Defending champ Cooke has a dilemma going into the Illinois Open

David Cooke won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2015 and last year as a professional. He may well have problems just making his first-round tee time to open his title defense when the 71st playing of the tourney tees off on Monday at White Eagle Club in Naperville.

Cooke’s win last year was special.  After holding off Northbrook’s Nick Hardy – now a member of the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour, for the title at The Glen Club in Glenview – Cooke was off to his wedding in North Carolina and then what he hoped would be the start of a career as a touring pro in Europe.

The wedding went off fine, the European venture not so much.  Cooke, who grew up in Bolingbrook and  starred in college at North Carolina State, missed the cut in the German Open (won by Paul Casey), the KLM Open (won by Sergio Garcia) and the Spanish Open (won by Jon Rahm).  Then he didn’t play well in the European Tour qualifying school.

“I loved Europe but played terrible, so I didn’t pursue it,’’ said Cooke, who returned to Chicago and  planned to enter qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour.  It was canceled because of pandemic concerns, but Cooke proved he can still play.  He finished second in an event on the Tour Red mini-tour at Flossmoor Country Club and shot a course record 64 in an informal round with Andy Krajewski, his long-time swing instructor, at Naperville Country Club.

A married man needs a job, though, and Cooke didn’t have a tour to play on so he did the next best thing.  He became a caddie.

He started on the Korn Ferry Tour and Daved Kocher, one of his first players, won a tournament in Mexico on March 1 – the circuit’s last event before all the golf tours were shut down for three months because of the coronavirus issue.  That immediate success led to Cooke getting work with Chesson Hadley on the PGA Tour.

Cooke carried for Hadley in the 3M Open last week in Minnesota and is on his bag again this week in the Barracuda Championship in California.

“I love caddying, and I’m getting exposure to the PGA Tour,’’ said Cooke.  “If I can get a full-time job I’m going to do it. I’ve got to stick with a full-time thing.’’

Cooke left his clubs in Chicago, and — if Hadley survives the 36-hole cut on Friday  — he’ll have a tough time getting back for the Illinois Open since the Barracuda Championship concludes on Sunday. Cooke will try, though.

“I love the Illinois Open, but there aren’t enough tournaments like that,’’ said Cooke. Winning the Illinois Open – even winning it twice – doesn’t get Cooke into any other professional events and this week’s Illinois Open isn’t like the won he won last year. Because of pandemic concerns the field for the finals was cut from 264 to 156 and White Eagle is the new host site instead of The Glen.

 

STATE OF MIND: The Wisconsin State Golf Association allowed out-of-state residents to compete in its State Amateur this week, and Illinois players took full advantage since the Chicago District Golf Association had previously canceled its own state championship over pandemic concerns.

About 20 Illinois players were among the 156 to tee off Monday at Milwaukee Country Club.  They were allowed in the Wisconsin event if they were members of clubs in the Badger state and promised they wouldn’t play in a corresponding championship in another state.

Wisconsin, though, lost some players, too.  Three of that state’s best amateurs opted for the Western Amateur, being contested at Crooked Stick in Indiana.  That trio includes three top college players – Hunter Eichorn (Marquette), Piercen Hunt (Illinois) and Harrison Ott (Vanderbilt).  Eichorn was the Wisconsin Amateur champion last year and Ott won the title in 2018 .

The Wisconsin Amateur ends on Thursday and the Western Am, with only two players from Illinois among its starters, runs through Saturday.  The Western is a national championship put on by the Chicago area-based Western Golf Association.

CDGA OPENER: The 107th tournament season of the Chicago District Golf Association finally got started on Monday with the CDGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe.  The tourney concludes on Wednesday (today).  The bulk of the CDGA season — including the State Amateur and CDGA Amateur — was wiped out by pandemic concerns.

Here’s the reasoning on the canceling of the JDC

At first it was a feeling of shock, then disappointment. How could the 2020 John Deere Classic be canceled?

Here was a tournament that struggled at times to just stay on the PGA Tour, a difficult task for any event in a small market. And, this year’s July 6-12 staging at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis was to mark the JDC’s 50th anniversary. Lots of special events were planned. It would have been fun.

