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Len Ziehm On Golf

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.

Choi benefits from father’s return as her caddie

OLYMPIA FIELDS, IL. – Danielle Kang and Chella Choi are regulars on the LPGA Tour but have only one victory between them on the premier circuit in women’s golf.

Still, they are the co-leaders in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – the second of the LPGA’s five majors of 2017. Both hit the 54-hole stop at Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course at 10-under-par 203. Choi shot 67 in Saturday’s third round and Kang had 68.

Choi is in the hunt because of a caddie change. Her father, Ji Yeom Choi, is back on the bag this week, and Choi has taken the approach that “Father knows best.’’

“My Dad was going to retire to spend more time with my mother,’’ said Choi. “When he started as my caddie it was to save money, and I always had dreamed of having my Dad on the bag when I was an amateur.’’

They made a good team until his retirement as a caddie. Their break lasted seven weeks, then Chella was struggling with her game and called for help.

“I lost my confidence and asked him to come back,’’ she said. “I’m feeling very good now. He gives me confidence.’’

Choi played only 18 holes on the North Course – the site of many major championships, the most recent being the 2003 U.S. Open — in pre-tournament preparations. She has taken her father’s advice on every shot of every hole. That’s familiarized her with the course and clearly improved her status on the leaderboard.

Kang, who grew up in California, attended Pepperdine University and now resides in Las Vegas. She is downplaying her position at the top of the leaderboard.

“I’ve been working every day to get better, and I have to trust my game,’’ she said. “It would be incredible to be called a major champion, but I’m just trying to perform the best I can perform. I love the vibes of a major championship, but I’ve got to stick to my routine.’’

She said a change in attitude has help her improve, that change being “that winning isn’t everything.’’ Kang, though, has had calls of encouragement from three famous big-time winners – Wayne Gretzky, Caitlyn Jenner and Hollis Stacy.

Kang, 24, won back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 2010 and 2011 but has yet to win on the LPGA Tour and her best finish in a major was a tie for 14th in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Choi, 26, has one LPGA win, at the 2015 Marathon Classic. Her best finish in a major was a tie for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013, back when the tournament was called the LPGA Championship.

Jiyai Shin, who plays mainly on the Japan circuit, shot the day’s low score – a 64 – and is alone in third place, two strokes behind the co-leaders. In fourth is the defending champion, 19-year old Canadian Brooke Henderson.

“It’s the third day of a major championship, and any time you can see your name that close to the top is a really good feeling,’’ said Henderson, “especially when you know you have one day left. With a major championship it all comes down to the back nine on Sunday. It’ll be an interesting finish, and I’m just hoping that I’m a part of it.’’

Further down the list but not quite out of it yet are American stars Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson and newly-minted No. 1 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea. They’re all five shots off the lead at 208 and in a tie for seventh.

Shin shows she can still compete on LPGA Tour

Jiyai Shin doesn’t play on the LPGA Tour much anymore – but it’s certainly not due to a lack of talent. Her 7-under-par 64 on Saturday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields proved that.

Shin, from South Korea, was paired with American star Stacy Lewis in the third round but both were far off the lead when the day started. Lewis didn’t make a move, shooting 70, but Shin made a big one.

“I’m pretty lucky because I started early in the morning,’’ said Shin. “That’s when it’s easier to make a few birdies.’’

Shin won 11 times when she played on the LPGA Tour, and that included victories in two majors – the Women’s British Open in both 2008 and 2012. For 25 weeks she held the No. 1 spot in the women’s world rankings. Now, though, she plays most of her tournament golf in Japan.

“I enjoy it because there’s less traveling and more three-day tournaments,’’ said Shin. “Physically I feel much better. But this week I’m here, so I’m for focused on the LPGA.’’

READY FOR THE BIG TIME: Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom was the player-of-the-year on the LPGA’s developmental circuit – the Symetra Tour – in 2016.

Her play Saturday suggested she’s ready for the big time already. Sagstrom, playing one group behind Shin, posted a 5-under-par 66.

Sagstrom was clearly too good for the Symetra circuit a year ago, when she was named its rookie of the year. She set a single season earnings record ($167,064) with her three wins and 12 top-10 finishes (which was also a Symetra single-season record). Now she’s an LPGA rookie.

