Len Ziehm On Golf

Porvasnik answers Jeray charge to win Illinois Women’s Open

Jessice Porvasnik accepts the Illinois Women’s Open trophy from Greg Kosin, brother of the tourney’s late founder Phil Kosin, after her one-shot victory at Mistwood.

It took just one swing for the 25th Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open to turn into a real battle Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville.

Nicole Jeray, for two decades Chicago’s only LPGA Tour player, picked the perfect spot to deliver the dramatic shot. Now 48, Jeray has shifted her focus to teaching at Mistwood and has grown to love it. But, no doubt about it, she can still play.

Playing against much younger players – many of them college stars, Jeray covered the Mistwood layout in 4-under-par 212 for 54 holes but it wasn’t quite good enough. Jessica Porvasnik, of Hinckley, Ohio, was one shot better.

Jeray, though, put excitement into what had been a quiet final round. She used a 4-hybrid from 177 to get within two feet of the cup at Mistwood’s dramatic par-3 fourteenth hole. After that is was Game On!

At that point Jeray and Porvasnik, her playing partner, weren’t sure where they stood on the leaderboard. The only threesome behind them was dropping two holes behind and scores provided on the course were suspect.

Porvasnik just knew that she was in a battle with Jeray, and Jeray was aware of the same thing. Not only did Jeray make her spectacular birdie at No. 14, she also birdied the 15th, a par-5, from 10 feet and rolled in a birdie putt of the same length at the par-4 seventeenth.

That birdie binge put Jeray in position to achieve a lifetime dream. She wanted to win the IWO in three decades, having previously won in 1998 and 2003.

“I wanted to. It would have been fun,’’ said Jeray, “but she (Porvasnik) birdied 18.’’

In addition to her two IWO wins Jeray lost the title in playoffs in 2010 and 2013. Her birdie run got Porvasnik’s attention.

“After she stuffed a couple in there I knew that last hole really meant something,’’ she said. Porvasnik rolled in a 15-footer to assure a win over Jeray, then had to wait for the last threesome to finish.

Two players in the final group, Kasey Miller, a professional from Findlay, Ohio, and amateur Kaho Monica Matsubara, finished at 4-under and tied with Jeray. None could beat Porvasnik’s score. Matsubara, who attends Northwestern, was the tourney’s low amateur.

.Porvasnik played collegiately at Ohio State and became the second consecutive IWO winner from a Big Ten school. Northwestern’s Hana Kim won in 2018, then captured the Tennessee Open the next week. Porvasnik hopes to do the same thing and she’ll go into that tournament on a roll. Previously she had top-10 finishes in the state opens in Colorado and Michigan.

Immediately prior to coming to Mistwood Porvasnik survived the Monday qualifying for an LPGA tournament in Toledo, Ohio, and made the 36-hole cut there to earn her first check on the circuit — $4,083. She added $5,000 for her win at Mistwood.

Though she’s primarily a teacher now Jeray isn’t done competing. She is first alternate to play in a Legends Tour event in Janesville, Wis., and has spots in both the LPGA Teaching Division national championship and Senior LPGA Championship before the season is out.

“I have just enough tournaments for me to keep me on my game,’’ said Jeray. “I like being a teacher, It’s rewarding, and I’m getting really good at it.’’

Don’t rule out vets Haas, Moore in final round of the JDC

Lucas Glover’s second shot to the par-5 tenth hole at TPC Deere Run on Saturday drew a crowd. He had holed out with a 3-iron from 255 yards for a double eagle on Friday and gave it a good try for another albatross, hitting to 12 feet and sinking the putt for an eagle.

SILVIS, IL. – The Las Vegas odds-makers didn’t believe experience mattered much when they sized up the John Deere Classic field earlier this week. The top five betting favorites – Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, Joaquin Niemann, Sunglae Im and Matthew Wolff — are all between the ages of 20 and 22.

But what do those odds-makers know anyway?

Those young guns may have played well lately on the PGA Tour, and the JDC is a tournament known for producing first-time champions. Of the young hotshots, though, the best entering Sunday’s final round is Morikawa and he’s in a tie for 12th, four strokes behind co-leaders Cameron Tringale and Andrew Landry.

