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Len Ziehm On Golf

College golf programs in Illinois couldn’t be much better

It’s hard to imagine anything being better for Illinois’ top college golf programs than it is right now, with the NCAA championships closing in.

Coach Mike Small’s Illinois men’s team won its fifth straight Big Ten title and ninth in 10 years on Sunday in Philadelphia and had the conference medalist for the ninth straight year in freshman Adrien Dumont de Chassart. The Illini will learn their NCAA regional assignment on Wednesday night via The Golf Channel.

Northwestern director of golf Pat Goss announced the school’s Gleacher Golf Center is getting a $5.7 million renovation. The project, now underway, is scheduled for completion in the fall. NU had the nation’s first comprehensive indoor collegiate facility when the Gleacher Center opened 20 years ago. A notable part of the renovation is the expansion of the indoor short game and putting area to 5,400 square feet.

NU had more to celebrate than that. Ryan Lumsden, who has the third-best career stroke average at NU behind former stars Dylan Wu and Luke Donald, was named the winner of the Byron Nelson Award. It goes to the graduating senior who is given equal consideration for performance, academics, character, integrity and citizenship

On the women’s front Illinois’ Renee Slone became her school’s first Big Ten Women’s Coach of the Year after guiding the Illini to a runner-up finish in the league tournament for the second straight year. Northwestern, though, had the conference player-of-the-year in senior Stephanie Lau.

The women’s NCAA tournament tees off on Monday (MAY 6) with Northwestern, Illinois and Southern Illinois all qualified for regional play. NU and Southern Illinois, which got an automatic NCAA berth by winning the Missouri Valley Conference title, will compete for a berth in the finals at Tumble Creek, in Washington. Illinois is in the field at Forest Akers West in Michigan.

Illinois State’s men swept the Missouri Valley individual honors with Trent Wallace the MVC Player of the Year and David Rauner the medalist in the conference tournament. The Redbirds didn’t win the league title, though. That went to Southern Illinois. Conference champions receive automatic NCAA berths. Other schools must wait until Wednesday announcement to find out if they’re in.

Setback for Small

The change in the PGA of America’s tournament schedule kept Small from competing in the PGA Professionals National Championship, an event he has won three times. That tournament, along with the PGA Championship, were moved to the spring and in conflict with Small’s coaching duties at Illinois.

His team’s Big Ten title provided plenty of consolation, however. There’s no seniors on Illinois’ nine-man roster and – until the breakthrough at the Big Ten – the Illini hadn’t resembled Small’s teams of the recent past.

“This team needed to grow up, and it did,’’ said Small. “It was a young team that was trying to find itself. Until we took over on the back nine (at the Big Ten tournament in Philadelphia) we had been have trouble closing out events this spring.’’

Even without Small in the field the Illinois PGA had 11 qualifiers for the PGA Professionals Championship, which is in progress at Belfair in Bluffton, S.C.

Here and there

Phillis Meti, who represents Batavia-based Tour Edge, set a women’s record with a 413-yard drive en route to winning her third World Long Drive Championship.

Ho Sung Choi, a 45-year old South Korean who won last year’s Casio World Open on the Japan PGA Tour, has received a sponsor’s exemption into July’s John Deere Classic.

Bryant Gaynes will take over as golf operations director at Prairie Landing, in West Chicago, He had been the club’s outing coordinator.

Chris French, of Aldeen in Rockford, won the Illinois PGA Assistants Match Play title, beating Butler National’s Bret Burgmeier 6 and 4 in the final at The Grove in Long Grove.

Weather problems caused Monday’s qualifying round for the Chicago District Mid-Amateur at Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, to be rescheduled for May 9.

Next on tap

First of the area’s U.S. Open local qualifiers is today (WEDNESDAY) at Cog Hill, in Lemont. The U.S. Women’s Open qualifier is Monday (MAY 6) at Elgin Country Club, and the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship – first of the section’s four majors – begins ifs four-day run on Monday (MAY 6) at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove.