Golf tournament schedules have taken on a completely new look

The tournament schedules of the pro golf tours have turned into a mess, the result of the coronavirus pandemic. Chicago’s premier tournament, the BMW Championship, won’t undergo much of an adjustment, however.

The FedEx Cup Playoff event was moved only one week as part of a schedule revampment announced on Monday by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. It’ll remain at Olympia Fields Country Club, but the dates will be Aug. 27-30 for the tournament rounds. The old dates had been Aug. 20-23.

“We’ve been working closely with the PGA Tour, BMW and our host club to ensure a smooth transition to our new dates while focusing on the healthy and safety of all involved,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association.

As for the rest of the season, planning wasn’t so easy.

As part of Monahan’s announcement the last regular season PGA Tour event will be the Wyndham Championship, in Greensboro, N.C., from Aug. 10-16. The next week the playoffs begin, with The Northern Trust on Aug. 17-23. The BMW will follow the next week and The Tour Championship will be held from Sept. 1-7 at East Lake, in Atlanta, to conclude the playoffs. Some bigger, more attractive events will be played after that, however.

“It’s a complex situation, and we want to balance the commitments to our various partners with playing opportunities for the world’s best players while providing compelling competition to our fans,’’ said Monahan. “But all that must be done while safely navigating the unprecedented global crisis impacting every single one of us.’’

Tickets already purchased for the BMW Championship, held last year at Medinah Country Club, will be honored at Olympia Fields on the days of the week noted on the tickets. The tournament will again raise funds for its sole beneficiary, the Evans Scholars Foundation. Last year’s event at Medinah drew 130,000 fans and raised $4.4 million for the charity.

“We’re committed to hosting a safe and entertaining event,’’ said Pellegrino, “while also continuing to provide the Evans Scholars Foundation with vital funding for college scholarships for deserving caddies. As we navigate this challenging time we remain committed to fulfilling our mission to help young men and women build better lives for themselves while building stronger communities.’’

The PGA Tour plans to resume its tournament schedule at the Charles Schwab Challenge, at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, TX. May 21-24. Eight tournaments have already been cancelled but Illinois’ other PGA stop — the 50th anniversary staging of the John Deere Classic — remains on tap for July 9-12 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

The WGA will conduct five of its six tournaments in the Chicago area this year, the next being the Evans Scholars Invitational, also on May 21-24 at The Glen Club in Glenview. That tournament, part of the PGA’s developmental Korn Ferry Tour, is the planned return of competition on that circuit. Six Korn Ferry tournaments have already been cancelled and two others postponed.

New dates have already been announced for three of golf’s major championships. The PGA Championship, planned for May at Harding Park in San Francisco, is now Aug. 3-9. The U.S. Open had June dates at Winged Foot, in New York, and now will be played Sept. 17-20. The Masters, played annually in April at Augusta National in Georgia, is now Nov. 12-15.

The year’s planned final major, the British Open at Royal St. George’s in England, has already been cancelled and the Olympic Games golf competition in Japan from July 30-Aug. 2, has been postponed with no new date set as yet. The Ryder Cup matches remain at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits course from Sept. 25-27.

The cancellation of the British Open marked the first time a major championship has been cancelled since 1945 during World War II. Only the PGA Championship was played that year.

More changes are possible, as the PGA Tour listed three now vacant weeks – June 18-21, July 16-19 and July 30-Aug. 2 – as “potential’’ tournament dates.

The U.S. Golf Association, meanwhile, cancelled two of its national championships — the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The USGA had cancelled its first two championships — the U.S. Senior Amateur Four-Ball and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball — last month.

On the Ladies PGA Tour the next scheduled tournament is the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship July 19-21. The LPGA has already rescheduled two of its major tournaments. The ANA Inspiration is now on tap for Sept. 10-13 at Mission Hills, in California, and the U.S. Women’s Open has been given Dec. 10-13 dates at Champions Golf Club, in Houston.

