Len Ziehm On Golf

Meyer takes a break from the Illini to battle PGA Tour stars

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The Valspar Championship, the PGA Tour stop that tees off here on Thursday (TODAY) has its best field ever. Tiger Woods and Rory McElroy are here for the first time and Jordan Spieth is also on hand.

Oh, yes. Dylan Meyer is here, too. While his Illini teammates were competing in a collegiate event in Las Vegas Meyer was preparing to challenge the PGA Tour stars. He was invited off his win in a collegiate tournament that Valspar also sponsors.

“I’m ready to feel what it’s going to be like on the first tee box on Thursday,’’ said Meyer, who missed the cut in last year’s John Deere Classic – first PGA Tour start. “With Tiger and these guys it’s a bigger event, but I’ve got to keep it in perspective. This is just a good gauge for me to see where I’m. I don’t have to prove anything now.’’

But he will as soon as his last collegiate season is over.

“I’m hopefully going to be out here the next couple months after graduation,’’ he said. “I’m building up for that but feeling great about the season for the school. I’m going to keep working with Coach (Mike) Small after I’ve graduated. That’s going to be a big thing for me.’’

A change of scene for Tiger

Canadian Adam Hadwin could become the first repeat Valspar champion this week.

Woods last played the famed Copperhead course when Innisbrook Resort hosted a mixed team event called the JC Penney Classic. Copperhead has been renovated since then and golf in general has changed, according to Woods.

“That was 22 years ago,’’ said Woods. “It was a different game. I had a long driver, maybe 44 inches. Half the guys were using persimmon woods and balata balls were the No. 1 ball out here.’’

Woods was 20 years old then. He’s 42 now and confident he can play two weeks in a row in his latest comeback event. He finished in a promising tie for 12th at the Honda Classic two weeks ago in his last start.

He’s played only 10 tournament rounds this season and another Florida tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is on tap for next week at Bay Hill in Orlando. That could be his final competitive tuneup event for next month’s Masters — the year’s first major championship. Woods missed that tournament three of the last four years because of injuries.

McIlroy eyes career Slam

McIlroy is also here to get ready for the Masters – the only one of golf’s four majors that he hasn’t won. He spent two days playing the Augusta National course before coming here.

“I’m totally ready,’’ he said. “I’d be happy to go to Augusta tomorrow and play and feel like I have a good chance.’’

McIlroy is the first of three players who have a shot at a career Grand Slam this year. Phil Mickelson, who won the Mexico Championship on Sunday, still needs to win the U.S. Open and Spieth’s resume is without a PGA Championship. Mickelson isn’t in the Valspar field.

“Golf is really helped with the three of us looking for the Slam, Tiger coming back, Justin Thomas playing so well and DJ (Dustin Johnson) being the No. 1 player in the world. I’m glad to be in the conversation.’’

Shades of 2015?

Spieth won the Valspar title in 2015, and that triggered a huge year for him. He followed with victories in the Masters and U.S. Open, then captured the John Deere Classic for the second time and concluded the year by taking The Tour Championship.

“This tournament brings really good vibes that can do a lot of good for me going forward,’’ said Spieth. “We’re in a very similar position to 2015 at this very moment. I really consider the Masters the start of the season with anything leading into it a preparation for the Masters.’’

Local flavor

Chicago’s two best PGA Tour players, Luke Donald and Kevin Streetman, are in the Valspar field. Donald won the Valspar in 2012 during a stretch in which he had top-six finishes in four consecutive years. Streelman won in 2013.

Streelman is coming off a two-week break and is 10-for-10 in surviving the 36-hole cut in the 2017-18 season. Though both are past Valspar champions neither played in Wednesday’s pro-am.

Woods hopes hometown tournament will jump-start his latest comeback attempt

Even on a pro-am day Tiger Woods has fans leaning against the gallery ropes.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – Tiger Woods made a last-minute decision to enter this week’s Honda Classic, the PGA Tour stop closest to his home in nearby Jupiter, FL. He didn’t have much of a choice, though.

The Masters is only six weeks away, and being ready for it has been Woods’ main goal in this latest of his comeback attempts, and he certainly isn’t ready now.

“I need tournament reps,’’ he declared after playing in Wednesday’s pro-am at PGA National. That’s why he filed his entry into the Honda Classic last Friday — the same day he shot 76 and missed the cut at the Genesis Open at Riviera, in California.

Justin Thomas, the world’s No. 4-ranked player, was paired with Woods for the first two rounds at Riviera and saw up close what it means to the PGA Tour when Woods plays – even if he isn’t playing well.

Autograph seekers turned out in big numbers after Tiger Woods makes his walk to the clubhouse.

“It was just bizarre because those first two days there was so many people and then, on Saturday, there was nobody,’’ said Thomas. “Rory (McIlroy) and I were walking up to the tee and we’re like, `Where is everybody?’ Does he really bring that many people?’’

