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Len Ziehm On Golf

In short, this is a golf book worth reading

Book report time again – and this one’s different. I’ve always avoided political issues on both my Len Ziehm on Golf and personal Facebook pages. The many books I’ve read lately in the political arena only tend to trigger reactions – pro and con – that I’m not interested in exploring.

Rick Reilly’s recently released “Commander in Cheat’’ clearly has political overtones. However, it is also filled with interesting, worthwhile information from the golf world and this website is all about golf. I first met Rick about 25 years ago when we were reporting on PGA Tour events (I believe in our case it was at the Memorial tournament). Rick’s an extremely respected, gifted writer. I heartily recommend his latest book. It offers lots of food for thought.

Szokol has become Jeray’s successor on the LPGA Tour

Chicago area players reaching the Ladies PGA Tour are few and far between. Only Nicole Jeray made it regularly over the last three decades and this year she’s decided to focus on a teaching job at Mistwood, in Romeoville.

There will still be a local rooting interest on the premier women’s tour, however. The timing was perfect for Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol to have a breakthrough season on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour in 2018, and that earned her a place in the big time of women’s golf.

The Szokol story began as she was about to enter high school at New Trier. She had been an avid tennis player but knee problems contributed to her looking for another sport. She opted for golf and immediately became a key part of New Trier’s powerhouse teams. She was on the varsity all four years, and her teams finished in the top three of the Illinois prep championship each season. That included a state title in 2010.

From there it was on to Northwestern for two seasons, the second of which saw Szokol earn second-team all-Big Ten honors as well as a spot on the conference’s All Academic team. She was also the Illinois Women’s Amateur champion in 2012.

Despite all that success on the home front Szokol opted to transfer to Virginia for her junior season and she finished her collegiate career there in style, finishing as co-medalist in an NCAA regional in her senior season. She was also 20th as an individual in the NCAA finals and part of a Virginia team that finished fifth in the nation.

“Playing on the LPGA Tour was always a dream, something I wanted to do,’’ said Szokol. “I saw improvement every year, and winning the NCAA Regional my senior year was a confidence builder.’’

Good college players don’t always make it at the professional level, however. Szokol had to survive three stages of 72-hole qualifying tournaments to just earn a spot on the Symetra circuit.

The first was in Palm Springs, Calif., where 350 players competed for 80 spots in the second stage. Szokol survived that and headed to Venice, Fla., where over 200 competed for 90 places in the third and final stage. She got survived those, too, and got through her rookie pro season with only limited success.

“That first year I found out that professional golf is a lot different than it was in college,’’ she said. “The second year I had things to figure out. Mainly it was time management. I had to find a good balance between practice and playing.’’

That task was made more difficult by a major health problem. Szokol needed knee surgery to fix extensive cartilage damage and wanted to have it in December of 2017. It had to be delayed a month, however, because no donor cartilage was available. After getting the surgery in January Szokol found herself in a brace from her left ankle to her hip. She had to learn how to walk again while her Symetra rivals were gearing up for the start of another season.

Amazingly, Szokol missed only the season-opening tournament of the 2018 season in Winter Haven, Fla. She started swinging a club while that event was going on and played in the next stop in Beaumont, Tex. The breakthrough came in the third event – the IOA Invitational in Atlanta.

Closing with a 4-under-par 68 Szokol came from five shots back on a windy day to claim a one-stroke victory. To play so well so quickly after surgery was a surprise to many, but not Szokol.

“My game was there and I putted well,’’ she said. Szokol didn’t win again in 2018 but she had seven top-10 finishes and a strong third in the season-ending Symetra Tour Championship. Her $76,612 in season winnings was good for fourth place on the year’s money list, and the top 10 were awarded their LPGA Tour cards.

Though there’s a big difference between the LPGA and Symetra circuits, the momentum from last year didn’t wear off when Szokol finally got her chance in the big time. Her first two tournaments were in Australia in February. A bad second round led to her missing the 36-hole cut in her LPGA debut but she rebounded the following week by tying for 58th in the Women’s Australian Open. That enabled Szokol to claim her first LPGA check — for $3,360.

“It was definitely great to go and play,’’ she said. “I was happy to get my first two starts and now I expect to play a lot. I’m guaranteed to play in all the full-field events except the majors.’’

Her tournament schedule resumed in mid-March in Phoenix and she expects to play in six tournaments on the West Coast in March and April.

When in Chicago she practices at Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe but her swing coach isn’t there. Szokol is working with Kim Lewellen, her college coach at Virginia who has since moved on to Wake Forest. Szokol also has her first agent and sponsorship agreements with Ping and Titleist.

HERE AND THERE: DJ’s Junior champion becomes one of his rivals in Valspar tourney

Dustin Johnson returned to Myrtle Beach to personally open his upgraded golf academy.