The strangest day I’ver ever had covering golf — by a long shot

Fans turned out in droves at TPC Sawgrass for the first (and only) round of The Players Championship.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL. – Commissioner Jay Monahan gave his annual state of the PGA Tour announcement earlier this week, noting with pride that the circuit has events in Asia, Canada, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic and three allied international tours in Canada, China and Latin America. He added that over 200,000 fans were expected and 900 media were credentialed for The Players Championship, which teed off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.

The questioning after Monahan made his pre-tournament remarks, though, focused on something else – the coronavirus pandemic.

“A very dynamic situation,’’ Monahan conceded. Just how dynamic became very clear on Thursday morning, four hours after the first players had teed off in the most lucrative tournament of the season. The Players has a $15 million purse.

Then, about 12 hours after that, the PGA Tour issued a statement saying that The Players, as well as the tournaments of the next three weeks, wouldn’t be played. In 51 years reported on golf I’ve covered some wild scenarios – but never anything like this.

Monahan first announced that the final three rounds of the tournament would be played without fans as would the next three tournaments – next week’s Valspar Championship in the Tampa area; the World Golf Championship’s Dell Technologies Match Play Championship March 25-29 in Austin, TX.; and the Valero Texas Open April 2-5. The Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship, to be played opposite the Match Play event, was also postponed.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama acknowledged the crowd after his record round, then — a few hours later — the cheering stopped.

The cancellation statement of Thursday night came without comment from Monahan, who was to speak with the media about the latest abrupt change of plans on Friday morning.

Big prize money was on the line in those as well — $6.9 million in the Valspar, $3 million in the Dominican Republic stop and $7.7 million in the Valero Texas Open. Those events lead into the Masters, the first major championship of 2020. It’s scheduled for April 9-12 in Augusta, Ga., and could go on without fans as well. Masters officials have been in talks with Monahan.

“I’ll leave it to Augusta to share their thinking when they’re prepare to share their thinking,’’ said Monahan. “But they have been a great partner, a great help to us as we have been thinking through this over the last several weeks.’’

The decision to go without fans was not taken lightly. It came after the National Basketball Association suspended its season and the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. announced that fans would not be permitted in its postseason tournaments.

Monahan had talks with President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the hours leading up to Thursday’s announcement.

“Both the White House and the Governor’s office have been and are supportive of the precautionary measures we have taken,’’ said Monahan. “This is an incredibly fluid and dynamic situation. We have been and are committed to being responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process.’’

The setting at TPC Sawgrass during the first round was a most pleasant one, then reality set in.

With 93 players from 28 countries, the PGA Tour is more global than most other sports but Monahan didn’t opt to cancel the events entirely.

“If you look at our venues, obviously we’re an outdoor sport,’’ he said. “We’re not in a stadium and this week players are making their way over 400 acres. We’ve got 144 players here and over the course of a round they generally socially distance themselves. We felt, by taking this step to address the problem with our fans, we’re in a position where we can continue to operate the events as of right now.’’

The situation, though, remained a fluid one. On Wednesday night the Players tournament staff, learning that three more coronavirus victims were reported in the North Florida area, issued a statement that fans who planned to attend the tournament could request a ticket refund or exchange. In an effort to reduce interaction the players were also told not to sign autographs.

“We’re relying heavily, as other leagues and sports and entertainment venues are, on the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control,’’ Monahan said in his meeting with the media, “but primarily, given the fact that we’re playing 175 tournaments over six tours, this really is about a market-to-market exercise.’’

Already there’s been reports that the second major tournament — PGA Championship, scheduled to be played in May at Harding Park in San Francisco — would be moved to TPC Sawgrass if the coronavirus pandemic required it.

Monahan downplayed that report but admitted “when you get in these extraordinary circumstances you have to make yourself available to your partners. You have to work as closely together as you ever have to help each other get through this.’’

Return to winner’s circle proves elusive for Donald at Honda Classic

South Korea’s Sungjae Im celebrates his Honda Classic win and checks out his new car.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Luke Donald knew the drill. To win on the Champion Course at PGA National you don’t take many chances. The Jack Nicklaus-designed layout is too tough. It’s annually one of the hardest courses on the circuit.