Apparently Woods does. Rickie Fowler, who begins his Honda title defense on Thursday, called Woods “the biggest draw we have….It doesn’t matter if it’s pro-am day, or Thursday, Friday, whatever. He’s got the biggest crowd no matter what.’’

Woods, 42, hasn’t played much since his fourth back surgery. He tied for ninth in an 18-man field at his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December, tied for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open at California’s Torrey Pines in January and missed the cut at Genesis Open, an event that benefits Woods’ foundation.

He stayed around through its Sunday finish, then returned to Florida in time to be named a vice captain for the U.S. Ryder Cup team this week. Wednesday’s pro-am round was his first at PGA National – one of the most penal courses on the PGA Tour – in four years.

PGA National has its Bear Trap, perhaps the most treacherous three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour.

Though his home is only about 13 miles away Woods has played in the Honda Classic only four times and didn’t finish in his last start in 2014 when back problems forced him to withdraw. His best showing here was a tie for second in 2012.

“It’s good to have him here this week,’’ said Fowler, also a Jupiter resident. “I’m hoping he plays well. He’s sleeping in his own bed, so he should be all right.’’

“I’m starting to get that feeling again of playing tournament golf, where each and every shot counts,’’ said Woods. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m in catchup mode. I’m just learning how to play tournament golf again.’’

Here and there

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who is skipping the Honda Classic, ran his streak of cuts made to 10 since the start of the PGA Tour season at the Genesis Open. He finished tied for 41st after winning the pro-am title with partner Larry Fitzgerald the week before at Pebble Beach. Meanwhile Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star and another Jupiter resident, made his first PGA Tour cut of 2018 in the Genesis Open. He finished tied for 37th and is also playing at PGA National.

The Chicago Golf Show, a fixture since 1984, returns to the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont on Friday for a three-day run. Hours are noon-7 p.m. on Friday, 9:30-6 on Saturday and 9:30-4 on Sunday. Three former Bears – Emery Moorhead, Jim Morrissey and Otis Wilson — will get lessons from Illinois PGA members and trick shot artist Peter Longo will also entertain visitors. In addition to the 350 golf-related exhibits each visitor will get a ticket for a free round of golf at one of the 15 area courses managed by GolfVisions.

The rise in senior women’s golf apparently won’t involve legendary Annika Sorenstam. She revealed last week that her family will move to Lake Tahoe for a year while their Florida home is being renovated. Sorenstam bypassed last year’s first Senior LPGA Championship in French Lick, Ind., and she isn’t old enough to play in this July’s inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club. Sorenstam isn’t sure if she’ll attend the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer, either. “Maybe for TV,’’ she said, “but with my family I’ve got my hands full and am very content with my life. I don’t see a void (from lack of competitive play).’’ Sorenstam’s last tournament was in 2008.

PGA Tour Champions, which ended its Florida swing last Sunday, had Chicago storylines in both its tournaments here. Chicago’s Lance Ten Broeck led the qualifying round at the Boca Raton Championship and last week former Barrington star Gary Hallberg, in the Chubb Classic field in Naples on a sponsor’s exemption, opened with a bogey and then carded nine birdies on his way to a 65 that left him a shot off the first-round lead. He finished 70-72 to get a tie for 15th.

Ten Broeck may play more tournaments now that he’s caddying for Els

BOCA RATON, Florida – Ten Broeck was once a prominent name in Chicago golf, with three brothers winning titles in either the Illinois Open or Illinois State Amateur. Lance, youngest of the three, proved to be the best and – at 62 years old – he can still compete with the best on PGA Tour Champions.

Ten Broeck hasn’t played in many tournaments in the last 10 years. During that period he was a devoted caddie to Sweden’s Jesper Parnivik.

Both, however, are competing in the Boca Raton Championship at Broken Sound – the first full-field event of the season for the PGA Champions circuit. Ten Broeck got in by leading Monday’s qualifying round with a 69 on a nearby course.

In Friday’s first round he made seven birdies but settled for a 2-under-par 70. In Saturday’s second round he overcame an ugly shank off the tee at the par-3 sixteenth hole to match par. The bad swing wound up as a water ball, but he salvaged bogey with a 30-foot putt and then made a 20-foot par-saver on the next hole to keep his score in red numbers.

Clutch putts on the 16th and 17th kept Lance Ten Broeck under par after 36 holes in Boca Raton.

His 2-under 142 put him ahead of three former Masters champions – Larry Mize, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal – heading into Sunday’s final round and such notables as Jay Haas, Tom Lehman and Hale Irwin were also behind Ten Broeck after 36 holes.

A veteran of 355 tournaments on the PGA Tour, Ten Broeck had found a comfort zone as Parnevik’s bag-toter while squeezing in some tournaments on the 50-and-over circuit when the schedule permitted. The Boca Raton Championship is his 62nd start on PGA Tour Champions.

“I’ve averaged about five tournaments a year for the last 10 years,’’ said Ten Broeck, and that total may increase this year because he’s no longer Parnevik’s caddie.

