Affrunti’s return to PGA Tour will take awhile

Last Sunday’s conclusion of the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open created a time of reflection for Crystal Lake’s Joe Affrunti, whose last appearance on golf’s premier circuit was at that tournament in 2011.

For Affrunti, a former Illinois Open champion and University of Illinois graduate, the last year has been difficult – and that’s putting it mildly. He became one of the few Chicago golfers in the last four decades to earn a coveted PGA Tour card in 2010, thanks to his showing on the Nationwide Tour. A shoulder injury, though, has prevented him from demonstrating his talents on the biggest stage in golf.

Affrunti played in six PGA Tour events last year, making the cut in two. He was never healthy, and was eventually diagnosed with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery last June. Affrunti has been rehabbing ever since. Two weeks ago he played his first 18-hole round, though he had to pick up on some holes.

“It’s been a real slow process, in part because I played on it too long,’’ said Affrunti, who has been practicing at TPC-Sawgrass, the Florida course that will host The Players Championship next month. He’s still a PGA Tour member, but is on a major medical exemption that will continue for awhile.

“I determine when I come back,’’ said Affrunti. “They allow you five Nationwide rehabilitation starts. I expect to make some of those in August or September, then go to Q-School in hopes of improving my status.’’

Even with Tour membership, it’s tough to get into tournaments and Affrunti will have seven months to earn enough money to keep his card once he returns to the circuit. He doesn’t want to rush things, and doesn’t expect to play in a PGA Tour event until 2013.

“The shoulder is coming along,’’ said Affrunti. “I ice it three-four times a day. I’ve played nine holes lots of times, but it’s a little sporadic where the ball goes.’’

Kemper expands its focus

Kemper Sports has been a big player in Chicago golf since 1978, but this season the Northbrook-based group that had managed seven Chicago golf facilities has taken on two notable additional projects. Two of Chicago’s oldest public facilities are now getting the Kemper influence with new personnel in place.

Rick Walrath has taken charge as general manager and head professional at Deerpath, the only public course in Lake Forest. The city-owned facility opened in 1927 and operates near three of Chicago’s premier private clubs – Onwentsia, Knollwood and Conway Farms.

“Deerpath is unique,’’ said Walrath, a former head pro at Wynstone in Barrington and assistant at Crystal Lake Country Club. “Well over 50 percent of our players are walkers. That’s very unusual in this day and age.’’

Fox Lake Lake Country Club, which opened in 1925, is one of the few family-owned courses left in the area. The Petrungaro family has owned this 18-holer, which also received a new GM-head pro in Vince Juarez. He had a similar role at Antioch Golf Club.

Kemper has also brought in a new GM at Highland Park Country Club, with Randy Farber moving over from Bolingbrook.

Here and there

A big weekend is ahead for Big Ten golfers. For the first time the men’s and women’s conference championships will be held at the same site – French Lick Resort in southern Indiana. The men will compete at the Pete Dye Course and the women at the Donald Ross Course. Competition runs Friday-Sunday. French Lick will also host both tourneys in 2013 and 2014.…. TaylorMade, Nike and Wilson will display their equipment at Deerpath’s Demo Day from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday….The Illinois PGA’s assistants and senior players begin their tournament seasons on Monday (APRIL 30). The assistants are at Northmoor in Highland Park and the seniors at Golf Club of Illinois in Algonquin…The Chicago District Golf Assn. will conduct its first qualifiers for the Illinois Mid-Amateur Championship at Village Greens of Woodridge on Monday and Balmoral Woods in Crete on Tuesday.