Len Ziehm On Golf

IWO champ Farnsworth followed in her coach’s footsteps

Illinois Women’s Open champion Alexandra Farnsworth is congratulated by Paula Kosin (left), sister of late tournament founder Phil Kosin, and Andy Mickelson, Mistwood’s director of golf.

Aimee Neff had good memories from winning the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open as an amateur in 2008 and 2009. Now an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University, she suggested that one of her players, Alexandra Farnsworth, use the IWO as a tuneup for her senior season at the Nashville, Tenn., school.

Farnsworth took Neff’s advice and is glad she did. On Wednesday Farnsworth rallied from a two-stroke deficit at the start of the day to post a two-stroke victory over Hannah Kim, the Northwestern star, in the 23rd staging of the IWO at Mistwood, in Romeoville.

Winless as a collegiate player, Farnsworth was in bad need of a victory and she got this one with a final-round 67, which completed a 54-hole score of 8-under-par 208.

“I had a lot of seconds and thirds in college play, so this breakthrough means a lot to me,’’ she said. “The last half of (her last college) year I put a lot of added pressure on myself about turning pro. I thought I had to shoot certain scores to prove myself, and that made the game miserable. I took two weeks off and am fully back to enjoying golf again.’’

Though she missed qualifying for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur by one shot Farnsworth is looking forward to the Tennessee Women’s Open in two weeks prior to the start of her senior season.

The key to her win at Mistwood was her play around the portion of the course dubbed Kelpie’s Corner. She made birdie at the par-4 thirteenth, was happy that her tee shot from the back tee at the long par-3 fourteenth cleared the water and reached the green and then she made birdie at the “visually intimidating’’ 15th , a par-5 with water impacting every shot en route to the putting surface.

The birdie at No. 15 was her sixth of the day and opened a three-stroke lead on Kim, a stalwart on Northwestern’s NCAA runner-up team in May at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Kim, who struggled after making double bogey at No. 10, got one stroke back with a birdie at the 16th but could get no closer.

“I definitely took a couple weeks off after the NCAAs, but wherever I’d go people would ask me about that experience,’’ she said. “That’s been very motivating.’’

Since the tension-packed NCAA Kim has been taking a summer class at Northwestern and played in only the Women’s Western Amateur at River Forest, in Elmhurst, prior to the IWO. By far her biggest event of the summer is still to come.

“This was a prep for the U.S. Amateur,’’ she admitted. That tournament will be played in her hometown of Chula Vista, Calif.

The 27 professionals in the 72-player field were left to battle for a share of the $25,000 prize money after amateurs swept the first two places. Canadian pro Vivian Tsui, the 36-hole leader, and Samantha Postillion split the top pro prize. Each received $4,250. It was the biggest payday so far for Postillion, who turned pro in the spring of 2015 after graduating from the University of Illinois.

Postillion’s mother Kerry, who won three IWOs as an amateur between 1996 and 1999, walked the final round with her daughter. Since Kerry Postillion’s last victory the family has moved to Arizona. Top Illinois resident in the field was another University of Illinois golfer, Dana Gattone. The Addison resident, who plays out of Medinah, finished solo fifth.

DeChambeau is the latest first-time winner of the JDC

Bryson DeChambeau enjoys the rewards for his first PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic.

SILVIS, Ill. – Illinois golf and Bryson DeChambeau seem to be a perfect fit. DeChambeau won the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields in 2015 and now he’s also the champion of the John Deere Classic. The JDC, in fact, produced his first victory on the PGA Tour.

Few doubted that DeChambeau would be a budding star on the PGA circuit after he win at Olympia Fields. He even followed that up by winning the NCAA title that year. Few golfers have pulled off that double.

After turning pro, though, DeChambeau was hardly an immediate hit. Though he did have a tie for second at this year’s Puerto Rico Open, he also went through a stretch in which he missed 10 straight cuts.

The John Deere Classic, though, changed the perception of the colorful 23-year old. He found TPC Deere Run to his liking in a beautiful week of golfing weather and notched that elusive first PGA Tour win. It wasn’t easy, though. He needed to shoot 30 on the back nine to overhaul Patrick Rodgers, the leader after 36 and 54 holes.

DeChambeau caught Rodgers with a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th green. DeChambeau’s putt barely caught the right edge of the cup and dropped as Rodgers was walking down the adjacent 17th fairway. Both were at 18-under-par at that point.

Rodgers didn’t stay there for long. He found his tee shot on the par-5 seventeenth behind a tree and had to chip out. The chip wasn’t good, either. It ran into the rough on the right side of the fairway 205 yards from the cup.