Dustin Johnson doesn’t live in Myrtle Beach, S.C., anymore but his game blossomed there when he was still an amateur, and he hasn’t forgotten those days.

Johnson keeps many of his trophies at TPC Myrtle Beach. His golf academy is also there, and it got a major upgrade in time for the fourth playing of the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship earlier this month.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the golf school and its growth,’’ said Johnson “Golf has given me so much, and hopefully the school can play a role in the development of tomorrow’s golfers.’’

The Dustin Johnson Golf School is now the only facility in South Carolina with two Trackman machines. It also has the Swing Catalyst, which provides high speed video technology along with balance data; the K-Vest 3D Motion Analysis, which supplies instant 3D data in conjunction with the launch monitor; and the SAM PuttLab, the world’s most accurate and comprehensive putt analysis and training system.

Both Dustin Johnson and Akshay Bhatia, the 17-year old champion of Johnson’s recent World Junior tournament, will face Copperhead’s fearsome Snake Pit in this week’s Valspar Championship.


Johnson was on site to christen the new facility during his namesake tournament, which has become one of the most prestigious junior tournaments. Johnson, who has donated over $500,000 to junior golf programs, also joined Hootie and the Blowfish as inductees into the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame while he was in town but the most interesting DJ development may not come until this week.

Akshay Bhatia, who won the boy’s division of Johnson’s tournament, will play along with Johnson in the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship – the last of four straight tournaments comprising the circuit’s Florida Swing. The Valspar tees off on Thursday on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort in Tarpon Springs.

Bhatia, 17, is the No. 1-ranked junior boy in the world. The Wake Forest, N.C., resident, who plays left-handed, set a tournament record in the Dustin Johnson World Junior with a 5-under-par 211 for 54 holes. That contributed to Bhatia getting a sponsor’s exemption into his first PGA Tour event. He plans to skip college and turn professional when he turns 18 next January.

Bhatia was by no means the whole show in Johnson’s junior event. Alexa Pano, of Lake Worth, FL., ruled the girls division and became the first player – boy or girl – to win the tournament twice.

Wisconsin’s Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, has released a full animation preview of its new putting course. Scheduled to open on Aug. 1, the course will be lighted to permit evening play.


BITS AND PIECES: Entries are now being accepted for Myrtle Beach’s biggest event. The 36th PlayGolf Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship will be held Aug. 26-30.

The name of the host hotel for the 29th International Network of Golf Spring Conference in Sebring, FL., has been changed from Chateau Elan to Seven Sebring Raceway Hotel. The hotel wanted to spotlight its connection to the auto track that hosts the famed 12 Hours of Sebring race. (Seven is a reference to the track’s famed hairpin turn). The golf event is May 19-24.

Dormie Network, a nationwide stable of private destination clubs, has acquired Hidden Creek in New Jersey and Victoria National in Indiana. Among its other clubs is Briggs Ranch in Texas. Victoria National and Briggs Ranch are both Web.com Tour sites.

Chicago’s KemperSports has taken over management of Thornberry Creek, the official course of the Green Bay Packers and the home of the LPGA’s Thornberry Creek Classic.

Billy Casper Golf recently held its 30th anniversary celebration at Reunion Resort in Kissimmee, FL. Billy Casper Golf operates 150 courses in 29 states.

Wisconsin’s SentryWorld has set a May 3 opening for its course, which will host the U.S. Girls Junior Championship from July 22-27.

FINALLY — AND JUST FOR FUN — we thought this a good time to spotlight some of the most memorable golf scenes we’ve enjoyed recently. Here are some of the “Best of Joy Sarver” photos:

A chilly early morning round on the Golden Nugget course in Lake Charles, LA.

The courses on the Horseshoe Bay Resort gave us a new perspective on our first trip to Texas.

Bunkering like this underscores how tough the Nicklaus Course at Florida’s Reunion Resort is.

Weather aside, views from the Pete Dye Course at Indiana’s French Lick Resort are hard to beat.

Is there a more beautiful par-3 anywhere than No. 7 at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits? We don’t think so.

LZOG has another golf website partner — Fred Altvater’s Ohio Golf Journal

Fred Altvater (right) is now the seventh golf website partner for Len Ziehm on Golf.


We are delighted to announce another partnership agreement for the Len Ziehm on Golf website. Ohio-based Fred Altvater, a long-time friend and a golf teacher as well, is joining us on two levels.

Fred’s Back 9 Media Group includes the Ohio Golf Journal, a fine digital publication that provides golf tips and articles on all phases of golf. What makes Back 9 Media unique among our partners is that it also includes a video companion, Back 9 Report TV. Back 9 Report TV can be found on Roku but is also posted at http://back9report.com/.