Plus, the JDC was being billed as the first tournament on the PGA Tour to allow spectators since concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season on March 12. That would have made this JDC special, too.

All that was not to be. Clair Peterson, one of the most respected tournament directors in all of golf, announced the JDC’s cancelation on May 28.

“It certainly wasn’t what anyone wanted,’’ said Peterson, “but it was the right decision, for sure.’’

Once Peterson elaborated on the decision I could see his point. There really was no other option, though various possibilities were considered by the tournament staff, sponsor John Deere and the PGA Tour for a month before the announcement was made.

As to the JDC being the first tournament to welcome spectators, Peterson said that was misleading.

“The first announcement (from the PGA Tour) said the first four tournaments (the Charles Schwab Challenge, RBC Heritage Classic, Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic) wouldn’t have fans but it didn’t say that the John Deere would,’’ said Peterson.

The fans – that’s where the problems started.

“Having fans vigilant about observing social distancing are mutually exclusive, if you think about it,’’ said Peterson. “It’s almost impossible to provide a safe environment in an event with fans.’’

Fans are quickly packed together once they arrive at the course. They ride shuttles together, they go through security together, they stand together while watching play. There really is no way to keep them apart at a tournament like the JDC, which has been blessed with a large, supportive fan base. So, fans – it was decided – wouldn’t work at the JDC. It would relegate the tournament to just a TV show, and that’s not what the JDC is all about

“Once you’re without fans you lose all three of your pro-ams, and that’s a million dollars,’’ said Peterson. “Guests are not interested in coming and revenue is dramatically affected.’’

Even without fans the players, tournament staff and volunteers have to be protected. The John Deere clubhouse isn’t big by PGA standards. Players needed a six-foot space around them to accommodate safety requirements. That wasn’t possible.

Governmental restrictions required that all parking be done on site. Shuttles for caddies and media were ruled out. The JDC staff couldn’t solve that problem, either.

“It was a tough task that has nothing to do with anything but safety, and John Deere is very serious about that,’’ said Peterson, noting that Deere has been manufacturing face shields as part of its effort to combat the virus.

Other tournament sponsors have also been helping, of course, and Peterson expects many will have answers to the problems that the JDC didn’t have in putting on their tournaments.

“Every event is different,’’ said Peterson. “Different states have different regulations. Some title sponsors have different philosophies. Some events have larger clubhouses and parking lots. Maybe they can pull it off, and we’re rooting for them. People are getting a little understanding of what these events are facing to safely bring golf back. We just couldn’t check all the boxes.’’

The PGA Tour said another tournament would soon be announced to fill the dates left vacant by the JDC’s cancelation.

One thing the JDC didn’t lose in canceling its tournament was its Birdies for Charities program. It remains in operation. Last year 543 area and regional charities shared a record $13.8 million raised from the tournament. This year the participating charities, even without a tournament being held, will receive a 5 percent bonus from John Deere for their money raised.

Many of the tour players contacted Peterson after the cancelation announcement and were sympathetic with the plight of the tournament. The 50th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021 instead of 2020 and Quad Cities author Craig DeVrieze will delay publication of his much-anticipated book on the tournament’s colorful history. Dylan Frittelli will return as the defending champion, two years after his victory instead of one.

Traditional July dates – the week before the British Open, which was also cancelled this year – are expected to continue in 2021.

“Our expectation is that things will be back to normal,’’ said Peterson.

One can only hope for that.

 

India misfires in his shot at first win on the Korn Ferry Tour

Vince India’s breakthrough win on a professional tour will have to wait. The former University of Iowa golfer from Deerfield, took a four-stroke lead into the final round of the King & Bear Classic on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour on Saturday and couldn’t protect it.

India soared to 4-over-par 76 in the final round, thereby handing the title to Chris Kirk who started the day in second place. Kirk, who has five wins on the PGA Tour, took his third on the Korn Ferry circuit thanks to a final round 67.

The story of the day, though, was more India’s collapse than Kirk’s victory. India, 31, was red hot for the first three rounds on the King & Bear Course at World Golf Village. He opened with rounds of 63, 66 and a course record-tying 62 before his collapse on Saturday.