“There’s just such a lot of nerve-racking and daunting shots out here so you’re playing to a lot of good, safe targets,’’ said Donald, who lives at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter just 10 miles from PGA National. “Often times I’ve finished up four rounds here and just kick myself. If I’d played little bit safer in spots and holed a putt here or there I would have been right there.’’

That game plan didn’t work for Donald on Sunday. He had a solid chance to claim his first PGA Tour victory in eight years and give his comeback from lingering back issues a big boost, but that didn’t happen.

Playing in the next-to-the-last group to tee off, Donald parred the first hole and stuck his approach on the second a foot from the cup, setting up a tap-in birdie that pulled him within a shot of the lead.

Luke Donald couldn’t stay in contention during the final round of the Honda Classic.

For Donald, that was the end of story. His tee shot at No. 3 found water, leading to a bogey. He made another one on the next hole and never got anything going after that until a birdie putt dropped at No. 18. The end result, a final round 72 which dropped him from a tie for third to a tie for 11th.

It was a trying weekend for Donald after he jumped into contention with a 4-under-par 66 on Friday. Even though he is a past champion in the Honda Classic, a former world No. 1 and a Jupiter resident for many years he wasn’t shown much respect at the first tee on Saturday.

The announcer introduced him as “Luke McDonald’’ and said he was the 2016 Honda Classic champion. Not only was his name butchered, Donald’s title came in 2006, not 2016. He shrugged of that annoying incident, but his game wasn’t the same as it had been the day before. Donald struggled in with a 71, still good enough to put him in position to win with strong final round.

He couldn’t deliver, and 21-year South Korean Sungjae Im won the title. He deserved it, too, shooting a 4-under-par 66 on Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes who also shot a 66. Im was 6-under 274 for the tourney’s 72 holes.

Im won twice, had three runner-up finishes and won the money title on the PGA’s satellite Korn Ferry Tour last year. He earned $1,260,000 and a new car for his first win on the premier circuit.

Im and Hughes played together and staged a dazzling head-to-head duel down the stretch. Hughes made a 54-foot birdie putt on the 17th green to pull even with Im. The tie didn’t last long, though. Im made his own birdie putt from eight feet at No. 17 and then saved par from a green-side bunker on the finishing hole to secure the victory.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, the other Chicago area tour player to qualify for weekend play, shot a 6-over 75 in the final round and dropped 24 spots to a tie for 47th.

The PGA Tour continues its four-tournament Florida Swing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando, this week with Rory McIlroy the defending champion.

Fleetwood leads, but Donald is in position to win at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. — Winning the Honda Classic is still a possibility for injury-plagued Luke Donald entering Sunday’s final round on PGA National’s Champion Course. Donald is tied for third, two strokes behind leader Tommy Fleetwood, through three rounds.

Donald isn’t predicting victory, but not ruling it out, either.

“With a back injury at 40 years old you can lose a bit of momentum,’’ he said. “Confidence breeds confidence, and you need to keep plugging away and getting yourself into position.’’

Donald’s definitely “in position’’ now, and a Donald victory would be a popular one in the Chicago golf community. Not only was the one-time world No. 1 a star at Northwestern, he is also a member at Conway Farms and helped that Lake Forest club land a coveted spot on the PGA Tour calendar.

Conway hosted the BMW Championships of 2013, 2015 and 2017 thanks in part to Donald’s influence. He also remained an active booster of the Northwestern golf program, The First Tee of Greater Chicago, the Ronald McDonald House of Chicago and the Western Golf Association’ Evans Scholars Program long after his college days and Chicago area residences were over.

Now, though, he’d like to get back on the win trail after a two-year battle with back problems. Donald won the last of his five tournaments on the PGA Tour in 2012, at the Transitions (now Valspar) Championship in Florida. He also had wins in the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan that year.

The back problems, however, eventually put Donald on the sidelines. In the two years since then he has appeared in just 21 tournaments and never contended for a title until this week, at an event just 10 miles from his long-time Florida home in Jupiter.