Back 9 Report can also be heard on Blogtalk, TuneIN and ITunes.

Fred, who started his golf media ventures in 2007 and is the publisher of Ohio Golf Journal, won two Outstanding Achiever awards for his 2018 video projects at the International Network of Golf’s Media Awards. They were presented at the PGA Merchandise Show – an annual January gathering of leaders from all segments of the golf industry in Orlando, Florida.

Ohio Golf Journal becomes the seventh golf website partner for LZOG. All are a bit different but share the common goal of providing useful and interesting information to every variety of golfer.

The other partner sites are Rory Spears’ Golfers on Golf radio, Tim Cronin’s Illinois Golfer, Cheryl Justak’s Golf Now!Chicago, Brian Weis’ GolfTrips.com, Dave Lockhart’s LInksVideo and Jason Bruno’s LInksNation. LZOG now has partner sites based in five states — Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.

Chicago golf scene will be different now that four amateur stars have turned pro

In the early 1980s the Chicago amateur ranks were dominated by a fabulous foursome, David Ogrin, Gary Pinns, Gary Hallberg and Jerry Vidovic. Toss in Lance Ten Broeck and Roy Biancalana, who were slightly younger than that group, and you had what I consider the Golden Years of Chicago amateur golf.

Ogrin, Hallberg and Ten Broeck were winners on the PGA Tour. Pinns and Biancalana played on that circuit and Vidovic won a national title – the U.S. Amateur Public Links. It’ll be tough to top that group.

The last few years, however, produced a Fabulous Foursome, too, in Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy, Patrick Flavin and Tee-K Kelly. You could also mix in the slightly older Vince India and Brad Hopfinger, too. Those two are among the select nine players with wins in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open and are now past the rookie stage on the Web.com Tour.

Ghim, Hardy, Flavin and Kelly all had their moments as amateurs and are new to the pro game. It’ll be interesting to see how their careers play out, but – suffice it to say for now – they’ll be missed around the local tournament scene this season.

Who was the best as an amateur? That’s hard to say. Ghim ventured to the University of Texas and basically limited his Chicago play to the Western Amateur. Kelly won the Illinois State Amateur twice and was runner-up another time.

Hardy had the best single tournament performance with his record 28-under-par over 54 holes to capture the 2016 Illinois State Amateur and he was always a factor in the Western Amateur and Illinois Open. Flavin had the best single season when – in 2017 — he became the first player in 37 years to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year.

So, what happens now?

Ghim moved to Las Vegas and finished a solid third in the final stage of Web.com Tour qualifying. India, the reigning Illinois Open champion, regained his Web.com Tour card with a 12th place finish in his return to Q-School. They’ll be easy to follow, since they have a tour with almost weekly tournaments to play in. Both made the cut in the first one of 2019, in the Bahamas.

Kelly already won on the PGA’s Latinoamerica circuit – a whopping seven-shot victory in 2017 — and will be able to compete there again. His challenge will be to elevate his game to another level, and another tour.

For good friends Hardy and Flavin, it’s a little different. They established residences in Scottsdale, Ariz., during winter that are 10 minutes apart. In April, or whenever the Chicago weather permits it, they’ll return to the area and practice at the Merit Club in Libertyville. Finding tournaments might be a challenge, as neither has status on any tour yet.

Flavin survived only the pre-qualifying stage of Web.com Tour qualifying. He had better luck after moving to Scottsdale in November, finishing seventh and second in two mini-tour events with a missed cut in an event in Mexico in between.

“My game feels good, and I love being out here,’’ said Flavin, who is living with a college teammate from Miami of Ohio until his return to Chicago.

Flavin didn’t get the big tournament exposure that Hardy did as a member of the University of Illinois’ powerhouse teams, so he’s taking a different approach to his first season as a pro.

“I’ll go into the Latinoamerica Q-School, then the Canadian Tour Q-School,’’ he said. “That’ll give me the most kicks of the can, and if I finish well on the money lists I can move up to the Web.com. Playing a schedule like that really suits my game.“

The Latinoamerica Q-School will be a special experience. The competition will be held in Brazil, on the same course that hosted the last Olympics golf tournament.

Hardy, who made the cut in two U.S. Opens as an amateur and earned paychecks on both the PGA and Web.com circuits last year after getting into events on sponsor’s exemptions, did enter the Monday qualifier for the Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour. Other than that he wasn’t sure where he’d be playing immediately after returning to the U.S. following a winter visit to Australia.

“My schedule is tough to plan,’’ he said. “I have to earn my way into tournaments. I’ll play in a lot of Monday qualifiers and try to earn my status that way.’’

Hardy made it through the first stage of Web.com Tour qualifying but came up two strokes short in the second stage. Players who reach the third and final stage have at least limited status on the circuit.