DeChambeau lines up his putt on the 18th green.

His third shot wound up on the green but in a most difficult spot – with a bunker blocking his path to the cup. Rodgers had to take the unusual method of chipping on the putting surface to get at the hole, but his fourth shot took a bad bounce, leaving him six feet away. When his par putt lipped out Rodgers’ time at the top of the leaderboard was over, and DeChambeau could celebrate.

“It felt like a long time coming, though I’m only 23,’’ said DeChambeau, who alternated tears of joy with boisterous victory comments after play was done while Rodgers – still looking for his first PGA Tour win – dealt with another near-miss.

“I had an aggressive mindset on 17,’’ Rodgers admitted. “I felt like if I made birdie that would probably put the tournament away.’’

Then he heard the roar from DeChambeau’s birdie putt dropping at No. 18, and that changed his mindset.

Rodgers tried to get back a share of the lead with a birdie on the 18th, but his play wasn’t up to it. His drive finished in the right rough with a tree again blocking his shot to the green and his second rolled over the putting surface. The birdie try from there was a good one, but the ball stopped a foot away. That made DeChambeau the tenth first-time champion on the PGA Tour this season and the 19th player to make the Quad Cities tournaments his first PGA Tour victory.

Then he coaxes the 14-foot putt in, just inside the right edge of the cup.

At the awards ceremony on the 18th green DeChambeau broke down at the mention of the late Payne Stewart, who also got his first win in the Quad Cities in 1982. DeChambeau somewhat patterns himself after the colorful Stewart, who went to college at Southern Methodist before DeChambeau arrived there and – like Stewart – got into the Quad Cities event on a sponsor’s exemption.

DeChambeau is a bit different than Stewart, though. He plays clubs of the same length and is very analytical about his game. Stewart was more a free spirit prior to his death in a plane crash.

“`I try to take a complex game and understand every variable,’’ said DeChambeau. “That’s very difficult to do. The one who came closest was Tiger (Woods). He probably figured it out for quite a while. I was a physics major in college, and I go after golf in a very scientific way.’’

And now it’s time to celebrate.

When it works he looks like a genius – and this time it worked.

The final round was not good news for the two Chicago players to make the cut. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman made double bogey on the first hole, wound up shooting a 2-over 72 and fell 26 places into a tie for 44th place. He won’t be seen on tour again until August’s PGA Championship.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy was paired for the second straight day with Ben Hogan Award winner Maverick McNealy, the only other amateur to make the cut. They started the day tied, and McNealy ruled the final round 69-71 to be the tourney’s low amateur.

Streelman, Hardy are lurking behind Rodgers in John Deere Classic

Former U.S. Amateur champ Bryson DeChambeau explodes from a green-side bunker at No. 18.

SILVIS, Ill. – If local players should shine at any PGA Tour event, it’d be at the John Deere Classic – the only annual stop on golf’s premier circuit in Illinois. Two are doing just fine through three rounds of this year’s $5.6 million tournament that concludes today.

Whether either Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman or Northbrook’s Nick Hardy can catch 54-hole leader Patrick Rodgers in today’s final round is doubtful, but both have made their presence felt with 18 holes to go.

Streelman, looking forward to a three-week break after playing four straight tournaments and 11 of the last 13, shot 67 on Saturday and is tied for 18th place – but he’s only two strokes out of a tie for sixth. Hardy, getting ready for his senior season at Illinois, is locked in a battle with Stanford’s Maverick McNealy, the winner of the 2017 Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s outstanding collegiate player, for low amateur.

Kevin Streelman (lelft) congratulates Daniel Berger on his 63 — best third round at TPC Deere Run.

The only two amateurs to survive the 36-hole cut, they played together Saturday and both shot 69. They finished the third round tied for 44th place playing against 80 touring professionals.

“I’ve felt comfortable here since I went to the first tee,’’ said Hardy. “It’s a great thing for amateurs that we’re allowed to compete here. This is the place (PGA Tour) I want to play in a year or two and I’d come back here every time. The tournament is great, plus it’s in Illinois.’’

Streelman has already won twice on the PGA Tour and he got a demonstration of what it might take to win on Saturday when playing partner Daniel Berger shot the day’s low round – a 7-under-par 63. Berger trails Rodger’s front-running 16-under-par 197 by two strokes and is tied for second with Scott Stallings.

Illinois’ Nick Hardy is battling for low amateur honors.

Though he didn’t play in either of the first two major championships and won’t be in next week’s British Open Streelman is on a solid stretch of play. He had four straight top-20 finishes before a tie for 29th last week in the Greenbrier Classic and a good finish today could propel Streelman high up the leaderboard.