“I’ll be working for Ernie Els, but I’ll be splitting time with another guy,’’ said Ten Broeck, who lives in Singer Island, Fla., which is a short drive from Boca Raton. “I’m off until Tampa (the PGA Tour’s Valspar Classic in early March).’’

So, Ten Broeck figures to compete in Monday’s qualifying round for the second PGA Champions event, the Chubb’s Classic in Naples, before beginning his work with Els on the PGA Tour. He said the breakup with Parnevik was amicable and the opportunity to carry for Els – a two-time champion in both the U.S. and British Opens – was a better opportunity.

“That’s why I took it,’’ he said.

Ten Broeck was part of a well-known golf family that carried the banner of Beverly Country Club, the Chicago South Side club that has been a frequent site of big tournaments. Lance used his training there to qualify for the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah – and survive the 36-hole cut – when he was just 18. His pro playing career was highlighted by a win in the 1984 Magnolia State Classic, but that tournament wasn’t considered an official event when Ten Broeck won it.

He also won the Illinois Open in 1984, following in the footsteps of brother Rick who won it twice – in 1973 and 1981. An older brother, Jim, was an Illinois State Amateur champion.

European stars will bolster the field for Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The spotlight was on defending champion Adam Hadwin at the media kickoff for next month’s Valspar Championship, but tournament director Tracy West made the most news.

One of only two women to hold tournament director’s position on the PGA Tour, West announced the participation of some top international players for the March 8-11 tournament on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort.

The commitment list 27 days before the start of the tournament included Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who last played in the tournament in 2013. It also included first-time Valspar entrants in four-time major championship winner Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood who is No. 12 in the Official World Golf Rankings. They represent a significant upgrade to the field.

Adam Hadwin was happy to return to the scene of his first PGA Tour victory.

Another up-and-coming European, England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, was given a sponsor’s exemption as was Illinois’s Dylan Meyer, who will interrupt his senior season with the Illini to test himself against PGA Tour stars. Meyer’s invitation was a reward for winning a collegiate event that is also sponsored by Valspar.

Innisbrook has hosted a pro tour event since 1977. Those events have raised $38 million for charity, and last year’s tournament brought in $2.4 million for 115 local beneficiaries. The tourney has continued to grow, as well. Four years ago the tourney had 60 sponsors; this year there are 216, including eight from China.

Last year’s Valspar Championship drew 112,000 spectators and had 60 hours of television coverage in 230 countries. Armed with that background information, West dispelled reports that the tourney might be pushed into fall dates when the PGA Tour revamps its schedule next year.

“We’ll continue to be a showcase event on the Florida swing,’’ said West, who said the tourney has been formally assured those enviable dates for at least 2019 and 2020.

Hadwin, an affable Canadian, relived his tense victory of a year ago, when he blew a two-stroke lead on Copperhead’s famed Snake Pit three-hole stretch. His drive at No. 16 found water, leading to a double bogey that dropped him into a tie with Patrick Cantlay.

“To be honest, that didn’t bother me a bit,’’ said Hadwin. “I wasn’t frustrated. I wasn’t upset.’’ Instead, Hadwin kept his poise through the finish of the round and got the win when Cantlay made a late bogey.

Tournament director Tracy West is delighted with her tournament’s growth.

The win was Hadwin’s first on the PGA Tour and got him into the Masters for the first time, but it wasn’t the only highlight of his banner season. He shot a 59 in the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge in California, but wound up tied for second when Hudson Swafford rallied in the final round to claim the victory.

Hadwin was also named to the International team for the President’s Cup matches.

“I was way more nervous at the first tee in the President’s Cup than I was at the Masters,’’ said Hadwin. “Especially after my partner Hideki (Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama) put his first shot in the bushes.’’

Hadwin’s success in 2017 came with a price. He had to postpone his scheduled honeymoon, planned the week of the Masters, but that had a happy ending, too. The rescheduled honeymoon went off without a hitch in December.

Valspar spectators will be able to view the new Wall of Honor.

Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman are past winners on the Copperhead Course.

These chairs are one reason why Valspar is the PGA Tour’s most colorful tournament.

Name change won’t detract from PGA Champions’ first main event

Defending champion Scott McCarron previews the first full field event on PGA Tour Champions while Eddie Carbone, the new tournament director of the Boca Raton Championship, looks on.

BOCA RATON, Florida – PGA Tour Champions had a popular kickoff to its season with the Allianz Championship on the North Course at Broken Sound Golf Club. That sponsorship ended after the 12th playing of the event last year, but – other than a name change to the Boca Raton Championship – the event will go on with no loss in momentum.

The tournament will again be the first full field event of the season for PGA Tour Champions. Tournament week is Feb. 5-11 after the circuit conducts two small field events – the Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity event next week in Orlando and the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii from Jan. 15-20.

After those two events the circuit for 50-and-older stars will get into full swing albeit with some organizational changes.