Though Donald won the Honda tourney in 2006, he needed an exemption off his spot on the PGA Tour’s career money list to get into this week’s field. He jumped into contention on Friday, shooting a 4-under-par 66 – the low round of the tournament — to move into a tie for second place behind Brendan Steele. Steele’s caddie just happens to be Donald’s brother and former bag-toter Christian.

“Chris is staying with us this week, so we’re one big happy family,’’ said Donald. “He’ll be in the final group (in the final round). I’m happy for Chris, but I’m chasing Brendan.’’

Steele, one of the growing number of PGA Tour players representing Chicago-based club manufacturer Wilson, is alone in second place, one shot behind Fleetwood. They’ll play together in the last twosome on Sunday.

Donald is tied for third with Lee Westwood as golfers from England are dominating the first of the four straight tournaments comprising the PGA’s annual Florida Swing. Donald and Westwood will be paired for the second straight day in the final round.

Donald, Fleetwood and Westwood all grew up in England. Fleetwood is bidding for his first win on the PGA circuit and Westwood, like Donald, is a former No. 1-ranked player. Donald was golf’s No. 1 player for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012.

Steele and Donald were tied for the lead after Saturday’s front nine. Then Donald made bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 as Fleetwood was charging playing in front of him. A birdie to finish, however, left Donald in good spirits entering Sunday’s final round.

“This is a tough course to go low on,’’ he said. “You have to stay patient. I had a round that could have gotten away, but I still have a good chance tomorrow. I feel I’m right where I want to be.’’

It’ll be a tougher road for the other Chicago player in the field. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman shot 72 on Saturday and goes into the final 18 in a tie for 23rd place.

A comeback story? Donald has 8-birdie round at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Could Friday’s second round of the Honda Classic be the start of something big for Luke Donald?

Time will tell, but Donald certainly looked like the golfer who was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012. The former Northwestern star and member at Conway Farms in Lake Forest made eight birdies in a 13-hole stretch on a cold, windy day to post a 4-under-par 66 on PGA National’s Champion Course.

That was the low score of the day but Brendan Steele, an afternoon starter, garnered the 36-hole lead, shooting a 67 for a 5-under-par 135 score. That was one better than Donald, J.T. Poston and Lee Westwood at the midway point in the first of the four tournaments on the PGA Tour’s annual Florida Swing. U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is another shot back in the 72-hole test, which ends on Sunday.

“It’s nice to be back in contention. It’s been a little bit of a while since I’ve played decent,’’ said Donald, who has struggled mightily during a two-year struggle with back problems. His Official World Golf Ranking was 456 and his FedEx Cup Ranking stood at 212 entering the Honda Classic.

By his standards Donald last “played decent’’ at the Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour last October – a tie for 10th place. Before that it was last March, when he tied for ninth in another Florida PGA event — the Valspar Championship. In the 2019-20 PGA Tour season Donald made three of four cuts but his best finish was only a tie for 43rd in November’s RSM Championship.

Obviously there’s been a big dropoff for the 42-year old who has won five times on the PGA Tour and has eight international victories. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at PGA National, however, has long been one of Donald’s favorites and that showed on Friday.

The Champion has long been considered one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, but Donald has played it consistently well. He won the Honda Classic in 2006 and was runner-up in 2008. He also had three other top-10 finishes, the last being in 2015.

“I practice a lot on Bermuda and am very accustomed to this type of grass,’’ said Donald. “I’ve had decent finishes around this place before. It sets up well for me.’’

Donald, born in England, has had a residence in south Florida for many years. He had an early tee time in the second round, which was played in weather rarely seen in these parts.

“We’re not used to 46 degrees at 7 in the morning,’’ said Donald. “It’s usually a little bit warmer, but I like it when conditions are tough. That’s when I play my best, especially with this northwesterly wind. The course tends to play a little bit tougher this way, and you’ve got to be very patient.’’