He feels a change in scheduling has worked out “perfect.’’ Streelman decided to skip sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, which meant two weeks off before his productive four-tournament stretch.

“That freed me up to take the next three weeks off going into the PGA Championship,’’ he said. “This is something I’ve never done.’’

After the PGA, the year’s final major, comes the FedEx Playoffs – and that’s where the biggest paydays are available.

A big payday awaits whoever wins the JDC today. The champion gets the biggest check in tournament history — $1,008,000. Rodgers, 25, had a brilliant amateur career but has yet to win on the PGA Tour. He has happy memories at TPC Deere Run, however, and would be a fitting champion.

Patrick Rodgers (right), being congratulated by Zach Johnson, holds a two-stroke lead.

Tournament director Clare Peterson gave him a sponsor’s exemption in both 2012 and 2013, and he tied for 15th in his second appearance after leading briefly in the third round.

“He’s a terrific kid with talent that is immense,’’ said two-time major champion Zach Johnson, the unofficial tournament host among the players. “It just a matter of time (for him to win), not a matter of if.’’

Johnson, who won the JDC title in 2012, still has hopes of winning this one, however. He’s in a 10-way tie for eighth place, five shots behind Rodgers, who has made 150 feet of putts the last two days and 19 birdies in the first 54 holes.

“I love coming to this tournament,’’ said Rodgers. “It’s probably the most special stop on tour for me. It’s crazy. It’s already my sixth time playing here. I’m very comfortable in the area and on the golf course.’’

Rodgers, who grew up in Avon, Ind., before going to Stanford, would also become eligible for next week’s British Open if he wins today. Since the JDC moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000 the third round leader has gone on to win nine times, including the last three years when Brian Harman, Jordan Spieth and Ryan Moore were the champions.

The crowd was big and enthusiastic during the JDC’s third round at TPC Deere Run.

Trish Johnson is wire-to-wire winner of first Senior LPGA Championship

Champion Trish Johnson is flanked by Dave Harner, French Lick director of golf, and Steve Ferguson, whose visionary work led to the first Senior PGA Championship presented by Old National Bank.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The first Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank had a lot of things – historical significance. television coverage, beautiful weather. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort received the world-wide attention it has long deserved.

What the inaugural staging didn’t have was suspense. England’s Trish Johnson, winner of The Legends Championship in a six-hole playoff on the same course in 2016, was a wire-to-wire winner in this much bigger production.

Johnson opened with a 67 on Monday in windy conditions, lost but one stroke of her four-shot lead after a 72 on Tuesday and nursed her way to the $90,000 first prize with a 73 in Wednesday’s finale. Her 212-total was 4-under-par on the layout that was set up at 6,117 yards for the world’s best women golfers who have passed their 45th birthday.

Michele Redman, who played college golf at Indiana and is now the women’s coach at Minnesota, was the only other player under par for the 54 holes. Playing with Johnson in the last group, Redman finished 1-under for the tournament.

Trish Johnson had trouble with the champagne while celebrating her victory.

Johnson called her second-round play “rubbish’’ on Tuesday but her course management was good enough to protect the 3-shot lead she had at the start of the day on Wednesday.

“It’s different when you’re leading by a few shots,’’ said Johnson. “If someone comes at you, that’s fine. When no one is doing that you become defensive. It’s not a comfortable position to be in.’’

The key moment in the final round came at No. 15, a 345-yard par-4. Johnson splashed her approach shot and made bogey, but Redman – down by two and running out of holes – put her drive into deep fescue. She tried to escape with a hybrid but could move the ball only a few yards. Her third was in rough beside a cart path and Redman conferred several times with rules officials before getting her third shot back to the fairway.

After putting her fourth shot on the green, Redman two-putted for a double bogey and lost a shot to Johnson. Redman insisted the attempt to hit her second shot out of the fescue was the right decision, though the lie stirred some debate.

“I definitely would do it again, but I would try it with my wedge,’’ she said.

Johnson nursed her three-shot lead to the clubhouse where she learned that only England’s Laura Davies had made a big run up the leaderboard. Starting four groups ahead of Johnson, the long-hitting Davies was 10-strokes off the lead when play began. Her 4-under-par 68, though, was the best round of the day and Davies wound up in a tie for third with Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson and Australia’s Wendy Doolan.

Laura Davies could only wonder what might have been after finishing with a 68.

Davies started the tournament with a 7-over 79 but finished 70-68, which was seven strokes better than Johnson’s last two rounds (72-73). And Davies felt she left some shots on the course after Wednesday’s round.