Eddie Carbone, executive director of the U.S. Senior Open the last three years, has taken over as tournament director and the city of Boca Raton and its Parks and Recreation Department have stepped in to provide financial support. Sallyport, a global company that specializes in supporting military operations within complex environments, was named the presenting sponsor at. Wednesday’s media day kickoff.

“We’re entering a new era,’’ said Carbone, who had also spent a decade as executive director of the PGA Tour stop held at Trump National Doral near Miami. “We’re working hard to secure a new sponsor for 2019 and beyond.’’

Scott McCarron, who won last year with an eagle on the final hole, would like to take the champion’s trophy home from Broken Sound again.

Scott McCarron, the defending champion, is just happy the event is returning to Broken Sound.

“No one wants to lose this tournament. It’s a very popular tournament with PGA Champions players. We love coming here,’’ said McCarron, who thanked government officials for providing temporary financial support. “A lot of cities wouldn’t be willing to do that, and we want to keep this tournament going.’’

McCarron would also like to keep his hot streak, which started at Broken Sound last year, going as well.

He won at Broken Sound in dramatic fashion, hitting a 7-iron from 186 yards to six feet on the final hole and then holing the putt for eagle to nab a one-stroke victory over Kenny Perry and Carlos Franco. McCarron made two eagles in the final round en route to his sixth career win on PGA Champions.

Four of his victories came last year, when he led the circuit in birdies and eagles but couldn’t overhaul Boca Raton resident Bernhard Langer in the player-of-the-year race.

McCarron’s other wins included his first major title at the Constellation Senior Players Championship. That victory gets him into the PGA’s high-profile Players Championship with the PGA Tour’s best players at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL., in May. He’ll defend his Senior Players win from PGA Champions at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, IL., in July.

Collapse in Boston could haunt Leishman in final round of BMW Championship

Marc Leishman is hardly a household name in the golf world but – if he can hold his game together – he will likely win the BMW Championship today and be in a great position to win the FedEx Cup’s $10 million bonus next week in Atlanta.

The question is, can he hold his game together?

Leishman has led wire to wire in this BMW Championship at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, and he’ll take a five-stroke lead over fellow Australian Jason Day and Rickie Fowler into the final round. It would seem a formidable task for any of the others in the 69-man field to catch him – except for one thing.

In the last FedEx Cup Playoff event in Boston Leishman also led after 54 holes. Then he blew up, shooting 40 on the last nine holes to wind up third behind champion Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who has been the runner-up in both of the previous playoff events. That bad experience could conceivably happen again.

“A lot of tournaments you put three rounds together, and it’s very easy to throw a mediocre round in there,’’ said Leishman. “Tomorrow I’ve got to try not to do that. After what happened (in Boston) I’ve got extra determination to finish this one off, and my game is in a better spot. This course sets up better for me than (the one in Boston).’’

Spieth leads the FedEx point standings with Thomas second and Dustin Johnson, winner of the first tourney, third. That trio has not played well at Conway Farms, however, and that suggests the standings could dramatically change after today’s round. Spieth, after a 71 on Saturday, is tied for 27th in the BMW Championship. Thomas, who also shot 71, is tied for 41st and Johnson, after a 69, is tied for 55th.

So, if they don’t improve and Leishman goes on to win he could be the front runner in the last of these four $8,750,000 tournaments at Atlanta’s East Lake layout next week. Only 30 players will be competing there. Any player in the top five in the standings after the BMW Championship will take the $10 million bonus with a victory in Atlanta.

Low scoring and spectacular shots were the norm in the first two rounds at Conway Farms. Saturday’s round was a strange one, in that Leishman, Fowler and Day – the top three at the start of the day — didn’t go low but still maintained their places at the top of the leaderboard. Leishman, who had a three-stroke lead after 36 holes, shot 68 and is at 19-under-par 194 for the three rounds. Fowler and Day both carded 70s and remain tied for second.

“The course changed quite a lot compared to the first two days,’’ said Leishman. “It firmed up a lot and the greens speed was up, so it was nice to keep making birdies like I have been all week.’’

Leishman opened this BMW Championship with a 62, making 10 birdies on Thursday. He added 12 more in the next two rounds and has 22 in his 54 holes.

Day won by six strokes the last time the BMW Championship was played at Conway Farms in 2015. He was a wire-to-wire winner with a 22-under-par score that time, which was similar to Leishman’s performance for this year’s three rounds this week.

“Leish is playing spectacular,’’ said Day, Leishman’s playing partner in the third round. “He’s going to be very difficult to beat. I’ll have to play really good because he isn’t making any mistakes. He’s hitting it in the right spots, hitting it on the greens and holing putts. That’s a good formula for success.’’

Fowler, who rolled in an eagle putt at No. 1 to start Saturday’s round but managed only one birdie after that, will be paired with Leishman today.