Donald was certainly that after a less-than-ideal start. Starting on No. 10, he was 3-over-par after five holes. Then he made birdie twos on two par-3s – Nos. 15 and 17. The second of those came on the last hole of the course’s treacherous Bear Trap, statistically the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour.

After that it was clear sailing, as Donald made six birdies on the front nine to conclude his round.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who is four strokes behind Steele in a tie for 15th, remains in contention but defending champion Keith Mitchell and established stars Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka all missed the 36-hole cut. So did PGA Tour rookie Doug Ghim, of Arlington Heights.

Another dramatic finish concludes the LPGA’s mini `Florida swing’

The duel between Madelene Sagstrom the Nasa Hataoka brought the fans to Boca Rio.

BOCA RATON, Florida – There’s no reason the LPGA shouldn’t play as many of its tournaments as possible in Florida. After all, the LPGA’s headquarters are in Daytona Beach and three of the circuit’s top stars — Lexi Thompson and Jessica and Nelly Korda – live there.

This year’s schedule called for four LPGA tournaments in the Sunshine state, including two new ones.

Holding the first two tournaments of 2020 in Florida wasn’t a bad idea, either. The drama was ideal in the first, a seven-hole playoff in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions that eventually went to Mexico’s Gaby Lopez. It was halted early by darkness before Lopez wrapped up the title on Monday morning.

The second tournament was a better showcase for the skills of the players, particularly champion Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden. She made 11 birdies in the second round of the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio en route to shooting a 62 on Friday. She followed that with a 67 on Saturday before surviving a Sunday duel with snakebit Japan veteran Nasa Hataoka.

“My goal was to stay patient and do what I did the previous two days,’’ said Sagstrom. “I had already beaten my demons by going 62-67. Winning was icing on the cake.’’

Madelene Sagstrom became the 12th golfer from Sweden to win on the LPGA Tour.

Hataoka lost to Lopez in the playoff in the limited field season opener and handed Sagstrom her first-ever LPGA win when she three-putted the 72nd hole for bogey at Boca Rio. Sagstrom ended up winning by one after making a clutch eight-footer for par on her last hole before Hataoka’s costly miss.

“I told myself, `Don’t look at a leaderboard,’’’ she said. “If you keep fighting anything can go your way. It was mind-blowing. This was just my week.’’

Sagstrom, 27, starred collegiately at Louisiana State and worked her way through the Symetra Tour before earning LPGA playing privileges. Though she was a captain’s pick for the 2017 Solheim Cup for Europe, she had never been ranked higher than No. 68 in the world and came into the Gainbridge event at No. 116. Sagstrom was also missing her regular caddie, and her boyfriend’s father was recruited to fill in.

That unlikely pair started the final round with a two-stroke lead on Hataoka with American Danielle Kang, who finished third, also in the mix. Those three were tied for the lead at one point on the back nine but the day’s key shots were Sagstrom’s holed bunker shot at No. 10 for a birdie that pulled her into a tie for the lead and Hataoka’s pushed putt from four feet on the 18th that would have forced a playoff.

Japan’s Nasa Hataoka has an unusual pre-shot routine. She bounces on her toes three times before hitting her shot, but it is effective. She was the runner-up in both of the LPGA’s first two events of 2020.

Sagstrom, in her fourth LPGA season, posted a final-round 70 for a 17-under-par 271 to win the $300,000 first prize from a $2 million purse.

Gainbridge was the first full-field event of the season for the LPGA and it kept tour golf coming to Boca. The PGA Champions Tour had made a habit of holding its first full-field event of the year in the South Florida city. This year that event, called the Boca Raton Championship on the Old Course at Broken Sound, was moved to October as part of the Champions’ season-ending playoff series.

With the Gainbridge tourney now history the LPGA will be on foreign soil for awhile. There’ll be two tournaments in Australia and one each in Japan, Thailand and China before the next American event – the March 19-22 Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Florida will be back on the LPGA schedule two more times before 2020 is out, however. The other new event of the 2020 campaign, the Pelican Women’s Championship, will be played at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair on May 14-17 and the usual season-ending climax CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon in Naples, is Nov. 19-22. The CME event will have the biggest first-prize in women’s golf — $1.5 million.