While Tringale and Landry hit the 54-hole stop at TPC Deere Run at 16-under-par 197 on Saturday, their status is precarious at best. Six others are within two shots of the lead, and that group includes a couple of battled hardened veterans who were among golf’s elite not too long ago.

Bill Haas, who posted Saturday’s best score with a 7-under-par 64, was the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup champion in 2011. He’s a shot behind the co-leaders and Ryan Moore, who finished his third round birdie-eagle-birdie, is one swing behind Haas.

Moore’s win in the 2016 JDC triggered his selection to the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and he went on to score the winning point against the Europeans that year. His win in the JDC, in effect, helped Moore become a national hero – at least for awhile.

“It (winning at TPC Deere Run) definitely kick-started that run, and I played good, solid golf from there all the way through the Ryder Cup,’’ said Moore.

A win Sunday wouldn’t have the same effect, since it’ll be Moore’s last competitive round for awhile. He’s skipping next week’s British Open because his wife is expecting their third child.

“I’m in an on-call situation right here,’’ said Moore. “She’s still a few weeks out, so it was comfortable being here. I won’t be going to the British because that’s just way too far away and I would not feel comfortable being that far away a few weeks with baby No. 3 is on the way.’’

Haas posted his lowest round of the year on Saturday, and it gave him a big lift.

“I certainly haven’t been seeing many mid-60 rounds in the last two years,’’ he said. “The game is not easy. It’s been beating me most weeks. Hopefully if I keep working hard days like this will happen.’’

Haas, now 37, realizes the landscape of the PGA Tour is changing. Players are getting younger and younger.

“We’re starting to see maybe the trend is younger is better,’’ he said. “The average age on Tour has gone down since I was a rookie Experience doesn’t seem to hold as much weight. I’m just going to have to play my game, and hopefully it’s enough.’’

Co-leaders Tringale and Landry aren’t exactly kids, either. Both are 31, but they’re careers haven’t been as noteworthy. Landry’s only win was at the Valero Texas Open last year, but he’s had only one top-10 finish this season.

Tringale has gone winless in 10 years on the circuit. This year he’s tied for fifth twice, the last time at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit two weeks ago.

Landry had the lead at the turn on Saturday but made bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12. He rallied with three birdies after that, though.

“I just got tired,’’ said Landry. “It was really hot out there. My golf swing started feeling a little bit shaky, my body was not really turning and I was arming it out there rather than really hitting solid shots.’’

He’ll take precautions to avoid that repeating itself in the final round.

“I need to bring more food in the bag, drink more water,’’ he said. Landry may also have to deal with being a relatively new father. His son, just 18 months old, and travels with him.

“It’s absolutely hectic. I’m about to leave here and get ready for bedtime for him,’’ said Landry. “It’s good to get off the course, just forget about everything and get away from the game. He’s a blessing.’’

But Landry still hasn’t figured out how to balance family life with tournament golf.

“Whenever someone does figure it out, please let me know because I would live to know,’’ he said.

TPC Deere Run’s par-5 tenth hole drew a bigger gallery than usual on Saturday when Lucas Glover arrived at the tee. Glover made the tourney’s first double-eagle in 19 years there on Friday and put his drive in the fairway again. He went for the green in two again, got within 12 feet and holed his putt for eagle.

Donald makes the cut at JDC, joins those chasing Vegas

SILVIS, IL. – Luke Donald is seven years removed from being the world’s No. 1 golfer, but he’s showing signs of regaining the form that made him that good, and that’s saying a lot.

Donald was sidelined for nearly a year with back problems. During the time off he lost his PGA Tour membership but he’s on the way to regaining it. His play over the first two rounds of the John Deere Classic is proof of that.

Back-to-back 68s have Donald at 6-under-par 136 for the first 36 holes at TPC Deere Run. He’s safely inside the cut line entering Saturday’s third round, though he’s a distant seven strokes behind leader Jhonattan Vegas.

Jhonattan Vegas was delighted with his play in the second round of the JDC.

Vegas, from Venezuela, matched the best round of the tournament with his 9-under-par 62 on Friday and hit the halfway stop at 13-under-par 129. He’s one swing ahead of Andrew Landry and two in front of Lucas Glover, who made the shot of the day. He holed his second shot from 255 yards on the par-5 tenth for an albatross.en route to posting a 64. It was the first double eagle at the JDC since 2000 – Frank Lickliter had one at No. 2 that year — but the seventh on the PGA Tour this season.