“Q-School was a great learning experience, though I didn’t play my best,’’ said Hardy, “Now I’ll take what I learned as an amateur and at Illinois. I feel great about my game.’’

On the women’s front Chicago will have a changing of the guard on the Ladies PGA Tour. For nearly three decades the only Chicago player on the premier women’s circuit was Nicole Jeray. With Jeray, 48, taking a teaching job at Mistwood in Romeoville, the lone Chicago representative on the LPGA circuit will be Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, and she has the credentials to do quite well.

Szokol, who will be an LPGA rookie in 2019, earned her place on the circuit by finishing fourth on the Symetra Tour money list in 2018. Her second season on the LPGA’s developmental tour was a solid one after she was sidelined for eight weeks by knee surgery in January.

She won the IOA Invitational in May – her second start of the season – and tied for third in the season-ending Symetra Tour Championship. In between Szokol had four more top-10 finishes en route to earning $76,612 in her 20 tournament appearances. She’s expected to make her LPGA debut overseas in February. The LPGA has four tournaments – in Australia, Thailand and Singapore – before holding its first event in the U.S. at Phoenix in March.

Jeray, meanwhile, isn’t done competing. She earned a place in one of the LPGA majors — the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — with a strong showing in last year’s LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals National Championship and is especially focused on winning the Illinois Women’s Open for the third time on the course where she now works.

Already the IWO champion in 1998 and 2003, she hopes to become the first player to win the tournament in three decades.

Ghim, India earn coveted spots at Web.com Tour qualifying tourney

Doug Ghim has relocated from Arlington Heights to Las Vegas as he prepares for his first full season as a Web.com Tour player. (Photos provided by Rory Spears)


The Chicago area has hardly been rich in players on the pro golf tours in recent years, but that situation improved significantly last weekend.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim and Deerfield’s Vince India earned spots for 2019 on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s alternate circuit, and former world No. 1 Luke Donald, shaking off lingering back issues, played in his first American tournament in eight months.

Ghim, the low amateur at last year’s Masters, tied for third in the 72-hole finals of the Web.com Tour’s qualifying tournament in Chandler, Ariz., and India, the reigning Illinois Open champion, finished 12th. They were paired together in the final two rounds.

That means both have a significant tour to play on in 2019. The Web.com offers direct advancement to the PGA Tour for its best players. Ghim, who has relocated to Las Vegas since finishing his collegiate career at the University of Texas, is guaranteed 12 tournament starts in 2019 and India will be assured of at least eight.

Ghim, shooting 66-65 on the weekend, finished 25 under par for the 72 holes and India, who opened the tournament with a 63, finished at 23 under.

Vince India became just the ninth player win withs in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open when he won the Open title at The Glen Club this year. He won’t likely be able to defend that title, but the Web.com Tour will have a new event there in June. “That’ll be my Illinois Open,” said India.


India, one of just nine players to own wins in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, was a Web.com regular in 2017 but couldn’t retain his privileges for this year.

“I had full-time status in 2017 and played injured, which was stupid,’’ said India. “Last year I was able to play in only about one-third of the season. I was in a pretty weird place with my golf. Health was probably the reason for my golf problems.’’

Like Donald, India has battled back issues since concluding a stellar collegiate career at Iowa. Also like Donald, he used stem-cell therapy in his recovery effort.

“You’re never over back problems once they start,’’ said India. “There will always be rehab and therapy. It’s always in the back of my mind. I’ll need to keep working.’’

Web.com qualifying is held in three stages. Two Chicago amateur stars of the past, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, didn’t make it to the finals stage and will have to survive Monday qualifying rounds or land sponsor exemptions to get into the circuit’s tournaments.

Dylan Meyer, Hardy’s University of Illinois teammate, tied for 50th in the Web.com finals after a promising start as a pro. Using sponsor exemptions after his collegiate season ended in June, Meyer earned $275,109 in PGA Tour starts and another $10,060 on the Web.com circuit. While he’s not guaranteed any Web.com starts, Meyer will likely get into a few tournaments because he qualified for the finals of Q-School.

LUKE IS BACK: Luke Donald spent parts of 2011 and 2012 as the world’s top-ranked golfer after graduating from Northwestern and he remained active golf-wise in the Chicago area through his membership at Conway Farms in Lake Forest and support work for the NU golf program, Western Golf Assn., and First Tee of Greater Chicago.

Donald’s playing career tapered off after he suffered a herniated disc in his back that led to his dropping off the circuit in April. After taking three months of complete rest while receiving stem-cell therapy Donald returned to competition in October at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour.