“I three-putted twice on par-5s,’’ she said. “After that horrible 79 I gave Trish a 12-stroke lead. After that you’re never going to catch her.’’

Johnson, 51, plays mainly on the Ladies European Tour now, and she won on that circuit for the 19th time in 2014 after carrying a 5-stroke lead into the final round of the Scottish Open. Her win at French Lick last year was more dramatic. She went six extra holes with Juli Inkster, who wasn’t in the field this week, before securing the victory. The Legends Championship, though, wasn’t considered an official major. This week’s event was.

“It felt different,’’ said Johnson, “but it was as much being a major as it was being at French Lick. I absolutely love this place.’’

Fans on the hill beside the No. 18 green got the best view of the Senior LPGA Championship.

Johnson plays like `rubbish,’ but still leads Senior LPGA tourney

Trish Johnson takes aim at the No. 9 green amidst the sprawling landscape of the Pete Dye Course.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Scotland’s Trish Johnson described the golf she played in the second round of the Senior LPGA Championship on Tuesday as “rubbish.’’

Still, when the day was over on the rugged Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, Johnson’s lead dropped only one stroke from the start of the day. She played her first round on Monday in 67 and led by four shots. She only matched par of 72 on Tuesday and leads by three over Michele Redman, a former Indiana University golfer who now coaches the women’s team at Minnesota.

Johnson, who won The Legends Championship on the same course last year in a six-hole playoff with Juli Inkster, is at 5-under-par 139. Redman gained ground after a 69 on Tuesday but there are other challengers as well.

Lorie Kane of Canada and Nicole Jeray, the Northern Illinois University product from Berwyn, made charges on Tuesday and are lurking behind Johnson and Redman.

Nicole Jeray, teeing off on the first hole, made a nice climb up the leaderboard.

Kane shot 70 and climbed nine places into a tie for third with Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann. Jeray shot 71 and moved into a tie for sixth. Kane is six strokes behind Johnson and Jeray trails by seven. Both are scrambling to play on three different pro tours, and they’re the only players with LPGA membership striving to do that.

The winner of the first Legends Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2013, Kane – like Jeray — plays more tournaments on the Symetra Tour – the LPGA’s qualifying circuit – but they also make appearances on both the LPGA and Legends tours. Coordinating their scheduled between the three isn’t easy.

“I love all three tours,’’ said Jeray. Kane calls herself “an LPGA member, period.’’

Kane is especially happy that she has still another competitive opportunity with the creation of the Senior PGA Championship. This $600,00 event has live television coverage and is the first major championship for senior women. Another is coming next year when the U.S. Golf Association’s first U.S. Senior Women’s Open comes to Chicago Golf Club.

The search is on for Trish Johnson’s first tee shot. The ball was eventually deemed to be in the water and Johnson took a double bogey on the hole.

“It’s about time,’’ said Kane. “I’ve always got to take myself out of this, but the ladies who play on the Legends Tour and the women I played with as a rookie built the LPGA, so it’s about time this tournament happened. I’m proud of the LPGA for taking this on but more proud of Mr. Ferguson (Steve Ferguson, head of the Cook Group who triggered the creation of the new tournament) for thinking so much of us. This is a celebration of women’s golf, as it should be every week.’’

Kane won’t rule herself out in today’s final round but says of Johnson “nothing surprises me about that woman. She’s a true competitor.’’

Jeray won’t rule herself out, either.

“She can be beat if somebody gets hot,’’ she said, “but it looks like we’re playing for second.’’

Johnson looked vulnerable from the outset on Tuesday. After a good warmup session she hit her first tee shot far left into a pond. That led to a double bogey and changed her mood in a hurry.

“The conditions were perfect, which probably didn’t help me,’’ she said. “I turned a positive – hitting it great in practice – into a negative, thinking I couldn’t possibly hit it as well on the golf course. Now that’s genius. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Johnson came to life with birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 to get back to even par for the day, and she insisted that the “bad mood’’ she was in all of Tuesday won’t be in evidence today when the $90,000 first-place prize is handed out.

Johnson grabs first-round lead in inaugural Senior LPGA Championship

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, Alice Dye and Cook Group’s Steve Ferguson get the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship underway on Monday. (Sue Fracker Photo)

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Monday’s first round of the Senior LPGA Championship was more about history than anything else.

Winds gusting to 33 miles per hour prevented spectacular scoring – with one exception. Scotland’s Trish Johnson, no stranger to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, made five birdies in her last 12 holes to shoot a 5-under-par 67. That was good for a 4-stroke over Carolyn Hill, one of the early starters in the 81-player field. Johnson and Hill were the only players under par after Day 1.