Donald, 41, starred at Northwestern before rising to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings, a status he held for 55 weeks between 2011 and 2012. During most of that time he lived at least part-time in Northfield, and he is the great Chicago hope in this year’s JDC.

“We’ve had a place in Jupiter, Florida, since 2006,’’ said Donald. “For a few years we’d just go there in the winter but when my girls started in school we had to make a decision and Jupiter won out because of the weather. I loved that house, but we were spending less and less time in Chicago.’’

The Northfield house was sold a few months ago as Donald was starting to regain his form. His game isn’t all there yet, but it’s getting there.

“I feel pretty solid,’’ he said. “A back issue is always something you have to manage, but I’ve had no issues on the course. The last time I did was at the Sony (in Hawaii in January) and I took some time off after that.’’

Andrew Landry hit his approach shot into a tree on this shot at No. 6, leading to a bogey that dropped out of a share of the JDC lede.

He returned in March at the Valspar Championship, in Florida, and tied for ninth – his best finish since resuming tournament play. His fitness level is improving now. As proof of that he’s survived the 36-hole cut in three straight tournaments and is hopeful of a good finish at the JDC to get more FedEx points towards regaining full playing privileges.

“My game is in a pretty good place,’’ he said. “Thirteen birdies in the first two days is a good sign that my confidence is coming back. I hadn’t played here since 2003. After that I was a European Tour member and played the Scottish (Open) before The (British) Open. It’s nice to be back here. This is a good course for me. You hit lots of wedges and it’s not overly long.’’

After this weekend Donald won’t play again until the Wyndham Championship, in North Carolina, Aug. 1-4 a week before the FedEx Cup Playoffs begin. Donald won’t get into next week’s British Open unless he wins on Sunday and he will need two very solid finishes to have a chance of making it into the PGA Tour’s postseason series.

Chances of Donald playing in either the British or FedEx Playoffs are slim, but regaining full membership isn’t. Mizuno, his equipment company since 2004, has no doubts Donald will be playing full-time again. He was awarded a new contract in January, months before his comeback was in full swing.

“I’ll have three or four starts after the Wyndham to get enough points, and I might take a money list exemption to play fully next year so I won’t have to worry about it,’’ said Donald.

In the meantime he’s in the big pack chasing Vegas, who holed over 100 feet of putts on Saturday in a bogey-free round that included nine birdies.

“It was probably the best I’ve felt all year,’’ said Vegas. “I hit the ball extremely well. I was obviously super solid from the beginning all the way to the end. Ball-striking was impeccable. I can’t wait for the weekend. The course is usually soft, and it’s been a little firmer because of the warm conditions. It’s the best I’ve ever seen it.’’

Vegas posted his round in the morning and Landry caught him in the afternoon. He fell a stroke back when his second shot from the rough on No. 6 hit a tree. That shot, on his 15th hole of the day, led to a bogey and Landry finished with a 65.

Diaz’ 62 tops an unusual first round at the John Deere Classic

Roberto Diaz focused on making the FedEx Cup Playoffs while taking the lead at the JDC.

SILVIS, IL. – The 49th John Deere Classic meant the return of the PGA Tour to Illinois for the first time in 2019, but Thursday’s opening round had a different feel to it.

There was the usual abundance of low scoring, with the best saved for last. Mexico’s Roberto Diaz, in the last threesome to tee off, shot a 9-under-par 62 to open a two-stroke lead over Adam Long and Russell Henley after Round 1. Still, notable stars of the past were either missing or off form.

There was no Steve Stricker, a three-time winner and loyal JDC supporter who opted to play in the Bridgestone Constellation Senior Players Championship instead. Two-time winner Jordan Spieth thought about coming but didn’t, and there hasn’t much excitement over the defending champion, Michael Kim.

Luke Donald tapped in a six-inch birdie putt at No. 18 to get his game going in the first round of the JDC.

