No tournament in golf, amateur or professional, requires as much to win as the Western Amateur. The Western Golf Assn. is conducting its annual golf marathon for the 112th time this week at Chicago’s Beverly Country Club, and Wednesday is an especially big day because it includes the largest cut of the event – from the starting field of 156 to the low 44 and ties.
The Tuesday and Wednesday stroke play rounds involved 156 players, including 21 of the top 37 in the world amateur rankings. Only the low 44 and ties after the first 36 holes resume play on Thursday. They’ll go 36 more holes to determine 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of the tournament.
That’s when the title is really on the line. There’ll be two rounds of match play on Friday, the semifinals are on Saturday morning and the championship match on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s such a tough tournament to win,’’ said Oklahoma State golfer Jordan Niebrugge, who won it last year in Arkansas. “You have two cuts, then four matches after that. It really tests your patience.’’
Niebrugge, from Mequon, Wis., came in with good credentials. Playing as an amateur, he tied for 27th in the John Deere Classic in his first PGA Tour event. The next week, though, he was beaten by Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim in the last U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
That ended Niebrugge’s hopes of defending that title, and Ghim – with a berth in next year’s Masters tournament on the line – lost a 37-hole duel with San Diego’s Byron Meth in an epic title match. Ghim and Meth, co-medalists in the Publinx, were among the many top stars teeing off in the Western Am.
Ghim, headed to the University of Texas, wasn’t the only Chicago star in the starting field. Naperville’s Ray Knoll qualified for the John Deere Classic and won the Illinois State Amateur the following week at Cantigny in Wheaton. His opponent in the final there was Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who had been runner-up in the Western Junior at Flossmoor earlier in the summer.
Tournament director Vince Pellegerino had players from 30 states, 17 countries and six continents in his starting field. The foreign contingent include Tawian’s Cheng-Tsun Pan, the Western Amateur medalists in 2009 and 2010 and a qualifier for the 2013 U.S. Open and this year’s British Open, and China’s Tianglang Guan, the 14-year old who survived the cut in April’s Masters tournament.
The Western Amateur’s champions list includes Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw and Curtis Strange. Beverly last hosted the tourney in 1930. It has also hosted four Western Opens, the 1931 U.S. Amateur and Chicago Opens.
Illinois Open moving?
The Illinois Open was played for a record ninth time at The Glen Club in Glenview last week, and Illinois PGA executive director Michael Miller said that a proposed format change could “potentially’’ take the tourney elsewhere.
In an effort to increase the entries the IPGA is considering an expansion of the qualifiers for the finals from 156 to 312. That would mean two courses would be needed for the first two rounds and a 36-hole facility would be ideal.
With the IPGA working with partner Kemper Sports, that suggests the finals might be shifted to Harborside International in Chicago for the first two rounds. Using two 18-holers in close proximity to each other is also under consideration. Miller said the tourney will remain at 54 holes and be limited to Illinois residents.
Here and there
The Illinois PGA Assistants Championship will be decided on Monday in a 36-hole competition at Crystal Lake Country Club.
Matt Pekarek, after 47 years at Village Links of Glen Ellyn, has retired as the 27-hole facility’s general manager. A past president of the Chicago District Golf Assn., he’ll continue to work on CDGA projects. Pekarek’s brother Chris is in his 45th year as superintendent at Village Links.
Justin Fetcho, assistant men’s coach at Illinois the past two years, has been named the head coach at Southern Illinois.
The Chicago District Golf Assn. will conduct four straight days of qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur starting on Monday. Sites, in order, will be Red Tail in Decatur, Balmoral Woods in Crete, Stone Creek in Urbana and Highland Park Country Club.
The Illinois Amateur Invitational has been scheduled for Aug. 9-10 at Heritage Bluffs in Channahon.