Only England’s Justin Rose (66) and Spain’s Jon Rahm (65, Saturday’s low score) made a run at the leaders. Rose is solo fourth, eight behind Leishman, and Rahm is tied for fifth, another shot back. Rose, who won the BMW Championship at Cog Hill in 2011, doesn’t like his chances in the final round.

“Leishman is playing great, along with Rickie and Jason,’’ said Rose. `You’ve got to factor in that they’re going to continue to play great.’’

Fowler took a more positive approach.

“Ultimately you just want a chance come Sunday, so we’ve taken care of that,’’ he said. “I would have liked to be a little better today, but we got that round out of the way, and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.’’

Day is back in the BMW spotlight at Conway Farms

Another Australian golfer may be leading the BMW Championship, but the story halfway through the third of four FedEx Cup Playoff events has been Jason Day. Day was the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer at the start of 2017. Then things went downhill, but they’re definitely on the upswing entering today’s Round 3 of the $8,750,000 championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

Marc Leishman, who is in command at the 36-hole stop, will be paired with Day in Round 3. Leishman is at 16-under-par 126 and leads Day and Rickie Fowler by three strokes.

“Hopefully I can keep going, birdie-ing half the holes,’’ said Leishman, who was the 54-hole leader in the second playoff event two weeks ago in Boston but finished third behind winner Justin Thomas and runner-up Jordan Spieth.

Friday, though, was Day’s day. He made two eagles plus a hole-in-one in shooting a 65, underscoring that he’s on the road to recovery after falling from the world’s No. 1 ranking for understandable reasons.

First there was a cancer diagnosis for Day’s mother, Dening, who came from Australia to live with her son. Then Day encountered back problems.. He hasn’t won a tournament this year, and this week he made a dramatic caddie change after tying for 25th place in the previous FedEx Cup event in Boston.

Day brought in Luke Reardon, a former high school roommate and golf teammate, to replace Colin Swatton. Not only was Swatton Day’s swing coach since he was 11 years old and his caddie for the past 11 years. They were also close off the course. Each was best man at each other’s wedding.

All that turmoil was bound to take a toll, but it hasn’t affected Day in the first two days of the BMW Championship. Just competing at Conway may have been the tonic Day needed. He has a great record in two previous appearances at the Lake Forest private club, and insisted his 64-65 start isn’t that surprising.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in this position,’’ said Day, “but I’m heading in the right direction, and I’m back at a tournament golf course that I’ve played well in the past..’’

Day finished in a four-way tie for fourth place in the first BMW Championship played at Conway in 2013, five strokes behind champion Zach Johnson. In 2015 Day was brilliant at Conway, opening 61-63 to set a PGA Tour record for the first 36 holes of a tournament. He went on to win by six. That was part of a big year that saw Day ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there,’’ said Day. “Obviously that’s the goal, but 2015 was a very dominating year. But at the start of this year I was having an uphill battle with myself, trying to force things too much. There were a lot of disappointing areas that have plagued my game.’’

Nothing plagued his game on Friday. Day chipped in for eagle at No. 15 and then holed a 7-iron shot from 186 yards for his first hole-in-one in nine years. The ace wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, as the tee shot landed left off the green before taking a most fortunate bounce to the right and rolled into the cup.

His was the fifth ace in the BMW Championship and it won him a new BMW automobile. Day promptly donated it back to the Western Golf Association, which conducts the tournament to benefit its Evans Scholars Foundation. A deserving caddie also receives a four-year college scholarship from the tournament sponsor for every ace made in the tournament.

Day praised Reardon’s work as his new caddie but will retain Swatton as his swing coach and wouldn’t rule out him returning as his caddie next season.

“I’m driving a lot better this week and the iron shots are a lot cleaner,’’ he said. “Putting is coming around, too. The last two days were fantastic. Right now I’m in a good spot.’’

Leishman is in a better one. He grabbed the first-round lead with a 62 and added a 64 on Friday. That’s almost a birdie every other hole on a course that Day went 22-under in winning two years ago. Conway was set up on the short side, under 7,000 yards on Friday. The official tournament yardage for the par-71 layout, is 7,208.

“The course isn’t a pushover,’’ insisted Leishman. `It’s a good course in the respect the, if you’re hitting good shots and making putts, you can really go low.’’

More low scoring is likely over the weekend, as playing conditions have been ideal. Leishman and Day will be paired together in Round 3.

“We’ve played a lot of golf together,’’ said Leishman, “but it’ll be different not seeing Swatton on the bag. Hopefully we can both play well, make a lot of birdies and drag each other along.’’

Playing in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur was an unforgettable experience

World Amateur champion Curtis Henley (left) gets his reward from tournament director Scott Tomasello.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – It’s definitely a competition, but it also has the friendly touches of an outing as well. The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship is golf event like no other.

With over 3,000 playing in the same community at the same time, a case could be made that it’s the biggest of all golf championships. Though it receives very little media attention, even within its golf-crazed community, the event has endured for 34 years and continues to show steady growth. The latest staging drew 3,010 players — ranging in age from 18 to 89 –from every state except Alaska as well as 22 countries.

