Len Ziehm On Golf

Illinois Open win puts Vince India in select state golf company

Unless your name is Vince India the 69th playing of the Illinois Open will likely be an easily forgettable experience.

Annually the biggest tournament for Illinois residents, this year’s version was a weather nightmare. Heavy rains delayed the first and second rounds. The weather cleared for the third round, but it couldn’t start until second-round play at both The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods, was completed and the 264-player field cut to the low 50 and ties.

Only India went him satisfied. Patrick Flavin, the defending champion, was only so-so in his much anticipated professional debut, finishing in a tie for 30th place. Garrett Chaussard, winner of the Illinois PGA Match Play title – the section’s first of four major events for the season – missed the cut.

Brandon Holtz, the former Illinois State basketball player, who was a joint runner-up to Flavin last year, wound up solo second this time after making a costly bogey at No. 17 – a par-3 stretched to a maximum 220 yards. That meant Holtz had to make eagle at No. 18, a par-5 that – with the tees moved up – was a very reachable 460 yards. Holtz’ second shot stopped 18 feet away but the eagle putt he needed to force a playoff went left.

India became only the ninth player to notch victories in the state’s two major men’s events – the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. In addition to Flavin the other seven were David Ogrin, Bill Hoffer, Gary Hallberg, Gary Pinns, Mark Hensby, Roy Biancalana and Brad Hopfinger. Ogrin, Hallberg, Pinns, Hensby and Biancalana went on to play on the PGA Tour.

Hopfinger, now a regular on the PGA’s Web.com circuit, was India’s collegiate teammate at Iowa. India will be in the field for this week’s Web.com stop, the EllieMae Classic in Hayward, Calif. He caught an evening flight to make a 9:06 tee time today.

With only limited Web.com status, India has played in just seven tournaments this year, made two cuts and earned $2,964. He picked up $19,004 for his Illinois Open win.

Winner of the Illinois State Amateur in 2010, India was the runner-up in the Illinois Open in 2015 and hadn’t played in this tournament since, until this week. His play on the Web.com Tour has been hampered by back problems.

“I have a disc herniation in my lower back,’’ he said, “and I’ve been working on a lot of things so that I can play pain free. My health is better now, and I’m swinging the club better. My swing is coming back, which is great.’’

The alternate course for this year’s Illinois Open was Ravinia Green, where India was a long-time caddie growing up, and The Glen Club – the site of his second round as well as Wednesday’s final round – is near his home in Deerfield as well.

India finished his rain-delayed second round with an 8-uner-par 64 – the low round of the tournament — on Wednesday morning to get within one stroke of the lead entering the final 18. Making birdies on the first two holes, India established himself as a contender immediately and made a clutch two-putt birdie at No. 18 — the margin of victory over Holtz.

With rounds of 72, 64 and 66 India was at 14-uner-par 202 for the 54 holes. Holtz also posted a 68 in the final round to finish one swing back.

“It was a grind, but I did a good job for not being in this position for a long time,’’ said India. “I was playing here because I wasn’t expecting to play (the Web.com event) this week. I didn’t expect the sponsor’s exemption to the EllaMae, but that was really nice.’’

So was a most fortunate bounce on his last tee shot. India knew the ball hit a cart path running through the No. 18 fairway but didn’t think the carom would carry it as far as it did. He couldn’t immediately find the ball in the right rough, and when he did he had just 170 yards to the pin for his second shot.

“In the end the drive went about 400 yards, cartpath-aided,’’ he said. He put his second shot on the green, two-putted from 30 feet for birdie and then waited for Holtz to finish.

The last threesome lagged two holes behind India’s group most of the day but Holtz was in place for another shot at the title when he put his approach from 205 yards to 18 feet for eagle.

“I knew my putt had a chance, and I wasn’t going to leave it short,’’ said Holtz, who sells football helmets for a living. He was playing in only his third tournament of the year after finishing sixth in the St. Louis Metro Open and missing the cut in the Waterloo Open.

The final day had one other most notable incident. Jeff Kellen, a club pro in the Rockford area, resumed his second round at The Glen’s 17th hole. On the first swing of the day Kellen holed out for an ace. He wound up in fifth place.

No reason to think Small won’t make it win No. 13 in IPGA Championship

The Illinois PGA Championship has been Mike Small’s personal playground for nearly two decades and there’s no reason to think that the 96th playing of the tournament this month at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake should be any different.

The University of Illinois men’s coach has won the IPGA title a record 12 times, his first coming in 2001 and his last in 2016. The tournament has had 19 other multiple winners, but none have come close to Small’s dozen.