Kim set scoring records in his win at TPC Deere Run last year but took a string of 18 consecutive missed cuts into his title defense. He didn’t show signs of shaking his slump, posting a 73. Then there was Zach Johnson, the face of the tournament on many levels. He shot 72, his first over-par round in the JDC since 2008. His streak of 41 in a row at par or better came to an end.

And finally there was the unusual shortage of local PGA Tour players. Not even Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman was on hand – and the scenario surrounding his absence from the $6 million event was a weird one.

Streelman had just won Monday’s Rockford Pro-Am, a fixture around John Deere Classic time, at the Aldeen course in Rockford. After shooting a 6-under-par 66 there he made a quick check of his emails and found a most interesting one.

It read: “There has been a withdrawal from The Open. There is a space for you if you’d like to play? Thanks.’’

Jonathan Tippletts-Aylmer, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s entries manager, had sent it and Streelman was at a loss for words.

“My mind’s everywhere,’’ he said then.

And it was. Streelman had already committed to the JDC, an event he had played in eight times since 2009. Coming off his best finish in the tournament (a tie for seventh) last year, Streelman has been a JDC mainstay.

The news of the player withdrawal – it was John Daly, who pulled out because he wasn’t allowed to use a cart – made national news. Streelman’s elevation to the field didn’t. He got into the British off his place on the Official World Golf Rankings, where he is No. 85.

Streelman was left with decisions to make on the fly. He could have still played in the JDC because tournament director Clair Peterson provides a charter flight to the British site immediately after his tournament ends. Streelman, though, needed to get his passport and proper clothing. Both were at his home in Arizona, and he also needed to line up a caddie for next week because his regular bag-toter wasn’t going to make the trip..

So, Streelman made a heart-felt apology to Peterson before withdrawing from the JDC, then had a session with swing instructor Jim (Doc) Suttie at Black Sheep, in Sugar Grove, picked up his necessities in Arizona and headed across the pond for more on-site preparation there. Streelman has played in five British Opens, the last in 2015, and never did better than a tie for 54th place at Royal Liverpool the year before that.

Peterson’s charter flight will take off on Sunday, but will be only about half-full. In 2010 a second charter flight was needed to get all the JDC participants to St. Andrews but only about 60 will travel to Royal Portrush on Sunday night.

Getting on that plane isn’t Diaz’ main concern, however.

“My goal right now isn’t to get into the British Open,’’ he said. “That’s not in my mind right now. It’s to get enough points to make it into the (FedEx Cup) playoffs. There are four events left, and this is crunch time.’’

Diaz, nicknamed Porky, needs to get into the top 125 in the FedEx standings to make it into the first playoff event. He is now No. 158. Diaz’ previous best round on the PGA Tour was a 65. In the last five rounds on the PGA Tour a player has posted a 62, Diaz being the most recent.

Long and Henley would like to be on the jet. Long, with a morning tee time, won the Desert Classic in California in January, then missed 11 cuts in the next 17 tournaments including the last three in a row. Henley, an afternoon starter, is trying to snap a string of four straight missed cuts.

Henley was paired with former world No. 1 Luke Donald, who is in the JDC field for the first time since 2003. He posted a 3-under 68.

Cantigny will produce another memorable State Amateur

The Illinois State Amateur doesn’t have a home course. It moves around the state annually, but in the last two decades one location has become a favorite. Cantigny, in Wheaton, has hosted four times in the last 22 years and will be the site for the tourney’s 89th staging from July 16-18.

“For us amateur golf has always been a big deal,’’ said Patrick Lynch, Cantigny’s head professional and a staff member since 1998. “We try to support it as best we can.’’

Cantigny has 27 holes plus the nearby Youth Links, which has 1,500 in its programs

“That’s a huge number,’’ said Lynch. “We run the full gamut in youth and amateur golf, and that’s very important for the growth of the game.’’

And for the development of its players. In 2014, the last time the State Amateur was played at Cantigny, four of the top seven finishers were connected with the public facility in some way or another. Ray Knoll, the champion that year, got his start in golf on the Youth Links when he was 5 years old.

The State Am is a 72-hole test that climaxes with a 36-hole final day. It’s always filled with great drama, and this year’s version figures to be a wide-open affair with recent stars Tee-K Kelly, Nick Hardy and Patrick Flavin now in the professional ranks and Spring Grove’s Jordan Hahn, the winner in 2018 at Bloomington Country Club, was not among the entries.