“It’s my first year out here, so I’m trying to figure everything out and trying to see where my game is at,’’ said Sagstrom. “I’m still going to work on some things because it’s not all there but it’s nice to just see that I can be up there.’’

NOTEWORTHY: Canadian Brooke Henderson, the 19-year old defending champion, is a perfect 13-for-13 in making cuts in LPGA major championships. Danielle Kang was the only player to go bogey-free in the first two rounds. The streak ended at 38 holes when she make bogey on the third hole Saturday.

Still, if Kang wins today she’d be only the second player to win both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Kang, co-leader after 36 holes at Olympia Fields, won the Amateur in 2010 and 2011. The only other player to win both titles was Juli Inkster who won three straight Amateurs from 1980-82 and two straight KPMGs (1999-2000). The tourney was called the LPGA Championship when Inkster won it.

LOOKING AHEAD: The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship concludes today but planning is already well underway for next year’s event at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. Dates will be June 26 to July 1.

Tickets prices for the grounds will be $35 for any one day, $79 for the week, $15 for Tuesday and Wednesday, $25 for Thursday and Friday and $30 for Saturday and Sunday. Volunteer registration for next year will begin in just three weeks, on July 24.

HERE AND THERE

The Network of Exelon Women and The First Tee provided golf lessons for girls between the ages of 8 and 18 on Saturday at nearby Marian Catholic High School, then took the participants to Olympia Fields to watch the tournament.

Kelly Shon’s 8-under-par 63 on Friday was one for various record books. It matched the KPMG tourney record set by Patty Sheehan in 1982 (of a par-2 course) and Meg Mallon in 1999 (on a par-71, just like Olympia North). It also matched the North Course record set by Vijay Singh in the 2003 U.S. Open and Ricky Fowler in the 2007 Fighting Illini Invitational collegiate event. Shon cooled off Saturday, shooting a 71.

Ally McDonald had a rarity in Friday’s second round – back-to-back eagles. She started her round on No. 10 and made eagles at Nos. 18 and 1 – both par-5s. Like Shon, she lost her magic in the third round, posting a 73.

Choi, Yang lead in rain-plagued start to KPMG tourney

The biggest names in women’s golf were notably absent from the top of the leaderboard on Thursday during Round 1 of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields.

Korean Chella Choi, a morning starter, shot a 5-under-par 66 on Olympia Fields’ North Course and another Korean, Amy Yang, was at 5-under after playing 17 holes in the afternoon. Play was called for the day at 7:18 a.m. because lightning was detected in the area. Yang will complete her first round when play resumes at 7:15 a.m. today and the second round is to start on time, at 7:45 a.m.

American Brittany Altomare, who played in the morning, was one shot back with a 67 and Joanna Klatten of France was also a 4-under with two holes left when play was stopped on Thursday.

Canadian Brooke Henderson, the defending champion, and the enigmatic Michelle Wie shot 68s in the morning and were in a four-player group at that number, joining Alison Lee, Wie’s playing partner, and Korean Su Oh. Kim Kaufman and Emily Petersen were at 3-under and still on the course when play ended for the day.

Though not all the late starters could finish, those with afternoon tee times had better scoring conditions than their morning counterparts, who had to endure strong winds.
Such unfortunate tee times negatively affected Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, who was ranked No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings until Korean So Yeon Ryu replaced her at her teeoff time on Thursday.

Jutanugarn, who won the U.S. Girls Junior on Olympia’s South Course in 2011, shot 6-over-par 77 and is in danger of missing the 36-hole cut, which will be made after the second round. The low 70 and ties will play on the weekend.

The morning start also made scoring difficult for Stacy Lewis, one of the top Americans. She lost five shots to par early before rallying for a 3-over 74. Playing in the afternoon didn’t greatly benefit Ryu, who shot 69 on her 27th birthday; No. 3-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who posted 70; or three-time champion Inbee Park of South Korea, who managed a 73.

“There’s 156 players in the field this week. The top 100 in the world are here. Anybody can win this championship,’’ said Henderson, who won last year at Sahalee in Washington in a sudden death playoff with Ko. “I would love to win again, but it’s a different golf course and a different year.’’