India wound up in an eight-way tie tie for sixth place with, among others, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy. Hardy started the day nine strokes off the lead and wound up matching India’s 21-under-par showing for the 72 holes. Kirk’s 26-under set the pace and was worth $108,000.

“It was definitely a day that didn’t play out as I envisioned’’ said Kirk. “With Vince playing so well I thought I’d need to be 30-under to have a chance.’’

“I just tried to stick to my plan,’’ said India. “I wanted to get to 30-under.’’

Low scores were commonplace on the King & Bear – the only course jointly designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on grounds that include the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL.

India – one of just 10 players with victories in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open – is capable of putting up low numbers. He was leading the Portland Open, last event of the Korn Ferry’s 2019 season, when he made double bogey on the final hole. That left him outside of the circuit’s postseason playoffs and send him back to the tour’s qualifying tournament. He was undaunted, though.

“It was certainly inspiring,’’ said India. “Things just didn’t go my way on the last hole.’’

India made five eagles in the subsequent qualifying tournament at Orange County National in Florida and finished in a tie for 30th. That earned him a place in the first eight events of the 2020 season. The first six were played before the pandemic halted tournament play in March. At that point India had made just three cuts and was in danger of losing regular playing privileges.

When play resumed two weeks ago, however, he came out with solid play in two new events in Florida. He finished in a tie for 10th in the first in Ponte Vedra prior to his tie for sixth in St. Augustine. Those two weeks boosted him from 134th on the Korn Ferry standings to 38th and it’ll keep him on the tee sheet for the next segment of Korn Ferry events. The circuit resumes on Thursday with the Utah Championship.

Due to the pandemic, the top 25 on the Korn Ferry circuit who gain admittance to the PGA Tour won’t be determined until the fall of 2021. That leaves India with plenty of time to move up to the premier circuit.

“There’s such a fine line between this tour and the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “Not a lot of people really know that. There are a lot of guys who can gel with the PGA Tour fellas and win majors right away. The talent out here is supreme.’’

The Korn Ferry Tour has two Illinois stops – the Lincoln Land Championship at Panther Creek in Springfield Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at Chicago Highlands in Westchester Sept. 10-13. Both are $600,000 events that had been scheduled earlier in the season and then were postponed due to pandemic concerns.

CDGA cancels its two oldest tournamentsf due to pandemic concerns

The Illinois golf calendar took a big hit on Friday when the Chicago District Golf Association announced the cancelation of its two biggest and oldest championships.

The CDGA Amateur, which was to be played for the 101st time June 22-25 at Bull Valley in Woodstock, and the Illinois State Amateur, slated for its 90th playing at The Club at Wynstone in Barrington July 21-23, were dropped due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday’s announcement followed last week’s decision by Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville, to call off the Illinois Women’s Open. The Western Golf Association also had also cancelled its Western Junior and Women’s Western Junior Championships. The IWO was scheduled for July 13-15 and the two Western events were to tee off on June 15.

State government officials allowed Illinois’ courses to re-open on May 1 with a series of restrictions in place. While allowing for limited recreational play, those restrictions hinder the conducting of major tournaments.

“We continue to rely on the guidance of international, national and local health organizations and administrators, as well as the Golf Operational Restrictions set by the State of Illinois, when it comes to making decisions on our events,’’ said Robert Markionni, the CDGA executive director. “Based on current information from these entities we do not think it is feasible to begin safely conducting qualifiers for these events in late May and early June at the standard we are accustomed to, thus unfortunately necessitating the cancelation of these prestigious events.’’

This is the first cancelation in the history of the Illinois State Amateur, which was created in 1931. The CDGA Amateur last endured a cancelation n 1945, during World War II.

Both the Western Golf Association and Mistwood also cited travel restrictions for the decisions to cancel their tournaments.

The CDGA, which has now has cancelled four of its tournaments, also conducts qualifiers for many national events staged by the U.S. Golf Association. The CDGA is targeting July as the month it can begin to conduct qualifiers and the corresponding championships. Its tournament season runs through Oct. 8.