Johnson, a late starter, was the 2016 winner of The Legends Championship on the same course when she beat Juli Inkster in an epic six-hole playoff. Inkster is on broadcast duty at the U.S. Women’s Open and not competing in this first major championship for senior women.

Johnson, though, was glad to be back on the Pete Dye design that is filled with dramatic elevation changes, spectacular views and confounding greens.

“I don’t really feel like the defending champion,’’ said Johnson. “I just love this golf course. It just fits my eye.’’

It didn’t seem to fit so well early in her round. After two birdies in the first four holes Johnson missed a three-foot putt at No. 5 and made double bogey on the next hole. Then the good times rolled. Johnson bounced back from the double with a bogey at No. 7 to get back in red numbers then birdied 11, 14, 15 and 18 No. 15 came on the shot of the ay, a chip-in.

Trish Johnson faces a media horde after shooting a 67.

The other players weren’t nearly as sharp as Johnson, but they weren’t complaining after finally getting their first major championship for women in the over-45 age group.

“I never thought this day would come,’’ said Nicole Jeray, an LPGA veteran from Berwyn, Ill.,who shot 75. “And, to think for this to be televised. That’s incredible.’’

Jeray was especially happy for the older players who meant so much to the development of the LPGA.

“These women are true legends, Hall of Famers,’’ said Jeray. “They paved the way for all the youngsters and I still walk around looking up to all of them – Betsy King, Joanne Carner, Sandra Palmer. And to think I’m one of them. Who would have thought that.?’’

None of the players were more appreciative than Jane Blalock, at 71 the oldest player in the field. She played in the Honors tournament held in conjunction with the Symetra Tour’s Donald Ross Centennial Classic on Sunday at the nearby Donald Ross Course.

Blalock created the Legends Tour and usually just plays in the small division for older members at its tournaments. She wanted to go all three rounds of the first Senior LPGA Championship, however, because of its significance to women’s golf. She also wants to compete in the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open, an event put on by the U.S. Golf Association at Chicago Golf Club in 2018.

A new choice viewing spot on the 18th hole is available for the Senior PGA Championship.

It’s all part of the boost that women’s golf expects to get from finally getting a major championship. This week’s has live coverage from The Golf Channel all three days and a $600,000 purse with the champion receiving $90,000.

By comparison, The Legends Championship – its predecessor at French Lick since 2013 –was by far the biggest event on The Legends Tour. When Johnson won last year it was a 36-hole tournament with $75,000 in prize money and a winner’s purse of $37,700.

“The Senior LPGA Championship is a combination of so many years of hard work striving to get the support from the LPGA,’’ said Blalock. “Obviously this tournament is because of French Lick and Mr. Ferguson (Steve Ferguson, chairman of Cook Group). I wish I could take credit, but we’re going to capitalize. I believe the world will now know that we exist, and maybe the phone will even ring.’’

Mike Whan, commissioner of the LPGA Tour, joined Alice Dye, wife of course designer Pete Dye, in hitting the ceremonial first tee shots before Monday’s round. Whan sees big things ahead for women’s golf as well. French Lick has a five-year agreement to host both the Senior LPGA Championship and Donald Ross Centennial Classic.

“We’re lucky to be here,’’ said Whan. “We’ve been launching a lot of new things and this is one that will only build with time. This is major on all kinds of fronts.’’

Two former champions in The Legends Championship enjoyed the 18th hole on Monday. Laurie Rinker (left) rolled in an eagle putt from off the green and got a high-five from Trish Johnson, who made birdie.

With Hardy, Kelly missing this Illinois Amateur will be a wide open affair

July’s 87th playing of the Illinois State Amateur will be – at the very least – different.

The prestigious championship will be contested over 72 holes from July 18-20 at Calumet Country Club in Homewood. None of the 86 previous stagings of the State Am were played at Calumet, though the private layout is one of the oldest in the Chicago District and comes with a noteworthy tournament history.

Not only will the site be different, but so will the field. Neither Tee-K Kelly nor Nick Hardy, the tourney’s two most dominant players of recent years, will be competing. That means the battle for the title should be a wide open shootout.

Kelly, from Wheaton, played in the last four State Ams in between his collegiate years at Ohio State. He finished first at Aldeen, in Rockford, in 2013; 11th at Cantigny, in Wheaton, in 2014; first again at Panther Creek, in Springfield, in 2015; and second last year at St. Charles Country Club. He turned professional after his final collegiate season with the Buckeyes and is now playing on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

Hardy, from Northbrook, just completed his junior season at Illinois. His Illini teams reached the Final Four of the last three NCAA tournaments and Hardy’s record in the State Am is almost as good as Kelly’s. Hardy lost the 2014 title to Naperville’s Ray Knoll in a playoff at Cantigny, finished third at Panther Creek and then scored a rousing victory at St. Charles.

