Couples, Lehman, two ex-Bulls give Encompass plenty of star power

Everything’s coming together for next week’s Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

Fred Couples and Tom Lehman have formally entered the first Champions Tour stop in Chicago since 2002, assuring the event one of the strongest fields on the 50-and-over circuit. The 81 starters include all of the top 10 on the circuit’s season money list and 28 of the top 30.

“There’s been a big change on the Champions Tour since 2002,’’ said tournament director Mike Galeski. “Ten-fifteen years ago there were a bunch of old, fat guys but these players today play quite well and they’ll be playing on a course that’s easy to walk around. People can get real close to these guys.’’

The only notable absentee from the commitment list is Tom Watson who won three Western Opens at Chicago courses during his career on the PGA Tour.

Galeski also announced two more of the 10 celebrity participants, who will be in the two-day pro-am on June 21-22. Bulls’ legends Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc will be among the celebs paired with one of the Champions Tour players in the tournament within the tournament. Only the 81 pros will play on Sunday, June 23, the final day of the $1.8 million event.

Encompass Championship preliminaries begin on Friday (JUNE 14), with a pre-qualifying round for Illinois PGA players at Deerfield Golf Club. The survivors of that elimination will advance to the final qualifying on Monday, also at Deerfield. In that one they’ll battle Champions Tour members who didn’t qualifying for the starting field on past performance. Among that batch are veteran touring pros Fulton Allem, Tom Byrum, T.C. Chen, Trevor Dodds, Blaine McCallister and David Peoples.

Many of the players won’t be in a hurry to leave Chicago after the Encompass ends. They’ll stay for a June 24 qualifying round for the U.S. Senior Open at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale. The U.S. Golf Assn., which conducts the Senior Open, has reported that a Chicago player – 58-year old Burr Ridge amateur Brian Gold – was the first entry nation-wide for that national championship.

Meierdierks, Affrunti enjoy breakthroughs

Wilmette’s Eric Meierdierks and Crystal Lake’s Joe Affrunti – both former Illinois Open champions — used last week’s St. Jude Classic in Memphis to jump-start their PGA Tour seasons.

Meierdierks, making his third cut in 12 starts, had a third-round hole-in-one en route to finishing in a tie for 35th place. Despite a final-round 75, that was a career best finish for the PGA Tour rookie and his $28,714 paycheck boosted his season earnings to $51,159.

Affrunti made his first PGA Tour start after a lengthy rehab from major shoulder surgery. He suffered a torn labrum on his left shoulder in June, 20ll, and was on medical leave for eight months. Affrunti had played on the Tour in the late stages of his rehab and made four cuts in eight starts on the satellite circuit before tying for 47th at Memphis and earning $15,333.

Though they’ve earned PGA Tour playing privileges, Meierdierks and Affrunti have had trouble getting into events. Neither qualified for this week’s U.S. Open but could make the field for next week’s Travelers Championship in Hartford, Ct.

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Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich will host still another big event. The Palmer Cup, pitting the best college golfers from the U.S. and Great Britain-Ireland, will be played at the Sugar Grove course in 2015.

Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw, among the Encompass entrants, will conduct a short-game clinic at Bolingbrook Golf Club at 3 p.m. next Tuesday (JUNE 18).

The Golf for the Child Classic, a fund-raiser for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Will County that serves abused and neglected children, will be held at Ruffled Feathers in Lemont on June 28.

The next Illinois Golf Hall of Fame induction – honoring Jay Haas, Mike Small and Bob Harris – has been set for Oct. 25 at The Glen Club in Glenvew.

The Golf Scene, hosted by Steve Kashul on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, begins its 20th season this week. It’s the longest-airing local golf show in the United States.