So far the results haven’t been there. Donald missed the 54-hole cut in the Dunhill Links and his team was 10th among the 12 twosomes competing in last week’s GTE Shootout in Naples, FL. He’ll join Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman to give the Chicago area a presence on the PGA Tour when the circuit resumes its schedule in January.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN LPGA: For over two decades Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray was basically the only Chicago area player on the Ladies PGA Tour. Now Jeray is turning her focus to teaching at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville and Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol will carry the Chicago banner on the LPGA circuit.

Szokol spent two collegiate seasons at Northwestern and two at Virginia before earning a place on the LPGA’s satellite Symetra Tour last year. Szokol advanced to the LPGA circuit by finishing fourth on the Symetra money list this year. She earned $76,612 and picked up her first victory at the IOA Invitational in May.

WINTER SCENE: Steve Kashul’s “The Golf Scene’’ will begin its Winter Edition on Sunday. The show, which will run at various times, is celebrating its 25th year anniversary on NBC Sports Chicago.

The Chicago Golf Show is also gearing up for its 36th winter staging. It’ll be held Feb. 22-24 at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosement.

Meet the Millers: Like father, like son in Illinois PGA leadership

The Illinois PGA changes its president every two years, and the most recent changing of the guard on Nov. 19 was much different than all the previous ones.

When Jim Miller took over the reins from Mark Labiak the section gained an unusual new leader. Rarely has the IPGA had a president from a club outside of the Chicago area. Miller is in his 14th season as head professional at Bloomington Country Club, which is located in central Illinois.

And that’s not all. Miller is also continuing a family tradition. His father Hal was the IPGA president from 1982-83, when he was in the midst of a long and successful run at Evanston Golf Club in Skokie.

The Miller & Miller scenario begins at Evanston, where Hal entered the golf business as a caddie. He later worked there on the practice range and as a starter before becoming an assistant professional under the legendary player and teacher John Revolta in 1960.

Hal spent seven seasons as a Revolta assistant, then became the head professional in 1966 following Revolta’s retirement. Hal was the head man there for 35 years before retiring on Dec. 31, 2001. Now 82, he’s an honorary member of the club that he served in one capacity or another for about 50 years. Selected into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 2007, he also remains involved with the IPGA as a regular rules official at its tournaments.

A Glenview resident, Hal and wife Kathleen were the parents of five children, all of whom worked at Evanston in one capacity or another while growing up. Jim is the only one who followed Hal into the golf industry.

Jim, 52, graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1990, then spent three years as an assistant at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, and another at Indian Hill, in Winnetka, before Hal had an opening on his staff at Evanston. Jim eventually succeeded Hal as the club’s head professional and held that job for five years.

His move to Bloomington came in 2005 and was made largely for family reasons.

“When I got married I had promised my wife (Julia) that I wouldn’t be gone as much as my Dad was when I was growing up,’’ he said. “I had been working 13-hour days because that was the expectation created from Hal. That was the standard he had set. By that time we had four children under the age of nine. My wife reminded me of the promise I had made and said she expected me to keep it.’’

Jim did. When as opening developed at Bloomington he applied, was hired and has found a good job fit. Their four children are Parker, now 21; Katie, now 19; Ashley, now 17; and Bailey, now 14.

Bloomington, which has 330 golf members, was agreeable to Jim’s need for more family time. A good enough player to qualify for two PGA Club Professional Championships and become the runner-up in the 1995 IPGA Match Play Championship, Miller is focused on a broader range of duties now.

“When I first got to Bloomington the pace was slower and the demands not quite as high (as he had at Evanston),’’ he said, “but I brought that with me, and Bloomington has gotten more like the Chicago clubs.’’

Bloomington has always been a prominent tournament site. In addition to welcoming the Illinois Open in 1980, the club has hosted eight Illinois State Amateurs including last year’s version — more than any other club. Bloomington has also hosted the Illinois State Women’s Amateur five times.

Miller inadvertently played a role in hurting Bloomington’s chances to bring an Illinois Open back downstate. He was the IPGA’s tournament chairman when the decision was made to alter the format of the event in hopes of expanding the field and increasing the entries. The Glen Club, in Glenview, became the permanent site for the finals and a nearby club was needed as the alternate site each year. Bloomington was too far away to fit the bill, but Miller is happy with the format change made in the section’s premier event.

An IPGA director for three years while at Evanston, Miller dropped off the board when he made the move to Bloomington but he returned in 2009 and was elected an officer in 2015, when he ran for the secretary’s position. That started his progression to the presidency. He was secretary in 2015-16 and vice president in 2017-18. Now he takes on the responsibility of leading an organization with about 800 members.

The IPGA presidency is much different than when his father was in charge. The IPGA had an executive director (Ken Boyce) at that time but no long-term headquarters and only two assistants for Boyce. Now executive director Carrie Williams heads a staff that has at least three times that number when summer interns are factored in and a long-term base at The Glen Club.