Johnny Revolta, the long-time Evanston Golf Club head pro and winner of the 1935 PGA Championship, took six titles from 1936-47. Bill Ogden, the section’s dominant player when he ran the shop at North Shore Country Club, was a five-time winner from 1953-72. Recently retired Gary Groh, who did his time at Bob O’Link in Highland Park and was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame last year, captured four titles between 1983-2002.

Jim Foulis, part of the Foulis clan that played big roles at Chicago Golf Club, Olympia Fields and Hinsdale in the earlier years of Chicago golf, also had four wins in the IPGA Championship but Groh was the only one of those four to go head-to-head with Small.

Small won his first IPGA title in 2001 at Kemper Lakes, Groh beat him in a playoff the next year on the same course and Small then ran off eight championships in a row. He also won four more times in the last seven years, and he’ll be coming off one of his best summers of tournament play when the 54-hole shootout returns from Aug. 27-29.

Thanks to sponsor exemptions, Small had no trouble getting into PGA Tour Champions tournaments and took advantage of his invitations. Thanks to two top-10 finishes he squeezed into the top 70 on PGA Tour Champions’ Charles Schwab Cup money list and that got him into one of the 50-and-over circuit’s major events – the Constellation Senor Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.

Small needed to hole a chip shot on his last hole of a tournament in Madison, Wis., to crack the Senior Players field. Once in, he earned a share of the first round lead and stayed in contention most of the way before finishing in a tie for 10th place. That earned him his biggest paycheck as a tournament player — $67,200. (His previous best was $57,200 for a tie for ninth in the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open in 1998).

The Senior Players concluded on July 15, and Small has a big August as well. He has a spot in one more PGA Tour Champions event – the 3M tournament in Minnesota Aug. 3-5. Then he’ll bid for a record-tying fifth win in the Illinois Open Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club and Ravinia Green and wrap up his tournament season in the IPGA Championship. It ends on the day classes resume at the University of Illinois.

When the last putt drops at The Glen Small will go back to his day job, as coach of the powerhouse Illini men’s team that will be reloading following the graduations of stars Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy.

Despite his summer successes Small has no goals as far as tournament play goes.

“If I still have fun doing it, if I still get nervous and still get a little anxiety, that’s good,’’ he said. “I’ve had a heckuva run. Golf has been very good to me. If I can do this for three or four more years and still be competitive I’ll do it. If I’m not competitive I won’t.’’

Small was certainly competitive over the last four months. He posted two 66s at Exmoor in his run at the Senior Players title and wasn’t surprised by his lofty status there. He fell t that it all boiled down to getting more chances to compete.

“The last few years I haven’t done that much,’’ said Small. “I’d play one week, then have two or three off, then play another one. This year I’m playing three, four weeks in a row. I don’t usually do that. Ever, really.’’

He went into the last round at Exmoor with the attitude that “I’ve got nothing to lose.’’

“My golf swing has got to get better and more consistent. It leaves me sometimes, so I’ve got to work on that,’’ said Small, and that mindset will be the same whether he’s playing against the best on the PGA Tour Champions or the best in the Illinois PGA.

Small has won five of his IPGA titles at Stonewall – in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2014.

Though it might not seem like it, Small doesn’t win the Illinois PGA Championship every time. His run of eight titles in a row was snapped by Frank Hohenadel, now the head professional at Mistwood in Romeoville, in 2011 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Steve Orrick, of Country Club of Decatur, was the winner at Stonewall the following year before Small bounced back to win three of the next four years.

Jim Billiter, now the head pro at Kemper Lakes, beat him in a return to Medinah in 2015 and Indian Hill assistant Adam Schumacher was the winner when the tourney returned to Medinah last year. Small tied for sixth in that one.

Over the years there have been six players who finished second to Small in the IPGA Championship on more than one occasion. Fresh Meadows’ Roy Biancalana, back in the section this year after taking a break from golf altogether, was a runner-up in 2003, 2004 and 2007. Cantigny’s Connie DeMattia was second in 2004 and 2005. Orrick, in addition to his victory, was a runner-up in 2008 and 2014 and Medinah’s Travis Johns was a runner-up in 2010, 2013 and 2016. They’ll all be ready to do battle with Small again.

August will also go a long way in determine the IPGA Player of the Year. Only one of the four major titles have been conducted so far, Skokie’s Garrett Chaussard winning the Match Play title at Kemper Lakes in May. Two more, the Illinois Open and IPGA Championship, will be held in August.

Hammer’s Western Amateur win was one for the ages

This week’s Illinois Open will be hard-pressed to duplicate the drama provided in the Western Amateur, which concluded on Saturday with one of the most dramatic championship matches in the event’s 116-year history.