Next event on the CDGA schedule is the June 10 Radix Cup matches, an annual duel between the CDGA’s best amateurs and the leading professionals from the Illinois PGA at Oak Park Country Club. That event is currently listed as postponed.

The IPGA, still hoping to reschedule most of its tournaments, has listed the bulk of its events as “postponed.’’

JDC’s 50th anniversary staging maintains its spot on revised PGA Tour schedule

While the PGA Tour schedule remained in a state of flux on Thursday, there were some noteworthy developments. Two involved Illinois tournaments.

The Evans Scholars Invitational, scheduled as the next event on the PGA’s alternate Korn Ferry Tour, won’t make its scheduled May 20-24 playing at The Glen Club, in Glenview. It’s not being cancelled, though.

And the John Deere Classic, the annual PGA Tour stop in the Quad Cities, will not only remain on its July 6-12 dates at TPC Deere Run, in downstate Silvis. It is also being targeted as the first PGA stop to allow spectators since the coronavirus pandemic forced a series of postponements and cancellations on both circuits.

It’s a big year for the JDC. The tourney will be celebrating its 50th anniversary and its volunteer staff was alerted on Thursday that it should be prepared to welcome spectators. According to the PGA Tour’s revamped schedule, released on Thursday, the first four tournaments will be closed to the general public. That policy could change, though, based on recommendations of local and state authorities in each market.

The latest schedule has the PGA Tour resuming play at the Charles Schwab Challenge, at Colonial in Ft. Worth, TX., the week of June 8-14. That event was to be played from May 18-24 – the same dates as the Korn Ferry event at The Glen Club – but was pushed back as other dates opened up.

The RBC Heritage, at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina, is getting a second chance at playing. The tournament was to be played the week after the Masters in April. Now it’s scheduled for June 15-21 – the dates originally planned for the U.S. Open.

Also preceding the JDC are the Travelers Championship, in Connecticut, June 22-28 and the Rocket Mortgage Classic, in Detroit, July 2-5.

The John Deere Classic is traditionally held the week before the British Open, but the British has already been cancelled. Taking over the British dates is Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament in Ohio July 13-19. It had originally been scheduled in May.

There will be only three major championships this year instead of the usual four. The PGA Championship, at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, is Aug. 3-9 and PGA officials say it will go on without spectators if conditions demand it. The PGA of America, adamant about using those dates, said the tourney could also be moved if conditions require it.

The U.S. Open, at New York’s Winged Foot course, is on Sept. 14-20, a week before the Ryder Cup matches between the U.S. and Europe at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. The Masters tournament has been rescheduled for Nov. 9-15 in Georgia.

With 22 events having been played through the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, the adjusted season-long schedule – again subject to change – will consist of 36 events including three Fed Ex Cup Playoff events. The second of those is the BMW Championship. It was previously moved back a week, to Aug. 24-30, and will remain at Olympia Fields in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Thursday’s announcements also revealed that the Canadian Open and Barbasol Championship on the PGA Tour have been cancelled and the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic has been moved to Sept. 21-27. It’ll be played opposite the Ryder Cup matches.

In addition, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier won’t be on the PGA Tour’s fall schedule. It’s ending its 10-year run by mutual agreement with the tour. It was under contract through 2026 at the West Virginia resort owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

As for the Evans Scholars Invitational, which made its debut on the Korn Ferry circuit last year, the Western Golf Association is working with the PGA Tour on finding dates later in the year. Three other Korn Ferry tournaments were cancelled on Thursday.

“We conduct the Evans Scholars Invitational to raise funds and greater awareness for the Evans Scholars Foundation’s scholarship programs for caddies, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to hold the invitational at a later date,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s senior vice president for tournaments. “We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to conduct the Evans Scholars Invitational in May. However, our first priority remains the health and safety of the players, fans, sponsors, volunteers and everyone in the local community.’’

The Korn Ferry features 28 tournaments played in 20 states and four countries outside the U.S.. That league’s season culminates with the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in August. Its top players have a direct path to the PGA Tour for the 2020-21 season. The Korn Ferry is scheduled to return to competition with a new tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, the week of June 8-14 without fans in attendance.