“There are some similarities to when I was president,’’ said Hal, “but there’s a lot of facets the president is involved in. When I was president there weren’t so many things.’’

Jim sees one big issue ahead.

“It’s diversity and inclusion,’’ he said. “I know that affects us (the IPGA) for sure, but it’s industry-wide. The sheer lack of women and minorities in our industry is staggering and it’s our mission to find out why and how we can change it.’’

That’s not his only chore, of course.

“My goal is just to increase new member services, be it through education, tournaments, outreach programs,’’ he said. “I also want to make sure the section financially is in a good position. We’ll try to make our jobs better for all our members.’’

ISU’s Wallace, Sheppard earn CDGA Player of the Year honors

The Chicago District Golf Association has honored Players of the Year since 1993 and the Senior Player of the Year has been designated since 1995. Those so honored have earned a cherished place in golf history, and some have taken the honor to even greater heights.

Joel Hirsch was the first CDGA superstar, winning the first two Player of the Year awards in 1993 and 1994, and he was also the first to win the Senior Player of the Year honors three times (1996, 1998 and 2001). Hirsch’s accomplishments gave way to Dave Ryan, who won Senior honors seven times between 2009 and 2016, and no golfer has topped the four Player of the Year awards accumulated by Todd Mitchell (2006, 2008, 2013 and 2016).

This year’s honorees are special, as well. One picked up his coveted honor without winning tournament that offered Player of the Year points during the 2018 season and the other rose to prominence after having serious doubts that he’d even be able to play this season.

Let’s meet this terrific twosome:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Trent Wallace, Joliet.

For three years Wallace has been playing in the shadow of three of the all-time great amateurs in the history of Chicago golf. Doug Ghim (2014), Nick Hardy (2015) and Patrick Flavin (2017) were the best in those years and have continued to do big things both locally and nationally. That made the award all the more special for Wallace, who is a senior at Illinois State.

“It’s a great honor to be in the same category of great players, especially those who have won recently,’’ said Wallace. “I had always been a streaky player, but this season I was in contention every week. My forte is to grind.’’

Grind it out, he did. Though he didn’t have a victory Wallace piled up points by tying fourth in the Illinois State Amateur (his third straight top-five finish in that event), finishing as the runner-up in the CDGA Amateur and tying for seventh in the Illinois Open.

In the CDGA Amateur Wallace lost the title to ISU teammate David Perkins, of East Peoria, in a match that went 23 holes. As a college player Wallace was medalist in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He also helped the Redbirds win the Wisconsin Badgers Invitational this fall.

“My coach (Ray Kralis) said it was the best win in school history,’’ said Wallace. “Coach Ray was the only Division I coach to offer me a scholarship. I jumped at it, and I’ve never looked back. Every year the program has gotten better, and this year we’re in line to do something special.’’

When the ISU season is over that’ll also be the end of Wallace’s days as an amateur golfer.

“I haven’t been able to get into the Western Amateur for whatever reason, and if I can’t get into events like that I don’t see staying an amateur doing me any good,’’ he said. “The State Amateur is a nice tournament, but I’ve got bigger and better things to worry about. I’m looking forward to turning pro.’’

Wallace started playing golf when he was 3 years old and developed through the junior programs at the Inwood public course in Joliet before playing high school golf for Joliet West. Now he’s ready to take his game beyond the Illinois borders.

He plans to head for Florida, where his father lives, after his college eligibility is over and try the mini-tours, Web.com Tour qualifying school and the PGA Latinoamerica Tour.

SENIOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Tim Sheppard, East Peoria.

Sheppard didn’t let understandable frustration get the better of him. That’s why he is the CDGA Senior Player of the Year.

Sheppard had been the CDGA’s Central Illinois Player of the Year in 2002. That award was discontinued after being handed out from 1995 through 2013, and Sheppard had a great chance to win the overall Senior honor in 2016.

“I had a good year, but Dave passed me because he won the U.S. Senior Amateur,’’ said Sheppard. “Dave beat me only once in 2016, and I’ve been wanting to win a CDGA event for some time. That put added pressure on me.’’

Sheppard had another problem as well. He started feeling pain in his left elbow in June of 2017, and that severely limited his tournament play. He underwent surgery, but that didn’t solve the problem. He switched doctors and had a stem cell injection in November of 2017. That helped somewhat when the 2018 schedule started.

“I didn’t play for two weeks, and then the pain was tolerable,’’ he said. “But then the pain started going into my hand. I changed my golf swing. In 2015 and 2016 I was playing the best golf of my life, then this nerve issue put a halt to my playing for almost a year.’’

More surgery was scheduled, then postponed. Sheppard still sees it in his future, but he did get his game in order for a late-season run that landed him his Player of the Year award.

In September he won the Illinois State Senior Amateur – his first individual title in a state/CDGA event. In October he teamed with Tom Kearfott to win the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball for the second time.