Cole Hammer, an incoming freshman at the University of Texas, was 4-up on Alabama senior-to-be Davis Riley with eight holes to play at Sunset Ridge Country Club, in Northfield. One of the most prestigious titles in amateur golf wasn’t assured for Hammer, however, until Riley’s final putt from the fringe of the 18th green slipped past the cup.

The win enabled Hammer to join the ranks of golfing greats Chick Evans, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as Western Amateur winners. Woods and Hammer are among the five players to win the tournament as 18-year olds.

Though the final was filled with drama, the star of the show all week was Hammer. He set the Sunset Ridge course record with a 10-under-par 61 and was co-medalist with a tournament record 23-under-par 261 in the 72-hole stroke play-qualifying portion of the most grueling competition in golf.

All the stroke play heroics did was get Hammer in the Sweet 16 for the two-day match play portion that decided the overall champion. Two of Hammer’s four matches went to extra holes and all reached the 18th green. He got through them with the help of his mother Allison, who made a rare tournament appearance as his caddy.

By comparison Riley played 11 less holes in his first three matches than Hammer did, but the champion showed no ill effects from the very physical ordeal that included his last two matches being played in 90-degree plus heat.

“I was fine, and to win with my mom on the bag meant the world to me,’’ said Hammer. “I had adrenalin going just because it was the finals of the Western Am, and there’s no bigger championship in amateur golf.’’

He may change his tune in tune weeks. Both Hammer and Riley are qualifiers for the U.S. Amateur at California’s famed Pebble Beach before they join their college teams.

Hammer, who was the third-youngest qualifier for the U.S. Open when he made it in 2016, had an especially long day on Saturday. His morning semifinal match with Californian Brandon Wu went 20 holes before Wu cracked, conceding a five-foot putt and the match to Hammer on the second extra hole after his own play deteriorated.

Riley, meanwhile, led all the way in his 4 and 2 semifinal win over Tyler Strafaci, of Davie, FL. Riley was cooling off in the clubhouse for 40 minutes before Hammer finished off Wu.

A 60-foot eagle putt at No. 7 was the highlight of Hammer’s fast start in the championship match. He got to 4-up before Ralston won Nos. 11, 12 and 16 to get to 1-down with two holes left. They both failed to connect on good birdie opportunities at the par-3 17th and both missed birdie chances from almost the identical spot at the 18th while the walking gallery of several hundred fans roared with every shot.

All of Hammer’s matches were tough ones. He advanced to the final day of the Western with a 2-up win over Georgian Spencer Ralston in Friday’s quarterfinals. Ralston had come from 2-down after nine holes to eliminate the only local player to reach the Sweet 16, Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, 3 and 2.

Flavin makes his professional debut on Monday when he begins defense of his Illinois Open title. He has a 9:20 tee time at Ravinia Green in Riverwoods and is paired with Brandon Holtz, the former Illinois State basketball player who was last year’s runner-up, and 2016 Illinois Open champion Carlos Sainz Jr.

“The Illinois Open is a little different than the Western Amateur,’’ said Flavin. “The Western has the best field in amateur golf but you have to play well on two courses in the Illinois Open. I’m really looking forward to that. It was such a big game-changer for me last year, winning my first pro event as an amateur.’’

Flavin and his partners have a 2:10 p.m. tee time at The Glen Club in Glenview on Tuesday before the 156 starters are whittled to the low 50 and ties for Wednesday’s final round at The Glen.

Sunset Ridge is back in the tournament spotlight for first time since 1972

It’s been quite a while since Sunset Ridge had had a moment in the sun tournament-wise.

The private club in Northfield hosted the Western Open in 1972. While Sunset Ridge hosted Illinois PGA stroke play events, U.S. Golf Association qualifiers and high school tournaments in subsequent years, it has been without such a high-profile event for 46 years. The dry spell ends when the 116th Western Amateur takes over the course from July 30 to August 4.

This is an interesting time for both Sunset Ridge and the prestigious tournament it will be hosting.

When Sunset Ridge hosted its Western Open the club had just finished a massive expansion and renovation project. With the club’s 50th anniversary approaching, it was awarded the tournament as a gift from both the Western Golf Association and PGA Tour. Long one of the circuit’s most popular stops, the Western had not been played on Chicago’s North Shore for 44 years until Sunset Ridge landed it.

After that tournament it’d be another 41 years before another North Shore club would host a Western Open. (Actually, the return came when the WGA brought its BMW Championship – the successor to the Western – to Conway Farms in Lake Forest in 2013).