Golf tournament schedules have taken on a completely new look

The tournament schedules of the pro golf tours have turned into a mess, the result of the coronavirus pandemic. Chicago’s premier tournament, the BMW Championship, won’t undergo much of an adjustment, however.

The FedEx Cup Playoff event was moved only one week as part of a schedule revampment announced on Monday by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. It’ll remain at Olympia Fields Country Club, but the dates will be Aug. 27-30 for the tournament rounds. The old dates had been Aug. 20-23.

“We’ve been working closely with the PGA Tour, BMW and our host club to ensure a smooth transition to our new dates while focusing on the healthy and safety of all involved,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association.

As for the rest of the season, planning wasn’t so easy.

As part of Monahan’s announcement the last regular season PGA Tour event will be the Wyndham Championship, in Greensboro, N.C., from Aug. 10-16. The next week the playoffs begin, with The Northern Trust on Aug. 17-23. The BMW will follow the next week and The Tour Championship will be held from Sept. 1-7 at East Lake, in Atlanta, to conclude the playoffs. Some bigger, more attractive events will be played after that, however.

“It’s a complex situation, and we want to balance the commitments to our various partners with playing opportunities for the world’s best players while providing compelling competition to our fans,’’ said Monahan. “But all that must be done while safely navigating the unprecedented global crisis impacting every single one of us.’’

Tickets already purchased for the BMW Championship, held last year at Medinah Country Club, will be honored at Olympia Fields on the days of the week noted on the tickets. The tournament will again raise funds for its sole beneficiary, the Evans Scholars Foundation. Last year’s event at Medinah drew 130,000 fans and raised $4.4 million for the charity.

“We’re committed to hosting a safe and entertaining event,’’ said Pellegrino, “while also continuing to provide the Evans Scholars Foundation with vital funding for college scholarships for deserving caddies. As we navigate this challenging time we remain committed to fulfilling our mission to help young men and women build better lives for themselves while building stronger communities.’’

The PGA Tour plans to resume its tournament schedule at the Charles Schwab Challenge, at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, TX. May 21-24. Eight tournaments have already been cancelled but Illinois’ other PGA stop — the 50th anniversary staging of the John Deere Classic — remains on tap for July 9-12 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

The WGA will conduct five of its six tournaments in the Chicago area this year, the next being the Evans Scholars Invitational, also on May 21-24 at The Glen Club in Glenview. That tournament, part of the PGA’s developmental Korn Ferry Tour, is the planned return of competition on that circuit. Six Korn Ferry tournaments have already been cancelled and two others postponed.

New dates have already been announced for three of golf’s major championships. The PGA Championship, planned for May at Harding Park in San Francisco, is now Aug. 3-9. The U.S. Open had June dates at Winged Foot, in New York, and now will be played Sept. 17-20. The Masters, played annually in April at Augusta National in Georgia, is now Nov. 12-15.

The year’s planned final major, the British Open at Royal St. George’s in England, has already been cancelled and the Olympic Games golf competition in Japan from July 30-Aug. 2, has been postponed with no new date set as yet. The Ryder Cup matches remain at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits course from Sept. 25-27.

The cancellation of the British Open marked the first time a major championship has been cancelled since 1945 during World War II. Only the PGA Championship was played that year.

More changes are possible, as the PGA Tour listed three now vacant weeks – June 18-21, July 16-19 and July 30-Aug. 2 – as “potential’’ tournament dates.

The U.S. Golf Association, meanwhile, cancelled two of its national championships — the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The USGA had cancelled its first two championships — the U.S. Senior Amateur Four-Ball and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball — last month.

On the Ladies PGA Tour the next scheduled tournament is the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship July 19-21. The LPGA has already rescheduled two of its major tournaments. The ANA Inspiration is now on tap for Sept. 10-13 at Mission Hills, in California, and the U.S. Women’s Open has been given Dec. 10-13 dates at Champions Golf Club, in Houston.

The strangest day I’ver ever had covering golf — by a long shot

Fans turned out in droves at TPC Sawgrass for the first (and only) round of The Players Championship.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL. – Commissioner Jay Monahan gave his annual state of the PGA Tour announcement earlier this week, noting with pride that the circuit has events in Asia, Canada, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic and three allied international tours in Canada, China and Latin America. He added that over 200,000 fans were expected and 900 media were credentialed for The Players Championship, which teed off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.