It was two years ago when Chris King, of Myrtle Beach-based Kingfish Communications, and Scott Tomasello, of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, suggested that we experience this unique event. They rightfully contended that you couldn’t comprehend the far-reaching magnitude of the event without being a participant. Once we went through that extraordinary experience, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

We definitely got caught up in the spirit of the World Amateur Handicap Championship.

Tomasello became the tournament director this year and King was part of the organizing Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which is celebrating its 50th season promoting the extraordinary variety of golf options available in the 60-mile Grand Strand – an area from Pawley’s Island on the south to just over the state line into Brunswick County, N.C. Over 52 courses were used to conduct the competition, which involved 78 flights based on age, gender and handicap.

This year a Just For Fun flight was added for players who didn’t want to compete but wanted to do everything else. They didn’t get the full flavor of the World Am, though.

The competition centered on four 18-hole rounds, each conducted in a 9 a.m. shotgun format. Players got to test themselves on four different courses, and the winners of each flight after those four hectic days went to an 18-hole playoff to determine the World Amateur champion. This year it was Curtis Henley, of Poquoson, Va. He shot a net 66 in the playoff off a gross score of 82.

Wes Long, of Hilton Head, S.C., won the gross division with a 1-under-par performance over five rounds, but this event was aimed at players utilizing their handicap. Plus, there’s so much more to the World Amateur than the golf itself.

The World’s Largest 19th Hole was always a colorful event.

The gift bag – ours consisted of a logo hat, shirt, pullover, towel, thermo mug and bag tag; a Nexbelt; a $20 credit for purchases at a PGA SuperStore; and a souvenir program — is extraordinary. So is the off-course entertainment. This year’s welcoming reception was at the House of Blues. It was packed with players, family members and friends and that was also the case every night after each round at the 120,000 square foot Myrtle Beach Convention Center — the site of the World’s Largest 19th Hole.

The World’s Largest 19th Hole was clearly that. This was a lot different than your usual pro-am party. Each night there was dancing to the music of live bands, a golf expo that included 60 exhibitors, on-stage programs featuring celebrities from The Golf Channel, putting and chipping contests, billiards matches, youth games and – best of all – food stations offering small portions of the cuisine served at the area’s top restaurants. Oh, yes, there were open bars at various locations each night as well.

That’s pretty much a superficial look at the World Amateur Handicap Championship. Here’s what you really need to know:

HANDICAPS: Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday takes them very seriously. While most other net competitions use handicaps mainly to group players of similar abilities, the Holiday doesn’t just take just a player’s word for his handicap. There must be documentation from a recognized golf organization, and that’s not always enough.

If there are some suspicious scores the Holiday is not reluctant to retroactively disqualify a player from the competition. There have been some unhappy, disgruntled players over the years but handicaps can’t be taken lightly in an event of this nature. Those supervising that end of the competition are firm but fair.

The jam-packed welcoming reception at the House of Blues got the World Am off to a rousing start.

In our case Joy questioned her handicap, believing it to be too low, after the first round. A check of the Chicago District Golf Association records revealed that the Holiday was in error in making her handicap adjustment. It wasn’t just corrected verbally; an email confirmation arrived the next morning. That’s what I’d call paying attention to detail, especially considering the 3,000-plus players involved.

After each round the Holiday staff prints out standings for each flight and has them ready for the 6 p.m. opening of the World’s Largest 19th Hole. The top 10 in each flight are spotlighted on rotating video screens throughout the evening, and making the board is an honor worth savoring. At least I did, after being tied for ninth place in my flight after Round 2.

THE PLAYERS: They are grouped into flights of about 40, and not just by handicap. Men are also divided by age, the oldest one being for those 80 and above. There aren’t enough women to differentiate by age, so they are divided strictly by handicap.

I was placed in a 70-79 age group flight in which all 40-some players had handicaps in the 18-21 range. It’s intriguing how compatible players can become from a scoring standpoint when handicapping is done properly. I had a hot second round and defeated one of my playing partners by a stroke. He went on to finish seventh in our flight while I struggled in the final 18 and was in the middle of the pack at the end.

Live bands were featured at both the welcoming reception and World Largest’s 19th Hole.

Joy had a similar experience. She also finished in the middle of the pack in her flight but matched the score of the eventual flight champion when they played together.

Both Joy and I played with 12 different players over the four days, and every one of them had played in at least one World Amateur previously. In my last round I was paired with one who was playing for the 20th time and two who were 10-year veterans. Seven players in the event have played in all of the previous 34 World Amateurs. That underscores the popularity of the event. You come once, and chances are you’ll want to return again and again.

My most memorable partner was Roy, from Florida. He requested before teeoff that we help him find his ball. “As far as the state of Florida is concerned, I’m legally blind,’’ Roy informed us. He did need some help finding some of his shots, but was still a most pleasant playing partner. In the last round my cart partner was Skip, Roy’s brother from New Jersey. He was a fun guy, too.