As far as the Western Amateur goes, the Sunset Ridge visit will bring a brief halt to the tournament’s stagings in Chicago. The WGA held the event at Point O’Woods, in Benton Harbor, Mich., for 28 years until deciding on a rotation of Chicago clubs beginning in 2009.

With one exception (2013, when the Alotian Club in Louisiana hosted) the tournament has bounced around some of the best Chicago private venues for eight of the last nine years. Skokie hosted twice with North Shore, Exmoor, Beverly, Rich Harvest Farms and Knollwood all getting a shot before Sunset Ridge gets its turn.

The tourney will take a two-year hiatus from Chicago after Sunset Ridge plays host. The Western Am returns to Point O’Woods in 2019 and then goes to Crooked Stick, in Indianapolis, in 2020. A return to the North Shore is assured, though, with Glen View the site in 2021 and Exmoor in 2022. Glen View was the site of the very first Western Amateur in 1899.

Sunset Ridge will be hosting for the first time and – based on what happened in its lone Western Open – the world’s best amateurs will be facing a tough challenge. In the 1972 Western Open only 14 players finished under par and just one clearly mastered the course. Jim Jamieson led wire to wire, posting rounds of 67, 69, 68 and 67 to win by six strokes over Labron Harris.

Jamieson’s 13-under-par 271 total triggered his only win on the PGA Tour but it was part of a brief hot streak for the golfer from downstate Moline, Ill. He had tied for sixth in the 1971 Masters, tied for second in that tournament a few months before his Western win and then tied for third in the 1973 PGA Championship.

Western Amateur contestants will find Sunset Ridge on the short side; it’s only 6,752 yards from the back tees. Bill Diddel, a prolific Indiana architect, designed the original course. He has 160 courses on his resume, and Sunset Ridge was one of his first. In addition to the ’72 Western the Women’s Western Open was played there in 1936 and the Western Junior the following year.

The layout used for this year’s Western Am was created during a renovation by Libertyville architect Rick Jacobson in 2004-05. The course record of 62 was posted by Eric Meierdierks, the 2010 Illinois Open champion who played briefly on the PGA Tour.

As usual, the Western Am will offer one of the most physically challenging events in golf. It starts with 72 holes of stroke play to determine 16 qualifiers for the match play climax to the event. Those who go at it at Sunset Ridge will be hard-pressed to match the drama created last year at Skokie when Norman Xiong, a sophomore at Oregon, needed 22 holes to overcome Doc Redman, then a freshman at Clemson, in the title match.

They played the longest final in tournament history, and it was only the 13th time that the championship match went extra holes. Xiong was also the medalist, and he was the 25th player to lead the stroke play and go on to win the title.

Redman bounced back from the loss to win the U.S. Amateur later in the summer, beating Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim in the final. Xiong, Redman and Ghim all wound up as members of last year’s winning U.S. team in the Walker Cup matches.

McCarron makes his first major title defense at Exmoor

Scott McCarron may be a battled-hardened mainstay on PGA Tour Champions, but he anticipates a unique feeling when he opens play in the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.

“It’ll be the first time I’ve defended a title in a major,’’ said McCarron, looking ahead to the July 12-15 tournament – the first senior major played in the Chicago area since Olympia Fields hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 1997. “I’m sure there’ll be a few more butterflies on the first tee. This will be our best field of the year.’’

McCarron, 52, was no slouch on the PGA Tour. He won three times, two coming in the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta in 1997 and 2001. He lost three other titles in playoffs, had top-10 finishes in the Masters (1996), U.S. Open (1997) and PGA Championship (1997) and compiled $12.6 million in winnings.

Like so many players, however, he found his comfort zone on the circuit for players after they turned 50.

“I was competitive for a long time on the PGA Tour, but I was playing in the Tiger Woods era, and Phil Mickelson was winning a lot, too,’’ said McCarron. “Here (on PGA Tour Champions) it fits my game better. I come out to make birdies starting on the very first hole. I wish I had that attitude when I was on the PGA Tour.’’

Another factor is what McCarron calls “the numbers deal….on the PGA Tour there were 156-player fields. It’s 81 now.’’

That made a big difference once McCarron turned 50 in 2015. He won his first two titles on PGA Tour Champions the following year.

That was a good season, but nothing like the one he experienced in 2017. He started that year by winning the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla., in spectacular fashion. Needing a birdie to force a playoff on the par-5 finishing hole at the Broken Sound North course, McCarron went for the green with a 7-iron second shot from 186 yards.

“Normally my 7-iron is for 170, but I was pumped,’’ he said. The approach stopped six feet from the cup, and McCarron rolled in the eagle putt to claim the first of his four wins of that season. He went on to lead PGA Tour Champions in both birdies and eagles for the season.