The questioning after Monahan made his pre-tournament remarks, though, focused on something else – the coronavirus pandemic.

“A very dynamic situation,’’ Monahan conceded. Just how dynamic became very clear on Thursday morning, four hours after the first players had teed off in the most lucrative tournament of the season. The Players has a $15 million purse.

Then, about 12 hours after that, the PGA Tour issued a statement saying that The Players, as well as the tournaments of the next three weeks, wouldn’t be played. In 51 years reported on golf I’ve covered some wild scenarios – but never anything like this.

Monahan first announced that the final three rounds of the tournament would be played without fans as would the next three tournaments – next week’s Valspar Championship in the Tampa area; the World Golf Championship’s Dell Technologies Match Play Championship March 25-29 in Austin, TX.; and the Valero Texas Open April 2-5. The Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship, to be played opposite the Match Play event, was also postponed.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama acknowledged the crowd after his record round, then — a few hours later — the cheering stopped.

The cancellation statement of Thursday night came without comment from Monahan, who was to speak with the media about the latest abrupt change of plans on Friday morning.

Big prize money was on the line in those as well — $6.9 million in the Valspar, $3 million in the Dominican Republic stop and $7.7 million in the Valero Texas Open. Those events lead into the Masters, the first major championship of 2020. It’s scheduled for April 9-12 in Augusta, Ga., and could go on without fans as well. Masters officials have been in talks with Monahan.

“I’ll leave it to Augusta to share their thinking when they’re prepare to share their thinking,’’ said Monahan. “But they have been a great partner, a great help to us as we have been thinking through this over the last several weeks.’’

The decision to go without fans was not taken lightly. It came after the National Basketball Association suspended its season and the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. announced that fans would not be permitted in its postseason tournaments.

Monahan had talks with President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the hours leading up to Thursday’s announcement.

“Both the White House and the Governor’s office have been and are supportive of the precautionary measures we have taken,’’ said Monahan. “This is an incredibly fluid and dynamic situation. We have been and are committed to being responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process.’’

The setting at TPC Sawgrass during the first round was a most pleasant one, then reality set in.

With 93 players from 28 countries, the PGA Tour is more global than most other sports but Monahan didn’t opt to cancel the events entirely.

“If you look at our venues, obviously we’re an outdoor sport,’’ he said. “We’re not in a stadium and this week players are making their way over 400 acres. We’ve got 144 players here and over the course of a round they generally socially distance themselves. We felt, by taking this step to address the problem with our fans, we’re in a position where we can continue to operate the events as of right now.’’

The situation, though, remained a fluid one. On Wednesday night the Players tournament staff, learning that three more coronavirus victims were reported in the North Florida area, issued a statement that fans who planned to attend the tournament could request a ticket refund or exchange. In an effort to reduce interaction the players were also told not to sign autographs.

“We’re relying heavily, as other leagues and sports and entertainment venues are, on the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control,’’ Monahan said in his meeting with the media, “but primarily, given the fact that we’re playing 175 tournaments over six tours, this really is about a market-to-market exercise.’’

Already there’s been reports that the second major tournament — PGA Championship, scheduled to be played in May at Harding Park in San Francisco — would be moved to TPC Sawgrass if the coronavirus pandemic required it.

Monahan downplayed that report but admitted “when you get in these extraordinary circumstances you have to make yourself available to your partners. You have to work as closely together as you ever have to help each other get through this.’’

Return to winner’s circle proves elusive for Donald at Honda Classic

South Korea’s Sungjae Im celebrates his Honda Classic win and checks out his new car.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Luke Donald knew the drill. To win on the Champion Course at PGA National you don’t take many chances. The Jack Nicklaus-designed layout is too tough. It’s annually one of the hardest courses on the circuit.

“There’s just such a lot of nerve-racking and daunting shots out here so you’re playing to a lot of good, safe targets,’’ said Donald, who lives at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter just 10 miles from PGA National. “Often times I’ve finished up four rounds here and just kick myself. If I’d played little bit safer in spots and holed a putt here or there I would have been right there.’’