The win by Hardy last year was one for the record-books. He owned a 10-stroke margin over Kelly, which was one stroke off the tournament record for margin of victory set by Rob Grube in 2006.

Other than the Grube mention, there was nothing to compare Hardy’s brilliance with in the rich history of the tournament. Hardy’s 260 score for the 72 holes was a full 10 better than the former record set by PGA Tour player Bob Zender in 1971 and Jerry Haas’ previous record 13-under-par winning score in 1984 paled in comparison to Hardy’s 28-under at St. Charles.

With one more season of collegiate eligibility remaining Hardy could have gone for a State Am repeat, a feat last achieved by Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell in 2002-03. Instead he opted to bypass the tournament in order to take advantage of other attractive playing opportunities that his sterling record produced.

Hardy was named to the U.S. team for the Palmer Cup matches June 9-11 in Atlanta and also received a rare amateur sponsor’s exemption to the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run, in the Quad Cities, in July.

“I considered playing in the State Amateur again, but June is busy and I have two tournaments in July that conflict,’’ said Hardy. The John Deere Classic concludes on July 16 and the Western Amateur starts at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe on July 31. Squeezing the State Am in between those two would be difficult.

In bypassing the State Am Hardy gave up the chance to join six players who have won the title in back-to-back years since the tourney went to a stroke play format in 1963 – Zender (1970-71), Gary Hallberg (1978-79), Joel Hirsch (1988-89), Jay Davis (1991-92), D.A. Points (1998-99) and Mitchell. Zender, Hallberg and Points either were or (in Points’ case) are members of the PGA Tour.

Calumet Country Club, meanwhile, may not have hosted a previous State Am but it did host the Chicago District Amateur three times (1930, 1933, and 1947). Interestingly, each of those years produced a champion in the process of winning back-to-back titles. Jack Westland, a three-time winner, had two of his victories in 1930 and 1931. George Dawson won in 1933 and 1934 and Frank Stranahan took the crown in 1946 and 1947.

The CDGA Amateur wasn’t the biggest tournament played at Calumet, however. The club’s Donald Ross-designed course opened in 1901 and hosted the 1924 Western Open, won by Bill Melhorn. Known as “Wild Bill’’ for his sometimes errant tee shots, Melhorn won 20 times on the PGA Tour, was runner-up in the 1925 PGA Championship and finished third in two U.S. Opens.

Calumet also hosted the 1945 Chicago Victory Open, which was one of Byron Nelson’s wins when he took a record 11 tournaments in a row. The course now play 6,619 yards from the tips and is a par 71.

The field for this year’s State Am was decided at nine qualifying rounds played across the state in June. Thirty-five players were exempt from qualifying off past performances. The entire field plays 18 holes on July 18 and 19 and the low 35 and ties go 36 more to determine the champion on July 20.

Lopez smacks first tee shot to get historic week underway at French Lick

The Donald Ross Course was dressed up for its centennial celebration with Symetra Tour.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – It all began with Nancy Lopez smashing the ceremonial first tee shot to kick off the inaugural Donald Ross Centennial Classic on Friday.

While the 144 Symetra Tour players were starting to tee off on the Donald Ross Course Lopez was hurrying over to the nearby Pete Dye Course to participate in the first of two pro-ams leading into Monday’s debut of the first Senior LPGA Championship. Lopez, recently married and winding down her competitive career, won’t play in the historic 54-hole battle but her presence was duly noted and most appreciated on the first of six straight days of championship women’s golf in this small southern Indiana town.

The Senior LPGA Championship will have two other notable absentees. Juli Inkster, relatively new to senior ranks, needs to do preparatory work for her role as a television analyst for Fox Sports at next week’s U.S. Women’s Open. A winner of The Legends Championship in 2015 at French Lick and loser of the title in a playoff to Trish Johnson last year, Inkster was at French Lick in spirit.

Amy Alcott, a Hall of Famer, was also a late withdrawal because of injury. She was replaced by Rebecca Bradley, who made 48 LPGA starts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And they’re off. The parade of carts heads to the Pete Dye Course for the first of two pro-ams.

Betsy King, one of the four Hall of Famers left in the field, has considered herself basically retired for 11 years and played in only two previous tournaments this year. Still, she wouldn’t have missed the Senior LPGA Championship.

