Illinois Women’s Open milestone comes with a change in format

The Illinois Women’s Open will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, a testament to the dedication owner Jim McWethy and his staff at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville have made to the event.

When none of the Chicago golf organizations were willing to create a big event for the area’s top women players the late Phil Kosin stepped forward. He created the IWO, which was played for its first four years at Odyssey in Tinley Park. Then Mistwood took over and has run it since Kosin’s passing following a battle with cancer in 2009.

Illinois has the second-biggest women’s state open, trailing only Michigan, and this year’s IWO will undergo a format change.

A three-day 54-hole competition in the past, it’ll be spread over three days again but with a major change. The first day will be a pro-am, the second will be 36 holes for the entire field. Then the field will be cut to approximately the low 40 percent and ties. Survivors will decide the title in the final 18-hole round.

Mistwood was slow in announcing the dates for the tournament and made a change shortly after its first announcement. The event is July 15-17, which creates the lone notable schedule conflict of this Chicago golf season.

Conflicting with the IWO is the Women’s Western Amateur, which was played at Mistwood last year and will be played at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, this time. Long one of the nation’s top tournaments for women amateurs, it’ll run from July 15-20 and the Western Golf Association will take over the running of the event. In the past the Women’s Western Am had been conducted by the Women’s Western Golf Association with some help from the WGA.

While the two top women events of the Chicago season will conflict, they’ll also have competition for attention from the Illinois State Amateur, which will return to Cantigny, in Wheaton, from July 16-18.

While this one week of conflicts isn’t ideal, at least it’s a big improvement over last year when the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton, and Constellation Senior Players Championship – a major for players on PGA Tour Champions – at Exmoor Country Club, in Highland Park, were played on the same July dates as was the PGA Tour’s popular John Deere Classic in downstate Silvis, IL.

The Women’s Western Amateur was also connected to a less significant but still unfortunate schedule conflict last June. Scheduled at River Forest Country Club, in Elmhurst, it was played opposite the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. The Women’s PGA event is one of the five majors on the Ladies PGA Tour.

GOOD NEWS: Erin Hills, the Wisconsin course that staged a successful U.S. Open in 2017, didn’t have to wait long to be tapped for more big events by the U.S. Golf Association.

The USGA has awarded Erin Hills the 2022 Mid-Amateur Championship as well as the 2025 U.S. Women’s Open. As was the case in Erin’s debut on the national stage, the course will share the Mid-Am event with nearby Blue Mound. They were the sites of the 2011 U.S. Amateur.

“Very exciting,’’ said Rich Tock, PGA professional at Erin Hills. “These things don’t happen overnight. This was in discussion for six months.’’

Erin Hills is but an hour’s drive from Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Erin Hills has added a 6,200-square foot putting course, called The Drumlin, since last season and Tock said consideration is being given to reducing the No. 1 hole from a par-5 to a par-4. The course was one of the few par-72 layouts to host a U.S. Open in 2017. It’d be a par-71 if the opening hole is altered.

RULES: Never felt it was my place to comment on the rules of golf. It’s not my place to make those rules. I just try to play according to them.

However – I feel compelled to state my feelings on two of the recent rules changes that have gone into effect this year.

I love the fact that you can leave the flagstick in when putting. That has speeded up our rounds considerably. And, I hate the rule requiring that you take a knee-high drop instead of from shoulder length.

The drop rule is just silly. Enough said.

NICKLAUS VS. WOODS: This is going to be a hot topic for years to come on a variety of fronts. Here’s my take on it.

Regarding the last Masters, where Woods’ long-awaited comeback reached epic proportions. Contrary to the widespread hyperbole nation-wide about it being the greatest Masters ever, I still give that nod to the 1986 version when Jack Nicklaus won his record sixth title at age 46. That made him the tournament’s oldest winner.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but Woods’ latest Masters win didn’t compare with the electricity generated by Nicklaus’ back nine charge in 1986. That was spectacular.

Now, looking into the future. For years I felt Woods had no chance of catching Nicklaus’ record for most victories in major championships. He needs three to tie and four to pass the Golden Bear and I suspect he’ll do it.

This will be a big year in determining that, though. This May’s PGA is at New York’s Bethpage Black, and Woods has already won there. And, the U.S. Open in June is at Pebble Beach, another place where Woods has won. If he can take care of business at either or both of those places Nicklaus’ record will go from being a possibility to a probability.

ROAD WARRIORS: Could there be a better tour for a young person to learn about the world than the PGA’s Latinoamerica circuit? I’m envious of Patrick Flavin, Kyle Kochevaar and Tee-K Kelly, the local players who are competing on it now.

One of the 2019 qualifying tournaments was in Brazil (Flavin and Kelly finished one-two, in case you missed it). The first tournament was in Panama, the second in Argentina and the third in Chile.

In May the stops are in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico. Such an experience might be more worthwhile in the long-term than starting out on the Tour. Just saying.