July, 2012, was a milestone month for golf in the Midwest

Where do I begin?

Rarely, in my nearly 43 years covering golf in these parts have I witnessed so many noteworthy tournament developments in a month’s span. The tournament schedule was bunched up this season, and all the things that happened in July were almost overwhelming. We’ll try to put them all in perspective here.

I’d say the most notable of those developments came at the 41st John Deere Classic, the only PGA Tour stop of 2012 in Illinois. That’s where Steve Stricker’s historic winning streak ended and where another University of Illinois golfer, Luke Guthrie, continued his great start as a touring pro. From a local golf perspective they’re both significant.

The focus — as it should have been — was on Stricker’s bid to become the fourth golfer (behind Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods) to win a major professional tournament four years in a row. Stricker made a good run at, but Zach Johnson won. Nothing wrong with that. Johnson, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Ia., is considered a native son in the Quad Cities and his victory was a popular one.

Down the road, though, that tourney might well be remembered for the showing that Guthrie made in his second start as a pro. It might well be the start of something big. Guthrie had finished a solid tie for 19th in the first PGA Tour stop as a pro at Memphis and his final-round 64 gave him a tie for fifth (with Stricker) at the JDC.

Guthrie was a fine college player (two-time Big Ten champion), but his fast start as a pro was still surprising. Just two years ago, while still an amateur, he lost to Eric Meierdierks in a duel for the Illinois Open title at Hawthorn Woods.

“He should have beaten me because he played better than I did, but he wasn’t as experienced,’’ said Meierdierks. “He was a good player. I saw a lot of talent in his game when I played with him.’’

Meierdierks was on the other end of a similar duel with an up-and-coming young player at this year’s Illinois Open. Notre Dame graduate Max Scodro beat him in a five-hole playoff at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

Scodro started his professional career by winning the Arizona Open in June. Two tournaments later he won the Illinois Open. Next month he’s in the Iowa Open. Could it be a three-peat, state-wide version?

MOVING ON, there was the story of a former Chicago whiz kid – now 56 years old – who made national news in the U.S. Senior Open at Ironwood, in Lake Orion, Mich. Who wouldn’t appreciate a caddie leaving his bag-toting duties to make a run at a major championship. That’s what Lance Ten Broeck did.

In the 1970s Ten Broeck was the youngest of eight children in a family of golfers living on Chicago’s South Side and playing at Beverly Country Club. In 1975, at age 19, he made the cut in the U.S. Open at Medinah and in 1984 he won both the Illinois Open at Flossmoor and the Magnolia Classic, then an unofficial PGA Tour event.

Ten Broeck was a journeyman on the PGA Tour who turned to caddying when his playing career fizzled. For 10 years he was on Jesper Parnevik’s bag, then spent two years working for Robert Allenby and is now with Tim Herron.

Ten Broeck is both player and caddie now. In a 10-week span ending with the Senior Open he had carried in eight tournaments and played in two. At the Senior Open – the biggest event of the year for 50-and-over players — Ten Broeck led after 36 holes before finishing in a tie for ninth. If there ever was a Cinderella story, this was it.

THEN, IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE, comes the U.S. Women’s Open, played at Wisconsin’s Blackwolf Run for the second time. No local angle there, though two-time Illinois Women’s Open champion Aimee Neff and Flossmoor’s Ashley Armstrong both got into the field after being first alternates in sectional play.

No, the significance of that tournament was similar to the aftermath of the 1998 staging there, when Se Ri Pak won. This was another story that was huge in Korea, as Neon Yon SP??? Choi and Amy Yang finished one-two – the second consecutive year that two players from a country the size of Indiana have finished at the top of the leaderboard in the biggest tournament in women’s golf.

FINALLY there was the 63rd Illinois Open, back at The Glen Club after a four-year absence. It ended with Scodro beating Meierdierks, but before that there were some developments in Round 2 that sent the attending media and Illinois PGA staffers scouring the record books.

Meierdierks posted back-to-back eagles on Nos. 14 ant 15. Had that ever been done before in the tournament? Nobody knows for sure, but I strongly doubt it and I’ve covered every Illinois Open since 1975 – the last year the Chicago District Golf Assn. conducted the championship before turning it over to the Illinois PGA.

And then there was a double eagle by amateur Shane Smith of Godfrey, IL., a few hours later. (He holed a 263-yard 3-wood at the 559-yard first hole). Was that double eagle another tourney first? Probably, but again the records are lacking.

Another stat worth noting is the cut number – 3-over-par 147 for the first 36 holes. No cut number has been lower since 1999 and the only time the number was matched was in 2011. That time, however, host venue Hawthorn Woods was set up as a par-71 while The Glen Club was a par-72 this year.

Smith’s double eagle was the fourth of the year by either an IPGA member or at an IPGA event. Most dramatic of those was by Ridgemoor pro Jason Lee in the section’s Match Play Championship at Kemper Lakes. It brought a quick ending to a playoff in the early rounds.

Glen Oak assistant Matt Slowinski had a double eagle in the Professional Players National Championship in California and Green Garden’s John Platt had another in a Senior stroke play event at Naperville Country Club.