Henderson, though, is clearly in the hunt.

“I was going to take it a day at a time and see what happens,’’ she said, “but I’m in a great spot right now so I’m really excited.’’

However — based on their career records — there’s no reason to think that either Choi or Yang won’t be in contention throughout the 72-hole competition that concludes on Sunday as well.

Choi may have only one LPGA victory, but she entered 2017 with over $4 million in winnings and has had top-10 finishes in four of the LPGA’s five major championships. She tied for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013.

With her father working as her caddie Choi, 26, took command of the course that hosted the men’s U.S. Open in 2003 though she had played only 18 holes on it before the tournament.

“I don’t remember every hole,’’ said Choi. “I asked my dad for advice on every hole, every shot, and my shots were very good.’’

She plans to continue the “father knows best’’ routine for the next three days.

Yang, 27, has a record in majors that’s even better than Choi’s. She was second in the U.S. Women’s Open twice, had fourth-place finishes in both the ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open and tied for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013.

Her most spectacular moment, though, came in the 2015 KEB-HanaBank Championship when she became the first player in LPGA history to birdie every hole on one nine. She posted a 27 for that side and went on to claim the first of her two career victories.

Michelle Wie is having fun on the course again

Michelle Wie finished her first round at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship with a big smile on her face – and with good reason. She shot a 3-under-par 68, another indication that her game is improving.

Wie hasn’t won since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst and by her own admission her play in 2016 was “awful.’’ It’s not bad now, though. Wie has five top-five finishes this season including four in her last five starts.

She believes the good play is a reflection of an improved attitude.

“I was sick of playing bad golf, honestly,’’ she said. “I was sick of being down and started this year with a really good sense of determination and motivation. I just want to be happy and have fun out there. I made a pact with myself that I’m going to have fun.’’

She’s doing it in an unusual manner. She has no set putting grip, instead grabbing the club in whatever seems comfortable at the time. She couldn’t say how many different grips she uses in each round but Gary Koch, the PGA Tour veteran-turned-broadcaster, is intrigued.

“There is no rhyme or reason to it. It is feel,’’ he said. “For the longest time we’ve said that Michelle is not playing by feel, that she is too mechanical. I like this change.’’

SUPPORT FOR LEXI: Lexi Thompson has taken a break from media interviews the past few days after learning that her mother has uterine cancer. Jaye Marie Green, one of Thompson’s best friends among the tour players, sympathizes with Thompson.

“It must be tough,’’ said Green. “Her and her mom are so close. They talk every day. They are best friends. Her mom would be the first person she would call about anything.’’

Green, though, won’t rule out Thompson winning the tournament. Thompson shot 70 in the opening round, barely getting to the clubhouse before play was suspended because of dangerous weather in the area at 7:01 p.m.

“She is definitely the toughest, most strong-willed person I know,’’ said Green. “If there’s someone who can win a major with what she’s going through, I’d put my money on her.’’

FAST STARTER: If there was a surprise in the first round it would be Brittany Altomare, a 26-year old former University of Virginia golfer whose best finish on the LPGA Tour was a tie for 11th in last year’s Volvik Championship.

Altomare started her round in the fourth group off the No. 10 tee and shot 67. The putts were just falling, she said.

“This golf course is unbelievable,’’ she said. “It’s in incredible shape. The greens are just perfect. You just hit the ball where you want it, and it just goes where you’re aiming. You can’t hit a bad putt.’’

WOMANLY BOOST: Three Olympians – skier Lindsay Vonn, figure skater Michelle Kwan and hockey player Angela Ruggiero – participated in the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summer, which was held at Olympia Fields in conjunction with the tournament.

“Women in golf definitely had a hard time being at the same level as men,’’ said Vonn, former girlfriend of Tiger Woods. “What KPMG is doing for women in golf is incredible, and it needs to be done.’’

KPMG announced this week that it will boost the tournament purse from $3.5 million to $3.65 million next year at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. The company also agreed to extend its sponsorship agreement for the tournament through 2023.

HERE AND THERE

Olympia Fields’ North Course is now one of 22 venues that have hosted both men’s and women’s major championships. Kemper Lakes, which hosted the 1989 men’s PGA Championship, will join that select group next year.