Hahn, a tower of strength at 6-foot-8, shot a tournament record 61 while finishing second to Flavin at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood, in 2017 before getting the victory a year later. Hahn completed a solid collegiate career at Wisconsin in the spring and his future plans in golf haven’t been announced.

The return to Cantigny will stir memories of great tournaments of the past. The course, designed by the late Roger Packard, opened in 1989. Golf Digest tabbed Cantigny the Best New Course in America that year, the first in a long list of honors the facility has received. Cantigny’s Woodside and Lakeside nines will again be used for the tournament. Assuming the championship tees are used, the finalists with face a 7,055-yard, par-72 course.

Though Cantigny hosted two national championships – the 2006 Western Amateur and 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links – the course’s tournament resume started with the State Am of 1996. Mark Small, then a 33-year old architect from Frankfort, won the title that year with a two-stroke victory over former University of Illinois golfer D.W. Bruce.

Small, who posted a 5-under-par 283 score for the 72 holes, eventually spent several years as a professional. He later decided to regain his amateur status and contended in another State Am in 2011.

The tournament returned to Cantigny in 2002 with the golf not nearly as impressive as it had been six years earlier. Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell, a former shortstop in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, needed only a 7-over-par 291 to win the title but it was the start of big things golf-wise for him.

Mitchell went on to win a record five Illinois Mid-Amateur titles and was the runner-up in the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Mitchell continues to be a factor in state play. He was the CDGA Player of the Year four times between 2006 and 2016 and won the Central Illinois Player of the Year Award eight times from 2003 to 2013, when the award was discontinued.

Zach Barlow was a collegiate hotshot for Illinois when he won at Cantigny in 2008. A 2010 Illinois graduate, Barlow also won the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational that year and was the Western Amateur runner-up in 2009. Now he’s in his fifth season as the assistant to Illini head coach Mike Small.

The most exciting of the Cantigny State Ams came in 2014 when Knoll, preparing to enter his sophomore year at Iowa, beat Nick Hardy, awaiting his freshman year at Illinois, in a four-hole playoff. Both were 8-under-par in the regulation 72 holes with Hardy shooting 66-69 in the double round final day before losing in extra holes.

Hardy rebounded, though. He set the tournament scoring record with a sizzling 28-under-par 260 in winning the tourney by 10 shots two years later at St. Charles Country Club.

The starting field at Cantigny will be finalized after eight state-wide qualifying rounds, to be played from June 10-19. The field will be cut to the low 35 and ties after the first two rounds at Cantigny.

Jennifer Kupcho wasn’t the only winner at the inaugural ANWA

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jennifer Kupcho was a convincing winner in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday, but women’s golf may have been the biggest benefactor.

For the third straight year the top women players had a new high profile event to build on. In 2017 it was the Senior LPGA Championship at Indiana’s French Lick Resort. In 2018 it was the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The ANWA had far fewer players than both of those but it had also more hoopla and far bigger galleries. The post-round awards ceremony was very Masters-like, too.

“Just walking up the fairway with so many people is a feeling like no other,’’ said Kupcho. “This tournament showed how good we are. It exceeded my expectations, and it was the most organized tournament I’ve ever played in. The women’s game will come up stronger because of it.’’

Saturday’s gallery marched four deep on both sides of the fairways when Kupcho and Mexico’s Maria Fassi were wrapping up their day-long duel for the title.

Kupcho, the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, took control thanks to a torrid stretch on holes 13 through 16. She played them in eagle-par-birdie-birdie and added another bird with a 25-footer to conclude the tournament.

Fassi had opened a two-stroke lead when they arrived at the No. 13 tee, a key par-5 in Augusta National’s famed Amen Corner. Kupcho carried the creek fronting the green with a 3-hybrid second shot from 211 yards, then rolled in an eight-footer with a two-foot break for the only eagle of the tournament.

“Being two back I knew I had to make a move’’ she said. The eagle meant Kupcho and Fassi were tied again and Kupcho pulled away with her three birdies in the remaining five holes. She posted a 67 in the final round, the best score of the day.

Fassi and Kupcho are long-time friends. Fassi plays collegiately for Arkansas, Kupcho for Wake Forest. Both have already earned LPGA playing privileges and deferred turning pro until after their college seasons are over.