Flags of the players from all the countries gave the Myrtle Beach Convention Center a festive look.

Joy’s favorite playing partner was Isabel, from Texas. Isabel and her husband had their flight to Myrtle Beach cancelled when Hurricane Harvey started inflicting serious damage in their home state so they drove 20 hours to get there. Unlike us, they came in one car – and that complicated daily travel. Joy alleviated their situation by driving Isabel each morning and we made friends in the process.

COMPETITION: All my playing partners seemed to think about golf the way I do: it’s a game, competition is fun and enjoy the experience no matter the result. You adhere to the rules, do the best you can and get to know your partners. The conversations I had with mine extended well beyond golf, and we quickly developed a spirit of camaraderie.

Joy’s experience wasn’t quite that good. While she was happy to be competitive in her first taste of this new format, she did run into one partner who was adamant that she knew all the rules – but really didn’t. They didn’t talk much as the round progressed, but the other players were nice.

Not every player was ready for the World Am, either. There was one in my flight – a most pleasant fellow, I was told – who shot 146 in the first round. His slow play frustrated his partners until he decided the event wasn’t for him after playing six holes in Round 2.

My brief moment in the sun: a spot on page one of the 36-hole leaderboard.

DAILY ROUTINE: You need to plan for each day, as the courses can require drives of up to 40 miles. Fortunately, we came in two cars. We would check the distance to the next day’s course the night before. My first round was 25 miles to the south, my second 25 miles to the north. Closest round was a 15-minute drive. Joy’s situation was similar.

We swung into action each day at about 5:30 a.m., left for the course about 7 a.m. and met up again at the hotel in late afternoon. We usually had an hour or two to clean up before heading to the World’s Largest 19th Hole.

Weather was a factor throughout. I was caught in a downpour late in Round 1. Joy wasn’t, but nightly storms left the courses soggy in the mornings. We had to play cart path only with a lift, clean and place policy in effect in the second and third rounds. That wasn’t something that was appreciated by any of the players, but it was a necessity. Joy encountered one course with a hole under construction, but that was accepted as a unique challenge rather than an inconvenience.

EPILOG: I’ve played in tons of golf events, but none like this one. The World Amateur is for serious, recreational players. All putts must be holed out. There’s no picking up your ball at frustrating times and moving on to the next hole. You obviously need to keep a handicap to participate and must accept the likelihood that some scores will be higher than you’re used to shooting. You should have a sense of humor if you’re thinking of playing in the 2018 World Amateur next August.

The cost of doing that varies, depending on your transportation requirements and dining options. The basic entry is about $600 per player, and that’s well worth the value for a memory that will be long lasting.

Prestwick, a Pete and P.B. Dye design, may have been the toughest course in this World Amateur.

Indian Hill’s Schumacher finds Medinah No. 1 to his liking in IPGA tourney

Indian Hill’s Adam Schumacher lags close on the final green to clinch his first Illinois PGA title.

The Illinois PGA Championship has brought together the area’s top club professionals for 95 years, and Wednesday’s wrapup to the latest 54-hole gest was one of the strangest. Only one player seemed to want to win it.

Adam Schumacher, in his fourth season as an assistant pro at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka, went on a hot streak on the back nine of Medinah Country Club’s No. 1 course and that propelled him to a three-stroke victory over playing partner Brett Walker, of Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

Schumacher started the final round six strokes behind leader Jim Billiter, the head pro at Kemper Lakes. Billiter and one of his playing partners, Dakun Chang, battled with Schumacher for the lead until Schumacher took charge.

Illinois PGA president Mark Labiak hands over the Jim Kemper Cup to Adam Schumacher.

After a water ball at No. 10 led to a bogey he went on a birdie-birdie-par-birdie burst and no one challenged him again. The birdies at Nos. 11 and 12, from 10 feet and five feet respectively, made the water ball a bad memory and the final one, off a 15-foot putt at No. 14, sealed the deal.

“Everyone was struggling, I kept grinding and it paid off,’’ said Schumacher, who earned $11,700 and also led the top 10 finishers into next year’s Professional Players National Championship.

“I was just hoping to make the top 10 again and get to nationals,’’ said Schumacher, who qualified for the PPNC for the third time. “I didn’t know I could win the tournament until I signed by scorecard.’’

The hole which broke the tournament open was a hole that didn’t produce a birdie for Schumacher — the 295-yard 13th. Such short par-4s seldom impact a tournament like this one did on Wednesday. Schumacher and Chang were tied when Schumacher reached the tee for that hole. He hit his drive far right, into the adjoining No. 12 fairway, but was able to get on the green with his second shot and salvage par.

Chang, an assistant at Twin Orchard in Long Grove, wasn’t as fortunate after putting his tee shot in the same area. He needed four approaches to find the putting surface and wound up with a horrendous seven.

“I love that hole,’’ said Schumacher – and for obvious reasons. He made a birdie two on it in the first round on Monday.

