A change in plans: Illinois golf courses are closed again

The opening of Chicago area golf courses was short-lived.

Many, under the impression that Gov. J.B. Pritzker had given his approval, opened on Wednesday in an announcement made by a group named the Allied Golf Association. Its members encompassed the Illinois Section of the Professional Golfers Association, the Chicago District Golf Association and Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents and the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Club Management Association of America.

That announcement was made after Governor’s Executive Order 2020-10 was issued to Illinois golf facilities on Tuesday night.

“That interpretation was correct and actionable at the time it was communicated. However, that interpretation has been overturned, ‘’ the Allied Golf Association announced Thursday. No further explanation was available.

According to Thursday’s announcement maintenance will be permitted on the courses, and clubs can provided carry-out food service – but no golf.

The Illinois Municipal League and Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity gave this explanation in a joint statement:

“No recreational sports businesses, including golf courses, are considered essential businesses under the executive order.’’

Golf’s ruling bodies across the country have been in disagreement as to whether players should be allowed on the course during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a survey conducted by the Golf Course Superintendents of America and published in GolfWorld magazine only six states – Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennylvania and Wisconsin – had banned golf prior to Thursday’s Illinois announcement. California and New York were listed as pending.


Illinois golf courses are allowed to open — but with restrictions

To play golf, or not to play golf — that’s been a hot topic around lots of states during this coronavirus pandemic. In Illinois – especially since the recent snowfall has melted and temperatures have climbed over 60 degrees — it’s created confusion that was somewhat cleared up with a statement by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that was made available to some media members on Wednesday.

Yes, courses are allowed to remain open, according to the amended statement issued on Tuesday night. Prior to that a Governor’s Executive Order ruled that the courses should be closed until April 7. Not all courses abided by that ruling, however, and many across the state accepted players. Private clubs and public venues in Central Illinois were particularly defiant of the original Governor’s Executive Order.

As of Wednesday courses could legally open, subject to the following conditions:

The clubhouse must remain closed and only online or telephone scheduling and payment of tee times is allowed.

Food and beverage service, including food or beverage cart service, cannot be provided. The use of carts by golfers won’t be allowed, either. Rounds will be walking-only.

Driving ranges will be closed due to concerns about social distancing and use of shared equipment. Golfers and course staff must also observe social distancing guidelines.

Those regulations were passed on to Illinois golf industry leaders on Tuesday night via a Coronavirus Update put out by the Allied Golf Association. That group encompasses the Illinois Section of the Professional Golfers Association of America, the Chicago District Golf Association, the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents and the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Club Management Association of America.

Until that statement was issued all the states bordering Illinois were allowing courses to open. In a strange twist on Wednesday, once the Illinois courses were allowed to open course operators in Wisconsin were informed that the state’s governor, Tony Evers, had ordered all the courses in that state to close.

With temperatures hitting 60 degrees, Wisconsin’s golf professionals weren’t happy about that. One reported he had “a full tee sheet from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m…..What am I going to do? Call them all and tell them not to come?’’

Some Chicago area courses haven’t opened at all yet, and the status of each course is different. Players are advised to call ahead to make sure a course is open or a tee time is available.

“Everybody has a different operation,’’ said Bob Malpede, general manager at White Deer Run in Vernon Hills. “Because we’re also a restaurant we do have curbside (food service).’’

Nearby Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, began an aerification project on its greens after the initial Governor’s Executive Order, which didn’t allow the courses to be open. Now that play is allowed, Pine Meadows’ greens will be closed and pins with be placed in the fairways. Green fees will be dropped to $15 until the greens are put back in play again. In addition to the driving range being closed the only restrooms available will be in the clubhouse, with one person using them at a time.

Players should also anticipate courses in need of more maintenance work. The only maintenance in progress is considered “Minimum Basic Operations.’’

Many of the courses will use versions of elevated cups in their hole placements to keep players from putting their hands into the holes.

The biggest public facility in the Chicago area, 72-hole Cog Hill in Lemont, will have its Nos. 1 and 3 courses open. Mistwood, home of the Illinois Women’s Open in Romeoville, is considering opening later in the week as are Naperville courses Naperbrook and Springbrook. Village Greens, of Woodridge, could open as early as this weekend.

The change in the Governor’s Executive Order was a surprise, and other courses are debating when to allow play. Poplar Creek, in Hoffman Estates, plans to open on Sunday (MARCH 29) and it’ll be a day later for Prairie Landing, in West Chicago.

Cantigny, in Wheaton, won’t open until April 6. So will another Wheaton facility, Arrowhead. Schaumburg Golf Club expects to open on or shortly after April 6.

REMEMBERING PETE DYE: A giant in golf course architecture

It was back in 2010 that then Indiana governor Mitch Daniels triggered the creation of the Pete Dye Golf Trail to stimulate tourism in the Hoosier State.