Finishing at 10-under-par 206 for 54 holes, Kupcho had a four-stroke advantage on Fassi at the finish but their duel was spirited in the middle of the round when they took turns holding the lead. Kupcho led the tournament until the eighth hole on Saturday, when a migraine attack hampered her for the next four holes.

That’s when Fassi made a move, but she couldn’t sustain it.

The tourney started with 72 invited players, and 25 countries were represented. Augusta National was set up at 6,365 yards for the ANWA. The men will play it at 7,475 yards when the Masters tees off on Thursday.

Fred Ridley, the Augusta National president who announced the creation of the first women’s competition at storied Augusta National at the 2018 Masters, saw nothing but positives from the first staging.

“Focusing on women’s accomplishments in general, not just in golf and sports, is good for society,’’ he said. It’s good for everybody’’

The final round started with ceremonial tee shots from four of the greats of women’s golf—Se Ri Pak, Lorena Ochoa, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam. They had the same good vibes that Ridley had.

“When they announced it last year I had chills wishing I could be an amateur again so I could come and play,’’ said Lopez.

“It was so exciting to see the players after their rounds, their smiles all up to their ears,’’ said Sorenstam. “They can’t stop smiling and it’s a dream come true. I’m so happy for them.’’

The inaugural ANWA got the climax to another season of golf at Augusta National off to a rousing start. The national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition for youngsters between the ages of 6 and 15 will be held today (SUNDAY) and then the men take over on Monday for three days of preparations for the Masters.

Four legends will get the ANWA’s climax off to a rousing start

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club has been a trend-setter since legendary player Bobby Jones led its creation in the 1930s. Jones also organized the Masters — at least arguably the world’s most popular golf tournament — in 1934. Today women finally get their chance to play the iconic course in a tournament setting.

Or at least 30 of them will. They were the survivors from the 72 invited international players who went 36 holes on the nearby Champions Retreat club this week to decide who would compete amidst loads of fanfare Saturday.

This marks the third straight year of breakthrough events for women golfers. In 2017 the Ladies PGA Tour staged its first Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana. Last year the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open was played at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The ANWA has fewer players but much more hoopla than either of them.

All the ANWA players had a closed-to-the-public practice round on Friday at Augusta National and LPGA legends Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak were on hand to greet them when they finished play. Today all four players will hit ceremonial tee shots. Pak will go first, then Ochoa, then Lopez and finally Sorenstam.

“It’s such an honor, such a great moment in golf, for us to make up a group like Arnold (Palmer), Jack (Nicklaus) and Gary (Player) did,’’ said Lopez. “It’s exciting to be part of history.’’

As for the current players one, from the beginning of the week, has stood out throughout the buildup to the final round. Jennifer Kupcho is already the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the Official World Amateur Rankings.

The Wake Forest senior was the only player seated with Augusta National president Fred Ridley and Diana Murphy, a former U.S, Golf Association president and the fourth woman member of the club, at the first of four straight nights of pre-tournament banquets. Kopcho also had the honor of hitting the first tee shot on Wednesday. She shared the first-round lead with 16-year old California phenom Zoe Santos and led solo after Thursday’s Round 2.

Kopcho played her first 31 holes of the tourney without a bogey and she still hasn’t had a three-putt. Still, her margin is just one shot over Mexico’s Maria Fassi going into today’s (SATURDAY) final 18. Fassi, a longer hitter, will be her playing partner.

“We’ll have a lot of fun’’ said Kopcho. “We are good friends, and we’re both good at golf – really good at golf. We’ll make a lot of birdies, and it will be pretty fun to watch us.’’

In addition to Friday’s practice round Kopcho had a look at Augusta National during a practice with her Wake Forest teammates. Though she’s yet to play the course in competition she has watched the Masters on television and believes “I know it well.’’

“But you don’t see the greens on TV, and that’s the toughest part of the course,’’ said Kopcho. “So, I think I know the course, but not the greens. If you’re above the hole you’re just trying to two-putt. You don’t want to be having a five-footer coming back. That’s going to be a big thing out there.’’

She was told the greens at Champions Retreat were similar to what Augusta National will offer today.