NBC and The Golf Channel combined will provide 29 hours of coverage of this week’s tournament. It’ll reach 167 countries and 600 million households.

Olympia’s par-71 North Course was set up at 6,577 yards for Round 1 and the weather was unusual. The morning starters endured wind gusts of 35 miles per hour so they had more difficult playing conditions than the afternoon starters, who played their rounds in only a light breeze.

New No. 1 woman golfer is ready for a challenge at Olympia Fields

Women’s golf has a new No. 1 player going into today’s start of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.

So Yeon Ryu of South Korea took over the top spot in the Rolex Rankings this week following her victory on Sunday in the Wal-Mart Northwest Arkansas Championship. She supplanted Ariya Jutanugarn, who had been No. 1 for just three weeks and didn’t play in Arkansas.

The ranking improvement – she had been No. 3 behind Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko – caught Ryu somewhat by surprise after she arrived at Olympia Fields this week.

“I couldn’t really think about it because I thought I was kind of far away from No. 1,’’ said Ryu, “But here I am. I’m finally No. 1. Dreams come true. I’m living a dream.’’

A five-time winner on the Ladies PGA Tour, Ryu won the first major tournament of the season – the ANA Inspiration – in March and became the first multiple winner of the season with her victory in Arkansas. It was a monumental win, too, as she set tournament scoring records after 18, 36 and 54 holes. She posted a sizzling 61 in the third round.

“I got a lot of confidence last week to play in this major tournament,’’ she said. “This week it’s really important to have great iron shots, and my iron shots have been really great. I feel pretty comfortable playing this golf course.’’

Along with claiming the No. 1 ranking Ryu took over the No. 1 spot on the LPGA’s official money list, the race to the CME Globe, the Rolex Player of the Year standings and Rolex Annika Major Award.

Ryu has missed only five cuts in over 140 starts on the LPGA Tour. Prior to her current hot streak she claimed another major title, at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.

“I’m not a robot, so sometimes I play bad, sometimes great,’’ she said. “But even when I play bad I still enjoy the game. I can handle the situation. That’s why I made a lot of cuts. Hopefully I can make many more in the future.’’

Ryu doesn’t feel Olympia Fields’ North Course is as difficult as some of the other venues for recent major championships.

“The rough is not really long yet compared to the last two years of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (at Westchester, in New York, and Sahalee, in Washington),’’ said Ryu. “I hate to say this, but the rough lengths are the easiest so far.’’

She does think, however, that the slopes of the greens at Olympia could be tricky.

Ryu has won two of the LPGA’s five major championships. Her next goal is to achieve a Grand Slam of the women’s majors. She can win a third this week with the Ricoh British Open and the Evian Championship coming up after that. She’d like to win all five during her career, but getting them all this season is still a possibility.

“That’s the goal I really want to achieve,’’ she said. “Even though I’m No. 1 right now I still have to knock down three more tournaments. I haven’t thought about a season Grand Slam yet, but if I can do it that’d be fantastic.’’

Ryu is the third woman from South Korea to ascend to the No. 1 ranking. Jiyai Shin and Inbee Park were the previous No. 1-ranked players from that country.

“It’ll be interesting to see how long I can be the No. 1 player,’’ said Ryu. “I don’t know how long it can be, but I’m going to do my best to keep this position as long as I can.’’

She’ll tee off at 1:40 p.m. today, her 27th birthday, after receiving the No. 1 bib signifying her top ranking. Jutanugarn, the player she supplanted in the top spot, tees off at 2:06 on the same course that hosted the men’s U.S. Open in 2003.

Mickelson takes on LPGA stars in KPMG warmup at Olympia Fields

Phil Mickelson obviously won’t be playing in this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields but – just as was the case at last week’s U.S. Open – he was still part of the show.

Mickelson’s participation in the Open at Erin Hills was in limbo until he formally withdrew to attend his daughter’s high school graduation in California just before the first round started at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. After the Open he was the talk of the golf world again when he announced a breakup with Jim Mackay, his caddie of 25 years.