Sheppard also reached the semifinals of the CDGA Senior Amateur and qualified the match play portion of the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Now 57, Sheppard owns an insurance agency in Peoria, Married to Michelle and the father of two children, Sheppard plays out of Lick Creek in Pekin. He didn’t play college golf and his main sport was softball until he was 34 years old. He didn’t get into serious golf competitions until his mid-thirties.

CDGA GOLFER ESSAY: My FIRST 50 years reporting on golf

Let’s make this perfectly clear from the outset. This is not a farewell/retirement column. It’s a reflection on my first 50 years covering golf in the Chicago area and beyond. It’s been a great run that I envision continuing for many years to come.

I consider the start coming at the 1968 Western Open during my first post-college job for the Hammond (Ind.) Times – now The Times of Northwest Indiana. The Western was played at Olympia Fields that year with Jack Nicklaus winning the title.

Covering PGA Tour events was much different then than it is now. Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the top players would sit around a table in a small room designated for the press, drink a beer, smoke a cigarette and basically chew the fat with no more than a half-dozen writers.

Things changed quickly after that. The following year I started my 41-year career at the Chicago Sun-Times. I covered many other sports there – most notably the Northwestern teams for 11 years, pro soccer for 26 years and Wolves and Blackhawks hockey for the final 16 – but golf was always a fixture on my schedule.

The methods for creating and transmitting my reports changed dramatically over the years. First it was dictation via phone from the tournament site to the office. Then we carried both typewriters and telecopiers to the events and faxed the stories in. Eventually fax machines gave way to Radio Shack computers, which were very slow-moving.

Note-taking by hand was the initial method for interviewing. Now there’s digital recorders and transcripts of interviews are even provided at the bigger tournaments. Stories are sent via email and writers can even double as photographers, taking pictures with cellphones and then transmitting them via laptops.

My first big golf event at the Sun-Times was the 1972 Western Open at Sunset Ridge. It was interesting to return to that club this fall for the Western Amateur. There were no other stops at that club in between, so revisiting was special.

Much to my delight, the Daily Herald asked me to be its golf columnist immediately after I retired from the Sun-Times in June of 2010. I completed my ninth season with the Daily Herald this year and have also written for more years than that for both the Chicago District Golfer and Chicagoland Golf. Mix in some spot assignments for other publications, websites and tournament programs, and that’s a little of words and time spent devoted to birdies and bogeys, titles won and lost, course openings and closings and – even occasionally – some controversies.

Based on the research available, I can claim to be the longstanding Chicago golf scribe. Charles Bartlett, the legendary Chicago Tribune golf writer, was on the beat from 1936 to 1967. That’s 31 years. I was arriving on the scene as Bartlett was retiring, and I never met him but I’ll bet we could have shared some great stories.

The best performance by a local player in my era has been – by far – Nick Hardy’s 28 under par 260 in the 2016 Illinois State Amateur at St. Charles. The most exciting finish came in a 1991 LPGA event presented by my then-employer. Martha Nause rallied in the final four holes of an event called the Chicago Sun-Times Shootout at Oak Brook Golf Club, finishing birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle to win by one stroke. The eagle came off a hole-out from 100 yards on her final shot.

While the local scene was always close to my heart I have witnessed first-hand 28 U.S. Opens, 11 Masters, 19 PGA Championships, four U.S. Women’s Opens and the last 34 Western Opens. My debuts at both the U.S. Open and Masters were unforgettable. Johnny Miller’s record 63 on a rainy final day at Oakmont gave him the 1973 U.S. Open. The last of Nicklaus’ six wins in the Masters came in 1986, my first visit to Augusta National, and his charge on the back nine on Sunday was electrifying. I’ve never experienced anything like it, before or since.

Seeing all those great moments up close and personal unfortunately didn’t help my own game. My handicap has never been below 16 but my career low 18-hole round (81) came in this, my 74th year, and – thanks to a strong helping wind and steep downhill terrain leading into the green – I also drove a par-4 hole for the first time in at least 20 years. Maybe I’m just getting better with age – at least I hope so.

Golf has changed a lot in my last 50 years. The top stars are playing for much more money and aren’t as accessible or outgoing as they once were. The number of courses has dropped slightly. More women are playing, and youth programs are taking off big-time.

In short, the story of golf is an ongoing one, and I’m blessed to be able to report on it.

HERE AND THERE: Myrtle Beach’s Fall Classic takes on an expanded new look

TPC Myrtle Beach will be just one of the top courses awaiting players in the Short Par 4 Fall Classic.


The Myrtle Beach Fall Classic had been a four-year success in the South Carolina golf mecca, but the fifth staging – which starts on Sunday and runs through Thursday, Nov. 15 – has turned into an event that’s both bigger and better.