Alfredsson notches another `Grand Slam’ in wrap-up to Senior LPGA season

Helen Alfredsson claims Senior LPGA trophy from Cook Company chairman Steve Ferguson.
FRENCH LICK, Indiana – Winning a Grand Slam in senior women’s golf isn’t unusual. You just need to win two tournaments to do it.

England’s Laura Davies did it in 2018 and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson accomplished the feat on Wednesday when she captured the Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

Alfredsson won the first leg of the slam when she captured the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles, in North Carolina, in May. She was a three-stroke winner in the Senior LPGA on Wednesday in golf’s last major championship of 2019 on any of the pro tours.

“It was a great feeling to win the U.S. Open and get a USGA trophy,’’ she said, “but I was most pleased with being able to do it in the and,, and being the strongest then.’’

Alfredsson’s win at French Lick came on a frigid day when temperatures dropped 20 degrees over night and winds picked up. She was the only player to finish under par, completing the 54-hole test at 2-under 214. Juli Inkster was three strokes behind in what was basically a two-player duel throughout the final round.

Inkster started the final round with a two-stroke lead and struggled with a 76. Alfredsson posted a 70 and captured a $100,000 first prize from a $650,000 purse. Davies tied for 19th in her title defense and Nicole Jeray, a teaching pro at Mistwood in Romeoville and the only Chicago player in the field, tied for 36th among the 49 finalists.

There were some other notable developments. Dave Harner, the director of golf at French Lick Resort, confirmed that the tournament won’t be played on its unusual fall dates in 2020 – and won’t have live television coverage because of it. It’ll move to late July instead, meaning both of the senior majors will be played just a month apart.

The Golf Channel gave the inaugural Senior LPGA live TV coverage with its first staging in 2017, but there was a stipulation that the event be played on weekday dates in October. Bad weather and financial considerations led to French Lick opting to move the event to the summer months.

In another notable development Lee Ann Walker was assessed what might be the biggest penalty in golf history. Walker was assessed a 58-stroke penalty because her caddie had been lining up her putts and Walker didn’t step away before making her stroke. She learned of her infraction 23 holes into the tournament and wound up being given a score of 127 for the first round and 90 for the second.

Next year’s fourth playing of the Senior LPGA will be July 27 to Aug. 1. Instead of the Monday through Wednesday scheduling of the last three years the 54-hole event will run Thursday through Saturday after a practice round and two pro-ams kick off the festivities.

Senior LPGA tourney at French Lick will conclude this year’s majors

The year’s major golf championships aren’t finished just yet. There’s still one to go.

Indiana’s French Lick Resort will host the third annual Senior LPGA Championship on its Pete Dye Course from Oct. 14-16. The 54-hole final event of The Legends Tour season has an unusual Monday through Wednesday schedule because that enabled the circuit for women 45 and over to gain live TV coverage on The Golf Channel.

England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017. The U.S. Golf Association staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. England’s Laura Davies won that one by a whopping 10-stroke margin.

Davies also won last year’s second Senior LPGA at French Lick last October and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson took the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles, in North Carolina, in May. Those players, along with American Juli Inkster, loom as the favorites for the year’s final major at French Lick. A $650,000 prize fund will be on the line with the champion getting $100,000.

Beth Daniel, (left) was one of the LPGA’s top stars in her heyday and a former Solheim Cup captain. She won’t be competing at French Lick, but she recently received the coveted Woman of Distinction Award from Cece Durbin of the Women’s Western Golf Association. (Rory Spears Photo)

Since last year The Legends have undergone a change in leadership. Jane Blalock, who founded the circuit in 2000, stepped aside and Jane Geddes assumed the role of chief executive officer three months ago. Geddes, who still competes on the circuit, won the last of her 11 LPGA titles at the 1991 Chicago Challenge, which was played at White Eagle, in Naperville.

Illinois Open changes

White Eagle, which has just undergone a major renovation by architect Todd Quitno, will be the primary site of next year’s Illinois Open. According to published reports White Eagle will replace The Glen Club as the primary site of the tournament finals with nearby Stonebridge the secondary site.