“I was having such a blast,’’ he said. “I never realized how good golf could be until I got here. It’s been so much fun. Jack Nicklaus told me he made a mistake by not playing more on our tour.’’

While McCarron also would win the Dick’s Sports Goods Open and Shaw Charity Classic last year, his crowning moment came in the Constellation Senior Players at Caves Valley in Maryland when he overcame a six-stroke deficit in the final 18 holes to edge Brandt Jobe and Bernhard Langer by one shot. Posting an 18-under-par 270 total for the 72 holes, McCarron claimed his first win in a major on any tour.

“I tried a lot on the regular tour,’’ he said, “but this one feels the same, even if the accolades aren’t the same. To us it’s a big deal because it gets you into The Players Championship.’’

McCarron was looking forward to his appearance at the PGA Tour stop at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass last month (MAY), calling it “a special perk,’’ but he didn’t plan on testing himself against the game’s top young stars any other time.

“I don’t want to play on the regular tour if it conflicts with our (Champions) tour. I want to support PGA Tour Champions,’’ he said.

That sentiment is understandable, especially given McCarron’s background. He didn’t jump into right into professional golf after attending college at UCLA. He worked with his father in a family clothing business for four years first. Then he attended an event for the 50-and-older tour, the Raley’s Senior Gold Rush in his native California, in 1991.

That triggered his return to golf. McCarron decided to build a long putter in his garage and he was a serious contender in the U.S. Mid Amateur that year using the putter that he built. He went on to win his three PGA Tour titles with a more sophisticated version of the same club, and his career grew from there.

Last year was his best yet. He compiled 14 top-10 finishes, finished second in the Charles Schwab Cup standings and earned $2,674,195.

Though McCarron was without a win through April in 2018 he did come close. His best was a tie for second in the Toshiba Classic, which was one of his four top-10 finishes in the first eight tournaments. After the runner-up showing in the Toshiba Classic McCarron signed on with Tour Edge, the Batavia-based club manufacturer, as one of its hybrid staff players.

As good as McCarron has been in recent years on PGA Tour Champions, his most noteworthy round was one that came 24 years ago and can’t go unmentioned. Then 28, t McCarron made two holes-in-one in a seven-hole stretch at Alameda Country Club in California. They were also his first two career aces.

Flavin reaches Western Am Sweet 16 in his farewell to amateur golf

Patrick Flavin’s amateur career is going to end with a bang after all. He earned a coveted place in the Sweet 16 of the 116th Western Amateur on Thursday at Sunset Ridge Country Club in Northfield and his professional debut at next week’s Illinois Open looks much more promising than it did a week ago.

“I learned a ton from last summer, when I won six of eight tournaments,’’ said Flavin, “but in this spring and summer I battled my swing. It was tough, but it was also important for me to go through both ends of the spectrum before I turned pro.’’

The Highwood golfer opted to remain an amateur after completing a solid collegiate career at Miami of Ohio rather than turn pro immediately. He wanted to defend his titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open and qualify for the U.S. Amateur before playing for money. That dream ended in a hurry.

Flavin burst into prominence when he became only the second golfer – and first since David Ogrin in 1980 – to win both the major state titles in the same year. He had a great senior year in college, too, and that led Flavin to make the debatable decision to delay turning pro.

That plan changed after Flavin missed the 36-hole cut in this year’s Illinois State Amateur and he failed to survive a qualifying session for the U.S. Amateur as well.

His golfing life isn’t so frustrating now. Flavin went through the 72-hole stroke play portion of the Western Amateur in 67-67-67-66, the last two scores coming in Thursday’s double round that determined the 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of the Western, which begins today.

“Making the Sweet 16 has always been a goal of mine,’’ said Flavin. “I put my head down and focused on myself and this course, and it paid off.’’

Flavin tied for seventh in the stroke play competition. His 17-under-par 267 was six strokes behind co-medalists Cole Hammer of Houston and Steve Stevens of Wichita, Kan. Hammer set a course record with a 10-under-par 61 in Thursday’s morning round.

Just getting into match play is a major accomplishment. It puts Flavin in the same category as Nick Hardy and Doug Ghim, Chicago stars who had slightly more impressive college records than Flavin. Hardy, who played collegiately at Illinois, qualified for the Sweet 16 three times and Ghim, who went to Texas, was once the tourney medalist. Both turned pro in June, immediately after college, without notching a win in the Western. Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are among the many top stars who highlighted their amateur careers with a Western win.

Now Flavin has the opportunity to do what neither of his long-time amateur rivals Hardy and Ghim could do before chasing the first-place check in the Illinois Open, which will be played over three days at The Glen Club in Glenview and Ravinia Green in Riverwoods beginning on Monday.