Landing Short Par 4 — a golf-inspired subscription service that ships hand curated, top quality branded golf apparel, footwear and accessories directly to golfers – as a title sponsor was a big reason. Short Par 4 is in the first of a three-year agreement for the event, now known as the Short Par 4 Fall Classic.

The immediate result was a record entry of 432 players from 38 states for the 72-hole two-person team event. Organizers hadn’t initially planned on that many players and increased the field size by 70 players while the entries were piling in.

“It’s quickly emerged as one of our most popular events,’’ said Scott Tomasello, tournament director for Golf Tourism Solutions, the company that runs the event. “Players love the two-person team format, which strikes a perfect balance by creating a competitive tournament and a relaxing atmosphere.’’

The course lineup was a plus as well. Five of the 16 courses to be used in the event have been ranked among America’s Top 100. They include such long-time favorites as the Dye and Fazio layouts at Barefoot Resort, Glen Dornoch, TPC Myrtle Beach, True Blue, Heritage Club and Thistle.

It’s hard to imagine a course with better waterfront views than Florida’s Sailfish Point.


WELL WORTH A LOOK: As most of you know I’m not one who gets carried away by course rankings provided by the golf industry publications. However, Sailfish Point (ranked fourth among residential courses in South Florida and 53rd nation-wide by Golfweek) seems to me underrated.

A Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, Sailfish Point opened in 1981 and the Golden Bear supervised a renovation in 2007 so the design is obviously of high quality.

More to the point, Sailfish has views that are hard to match on virtually every hole. That’s understandable given its location. The private club is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lucie Inlet. It’s hard to imagine any Florida course having the water views that Sailfish Point has. It’s also important to note that the water is primarily for the enjoyment of viewers, not to swallow up errantly-hit golf balls.

Sailfish Point, officially in Stuart, is part of a 532-acre gated oceanfront community on Hutchinson Island. It has plenty of other amenities, most notably a full service marina, but its golf course is something special.

The newly-named Mistwood Golf Dome now offers state-of-the-art Toptracer Technology.


MISTWOOD EXPANDS AGAIN: Though the Mistwood Golf Club course just closed for the season in the Chicago suburb of Romeoville, owner Jim McWethy continued to expand his golf interests.

McWethy announced major changes in what had been known as McQ’s Golf Dome in nearby Bolingbrook. McWethy renamed the facility the Mistwood Golf Dome, the dining area is now McWethy’s Sports Bar and – most notably – the facility is now equipped with TopGolf’s Toptracer Range Technology.

Toptracer is a state-of-the-art technology that tracks the flight of a golf ball, displays its path in video and analyzes every shot hit. Mistwood is the first U.S. indoor facility to install it. Users can enjoy virtual golf on the world’s best courses, interactive games and its stat-tracing options.

TopGolf, meanwhile, is planning to open a new facility in Schaumburg.

A NEW WAY TO GET AROUND: Medinah Country Club is now using a food truck purchased from the Texas Rangers to transport meals to all parts of the property. (Photo by Rory Spears)


BITS AND PIECES: The Innisbrook Resort, in Palm Harbour, FL., will re-open its South course on Nov. 30 with new greens matching those previously installed at Innisbrook’s Copperhead and North courses. Copperhead hosts the PGA Tour’s annual Valspar Championship in March.

Chambers Bay, the public venue in Washington state which hosted the 2015 U.S. Open, closed last month for renovation work on its greens. The course is scheduled to re-open in March with Poa annua putting surfaces. It has already been awarded the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2021.

Miami, Fla., is on the brink of losing its only municipal course. Voters have supported the creation of Miami Freedom Park on the site of the present International Links Melreese Country Club. Miami Freedom Park, a commercial development backed by soccer great David Beckham, includes a 25,000-seat soccer stadium that’s to be home to a Major Soccer League team and a hotel.

Cog Hill, the 72-hole complex in Lemont, IL., will field a team for the third straight year in the PGA Junior League’s national championships. The finals, expanded from eight to 12 teams, will be played Nov. 16-17 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Junior League had a record 51,000 boys and girls participating on nearly 4,000 teams this year.

Chicago Golf Club member Tony Anderson has been named to the U.S. Golf Association’s Executive Committee and Medinah teaching professional Terry Russell is now the District 6 director for the PGA of America. He’ll represent the Illinois Wisconsin and Indiana sections of the PGA at the national board level.

Mike Scully, who had been Medinah’s director of golf during the 2012 Ryder Cup matches played there, has taken a general manager’s post at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga. Scully left Medinah to become director of golf operations at Desert Mountain in Arizona before taking the Reynolds Lake Oconee position.

Chambers Bay’s course is closed now, but it’ll re-open in March with all new greens.