery, the director of golf at Mission Inn, has turned the golf reins over to Brian Mulry.  Bowery is taking on a sales and marketing role under the new ownership.

“It’ll allow me to go out to bring in things like this,’’ he said of the Inova Championship.  “We’re always looking at those opportunities.  I’d love to have a televised LPGA event on this golf course.  That’s really my goal.’’

The resort is a 35-minute drive northwest of Orlando. Its Spanish Colonial architecture features 176 hotel guest rooms, 131 deluxe rooms, 38 club suites, four one bedroom suites, two two bedroom suites and one penthouse suite with three bedrooms.

In addition to the two golf courses, Mission Inn has four restaurants,  two lounges and a poolside bar. Its amenities include tennis, pickleball, jogging and cycling trails, volleyball courts, a spa, fitness center and a marina offering pontoons, bass boat and kayaks for eco-touring. More than 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space is available for meetings, banquets, holiday parties, weddings and special occasions.

El Campeon, which opened in 1917, has elevation changes that are rare in Florida courses.



Honda showed the Ryder Cup captains have the right attitude

THE END: Chris Kirk (left) beat Eric Cole (right) in a playoff to win the PGA Tour’s final Honda Classic.

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

The trio got along well, though Johnson and Harrington survived the 36-hole cut and Donald – despite playing a rare event near his Florida home — didn’t. Given the contentious atmosphere in golf now that the PGA and LIV tours are both in action again, that was refreshing.

Granted, the next Ryder Cup is still months away, but there isn’t a more competitive event in the sport. Johnson, though, calls Donald “always a good friend, and to partner with him in this endeavor, in this distinct honor, is awesome.’’

The friendly vibes even go beyond the rivalry between two veteran touring golfers.

“It’s (Luke) and (his wife) Diane, for that matter,’’ said Johnson.  “I love the Donalds.’’

The competitiveness of the Ryder Cup, however, won’t be lost in the sweet talk.

“We’re in this together,’’ said Johnson.  “Bottom line is that we’re ultra competitors first.  We’re probably similar in the way we approach the game, and our temperaments are pretty comparable….I’m confident in saying that we’ll both try to lead the proper way and let the golf clubs of our 12 players do all the talking.’’

Just who those players will be is a mystery.

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 are  non-commital.

“There is some differences, some subtle and some substantial, between what he’s (Donald) 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.’’

One thing is certain.  Johnson’s game is better than Donald’s at the moment.  Johnson finished tied for 12th in the Honda, his best finish in six starts in the 2022-23 season.  Donald missed three cuts and tied for 40th in the Genesis event at Riviera in his four starts this season.

Both are in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week and Donald has a sponsor’s exemption to compete in the last event of the Florida Swing, the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. Donald won there in 2012.

Long-time Florida resident Billy Horschel hopes PGA National will have another tournament in 2024.

Before moving on from what was the final Honda Classic there’s some indications that PGA National will welcome the PGA Tour players again.

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 at 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,’’ said Horschel. “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 a tournament will be back at PGA National once new sponsorship is finalized.

The Honda Classic, a fixture on the PGA Tour since 1982, won’t be forgotten. (Greg Wise Photo)