Sunset Ridge last hosted a major tournament in 1972, when Jim Jamieson covered 72 holes in 13-under-par en route to a six-shot victory. That score would have barely been good enough to qualify for the Sweet 16 this week..

The starting field of 156 players was whittled to 44 for Thursday’s 36-hole session. Seven Chicago area players were among the invited starters and only Flavin survived the first cut, which came after two rounds. It took a 5-under 139 score for the first 36 holes to qualify for Thursday’s double round.

Tony Romo, the former NFL star quarterback, also bowed out after playing the first two rounds in 74-78, 10 over par.

For the first time ever the match play portion of the tournament will be streamed live on The Golf Channel and NBC Sports apps. First round matches will be carried from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and quarterfinals from 3-6 p.m. today. Streaming times for Saturday’s semifinals are 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and the championship match will be carried from 1-5 p.m.

Ex-NU star Hannah Kim makes IWO her first professional victory

Hannah Kim (right) won her first pro title and Tristyn Nowlin was runner-up and low amateur.

Two years ago Hannah Kim tied for third in the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open. Last year she was the runner-up. So, guess what the former Northwestern standout did to climax the 24th playing of the IWO on Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville?

Kim, the stalwart of coach Emily Fletcher’s powerhouse Wildcat teams of the past four years, did some major re-writing of the tournament record books while notching her first professional victory.

“Mistwood suits me well,’’ said Kim, “but I go into all my tournaments without any expectations.’’

That formula worked to perfection this week. Kim posted rounds of 68, 65 and 67 for a 16-under-par 200 total for the 54 holes. She tied the tournament record for low 18-hole score with her second-round birdie blitz. That gave her a six-stroke lead entering Wednesday’s final round as well as the tournament record for low score through 36 holes (133).

Her final score was a whopping seven strokes better than the previous mark held by a pair of amateur winners, Annika Welander in 2005 and Stephanie Miller in 2016.

Hannah Kim was a winner in only her third pro tournament.

Kim’s previous two appearances in the IWO were as an amateur, since she still had collegiate eligibility at Northwestern. She admitted to missing her college team.

“It’s hard with nothing getting paid for now,’’ she said, but that won’t be much of a problem if Kim keeps on winning pro tournaments. She is 26-under-par on her nine IWO tournament rounds over the last three years with this year’s showing the most impressive.

“My target score was double digits under par, and I did it,’’ said Kim, who earned $5,000 for the victory in her third professional tournament. A resident of Santa Ana, Calif., she had previously competed in the Ohio Open and California State Open. Next up is the Tennessee Open.

“I’m just trying to play a bunch of tournaments to keep myself sharp. I want to make it through (LPGA) Tour School and get my card,’’ said Kim. That competition starts in the fall.

Kim’s most serious challenger for the title on Wednesday was amateur Tristyn Nowlin. A University of Illinois junior from Richmond, Ky., Nowlin got within five strokes of Kim when she rolled in a birdie putt from the fringe of the No. 10 green. She gave the shot back on the next hole when she hit her second shot into a hazard left of the green, struggled to make bogey and never threatened again.

Like Kim, Nowlin is a big fan of Mistwood’s course. Last month she went all the way to the final of the Women’s Western Amateur on the same layout and that showing, in one of the nation’s most prestigious tournaments, led to her return this week.

“I wasn’t going to play but my coach (Illinois women’s coach Renee Slone) suggested I play since I had done so well in the Western Am,’’ said Nowlin, “so I thought `Why not?’ That tournament gave me a lot of confidence.’’

That wasn’t enough playing head-to-head with Kim in the final round. Kim maintained her six-shot lead through the first nine holes and kept her concentration through the back nine, especially on its two par-3 holes. She made a nine-footer to save par at No. 14 and made birdie at the 133-yard 17th.

Nowlin had a four-shot cushion on third place Sarah Burnham, a former Michigan State player, and Burnham was two ahead of two-time IWO winner Nicole Jeray, a veteran of the pro tours from Berwyn. Jeray, for the third time, was thwarted in her attempt to get an IWO title in three decades. She lost twice in playoffs since 2010.

Jeray has played on all three women’s tours – the Symetra, LPGA and Legends – the last few years and will again this year, though she is changing her golfing focus. She is now teaching and coaching at both Flagg Creek, in Countryside, and Cog Hill, in Lemont.

Singh gets his first Champions major title in a playoff

PGA Tour Champions had become a showcase for Bernhard Langer the last few years, especially at its Constellation Senior Players Championship. That’s no longer the case.