The following year Joy and I became among the first to play all seven courses on it. Back then I wrote that Dye was the most innovative golf course architect of our time.

Dye died on Thursday at age 94, but nothing has changed in my assessment of his talents. No disrespect to Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones, Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse or any of the other celebrated architects of my generation, but I maintain that Dye was the best.

Among the stops when Joy and I toured the Pete Dye Golf Trail was at his first 18-hole design. The Indianapolis course is now called Maple Creek, but it was known as Heather Hills when it opened in 1961.
Though he didn’t do much work in Illinois Dye was prominent in Wisconsin (Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits) and his native Indiana (Crooked Stick). And, one layout that bears his name – The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort in the southern part of the Hoosier State – may be the best of his creations.

Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass, as annual PGA Tour sites, have higher profiles and the Ocean Course at Kiawah in South Carolina has had its share of big events, too. Comparing Dye courses can be a thankless task, but playing them is always a treat.

His only Chicago area creation was Ruffled Feathers in Lemont (done with son P.B. Dye in 1991). Dye’s other Illinois credits are Oakwood, in Coal Valley; Tamarack, in O’Fallon; and Yorktown, in Belleville.

In 2020 the Western Amateur will be played at Crooked Stick, the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits and the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick in addition to the The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town. Those big events will underscore what a great architect Dye was.

For Joy and I his passing might fittingly trigger a return to the Pete Dye Golf Trail. In our first time around we played five of the seven courses in five consecutive days. We might not try that again, but we won’t forget the enjoyment received while playing Dye-designed layouts.

Our visit to Hilton Head Island, S.C., last fall included a visit to the Pete Dye Room in the Harbour Town clubhouse. It offered a photo tribute to his illustrious career.

Here’s two couples — and four Illinois PGA club professionals

The number of men among the PGA of America’s 29,000 members far outnumber the women. That’s no secret, and the number of married couples working in the business as PGA members isn’t very big either. It’s under 100 nation-wide.

What might be surprising out of that segment of the golf industry, though, involves two married couples who are both Illinois PGA members. In both cases the wife is a better player than the husband.

In one case there’s no question about it. Katie Pius, assistant professional at Biltmore Country Club in Barrington, is one of the best players in the section, man or woman.

“She’s just a better golfer than I am, plain and simple,’’ said her husband Josh Pius, head professional at Inverness. “She’s a talented player.’’

The playing disparity may not be as clearcut for Jennifer and Cory Ferrell, but Jennifer has been in more competitive situations. As Jennifer Broggi she was one of Illinois’ best amateurs when she was in high school at Naperville North and college at Illinois State. She turned pro after finishing up at ISU in 2002 and kept competing for awhile.

“When I got out of college I spent three winters in Florida,’’ she said. Ladies PGA headquarters is in Daytona Beach, so Florida was a good place to test her skills at a higher level.

“It wasn’t awful, but I honestly decided after getting a reality check,’’ she said. “I tried it, and it wasn’t my cup of tea.’’

The Ferrells met through the PGA’s training program and married in 2007. While they have no children, they’re both deeply involved in working with young players.

While Jennifer isn’t playing in many tournaments theses days, she isn’t completely out of the competitive side of golf. She has been the assistant coach of the girls team at Glenbard East High School since 2007.

“The season is short – just six-eight weeks, and I do enjoy it because it brings back memories of college,’’ she said.

Cory, completing his seventh season as head professional at the nine-hole Sugar Creek course in Villa Park, has 400 youngsters between the ages of 6-13 in his youth program there. He also works with Revelation Golf, a program that provides therapy through golf to military personnel.

Cory, born and raised in Maryland, grew up in the golf business. His father is a lifetime PGA member, and Cory was head pro at both Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, and Seven Bridges, in Woodridge, before coming to Sugar Creek. He also was a teach pro at Old Oak, in Homer

Jennifer is more deeply involved in golf than just through high school coaching. She’s head professional and division manager at Glendale Lakes in Glendale Heights.

Neither of the Ferrells feel that working in the same industry presents unique problems.

“It’s no different than two teachers or two police officers,’’ said Cory. “Golf is just different because of the goofy hours.’’

Katie and Josh Pius also met through golf, when Josh was in the midst of a five-year run as an assistant professional at North Shore Country Club in Glenview and Katie was an assistant at Westmoreland, in Wilmette. They’ve been married for five years and are in their sixth seasons on their current jobs.

“I had always said I’d never marry a golf professional because I knew the hours they work,’’ said Katie, “but then I met Josh.’’

Josh grew up in Michigan and spent two years as a head professional in Wisconsin before coming to Inverness. They have two children, Betty 3 ½ and Millie, 1. Their clubs are just a few miles apart, and that’s a big help.