Monday was a day for Mickelson to do some promotional work for KPMG, sponsor of the second of five major championships on the Ladies PGA Tour. The $3.5 million 72-hole championship tees off on Thursday but Mickelson gave tournament week a big sendoff when he competed with three of the top women players – defending champion Brooke Henderson, world No. 1 Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis – in a fun exhibition that was closed to the public.

Several youth groups and Olympia members filled the bleachers as Mickelson and Henderson wound up in a duel for the title, Mickelson winning.

“It was fun a showcase for the young kids – and hopefully it’ll inspire them,’’ said Henderson amidst a throng of autograph-seekers.

Mickelson claimed he was “nervous’’ beforehand, but insisted his support for women’s golf overrode the competitive aspect of the day. Through his foundation he is making a contribution to the KPMG Future Leaders Program for the creation of college scholarships and believes the tournament will have a positive impact on women both on and off the course.

He was particularly respectful of Henderson, Ko and Lewis – three of the greatest stars in women’s golf.

“I know how good they are,’’ said Mickelson, “and it was fun to be around some of the best athletes in the world. Last year, when Brooke shot her low rounds (in winning the tournament at Sahalee in Washington) that was one of the most exciting events of the year.’’

Mickelson arrived at Olympia Fields on a Metra train from downtown Chicago to underscore an easy mode of transportation for spectators to get to the tournament.

Henderson and her cohorts will carry that message further in a day-long pro-am today that also features former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan, comedian George Lopez, Chicago sports legends Brian Urlacher, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux and TV personality Drew Scott.

As for the much-publicized breakup with his caddie, Mickelson admitted it was emotional. Their last round together was in the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.

“We had hoped to end at the U.S. Open, because that’s where we started in 1992,’’ said Mickelson, “but we both knew it was time. He’ll have some incredible opportunities, and I’ve cherished the last 25 years. We’ve come through highs and lows on and off the course, but I’m also looking forward to spending time with my brother.’’

Tim Mickelson will be Phil’s caddie for the rest of the year and Mickelson added one bit of new information on the caddie switch. It came with the permission of young PGA phenom Jon Rahm. Tim was Rahm’s college coach at Arizona State. He quit the ASU job to become Rahm’s manager, a job he’ll now conduct along with his caddie duties.

Harman just couldn’t keep up with Koepka’s back nine birdie barrage

ERIN, Wis. – Brian Harman didn’t lose Sunday’s U.S. Open. Brooks Koepka just won it. That’s how Harman sees it.

The turning point came on Erin Hills’ back nine after Harman made bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13.

“Then I made the birdie at 14 and he birdies 14, 15 and 16,’’ said Harman. “That was kind of lights out. You’ve got to tip your cap. He went out and won the tournament on the back nine. I’ve done that before, but he did it today.’’

Koepka talked afterwards about feeling like an under-achiever until he won his first major title. Harman could identify with that.

“When I was a young junior golfer I definitely perceived myself contending in majors,’’ he said. “Not that I’m an old man by any means, but I am 30. So for me I am trying to make up for some lost time. I don’t know why, but that’s the way I feel.’’

MONEY-MAKERS: The tourney’s $12 million purse represents another big jump in recent years. In 2003 it was $6 million, in 2014 it was $9 million and in 2015 it hit $10 million.

Last year Dustin Johnson’s first-place prize was $1.8 million. Koepka earned $2,160,000 for his victory on Sunday.

A BREEZE: Jordan Spieth was the ninth player to tee off on Sunday and the wind was at its worst, approaching 30 miles per hour. That didn’t keep Spieth from shooting a 3-under-par 69 – his best round of the tournament.

“A fantastic round of golf, given what we were dealing with to start the day,’’ he said. Conditions got easier as the day went on and Spieth left a happier man than he’d been all week.

“I struck the ball the same way I have been. I hit 17 greens, which was just awesome in these conditions,’’ he said. And then my expectations were lowered on the greens given the conditions. That was the difference. I was able to get to a few under by just accepting the fact that the putt might miss instead of having to have it perfect. Maybe a day like today is all I needed to just kind of calm down.’’