At 60 Langer isn’t the dominant player he once was, and Sunday he wasn’t up to the task with another chance to win one of the circuit’s most prestigious major events at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. Starting the day in a tie for fifth place, Langer faded to a 74 and a tie for 17th place.

Langer had won the Senior Players – the circuit’s major with the strongest field each year – three times in a row from 2015-17 and was runner-up to Scott McCarron last year. This time the title went to Vijay Singh in a two-hole playoff with Jeff Maggert.

While the day started with a crowded leaderboard at the top, it turned into a two-man duel between Singh and Maggert. Playing partners in the next-to-the-last group to tee off, they finished at 20-under-par 268. Then Singh made a par and decisive birdie in the playoff, and that was good enough for his first major title on the 50-and-over circuit. The World Golf Hall of Famer won both the Masters and PGA Championship in his younger days.

“This is a little different,’’ said Singh, now 55. “It’s a senior major, but any time you win a tournament, no matter what it is, it’s an accomplishment. I feel like I played well, and it’s a win. A win is a win.’’

Yes it is, and this one – in addition to the $420,000 paycheck — carries an added perk for Singh, who won 34 times on the PGA Tour and 22 more times in international events.

The winner of the Senior Players gets a spot in The Players Championship – one of the premier events on the regular PGA Tour. It’ll be played at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass in March, and that’s Singh’s home course.

Maggert had plenty of chances to win. As was the case in Saturday’s third round, he led most of the final 18 but dropped back into a tie with Singh when he tee shot at No. 16 hit a tree in front of the green.

“Of all the bounces you could have gotten, that was probably the worst one you can possible imagine,’’ said Maggert, whose ball bounced 40 yards back in the fairway. He chipped on and missed an 18-foot par putt, setting up a duel with Singh for the next four holes.

Maggert had birdie putts inside 15 feet twice, but missed them both, and Singh salvaged par after his drive sailed in the trees and thick rough at No. 17. He got the birdie he needed on their third trek down No. 18 in the second hole of the playoff. Singh put his approach to within 18 inches, Maggert missed his birdie chance and the tournament was over.

“Not making the 15- to 18-footers was the difference,’’ said Maggert. “Vijay’s round was kind of the same. We both birdied all four of the par-5s. The only difference is he didn’t make a bogey. I made one, with five birdies.’’

Singh made just one bogey the whole tournament, at No. 8 on Saturday. Maggert hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation on Sunday and finished the week hitting 66 of 72 – the best in the field by four. The only green he missed on Sunday was at the critical 16th.

“Fortunately for me Jeff missed a couple of makeable putts on the last hole, so it gave me a chance to win,’’ said Singh.

Singh became the seventh different player to win in the Champions’ last seven major tournaments. Still splitting time on the PGA Tour, he has three top-10s on the Champions circuit this year and that includes a win at the Toshiba Classic.

Small fades, but still picks up his biggest tourney paycheck

Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, who started the day tied for fifth, was no threat for the title in Sunday’s final round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor, but there was a bright side.

Small picked up his biggest check on either the PGA Tour or PGA Tour champions. He earned $67,200 for finishing in a tie for 10th place. His biggest previous paycheck was $57,200 when he tied for ninth at the 1998 RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour.

Paired for the second straight day with Bernhard Langer, Small made birdie on the first hole, but cooled off after that. He posted a 1-under-par 71 and finished the tournament at 15-under 273.

With three top-10s in four starts on PGA Tour Champions, Small has one more event on the circuit before his usual visits to the Illinois Open and Illinois PGA Championship. He is assured a berth in the 3M tourney in Minnesota Aug. 3-5.

Hale and hardy

Hale Irwin, who has titles in three tournaments played on Chicago courses – the Western Open, U.S. Open and Ameritech Senior Open – was far down the leaderboard on Sunday but he had a notable accomplishment.

Irwin shot his age (73) on Thursday and bettered his age on Saturday (70) and Sunday (72). He has shot or bettered his age 37 times on PGA Tour Champions and this marks the ninth consecutive season he’s accomplished that feat. He did it for the first time at the 2010 AT&T Championship when he was 65.

Farewell for awhile

Sunday’s round concluded the first Champions Tour major in the Chicago area since Graham Marsh won the U.S. Senior Open at Olympia Fields in 1997. Sunday’s round also brought an end to the last major on any tour scheduled at a Chicago area course.

PGA Tour Champions hasn’t announced its schedule for next season but executive director Greg McLaughlin, former tournament director of the Western Open, said the closest the circuit will come to Chicago is South Bend. The U.S. Senior Open will be played at the Warren Course there.

Though the open-to-the-public tournament festivities are over, the Champions Tour experience will continue one more day at Exmoor. A private outing, involving 88 players, is scheduled there today.

