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Len Ziehm On Golf

Mistwood, Kemper Lakes host big women’s tourneys at the same time

It’s a shame, it really is.

In the biggest year ever for women’s golf in the Chicago area the biggest women’s professional tournament and the biggest women’s amateur event will be played on virtually the same dates.

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is June 26 to July 1 at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. It’s one of the five annual majors for women on the Ladies PGA Tour. The Women’s Western Amateur, a national championship that’s been played for 117 years, is June 26 to 30 at Mistwood in Romeoville.

Mistwood is the first public facility to host the tournament since 2007 when another Illinois layout, Stone Creek in Urbana, was the site. Stone Creek also hosted in 2003 and two other public courses – The Links at North Fork in Minnesota and Purdue University’s Kampen Course in Indiana – have also been the tournament’s venue since 1995.

As for this year, there are other key dates for the top women players within the Chicago area. The Illinois Women’s State Amateur is June 11-14 at Aldeen, in Rockford. The Illinois Women’s Open is July 16-18, also at Mistwood, and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open is July 12-15 at historic Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton.

Unfortunately the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is impacted by scheduling conflicts every bit as unfortunate as those impacting the Women’s Western Amateur. Also holding dates on July 12-15 are the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, in downstate Silvis, Ill., and the Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of the five majors on PGA Tour Champions, at Exmoor in Highland Park.

Still, that’s a great load of fine women’s golf, so there’s no sense belaboring the poor scheduling. It’s way too late to change anything anyway, but it’s an ideal time to focus on the Women’s Western Amateur. This venerable championship is in a state of flux – and that’s not to suggest it’s a bad thing.

The Mistwood staging marks the end of an era. The 2019 tournament will be the first time the Western Golf Association and Women’s Western Golf Association have formally worked together on a tournament in over 100 years. The WGA was the initial sponsor of the Women’s Western Amateur in 1901, before the women organized their own association in 1903.

That’s not to say they haven’t worked together since then. The WGA has provided administrative support to WWGA championships since 2012. The Women’s Western Golf Foundation was founded in 1971 and has distributed more than $4.1 million scholarship awards to over 700 young women from 45 states and the two organizations jointly sponsor a Women’s Western Evans Scholar, awarding a four-year tuition and housing college scholarship to a female caddie who excels academically, has an outstanding caddie record and demonstrates financial need.

Effective on Aug. 1, 2018, however, the WGA and WWGA are forming a partnership in which the WGA will formally assist in managing WWGA championships.

“Having their help will have such a positive impact,’’ said Susan Wagner, who has served the WWGA in many capacities non-stop since 1977. “We’re looking forward to working with the Western.’’

This is a transition year, though. There’s no doubt about that. The Women’s Western Amateur is undergoing a format change, the first that Wagner can recall since the format for the championship match was changed from 18 to 36 holes in 1992. It’s being made in part to set the stage for 2019.

For the first staging at Mistwood the tournament will be limited to 120 players, based on the lowest handicap index. Last year the field was limited to 144 players.

As per previous years there’ll be a 36-hole qualifying session spread over two days to determine the match play qualifiers. In previous years the low 64 qualifiers went to match play. This year the number will be only 32, and there will be playoffs if there are ties for the 32nd position.

In previous years the players who didn’t qualify for the championship flight of match play would be flighted into lower level flights. This year there will be only the one flight. How well that will be received by the players remains to be seen but it does more closely resemble the format used in the Western Amateur men’s event that will be played at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, from July 30 to August 4.

In the Women’s Western Amateur there will be three days of match play with two rounds on both Thursday and Friday, June 28 and 29, leading into the 36-hole championship match on Saturday, June 30.

The field will be stellar, as usual. Maddie Szeryk, last year’s winner, will not defend her title. She will be playing in the Ladies British Open in England instead, but her sister Ellie will be competing at Mistwood.

With the entry deadline still days away the field already included at least four prominent Chicago players – 2017 semifinalist Nicole Ciskowski, 2016 Western Junior champion Kate Lillie and 2016 Western Junior runner-up Penelope Tir. Jessica Yuen, who developed a solid game growing up at Mistwood and competing for Nequa Valley High School, will also be in the field. She is now a sophomore standout at the University of Missouri.

Another player to watch is 57-year old Ellen Port, the women’s coach at the University of Washington and a former WWGA director. She has won seven U.S. Golf Association championships. Players from 15 states and eight countries were among the early entries.

While nothing is official the 2019 Women’s Western Amateur is expected to be played again in the Chicago area, at a course to be determined.

In case you missed it, there are other indications that Chicago is becoming a hotbed for women’s golf. Both Illinois and Northwestern earned berths in the NCAA Division I tournament and Elizabeth Szokol, a Winnetka resident who attended Northwestern for two years before transferring to Virginia, won a tournament on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour.

Szokol, in the second tournament of her second season on the Symetra circuit, earned $22,500 for her victory in the IOA Invitational in Georgia. Szokol is the first Chicago area player to win a Symetra Tour event since the circuit was designated as the official developmental tour of the LPGA in 1999.