HEROES AT HOME: Steve Stricker and Jordan Niebrugge, the two Wisconsin players in the finals, finished up in style. Stricker shot 69-69 on the weekend to get to 5-under for the tournament. Making birdies on three of the last five holes, Niebrugge was 3-under on his final nine and was 1-over for the 72 holes.

Stricker hosts a Champions Tour event, the American Family Insurance Championship, at University Ridge in Madison this week while Niebrugge just learned he has a spot in the Web.com Tour’s Lincoln Land Charity Championship, at Panther Creek in Springfield, IL.

SCHEFFLERS WIN: The battle for low amateur at the U.S. Open was a two-man duel between Texans. Scottie Scheffler of Texas was 1-under-par in edging Cameron Champ of Texas A&M by one stroke. It was a team win for the Schefflers as Scottie’s sister Cali worked as his caddie.

WHAT’S THE BEEF? Andrew “Beef’’ Johnson has been popular with the galleries whenever he comes over from London to play in a tournament, but his popularity was magnified at Erin Hills.

“It’s been wicked,’’ said Johnston. “The people have been so good to me. Hopefully they’ve had fun watching me, as well, because I’ve had fun with them. I never dreamt of this. To have the support is just crazy.’’

A WIND PLAYER: Veteran Matt Kuchar took advantage of the windier conditions on Sunday to finish his U.S. Open with a 4-under-par 68.

“I was looking forward to tougher conditions, knowing that I’d have a chance to make up a lot of ground,’’ he said. “I did just that.’’

He gave Erin Hills high grades in its first year as a U.S. Open site.

“The course was great. The people were great,’’ said Kuchar. “The tournament was really well run. We’ll be leaving on a high note.’’

Comparing 63s isn’t easy for Johnny Miller

ERIN, Wis. – Johnny Miller, the golf analyst for NBC, was impressed by Justin Thomas’ 63 in Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Open, especially the 9-under-par aspect to it. Miller shot the first 63 in the Open 44 years ago, and his score was 8-under on a par-71 course.

“Justin Thomas is a lot like I am. He’s a streaky player,’’ Miller told The Golf Channel. “When I was in my prime it was the same way. I could get it really low.’’

As for Thomas having a better score in relation to par, Miller had some qualms.

“Taking nothing away from 9-under-par,’’ he said. “Nine-under is incredible, but it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with, the way it was set up.’’

Erin Hills is 11 years old and hosting its first U.S. Open. Miller shot his 63 at Oakmont, the Pennsylvania course that has hosted a record nine Opens.

STILL AROUND: No doubt Steve Stricker was snubbed by the U.S. Golf Assn. when he didn’t receive a sponsor’s invitation to the first U.S. Open in his home state. Stricker never complained, though, and he’s been rewarded.

Not only did Stricker survive a sectional qualifying round, he also survived the 36-hole cut at Erin Hills. He’s been greeted with standing ovations throughout his rounds and feels his decision to enter qualifying – despite his stature in the game — was well worth it.

“I wanted to experience our first U.S. Open (in Wisconsin) more than anything,’’ he said. “I’m glad I went through it, and I’m glad I’m here.’’

Stricker made the cut in 18 of his 20 U.S. Open appearances, but this was the first one since he turned 50. Next week he’ll play in the American Family Insurance Championship, a PGA Champions Tour event that tees off on Friday at University Ridge in Madison, Wis. Stricker, who lives in Madison, is the two-year old tournament’s host.

“Next week is for totally different purposes,’’ he said. “It’s about raising money for our foundation and giving back to our area and our community. That’s a totally different feel for me. This (week) is more on a playing level.’’

HOW TIMES CHANGE: Last week Stephan Jaeger was en route to winning his second Web.com Tour event in a three-week stretch in the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club. On Saturday he was not only paired with two-time major champion Jordan Spieth in the U.S. Open, he beat him.

Jaeger shot 74 to hit the 54-hole stop at 2-over-par and in a tie for 51st place. Spieth shot 76 and is tied for 59th entering today’s final round.

Spieth stayed upbeat.

“I’ve been striking the ball well. It’s just been trying to figure it out on and around the greens. Once the cannon gets open I’ll start pouring them in.’’