“It’s nice to be part of the first senior event on television,’’ said King. “I wish I was a little bit younger and that this had come about 10 years ago, but I’m still looking forward to the week. It’s nice to play in firsts, and it will be very competitive. The advantage goes to the players who still play a little on the LPGA Tour and are a little bit younger, but I can always look back on my career and say I played in the first Senior LPGA Championship.’’

The starting field of 81 players was finalized with the addition of the two players from this week’s 11-player qualifying round – Laura Shanahan Rose and Bobbi Salmon – and the final sponsor exemption – Lisa DePaulo.

Rowe, who won the 2008 LPGA Teacher & Club Professional Championship at Pinehurst, was medalist with a 76 and Salmon posted a 78. DePaulo had been the LPGA T&CP champion in 2007.

Nancy Lopez hits ceremonial first tee shot at the Donald Ross Centennial Classic. (Sue Fracker Photo)

“I’ve been working so hard for the last month to get out here,’’ said Salmon. “I just so wanted to qualify that I was playing 54 holes a day in 120-degree weather in Palm Springs, Calif.’’

Salmon played in four U.S. Women’s Opens but never thought she might play on TV again. The Senior LPGA Championship will be broadcast from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday on The Golf Channel.

“When they started The Legends Tour all my friends would ask me if I’m going to be on TV,’’ said Salmon, “and I’d say, `Not unless I’m naked or catch on first.’ So, this is truly a big deal.’’

Illinois will be well-represented throughout the six straight days of tournament golf. Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray might have been able to play in both the Donald Ross Centennial Classic and Senior LPGA Championship. She played on all three women’s circuits last year and has done the same in 2017. Jeray made 10 starts on the Symetra Tour and one on the LPGA Tour in addition to her Legends appearances this season, but she’ll be in only the Senior LPGA Championship here.

Nicole Jeray picked Senior LPGA Championship over Symetra, LPGA Tour tournament options.

“I didn’t inquire as to whether I could play in both (Ross Centennial or Senior LPGA) events,’’ said Jeray. “I don’t think I could play six straight days.’’

Jeray could have played on the LPGA Tour this week, as she qualified for the new Thornberry Creek Classic in Wisconsin. Her caddie, Jody Keepers, is working in that event, which ends on Sunday, and will be in French Lick on Monday in time to carry Jeray’s bag in the Senior LPGA Championship.

Joining Jeray in the Senior LPGA field are Nancy Scranton, formerly of downstate Centralia; Allison Finney, of Winnetka; and Audra Burks, of Springfield. Scranton will be inducted into The Legends Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

In addition to the Illinois seniors, Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol was in the Symetra field on the Donald Ross Course and she got off to an excellent start, posting a 4-under-par 68 in the first round. A rookie on the Symetra circuit, Szokol finished her college career at Virginia after spending her first two years at Northwestern.

Symetra event celebrates Ross centennial, starts six-day golf tourney marathon

French Lick Resort is all decked out for six straight days of LPGA golf on its two courses.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – It all begins on Friday, the most innovative tournament concept in recent golf – and not just the women’s version.

The Symetra Tour, the Ladies PGA Tour’s qualifying circuit, will hold a $200,000 tournament on the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort starting on Friday to kickoff off six straight days of tournament golf in this small southern Indiana community that’s not just the boyhood home of Larry Bird.

French Lick is also a place rich in golf history, and that’s what is going to be celebrated in these days leading into the U.S. Women’s Open.

After the Symetra tournament ends on Sunday an even bigger 54-hole competition — the first Senior LPGA Championship — takes over the spotlight.

The Symetra event is called the Donald Ross Centennial Classic because it’ll be played to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the course that it’s being played on. In any other year that’d be enough to make it a big event. This is not just a focal point for historical purposes, however. The prize money is the second biggest on the Symetra Tour, with the champion receiving $30,000. This 13th event of the Symetra’s 23-tournament season will go a long way in deciding which 10 players move up to the LPGA Tour in 2018.

Underscoring the importance of this event to the players, 18 of the top 20 on the Symetra money list are in the field, and the only ones missing have good excuses.

No. 1 Nanna Koerstz Madsen wants to prepare for the following week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in New Jersey and No. 16 Rachel Rohanna got into the LPGA’s tournament in Wisconsin this week.

Banners galore declare that a special golf event has come to town.

The Donald Ross Centennial Classic will feature 144 of the top rising stars of women’s golf and 30 countries are represented in the field.

In addition to having 10 players who are LPGA members the field includes Yu Liu of China who reflected the high quality of play on the Symetra circuit in the previous week’s Tullymore Classic in Michigan. She made 22 birdies in 54 holes in posting a 16-under-par 200 and climbed from 10th to fifth on the Symetra money list.