That game plan didn’t work for Donald on Sunday. He had a solid chance to claim his first PGA Tour victory in eight years and give his comeback from lingering back issues a big boost, but that didn’t happen.

Playing in the next-to-the-last group to tee off, Donald parred the first hole and stuck his approach on the second a foot from the cup, setting up a tap-in birdie that pulled him within a shot of the lead.

Luke Donald couldn’t stay in contention during the final round of the Honda Classic.

For Donald, that was the end of story. His tee shot at No. 3 found water, leading to a bogey. He made another one on the next hole and never got anything going after that until a birdie putt dropped at No. 18. The end result, a final round 72 which dropped him from a tie for third to a tie for 11th.

It was a trying weekend for Donald after he jumped into contention with a 4-under-par 66 on Friday. Even though he is a past champion in the Honda Classic, a former world No. 1 and a Jupiter resident for many years he wasn’t shown much respect at the first tee on Saturday.

The announcer introduced him as “Luke McDonald’’ and said he was the 2016 Honda Classic champion. Not only was his name butchered, Donald’s title came in 2006, not 2016. He shrugged of that annoying incident, but his game wasn’t the same as it had been the day before. Donald struggled in with a 71, still good enough to put him in position to win with strong final round.

He couldn’t deliver, and 21-year South Korean Sungjae Im won the title. He deserved it, too, shooting a 4-under-par 66 on Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes who also shot a 66. Im was 6-under 274 for the tourney’s 72 holes.

Im won twice, had three runner-up finishes and won the money title on the PGA’s satellite Korn Ferry Tour last year. He earned $1,260,000 and a new car for his first win on the premier circuit.

Im and Hughes played together and staged a dazzling head-to-head duel down the stretch. Hughes made a 54-foot birdie putt on the 17th green to pull even with Im. The tie didn’t last long, though. Im made his own birdie putt from eight feet at No. 17 and then saved par from a green-side bunker on the finishing hole to secure the victory.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, the other Chicago area tour player to qualify for weekend play, shot a 6-over 75 in the final round and dropped 24 spots to a tie for 47th.

The PGA Tour continues its four-tournament Florida Swing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando, this week with Rory McIlroy the defending champion.

Fleetwood leads, but Donald is in position to win at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. — Winning the Honda Classic is still a possibility for injury-plagued Luke Donald entering Sunday’s final round on PGA National’s Champion Course. Donald is tied for third, two strokes behind leader Tommy Fleetwood, through three rounds.

Donald isn’t predicting victory, but not ruling it out, either.

“With a back injury at 40 years old you can lose a bit of momentum,’’ he said. “Confidence breeds confidence, and you need to keep plugging away and getting yourself into position.’’

Donald’s definitely “in position’’ now, and a Donald victory would be a popular one in the Chicago golf community. Not only was the one-time world No. 1 a star at Northwestern, he is also a member at Conway Farms and helped that Lake Forest club land a coveted spot on the PGA Tour calendar.

Conway hosted the BMW Championships of 2013, 2015 and 2017 thanks in part to Donald’s influence. He also remained an active booster of the Northwestern golf program, The First Tee of Greater Chicago, the Ronald McDonald House of Chicago and the Western Golf Association’ Evans Scholars Program long after his college days and Chicago area residences were over.

Now, though, he’d like to get back on the win trail after a two-year battle with back problems. Donald won the last of his five tournaments on the PGA Tour in 2012, at the Transitions (now Valspar) Championship in Florida. He also had wins in the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan that year.

The back problems, however, eventually put Donald on the sidelines. In the two years since then he has appeared in just 21 tournaments and never contended for a title until this week, at an event just 10 miles from his long-time Florida home in Jupiter.

Though Donald won the Honda tourney in 2006, he needed an exemption off his spot on the PGA Tour’s career money list to get into this week’s field. He jumped into contention on Friday, shooting a 4-under-par 66 – the low round of the tournament — to move into a tie for second place behind Brendan Steele. Steele’s caddie just happens to be Donald’s brother and former bag-toter Christian.