“There’s a lot of (time) coordination there,’’ said Josh, “but I don’t consider it difficult. I know what she’s going through, and she knows why I’m going through, so we support each other throughout the season. It’s nice having someone who understands what you’re going through.’’

“I don’t work full-time – just seasonally and part-time,’’ said Katie, who is one of three assistants working with head man Doug Bauman at Biltmore. “That’s the only way this would work. The kids are in day car on the days when I work, and we visit Josh sometimes.’’

Katie does some teaching and runs the women’s leagues at Biltmore while retaining her status as the best woman player in the section. She plays in most of the section tournaments while Josh is limited basically to what he calls “the silly season,’’ when the events are more on the social side. They make an effort to play one nine-hole round together ever month.

“Obviously I’d like to play more,’’ said Katie. “This year is the most limited my schedule has been, but I hope to get more competitive once the kids get a little older.’’

TPC Deere Run is ready to host the JDC for the 20th time

The John Deere Classic has been played in the Quad Cities of Rock Island and Moline in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa for 48 years, but this year’s staging represents a significant milestone.

It’ll be the 20th year the tournament has been played at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, which is on the outskirts of Moline, and Moline is where the John Deere Company national headquarters is located. Ever since John Deere took over sponsorship in 1999 and the tourney moved to Deere Run this tournament — in one of the smallest markets on the PGA Tour — has been big-time, to put it mildly.

Through its Birdies for Charity program the JDC raised $13.4 million for 500-plus area charities last year. The tournament has established itself as the No. 1 tournament on the tour in per capital giving and No. 3 in total charitable giving, and each year it provides an estimated $54 million economic impact in the Quad Cities area.

Since Deane Beman, the former PGA Tour commissioner, won the inaugural playing of the tournament in 1971 the event has raised $107 for area charities.

“It’s unlike any other tournament,’’ said Michael Kim, who will defend his title from July 8-14.. “It’s such a tight-knit community. You can definitely tell how everyone in the community really backs the tournament. It’s s such a strong showing with the spectators and crowds. I wish we played every tournament out there now.’’

Over the years the JDC has been known for producing first-time PGA Tour winners – 22 of them, in fact. Last year it was Kim, and he won in style. His 27-under-par total not only produced a record eight-stroke victory margin but it also erased Steve Stricker’s 26-under par total in 2009 as the lowest in tournament history. Until Kim went crazy the most one-sided winner in tournament history was David Frost, who won by seven in 1993, before the tourney moved to TPC Deere Run.

“Obviously the best golf I’ve ever played for a week,’’ said Kim when he returned for a media day visit. He still watches his win on YouTube “just to remember that it actually happened.’’

The tournament had a long run at short, sporty Oakwood, in Coal City, before moving to Deere Run. The present home course was designed by veteran tour player D.A. Weibring, an Illinois State University alum who won the JDC three times when it was played at Oakwood.

Weibring, who had design help from Chris Gray, devised a 7,183-yard, par-71 course that has become a favorite of PGA Tour players. Some have even come to the JDC instead of heading overseas for the British Open, which is traditionally the week after the John Deere Classic. JDC director Clair Peterson has made his tournament an attractive option by chartering a jet for them from the Quad Cities Airport to the British site. Why head overseas sooner than necessary?

Last year the British site was Carnoustie, in Scotland, where Kim finished 35th behind champion Francesco Molinari. A week earlier Molinari had tied for second in the JDC but – like everyone else –couldn’t keep up with Kim.

While Kim’s win was one for the ages, it wasn’t the first in JDC history. This tournament has had lots of big moments – especially since it settled at TPC Deere Run. Stricker won his three-peat there (2009-11). Iowa native Zach Johnson, who is on the tourney’s board of directors and is its most devoted supporter among the PGA Tour players, played in his first tour event in the Quad Cities and ended Stricker’s run there.

Stricker’s first title started when he shot a 60 in the first 18 but wasn’t even leading at that day’s end because Paul Goydos had posted a 59. Jordan Spieth was among those winning for the first time at TPC Deere Run in 2013, when he was just 19 and the youngest winner on the circuit in 82 years. He triumphed again two years later — but hasn’t been back since.

And then there was Michelle Wie. Peterson gave her a sponsor’s exemption when she was 15 years old and she almost survived the 36-hole cut.

Peterson has always been welcoming to up-and-coming young stars. Lots have benefitted from his sponsor’s exemptions but this year Peterson changed his formula a bit. He invited a 45-year old with an unorthodox swing, one likened to a fisherman casting. Like Kim, Ho Sung Choi was born in South Korea and he can play. He won the Casio World Open on the Japan Tour last year.

There’s always something uplifting at the JDC. Among those this year is a boost in prize money—to $6 million. The winner will pick up $1,044,000.

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.