Schumacher shows the form of a champion on the back nine at Medinah No. 1.

Doug Bauman, the 60-year old veteran from Biltmore in Barrington who played with Schumacher, made a rare birdie on the tricky 13th and that spurred him into a tie for third with Chang. Billiter made his first birdie at 13 after struggling mightily on the front nine.

“My birdie at 13 was a miracle and I made another one at 14 to get into the top 10,’’ he said. “Otherwise I’d be going home crying.’’

Billiter, despite shooting an 80, finished solo fifth and retained his lead in the IPGA Player of the Year standings with three of the year’s four majors now in the books. The final one is the IPGA Player Championship at Eagle Ridge, in Galena, in October. Billiter played in the last group with Chang and Walker, and they finished nearly two holes behind the Schumacher-Bauman group.

“We were very slow,’’ admitted Billiter. “Brett played slow but was playing great, and we didn’t want to rush him.’’ Walker walked his round while Billiter and Chang, both known as fast players, rode carts.

Schumacher posted a 69, one off the day’s best round by Glen View’s Chris Green, and posted a 4-under par 209 for the 54 holes. Walker shot 73 and was the only other player under par for the tournament.

Twelve-time champion Mike Small, the University of Illinois coach, tied for sixth with Medinah teaching pro Rich Dukelow, who was one of five pros from the host club to survive the 36-hole cut. Among the others playing on Wednesday was Katie Pius, the only woman in the field. One of Bauman’s assistants at Biltmore, she tied for 35th.

Flavin joins Ogrin in a prominent place in Illinois Open history

Patrick Flavin belts his tee shot on No. 1 at The Glen Club as ace photographer Nick Novelli zeroes in.

Patrick Flavin was hoping that his six-stroke lead going into Wednesday’s final round of the 68th Illinois Open at The Glen Club, in Glenview, would be enough to get him through the final 18. It wasn’t.

Flavin wasn’t as sharp as he was in the first two days, when he shot a pair of 64s, but he regrouped in the final three holes and took advantage of one bad swing by playing partner Brandon Holtz to become the first player in 37 years to win the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year.

David Ogrin, who grew up in Waukegan, managed that feat in 1980 and went on to a solid career on the PGA Tour. Flavin, who grew up not too far away in Highwood, knew nothing about Ogrin but was glad to share a place in history with him.

“Walking off that final green was awesome,’’ said Flavin, about to enter his season year at Miami of Ohio. “I knew I was playing good golf, but to win both tournaments in the same year is far above my expectations.’’

Patrick Flavin adds the Illinois Open trophy to the one he captured at the Illinois State Amateur.

Only eight players have won titles in both of the major tournaments for Illinois residents. Just Ogrin and Flavin did it in the same year, and the only other amateur to win both at one time or another was Bill Hoffer, who never entered the professional ranks. Others to win both titles, but not in the same year, were Gary Hallberg, Gary Pinns, Mark Hensby and Roy Biancalana, all of whom spent at least one season on the PGA Tour, and Brad Hopfinger, who finished in sixth place on Wednesday.

Flavin took the Amateur at Calumet Country Club last month when he edged Jordan Hahn, a University of Wisconsin golfer from Sugar Grove, by one stroke. That tournament was a two-man duel. Flavin had more competition in the Open, which draws the best club professionals and a smattering of pro tour players in addition to the leading amateurs.

The three-way tie for second included two amateurs getting ready for college — Matt Murlick of Marquette and Nick Hardy of Illinois – and Brandon Holtz, a former Illinois State basketball player turned mini-tour golfer.

That trio finished one stroke behind Flavin’s 13-under-par 202 total for the 54 holes. Murlick made a charge early, holing a bunker shot for birdie on the first hole and 155-yard 9-iron second shot at No. 2 for eagle. Hardy made a belated charge after a disappointing bogey at the short par-5 fourteenth, making three birdies on the last four holes.

Holtz was the most serious challenger. He made birdies on five of the first six holes of the back nine to wipe out Flavin’s big lead from the start of the day.

“Once it got tied up that kicked me in the butt,’’ said Flavin. “That gave me a sense of urgency, to stop playing defense and just go get it.’’

Flavin didn’t exactly get offensive, but his game steadied and three finishing pars was enough after Holtz hit a horrible tee shot at the par-3 seventeenth. It landed in deep rough, and Holtz was lucky to make bogey.

“I had gotten some momentum, but on that tee shot we were fortunate to find that ball,’’ said Holtz, who was the surprise of the tournament though he did finish in a tie for 16th last year.

“I always thought I could play,’’ said Holtz, who sells football helmets to youth groups for his regular job and has played golf for money only four years. “I know I can play, and I had a blast. I have no regrets.’’

With Flavin still an amateur, Holtz, from Bloomington, took the first-place check of $13,886 from a total purse of $95,000. Defending champion Carlos Sainz Jr. finished in fifth place, two strokes behind Flavin.