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Len Ziehm On Golf

After four years Affrunti is still a PGA Tour rookie

Joe Affrunti’s rookie season on the PGA Tour started in 2011. A year earlier the 2004 Illinois Open champion from Crystal Lake had earned his PGA Tour playing privileges off his performance on the satellite Web.com Tour.

Now, four years later, Affrunti’s rookie PGA season remains a work in progress. It all has to do with Affrunti’s bad luck and the PGA’s medical exemption policies.

Since hitting his first shot as a PGA Tour member Affrunti played in 11 tournaments, earned $49,615, endured two major surgeries, changed residences from Florida to Arizona, got married and became the father of an 8-month old son and – most recently – grew a beard in support of his passion for hockey’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

And, his rookie season still isn’t over.

Affrunti, 33, made two cuts in his first six PGA starts in 2011 before suffering a torn labrum that required major surgery. He didn’t play in 2012 but made three cuts in five PGA starts in 2013. Then he was sidelined for hip surgery. The PGA allows its injured members to compete on the Web.com circuit for rehabilitation purposes and Affrunti made his five allotted starts there this year.

They didn’t go well – Affrunti missed the cut in all five – but he returned to the PGA Tour with an encouraging showing at last week’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans. Covering the first 36 holes in 4-under-par, he came up one shot short of qualifying for weekend play.

He isn’t qualified for the next two PGA Tour stops but expects to play in the Wells Fargo Championship, Byron Nelson Classic, St. Jude Classic, Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic, Canadian Open and Wyndham Classic. Affrunti will have to perform in those to keep his playing privileges.

“I’ll need to make about $500,000 to keep full status,’’ said Affrunti, “but that could be done in one tournament.’’

No question the injuries, and subsequent surgeries, took a toll on his game but Affrunti has found a physical therapist in Scottsdale that has helped him.

“I was working on a new swing change and my muscles didn’t work,’’ he said. “It’s been a long rehab, but I’m feeling fine. My game feels great, but I’ve struggled with scoring.’’

He’s not the only one. Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr. is in his rookie PGA Tour season as well and has missed eight straight cuts after a $100,000 payday for a tie for ninth in his second start back in November. Like Affrunti, Sainz missed the cut at New Orleans and will drop down to the Web.com Tour’s United Leasing Championship in Indiana this week before returning to the PGA at the Wells-Fargo event.

Illini, NU dominate Big Ten

Illinois captured the men’s title for the sixth time in seven years and Northwestern was co-champion in the women’s tournament at last week’s Big Ten championships in Indiana.

Both schools also had individual champions. Northbrook freshman Nick Hardy of Illinois shared the men’s title after posting a 4-under-par 284 score for 72 holes. Northwestern’s Sarah Cho was the women’s titlist with a 3-under-par 213 total for 54 holes. Thomas Detry of Illinois also won the Les Bolstad Award for posting the lowest stroke average (70.44) over the course of the season.

Here and there

Rarely do qualified players skip World Golf Championship events, but Luke Donald isn’t playing in this week’s WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship in San Francisco because it conflicts with his brother’s wedding.

Mistwood’s state-of-the-art Performance Center in Romeoville has earned more national recognition. Golf Digest included it among its Best 100 Club Fitters in America. Over 700 facilities were nominated. Last year Mistwood gained national honors for both its course renovation and practice range.

David Perkins of East Peoria was the champion at last week’s American Junior Golf Assn. Preseason Junior at Cantigny, in Wheaton, while Glenview’s Charlie Nikitas was top local player in fifth place. Megan Furtney, of South Elgin, was runner-up in the AJGA’s Junior All-Star event in Ohio.

Elmhurst’s Dan Gibbons is looking for players to participate in The Fighting Hunger Games, a 100-hole marathon to be played at Maple Meadows in Wood Dale on June 19 to fight hunger in DuPage County. The anticipated 36 entrants, who are expected to raise $2,500 apiece in pledges, will play in twosomes.

Registration is now open for the 28th annual Midwest Celebrity Pro-Am, benefitting Special Olympics Illinois Area 2. It’ll be held June 22 at Royal Fox in St. Charles.