“But I’m sure they will be faster.’’ said Kopcho, “and I would say I’m a pretty good fast green putter. I’m pretty good at figuring out how hard to hit it.’’

The tourney started with players from 25 countries ranging in age from 14 to 23. Of the 30 still in contention 17 are from countries outside the U.S. NBC Sports will broadcast the final round from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Local players won’t be among first 30 women to compete at Augusta National

Jennifer Kupcho has been at the top of the leaderboard throughout the first 36 holes.

EVANS, Ga. — The 30 women who will be the first to compete on Augusta National’s famed course were decided on Thursday. NCAA champion Jennifer Kopcho, the Wake Forest senior and No. 1 in the Official World Amateur Rankings, headed the list after playing two rounds at Champions Retreat in 5-under-par 139.

Champions Retreat, a private club that has one nine designed by Arnold Palmer and the other by Jack Nicklaus, was the warmup site for the ground-breaking tourney’s grand climax – the final 18 on Augusta National on Saturday.

All the select players in the international field will get in a round on the famed course today. For the three players with Illinois connections among the 72 invited by Augusta National that will be the end of their tournament road. None came close to making the 36-hole cut.

Illinois junior Tristyn Nowlin tied for 52nd after posting a 76 on Thursday. She was 9-over-par for the tournament and six shots shy of the cut line. Northwestern senior Stephanie Lau tied for 69th after shooting an 81 on Thursday and Missouri junior Jessica Yuen, from Bolingbrook, had an 82 and tied for 71st. None were happy about bowing out of the competition without playing the final round.

Jennifer Kupcho, the world’s No. 1-ranked women’s amateur, celebrates with her father and caddie Mike after Thursday’s second round.

“I have to keep in mind that it was special to be part of something historic and play a small part in it,’’ said Lao, who was named the Big 10 Women’s Golfer of the Week on Wednesday off on her performance in last week’s Arizona State tournament. She shared medalist honors in that one and will leave on Saturday for Northwestern’s next tournament – the Silverado Showdown in California. It tees off on Sunday.

Lao will enter the professional ranks after Northwestern’s season is over and she looks on the Augusta experience as only a minor setback.

“I just try to look at it on a micro level and a macro level,’’ she said. “On the macro level I have to remember the big picture. On the micro-level, it’s still golf at the end of the day. I’m just trying to hone my skills and enjoy it as long as I can.’’

Nowlin is also off to a college event, the Clemson tournament, on Saturday after getting in her first competition of 2019 at Champions Retreat. She had been recovering from February wrist surgery until being cleared to play to weeks ago.

“I’m very glad to be back in competition,’’ she said. Her Illini team still has the Big Ten tournament and NCAA eliminations coming up.

Yuen’s Missouri team is doubtful for the NCAAs based on its current ranking but that could improve if the Tigers do well in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Like Nowlin, Yuen has battled a wrist injury and received her ANWA invitation only last week after another player withdrew because of injury.

“I wasn’t fully aware of this tournament until I got here,’’ said Yuen. “It’s huge, bigger than the U.S. Amateur.’’

At first, though, she wasn’t sure she should go because her game was struggling

“I’m glad I got the phone call,’’ she said. “I earned my way in, and my coach said I had to go. Playing here has been great. I’m so honored to be here.’’

Kupcho has either led solo or shared the lead throughout the first 36 holes. Her first bogey didn’t come until the 31st hole and she is still without a three-putt. Her lead, however, is only one shot over Mexico’s Maria Fassi.

Zoe Campos, a 16-year old California phenom, is in seventh place entering the final round.

Illini golfer tops the locals in the debut of the ANWA

Illinois’ Tristyn Nowlin, flanked by parents Elizabeth and Phillip, celebrate the start of ANWA.

EVANS, Ga. – The weather couldn’t have been better for the first round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club. Augusta National president Fred Ridley and Diana Murphy, a former U.S. Golf Association president who became the fourth woman member of Augusta National, were on hand when Jennifer Kupcho smacked the first tee shot.

Kupcho, the reigning NCAA champion for Wake Forest and No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, continued on to post a 4-under-par 68 and claim a share of the first-round lead with 16-year old California phenom Zoe Campos.

