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Len Ziehm On Golf

We will all have to deal with `THE BIG CONFLICT’

This is my 50th year reporting on the Chicago golf scene and I can assure you there has never been a month like the one confronting us this July. There have been busy tournaments times in the past, but never anything like what’s coming in the next few days.

I’m calling the whole scenario “The Big Conflict,’’ and I’m not happy about it.

Everything kicks in during the second week of July, but especially on Thursday, July 12. That’s the starting day of competition for the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

That’s also the day that the Constellation Senior Players Championship tees off at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. This is one of the five major championships on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. It’s a big deal.

And that’s not all. The inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open starts its 72-hole run at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton on July 12 as well.

Three very big tournaments, all of them played over the same four-day period. The John Deere Classic is the only annual PGA Tour stop in Illinois with Bryson DeChambeau coming in as the defending champion with $5.8 million in prize money on the line.

The Constellation Senior Players Championship is the first major on the 50-and-over circuit played in the Chicago area since the U.S. Senior Open was contested at Olympia Fields in 1997. With no other major championships on any tour scheduled in the Chicago area this could be the last chance to see the Champions Tour’s dominant player, Bernhard Langer, and Chicago’s own Jeff Sluman compete on home turf.

And the U.S. Senior Women’s Open – a long-awaited and long overdue event organized by the U.S. Golf Association – means a chance to see legends like Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon, Jane Blalock and Betsy King in competition again. Plus, the tournament offers a rare opportunity for spectators to get inside the gates of the North America’s oldest 18-hole golf course. Chicago Golf Club last opened its doors to spectators for the 2005 Walker Cup matches.

While Chicago Golf Club is old – it dates back to 1892 – the tournament that it will soon host is the USGA’s newest national championship. It’ll have 120 of the best women players who have reached the 50th birthday. They’ll be playing on the same course that hosted three U.S. Opens (1897, 1900 and 1911), four U.S. Amateurs (1897, 1905, 1909 and 1912), the 1903 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1979 U.S. Senior Amateur. It was only fitting that Chicago Golf Club be the site for the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open. It’s just too bad that the tournament will have to share the spotlight when it’s here.

The only time I can recall anything close to this weird bit of scheduling was in 1975, when the USGA and PGA Tour opted to schedule big tournaments back-to-back. The U.S. Open was played at Medinah one week and the late, great Western Open was contested the following week at Butler National in Oak Brook.

Such high-profile events were never scheduled so close together in the same geographical area back then. It was simply taboo. There were concerns then that golf interest – including that of potential sponsors – would wane if tournament play was stretched out too far.

As things turned out, there was only a minimal break in the action then. The ’75 U.S. Open carried over to Monday, with Lou Graham beating John Mahaffey in a playoff to decide the title. Three days later Hale Irwin started his run to the Western title on one of the most difficult courses in the country.

Somehow, that glut of golf 43 years ago worked out okay. In fact, it was the start of big things for Irwin. He earned the moniker of “Mr. Chicago’’ as he went on to win the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah in the tourney’s first-ever sudden death playoff against Mike Donald and then captured the Ameritech Senior Open three times. That tourney was a fixture in Chicago back then, with Irwin winning in 1995 at Stonebridge in Aurora and 1998 and 1999 at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer.

This year’s strange scheduling is a little different than that of 1975. In any other year any one of those three tournaments would be considered the highlight of the Chicago golf season. This year, I’m afraid, the interest in each one will be diluted.

Frankly I’d like to see every round of all three tournaments, but obviously I can’t. You can’t be in two – or three – places at once. As of this writing – a few weeks before the firing begins on July 12 – I don’t know where I’ll be or when. But I guarantee you I’ll be keeping tabs on all of those events.

Unfortunately, after “The Big Conflict’’ is over a smaller version will begin. On July 16, the day after the John Deere Classic, Constellation Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Women’s Open all wrap up, the focus shifts to state competitions.

The Illinois Women’s Open begins at Mistwood, in Romeoville, the day after “The Big Conflict’’ and the day after that the Illinois State Amateur tees off at Bloomington Country Club. Both are three-day tournaments, the IWO ending on Wednesday, July 18, and the State Am on Thursday, July 19.

When all is said and done there’ll be eight consecutive days of very meaningful tournament golf at both the professional and amateur levels. Multiple tournaments will be played on seven of those eight days.

Obviously the schedule-makers from the various golf organizations could have done a better job communicating with each other in choosing dates for their 2018 championships. While tournament conflicts are sometimes inevitable, this year’s scenario defies the imagination.

There’s no point in getting into the blame game on this issue. The tournaments will all be played on the dates announced, and they’ll all be good. I just hope we never have to go through something like “The Big Conflict’’ again.