As exciting as all that sounds, the clear highlight of this golf extravaganza will come in the first-ever Senior LPGA Championship on the nearby Pete Dye Course. It’ll feature 81 LPGA stars of the past, most of whom are already familiar with the layout that was selected as the course-of-the-year for 2017 by the National Golf Course Owners Association. The Legends Championship has been played there since 2013.

French Lick has a five-year contract to host the Senior LPGA Championship, so it’s much more than an attempt by the LPGA to beat the U.S. Golf Association to the punch in putting on the first major championship for senior women. The USGA won’t conduct its first-even U.S. Women’s Senior Open until 2018 at Chicago Golf Club, America’s first 18-hole course.

French Lick is already rich in golf history, but the next week will add greatly to it.

The two majors are a little different. The USGA’s version will be for women 50 and over. At French Lick the age break starts at 45. The USGA’s is also a walking event with qualifying rounds held around the country to determine 120 finalists. How either will be accepted by the players an fans remains to be seen, but the French Lick version is committed to the tune of a $600,000 prize fund and national television coverage on The Golf Channel for its first staging.

TV coverage is made possible by the unusual weekday dates. The tournament will be played Monday through Wednesday, July 10-12, and the champion will receive $90,000.

The field fpr the Senior LPGA Championship includes five World Golf Hall of Famers—Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Laura Davies, Betsy King and Hollis Stacy — and players with a combined 339 career LPGA wins and 43 major championships.There are 19 players in the field who have won an LPGA major and 53 of the 81 have won at least one LPGA tournament.

A special sponsor’s exemption to the tournament is Suzy Whaley, who will become the first female president of the PGA of America in 2018.

Lexi, Lewis, Wie couldn’t keep pace with Kang in KPMG wrap-up

An American scored a rare victory in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Sunday – but Danielle Kang wasn’t the one you would have expected.

Only four Americans have won the title in the last 20 years, and Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and even Michelle Wie would have seemed the most likely to do the honors.

Lewis had the best final round among the Americans, a 67 that elevated her into a tie for ninth place. Thompson made an early charge with three birdies in her first seven holes to get within three shots of the lead but then backed off. She settled for her third straight 69 and wound up in a tie for seventh.

“On the back nine I honestly got tired. I don’t know what hit me,’’ said Thompson, who is skipping this week’s LPGA tournament in Wisconsin to rest up for the following week’s U.S. Women’s Open.

Wie needed a birdie on the last hole to shoot 73.

“It was one of those days where I mis-read every single putt,’’ she said. “I hit every dang one of them perfect, and just mis-read the speed. I had a lot of lipouts. If those would have fallen it would have been a completely different story.’’

The game’s newly-designated No. 1 player, Korean So Yeon Ryu, wasn’t dazzling either. She shot 71-72 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 14th.

WHAT’S NEXT? The LPGA players don’t have much of a wait before their next major championship. The U.S. Women’s Open, at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., tees off on July 13, and the fourth of the circuit’s five majors I also barely a month away – the Ricoh Women’s British Open Aug. 3-6 in Scotland.

Before those biggies, however, the circuit has a regular tour event starting on Thursday – the inaugural Thornberry Creek Classic in Oneida, Wis., near Green Bay. Ariya Jutanugarn, the No. 2 player in the Rolex Rankings, heads the field. She endured a tough time at Olympia Fields, shooting 77 in the first round immediately after losing her No. 1 ranking to Ryu. Jutanugarn improved to a 68 in the second round but still missed the 36-hole cut by one stroke.

Also in the Thornberry field are Brooke Henderson, Cristie Kerr and Suzanne Pettersen.

TWO IN ONE: The LPGA’s two other circuits will combine for an even more special new event starting next week in French Lick, Ind.

The developmental Symetra Tour will compete in the Donald Ross Centennial Championship from Thursday through Sunday on the 100-year-old Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort, then the first LPGA Senior Championship will take over the nearby Pete Dye Course for a three-day run from July 10-12.

Players in the new Senior event, all in the 45 and over age group, have been to French Lick the last four years for The Legends Championship. As was the case during Legends week, there will be an induction ceremony for the Legends Hall of Fame as part of the LPGA Senior Championship festivities. The new inductees to the Hall, located in the West Baden Springs Hotel, will be Nancy Scranton and Sandra Palmer.

KEMPER’S ON THE CLOCK: In a unusual bit of scheduling the PGA of America and LPGA decided to hold the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in the same area two years in a row but on different courses. It was played in the south suburbs at Olympia. Next year it’s in the north suburbs, at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. That course hosted one men’s major – the 1989 PGA Championship won by Payne Stewart.