“Chris is staying with us this week, so we’re one big happy family,’’ said Donald. “He’ll be in the final group (in the final round). I’m happy for Chris, but I’m chasing Brendan.’’

Steele, one of the growing number of PGA Tour players representing Chicago-based club manufacturer Wilson, is alone in second place, one shot behind Fleetwood. They’ll play together in the last twosome on Sunday.

Donald is tied for third with Lee Westwood as golfers from England are dominating the first of the four straight tournaments comprising the PGA’s annual Florida Swing. Donald and Westwood will be paired for the second straight day in the final round.

Donald, Fleetwood and Westwood all grew up in England. Fleetwood is bidding for his first win on the PGA circuit and Westwood, like Donald, is a former No. 1-ranked player. Donald was golf’s No. 1 player for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012.

Steele and Donald were tied for the lead after Saturday’s front nine. Then Donald made bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 as Fleetwood was charging playing in front of him. A birdie to finish, however, left Donald in good spirits entering Sunday’s final round.

“This is a tough course to go low on,’’ he said. “You have to stay patient. I had a round that could have gotten away, but I still have a good chance tomorrow. I feel I’m right where I want to be.’’

It’ll be a tougher road for the other Chicago player in the field. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman shot 72 on Saturday and goes into the final 18 in a tie for 23rd place.

A comeback story? Donald has 8-birdie round at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Could Friday’s second round of the Honda Classic be the start of something big for Luke Donald?

Time will tell, but Donald certainly looked like the golfer who was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012. The former Northwestern star and member at Conway Farms in Lake Forest made eight birdies in a 13-hole stretch on a cold, windy day to post a 4-under-par 66 on PGA National’s Champion Course.

That was the low score of the day but Brendan Steele, an afternoon starter, garnered the 36-hole lead, shooting a 67 for a 5-under-par 135 score. That was one better than Donald, J.T. Poston and Lee Westwood at the midway point in the first of the four tournaments on the PGA Tour’s annual Florida Swing. U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is another shot back in the 72-hole test, which ends on Sunday.

“It’s nice to be back in contention. It’s been a little bit of a while since I’ve played decent,’’ said Donald, who has struggled mightily during a two-year struggle with back problems. His Official World Golf Ranking was 456 and his FedEx Cup Ranking stood at 212 entering the Honda Classic.

By his standards Donald last “played decent’’ at the Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour last October – a tie for 10th place. Before that it was last March, when he tied for ninth in another Florida PGA event — the Valspar Championship. In the 2019-20 PGA Tour season Donald made three of four cuts but his best finish was only a tie for 43rd in November’s RSM Championship.

Obviously there’s been a big dropoff for the 42-year old who has won five times on the PGA Tour and has eight international victories. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at PGA National, however, has long been one of Donald’s favorites and that showed on Friday.

The Champion has long been considered one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, but Donald has played it consistently well. He won the Honda Classic in 2006 and was runner-up in 2008. He also had three other top-10 finishes, the last being in 2015.

“I practice a lot on Bermuda and am very accustomed to this type of grass,’’ said Donald. “I’ve had decent finishes around this place before. It sets up well for me.’’

Donald, born in England, has had a residence in south Florida for many years. He had an early tee time in the second round, which was played in weather rarely seen in these parts.

“We’re not used to 46 degrees at 7 in the morning,’’ said Donald. “It’s usually a little bit warmer, but I like it when conditions are tough. That’s when I play my best, especially with this northwesterly wind. The course tends to play a little bit tougher this way, and you’ve got to be very patient.’’

Donald was certainly that after a less-than-ideal start. Starting on No. 10, he was 3-over-par after five holes. Then he made birdie twos on two par-3s – Nos. 15 and 17. The second of those came on the last hole of the course’s treacherous Bear Trap, statistically the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour.

After that it was clear sailing, as Donald made six birdies on the front nine to conclude his round.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who is four strokes behind Steele in a tie for 15th, remains in contention but defending champion Keith Mitchell and established stars Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka all missed the 36-hole cut. So did PGA Tour rookie Doug Ghim, of Arlington Heights.