That made for a fitting start to Augusta National’s long-awaited entry into women’s golf. It came 84 years after the club founded the Masters tournament, an event that gave an immediate boost to the men’s game.

Three players with Illinois connections were among the 72 players invited by the club for the historic event. The first round didn’t bring out the best in any of them. Tristyn Nowlin, a University of Illinois junior, did the best. She posted a 76 and is in a tie for 40th place.

Jessica Yuen was honored to be a part of the select field at the ANWA.

Jessica Yuen, a Missouri junior from Bolingbrook, carded an 80 and is tied for 66th and Northwestern senior Stephanie Lau posted an 81 and is tied for 69th. The top 30 after today’s second round at Champions Retreat will become the first women to play a tournament round at Augusta National, the site of Saturday’s final 18 of the 54-hole test.

Those who miss the cut can play Augusta National during Friday’s practice round before their time at the tournament comes to an end. After today’s round the scene here shifts to iconic Augusta National. The women’s tourney will wrap up there on Saturday and the national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt youth event will be held on Sunday before the Masters entries take over the course for the first major men’s championship of 2019.

Of the locals Nowlin has the best chance of competing on Saturday but it’d be a shocker if she did it. Nowlin is playing in her first tournament of the year. She had wrist surgery in February, missed every event of the Illini’s spring season so far and wasn’t cleared to even practice until two weeks ago.

“I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I’m working with what I’ve got,’’ said Nowlin, the runner-up and low amateur at last summer’s Illinois Women’s Open.

Northwestern’s Stephanie Lao squeezed in ANWA between two big college tournaments.

Nowlin got through Illinois’s fall season thanks to two cortisone shots that lessened the pain of tendinitis.

“Then this past winter break it got worse, to the point I couldn’t grip a club at all,’’ she said. Her invitation to the ANWA came on Jan. 10 and – after two more cortisone shots didn’t help – she decided on surgery. It was performed in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 5.

Nowlin didn’t want to miss the opportunity of being in the first field of Augusta National’s first women’s tournament, however. When she’s done with it she’ll head directly to South Carolina to rejoin her college team for the Clemson tournament.

Lau is also off to a college event on Saturday, with the NU women competing in California. Yuen, who has had her own wrist problems, had to miss a fall tournament during a stretch in which she was sidelined for three weeks. Still she was happy to be one of two late invitees to the ANWA. Yuen got the call last Wednesday after another player withdrew because of injury.

“I’m so honored to be here,’’ said Yuen after getting her first look at Augusta National on Tuesday. “I was surprised how green it is. It’s like another world.’’

England’s Casey becomes Valspar’s first repeat champion

A pairing with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson didn’t keep Paul Casey (dark shirt) from winning again.

PALM HARBOR, Florida — It took 19 years, but the Valspar Championship now has a repeat champion. England’s Paul Casey backed up his victory in 2018 with another triumph on Sunday at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course.

Valspar hasn’t been the title sponsor throughout the PGA Tour’s run at Innisbrook, but no player could win twice in a row at Coppershead until Casey, 41, did it.

In 2018 his final round 65 overhauled, among others, runner-up Tiger Woods. On Sunday a 1-over-par 72 was good enough to win.

“It feels a little different, but not any less cool,’’ said Casey, who finished at 8-under-par 276 for the 72 holes.

Casey was paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the final round, a daunting task for any player.

“I felt Dustin was the favorite, but it didn’t mean I didn’t think I could beat him,’’ said Casey. He had other challengers, the most serious of which were Louis Oosthuizen, who closed with a 69 and Jason Kokrak, who shot 71. They tied for second, one stroke behind Casey.

Casey shared the lead with Austin Cook at 6-under-par 136 after two rounds and led Johnson by one going into the final 18.

The last player to repeat as a champion at PGA Tour event was Brooks Kopeka at the 2018 U.S. Open.

Luke Donald, the 2012 champion at Innisbrook when the tourney was named the Transitions Championship, had a chance to win again. Sidelined by injury most of the last two years, Donald started the day in a tie for fourth place and quickly made his presence known with an eagle on the first hole of the final round.

Donald dropped back after that and finished in a tie for ninth. Not only was his last win on Copperhead seven years ago but the former world No. 1 made his last cut in the 2018 Valspar Championship.