Dates have not been announced but officials from both White Eagle and Stonebridge confirmed the site change, according to the reports.

Here and there

The Illinois PGA will have a representative in next year’s Senior PGA Championship at Michigan’s Harbor Shores course. Roy Biancalana, of Fresh Meadows in West Chicago, tied for 22nd at the Senior PGA Professionals Championship last week at Barton Creek, in Texas, to earn his spot at Harbor Shores.

The Women’s Western Golf Association presented its Woman of Distinction Award to Beth Daniel and Hollis Stacy will be this year’s lone inductee into The Legends Hall of Fame at French Lick when the ceremonies are held prior to the Senior LPGA Championship.

Vince India and Brad Hopfinger, winners of both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open and competitors on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, switched to the PGA Latinoamerica circuit last week in Ecuador. India tied for 10th and Hopfinger tied for 46th. Patrick Flavin, also a winner of both of Illinois’ top tournaments, tied for 32nd and is fifth on the Latinoamerica season money list.

Chris French and Jim Sobb scored big wins as the Illinois PGA’s tournament season wound down. French, playing out of Aldeen in Rockford, won the IPGA Players Championship at Crystal Tree, in Orland Park, and Sobb took the Super Senior Open at Makray Memorial, in Barrington.

The all-star team from Cog Hill, in Lemont, is in the national finals of the PGA Junior League for the fourth straight year. The finals run through Monday (OCT 14) at Grayhawk, in Arizona.

The stage is set for Thomas to cash in big again at East Lake

Justin Thomas had a big weekend to win the BMW Championship and No. 1 seed at East Lake.

Record scores were the story after each of the first three rounds of the BMW Championship at Medinah. Not so in Sunday’s final round, however.

While Justin Thomas came out the champion, the final 18 at Medinah basically set the stage for what comes next – The Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. The last event of the PGA Tour’s 2018-19 season has a weird, new format and the second of the three FedEx Cup Playoff events decided who would be the leader when the last one tees off on Thursday.

To no one’s surprise it’ll be Thomas, who started Sunday’s final round at Medinah with a six-shot lead in the BMW and won by three over playing partner Patrick Cantlay. They climbed to first and second in the FedEx Cup standings and now they’ll battle again for golf’s biggest cash prize under different circumstances.

Under the new playoff format, Thomas will sleep on a two-stroke lead over Cantlay for the next four nights. Then those two plus the other 28 qualifiers for The Tour Championship will compete over 72 holes again. When the points are re-calculated the player with the most gets $15 million.

Thomas doesn’t know what to make of the new format.

“I can certainly say a thousand percent I never slept on a Wednesday lead, but I’m definitely excited for that,’’ he said. “ I’m just going to try to win the golf tournament as if everybody starts at zero.’’

There was always the possibility of two winners at The Tour Championship during its first 12 years. The winner of the tournament and the winner of the bonus weren’t always one in the same. Organizers didn’t like that, so now there’ll be just one winner at East Lake. He’ll be a very rich man, and the PGA Tour expects to have a more dramatic finish to its season-ender.

Thomas, who won the FedEx Cup in 2017 under the old format, will be a marked man. He’ll have a handicap advantage of some sort on all 29 of his rivals. The scoreboard at Atlanta will start with him at minus-10 and Cantlay at minus-8. Brooks Koepka, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings and the leader in the FedEx standings going into the BMW Championship, dropped to third and will start at minus-7 at East Lake.

The other 27 players in the field will also be handicapped, all the way down to those ranked 26-30. They’ll start at even par.

As for the wrapup at Medinah, Thomas set a course record on Thursday with a 65, a score matched by Jason Kokrak. Hideki Matsuyama lowered the record to 63 on Friday and Thomas to 61 on Saturday. Thomas went on to shoot 68 Sunday for a 25-uder-par 263 score and a three-shot victory over Cantlay with Matsuyama two shots further back in third.

