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Len Ziehm On Golf

Couples, Weibring boost field for Encompass tourney

The Champions Tour’s future in Chicago will be in doubt after this week’s Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club in Glenview. The sponsor won’t renew its three-year contract, which expires after this year’s event, and North Shore is reportedly considering a major renovation project that would likely rule out its return as host venue in 2016.

Still, the 50-and-over circuit will bring its best to Glenview for the 54-hole competition that starts on Friday. Most notably, the popular Fred Couples will return to the field after missing last year with back problems. He was runner-up to Craig Stadler when the tourney made its North Shore debut in 2013.

Also new to the field will be D.A. Weibring, who will be playing in his first tournament of the season. Weibring, limited to only five tournaments last year by back issues, played collegiately at Illinois State and has a long record of success in Illinois pro events. He won the John Deere Classic (under its previous titles) in 1979, 1991 and 1995 before designing the course on which that tournament is now held. He also captured the 1987 Western Open.

Another player with Illinois ties, though, could ready for a breakthrough this week. Jeff Sluman, who has long resided in Hinsdale, is one of only three players — defending champion Tom Lehman and Kenny Perry are the others — who have finished in the top 10 at both of the two Encompass Championships held so far. Sluman tied for third in 2013 and tied for sixth last year.

The only notable absentee is Colin Montomerie, who will be on St. Andrews, Scotland, for his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Montgomerie leads the tour’s Charles Schwab Cup standings but Jeff Maggert, winner of two of this year’s major titles for senior players, will supplant him with a victory at North Shore.

His rivals include 12 players who won major titles on the PGA Tour and seven who captained either Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams. The 81 starters will play with amateur partners in the first two rounds; only the pros will compete on Sunday when the $270,000 first-place check from the event’s $1.8 million purse will be handed out.

Spieth, Murray headline show at JDC

Jordan Spieth, already the winner of the Masters and U.S. Open this year, will get back into tournament play at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis on Thursday. That was the scene of Spieth’s first PGA Tour victory in 2013.

While Spieth will be the focal point of the 72-hole tournament that concludes on Sunday, he’ll share the spotlight in Wednesday’s pro-am with actor-comedian Bill Murray. Murray, playing with frequent pro-am partner D.A. Points, has an 8:45 a.m. tee time. Spieth will have his tuneup round in the afternoon.

Come Thursday he’ll begin his last competitive appearance before going after the third leg of golf’s Grand Slam at the British Open next week.

The JDC may have the strongest field in its history as Spieth will be joined by defending champion Brian Harman; Zach Johnson, the winner in 2012; and Steve Stricker, who scored a three-peat from 2009-11. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III is skipping the Encompass to play in the JDC. So is Vijay Singh, who won the JDC in 2003 but hasn’t been back since finishing tied for fourth in his title defense in 2004.

Ten Broeck heads qualifiers

Lance Ten Broeck has had an interesting career in golf. He grew up in Chicago, at Beverly Country Club, and qualified for the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah when he was still a teen-ager. He went on to earn his PGA Tour card and was a journeyman on the circuit for several years, then became a successful caddie on the circuit while working mainly for Jesper Parnevik.

Now Ten Broeck is back to competing again. On Monday he shared medalist honors in the qualifying round for the Encompass Championship. He shot a 5-under-par 67 at Deerfield golf course to share honors with Geoffrey Sisk of Marshfield, Mass. They were the best among five qualifiers for the tournament proper, which tees off on Friday.

IPGA picks Williams

Carrie Williams, the executive director of the Illinois Junior Golf Assn. the past eight years, will be Michael Miller’s replacement as executive director of the Illinois PGA. Williams revealed her hiring while announcing her resignation from the IJGA.

Miller departed the IPGA after 23 years to become executive director of the PGA’s Southwest Section. Williams was on his staff prior to moving to the IJGA. Jordan Abdel-Haq, the IJGA’s associate executive director, will take over Williams’ duties when she takes her new post on Aug. 25.