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Len Ziehm On Golf

Could Mistwood’s playing staff be the best in the U.S.?

Mistwood director of golf Andy Mickelson said it, almost without any hesitation.

“I’d be bold enough to say that we could put our playing staff against any in the country,’’ Mickelson told me.

And I couldn’t argue with him.

Mistwood owner Jim McWethy has a big staff of teaching pros in Romeoville and their playing resumes are impressive entering the first big month of the competitive season in the Chicago area.

Start with Mickelson. He won the PGA Assistants national championship in November on the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL., and then proved that was no fluke by winning the TaylorMade national championship at Pebble Beach in March.

Brian Brodell, the director of junior development, is the reigning Illinois PGA Player of the Year and he’ll be out to repeat beginning this month at the 65th IPGA Match Play Championship at Kemper Lakes. That’s the biggest of the May tournaments and the event where Brodell got his big season in 2015 off to a great start. He finished as the runner-up to Merit Club’s Jim Billiter in that one.

But the Mistwood staff is deeper than those two. Chris Ioriatti, performance specialist, shot a record 63 over his home course last year, then teamed up with Mickelson to win the IPGA’s Fall Pro-Assistants title in 2015 and its Spring Pro-Assistants title this year.

And John Platt’s no slouch, either. Mistwood’s director of instruction and long-time coach at the high school and college level, frequently contends in the IPGA Senior tournaments. Brodell, Platt and Ioriatti are well-decorated as teachers and/or coaches but they can play, too.

“We have such a great staff,’’ said Mickelson. “We all motivate each other. That creates a culture people are attracted to; they’re attracted to good golf.’’

Mickelson is the best of the lot at the moment, but is no threat to Brodell’s bid to repeat as IPGA Player of the Year. Mickelson’s status with the PGA of America doesn’t qualify him for either the IPGA Match Play or IPGA Championship – two of the section’s four major tournaments.

While that precludes him from becoming Player of the Year, it doesn’t keep him out of big national events. Last year he won $24,000 with his victories in the PGA Assistants and TaylorMade Championships.

“Of all the club pros, that was probably the hottest six months any of them had,’’ said Mickelson, who could cash in again this November. He will be the only club pro in the Pebble Beach Invitational for TaylorMade’s players on the PGA, LPGA, European and Champions Tours.

Mickelson had a slow start as a professional player. He had no notable amateur wins before turning pro after college, and started as an assistant to then head man Visanu Tongwarin at Mistwood. When he was offered a promising job outside of golf at a Lisle packaging company Mickelson took it and regained his amateur status.

He was runner-up to Bloomington’s Kyle English in the 2011 Chicago District Amateur at Medinah before being lured back into golf via an offer from Mistwood general manager Dan Bradley. Mickelson returned to the club’s staff but it wasn’t until last year that his game exploded. Still, Mickelson — now 34 — has no intention of becoming a touring player.

“With my confidence level and where my game’s at I think I would make money at the professional level,’’ he said, “but not at this place in my life. I have a 4-year old and a 6-year old and I’m married, plus this (Mistwood) is a great place.’’

Brodell’s story is quite different. The son of a club professional in Appleton, Wis., he played college golf at Wisconsin and was the assistant coach for the Badgers for four seasons. Then he moved on to Purdue as an assistant coach for three more campaigns. He came to Mistwood two years ago in part to deal with some personal issues and has thrived on both the teaching and playing front.

“ There’s a difference between being a teacher and a coach,’’ he said. “I love to compete, and I’m confident in my ability. I’ve been through the demons of missing four-footers.’’

Playing-wise, though, he’ll compete just as he did last year – strictly in the IPGA events. Teaching will come first, and his pupils range in age from seven to 69, but Brodell will join Mickelson and Ioriatti in weekly playing sessions with members. The staff hotshots rarely play together, and Brodell won’t go far to play in tournaments, either.

“I won’t travel, but I might caddie a bit,’’ he said. One place he might do that is in the Rust-Oleum Championship, the Web.com Tour stop coming to Ivanhoe Club from June 6-12. Brodell isn’t looking at himself as a player in that event.

“If the Illinois PGA got an exemption for its Player of the Year and I could give it to anyone, I’d give it to Andy,’’ said Brodell. “He’s playing that well right now. I think I could make the cut, but Andy could win.’’

For now, at least, Brodell’s tournament aspirations are geared toward the IPGA Match Play Championship. That event helped his Player of the Year bid last year, but the loss to Billiter in the final remains a bad memory.

“I had won a lot of close matches, then (Billiter) hit one of his worst shots on the 21st hole. It went in the water, and that left the tournament for me to win,’’ said Brodell.

He couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, though. Brodell had his own problems at Kemper Lakes’ 171-yard par-3 third hole, struggling in with a double bogey. That allowed Billiter to win the match and title with just a bogey.

Player of the Year wasn’t decided until six months later, however, and Billiter contributed to Brodell’s victory, citing club commitments for not playing in either the Illinois Open or IPGA Players Championship. Billiter also won the IPGA Championship, and those are the four events offering the most Player of the Year points.

Brodell didn’t win any of the four IPGA majors but picked up points in all of them. He tied for 12th in the Illinois Open, tied for 28th in the IPGA Championship and tied for third in the IPGA Players Championship. His Player of the Year award was just another reason for the Mistwood crew to celebrate.

Mickelson’s two big wins and the completion of McWethy’s nine-year facility-wide renovation plans also made for happy times at the club, and the celebrating doesn’t figure to end there just yet.