Thomas said he was nervous going in because of the pressure require to protect a six-stroke lead.

“I had guys telling me congratulations on 13 today, even on the front nine when the tournament was so far from over,’’ he said. “You can get it going sideways and make a lot of bogeys pretty quick.’’

While Thomas had won nine previous PGA tournaments including the PGA Championship in 2017, he had no top-10 finishes this year until Sunday. Cantlay put the pressure on him with three straight birdies on holes 7-9 and Thomas’ lead eventually shriveled from six strokes to two.

“Patrick caught fire and I couldn’t really get anything going,’’ said Thomas. “But from 11 on I really, really played some quality golf and hit a lot of really great golf shots and great putts.’’

Cantlay will get another shot at Thomas in The Tour Championship

Patrick Cantlay had his best round of the week on Sunday, shooting a 7-under-par 65. Only Hideki Matsuyama (63) did better. Neither could overhaul Justin Thomas at Medinah but they’ll have a chance to do it next week in the final FedEx Cup Playoff event in Atlanta.

Cantlay goes into it with a two-stroke deficit on Thomas, but he has an advantage of some sort on every other player in the field. Cantlay doesn’t know how to approach it, though.

“I haven’t done it before, so I don’t know what to expect,’’ said Cantlay. “I’m just going to go out and have a good game plan for the golf course, stick to that and let the chips fall where they do.’’

Cantlay’s goal was to make lots of birdies on Sunday, and he certainly did that. He made nine of them against two bogeys.

Matsuyama, who shot 63 twice in the tournament, got through the final 18 with an astonishing 20 putts. The record low is 18 putts, done by 10 players since such statistics were first kept in 1979.

President’s Cup preview

Tony Finau had a good week, and played in the last group on Sunday. That wasn’t good enough to get him on the U.S. team for this fall’s President’s Cup matches in Australia, however.

“It’s a little bittersweet,’’ said Finau. “Few guys played better than me this week, I knew what I needed to do, and I’m proud I gave myself a chance to do that I knew I needed a top-three finish.’’

Instead Finau wound up fourth in the tournament and ninth in the point standings for the President’s Cup team. Only eight receive automatic berths. Finau seems a shoo-in to be one of Tiger Wood’s captain’s picks, however.

The eight automatic spots for the U.S. went to Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cantlay.

The International team spots went to Marc Leishman, Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer, Hao Tong Li, C.T. Pan and Cameron Smith.

No title change

The BMW Championship isn’t dead after all. The sponsorship agreement, which was scheduled to end after Sunday’s round, has been extended.

The announcement, made jointly by the auto manufacturer, Western Golf Association and PGA Tour on Sunday, did not say how long the extension would be in effect but NBC Sports reported it would carry through 2022. Sites were not announced other than the one for next year. I’ll be on Olympia Fields’ North Course and the event remain a part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the 14th consecutive year.

BMW took over sponsorship starting in 2007. The tournament has raised over $30 million for the WGA’s Evans Scholars Foundation and been named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year four times.

Electrifying start for Phil

Phil Mickelson had a memorable start to his day, which he revealed in an early morning tweet.

“How’s this for crazy,’’ Mickelson tweeted. “My hotel was struck by lightning. I was on the top floor, we were evacuated and the place is on fire (the only thing of mine on fire this week). I can’t get back into my room and may miss my tee time because I am without clothes and clubs.’’

Forty-five minutes after that tweet Mickelson sent another, saying that he would arrive at the course on time. Mickelson was staying at the Eaglewood Hotel, which is adjacent to the course. He changed into his golf shoes in the Medinah parking lot but wouldn’t talk further about the incident there.

“Turns out my clubs acted as a fire retardant. Lucky me,’’ Mickelson said in subsequent tweet.

They’re out

Last two spots in the top 30 who qualified for The Tour Championship went to Lucas Glover and Jason Kokrak. The three who just missed (in spots 31-33) were Kevin Tway, J.T. Poston and British Open champion Shane Lowery.

Other notables on the outside looking in after the BMW Championship were Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter, Woods, Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth and Mickelson.