Being charitable

Constellation, as part of its sponsorship of the tournament, will provide $500,000 in grants to five Chicago charities that focus on education, youth development and affordable housing.

The charities are headed by the Evans Scholars Foundation, the Western Golf Association’s arm that provides scholarships for deserving caddies. Other beneficiaries are the Big Shoulders Fund, which supports inner-city Chicago schools; Girls in the Game, Habitat for Humanity Chicago and Special Olympics Chicago.

Bits and pieces

Jerry Kelly and Duffy Waldorf shot the best rounds on Sunday – 8-under-par 64s. Kelly made eight birdies to climb into a tie for fourth place. Kelly and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who tied for 10th, are the only players with top-10 finishes in each of the first four Champions majors this season.

The local hopes struggled. Barrington product Gary Hallberg, who was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame last year, finished at 7-under and in a tie for 32nd and Jeff Sluman was 2-under and in a tie for 57th.

Sixty of the 76 finishers bettered par. There were two withdrawals – John Daly and Fred Funk.

Trio shares Senior Players lead, but Small is in contention, too

Anybody who follows golf in Illinois shouldn’t be surprised when Mike Small gets into contention in a tournament, but when he puts himself in position to win a major title on PGA Tour Champions, well, that’s another matter.

The Illinois men’s coach did just that on Saturday, shooting a third-round 66 at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. A fast start got Small within a shot of the lead and he remained there most of the rainy day before hitting the 54-hole stop two swings behind leaders Jeff Maggert, Bart Bryant and Scott McCarron – the tourney’s defending champion. The three leaders stand at 16-under-par 200 for 54 holes.

McCarron and Bryant posted 65s in the third round and fourth-place Vijay Singh matched Small’s 66. Small shares fifth with Bernard Langer, a three-time winner of the tournament and last year’s runner-up.

If anyone is surprised by Small’s lofty standing in the tournament, they shouldn’t be. At least Small isn’t.

“The last few years I haven’t done that much,’’ said Small. “I’d play one week, then have two or three off, then play another one. This year I’m playing three, four weeks in a row. I don’t usually do that. Ever, really.’’

While he’s dominated events like the Illinois PGA Championship, which he’s won a record 12 times, and Illinois Open, which he captured four times, Small’s top performances on the national stage have come at the PGA Professionals National Championship. He won that one three times, but those events are a long way from the caliber of the championship he could win on Sunday.

The Senior Players annually draws the strongest field of the five majors on PGA Tour Champions. And Small wouldn’t rule out his chances of winning.

“Who knows? I’ve got nothing to lose,’’ he said. “I’m just going to play golf tomorrow and I’m going to work on what I’ve got to work on. My golf swing has got to get better and more consistent. It leaves me sometimes, so I’ve got to work on that. If I can pay attention to that I’ll be all right.’’

Small’s game was more than “all right’’ on the front nine on Saturday. He had three birdies and an eagle en route to shooting a 31. Small finished it off with some great iron shots that set up birdies – from two feet at No. 8 and six feet at No. 9.

His play steadied after that until a bogey at the 17th dropped him two shots off the pace.

“That put a little damper on the day,’’ said Small. “Easiest tee shot of the day, and I put it in the trees.’’

Still, a player who is not a member of PGA Tour Champions – Small got into the event off three good showings in tournaments that gave him sponsor exemptions — is 18 holes away from winning one of the most prestigious titles available on the 50-and-over circuit.

Not every one of the seasoned veterans on the tour is surprised that Small is so high on the leaderboard. McCarron and Small have the same teacher, E.A. Tischler. Tischler worked with both of them this week before the tournament rounds at Exmoor.

“It’s not surprising at all for Mike Small,’’ said McCarron. “We played a practice round on Tuesday and he hit the ball really well. I’m not surprised at all that Mike Small is up there. He’s a great player, but he’s got one of the best jobs around, being a college coach. Even if he won he can’t give that up.’’

McCarron believes that this week’s good showing will benefit Small’s coaching.

“He’s always got good recruits,’’ said McCarron. “It’s amazing up at Illinois, which is not a great place in the winter. He recruits very well, and he’s got a great program there. I’m sure this will help.’’

Because of the threat of inclement weather Saturday’s round was played in threesomes starting off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees. That won’t be the case today. First tee time is 7:55 a.m. and play will be in twosomes. Small and Langer will be paired for the second straight day, starting at 1:45 p.m. Singh and Maggert follow at 1:55 and McCarron and Bryant are last off at 2:05. It’ll mark the fifth straight year that the defending champion plays in the last group of the final round.