TALE OF FOURSOMES: The U.S.. Open had four co-leaders entering Saturday’s round – Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey. It was the first time since 1974 at Winged Foot that four players were tied for the lead. Then the foursome was Hale Irwin, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Raymond Floyd.

GOOD DAY FOR THE JDC: Zach Johnson and Harman are both Georgia neighbors and recent winners of the John Deere Classic, the only annual PGA Tour event in Illinois. Both have also played well in this U.S. Open. Harman, in fact, is leading through 54 holes and in position to become the tourney’s first left-handed champion today.

For Johnson Saturday’s 68 was particularly good news because his play hasn’t been what he’s wanted it to be.

“Probably the best my game’s been all year,’’ said Johnson. “From a contentment standpoint this is the best I’ve felt with my golf bag all the way through.’’

Johnson switched to PXG clubs and that didn’t produce good results initially.

“I probably didn’t listen to them enough in the beginning,’’ said Johnson. “My stubbornness, my arrogance got in the way. But those individuals at PXG have really pushed me and persuaded me in the right direction over the last eight-nine months.’’

TO THE VICTOR: The champion of this year’s Open will receive $2,160,000 and the runner-up will get $1,296,000. The 66th, and last-place, finisher will receive $22,729 from a total purse of $12,000,000. All professionals who missed Friday’s 36-hole curt will receive $10,000.

Spectator’s death latest in events that mar this U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — Away from the play on the course it’s been one thing after another for the U.S. Golf Association to deal with at this 117th U.S. Open.

On Thursday it was a blimp crash a half-mile from the course. On Friday the USGA announced that E.Coli bacteria had been detected in a Hydration Station on the No. 12 hole and announced that bottled water would be delivered to all four such stations as a precautionary measure.

During Friday’s second round came an even worse development – the death of a 94-year old man from nearby Wauwatosa who had been watching the action in the grandstand near the No. 6 green on his first visit to this U.S. Open.

Rescue personnel and Washington County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the grandstand and arrived three minutes after being called. They reported the man to be pulseless and not breathing. The unidentified subject was transferred to an on-site ambulance where he was pronounced deceased. No foul play is suspected and the death appears to be of natural causes, according the medical personnel.

GO FIGURE: Defending champion Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – the top three players in the Official World Golf Rankings – all failed to survive the 36-hole cut on Friday.

Johnson and McIlroy are still shaking off injuries and Day, who was basically out of it after a first-round 79, was the most surprised.

“It’s been the best preparation going into a major in my career,’’ he said. “I did the work, looked at the golf course, made sure that I could actually play and visualize the golf course. And, I felt the most calm I have in a major in a long time. Unfortunately this just didn’t pan out.’’

NOT TO BE IGNORED: Canadian Adam Hadwin, who won the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March, matched a longstanding U.S. Open record when he strung six birdies in Thursday’s first round. He had seven on the day, all after approach shots to within 15 feet.

The Open had two previous six-birdie streaks, both at Pebble Beach. George Burns did it in 1982 and Andy Dillard in 1992.

Hadwin, who also strung six in a row at the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge, cooled off on Friday but still was safely under the Open cut line at 2-under to qualify for weekend play.

NO REGRETS: Roberto Diaz, the Mexico golfer who got into the starting field after Phil Mickelson’s late withdrawal, saw his hopes of making the 36-hole cut disappear when he opened the second round with a 40.

Diaz was just happy to have a chance to play in his first U.S. Open, though he was in constant limbo in the days leading up to it as Mickelson’s participation loomed as a possibility.

“I thought Phil was going to come. I always did,’’ said Diaz. “I thought he was going to somehow pull it off, but I didn’t want to put my hopes up and then see my hopes go down. I prepared the whole week to play, but I was prepared to not play.’’

ANOTHER WD: Mickelson wasn’t the only notable withdrawal. England’s Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, pulled out, too. He complained of a sore back after shooting 81 on Thursday.

MIXED BAG: Stephan Jaeger, who won the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club last Sunday, continued his solid play. The German’s 71-73 start qualified him for the weekend rounds at the U.S. Open for the first time.

Andy Pope, the only player with a Chicago residency connection in the 156-man field, shot 77-75 and missed the cut, marring his third straight appearance at the U.S. Open.