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Len Ziehm On Golf

Four top college stars will get PGA Tour experience at JDC

Illinois’ only PGA Tour event of 2014 has thrived by appealing to young players, and director Clair Peterson saw no reason to change that approach when he announced his sponsor exemptions for the John Deere Classic this week.

Peterson invited four of the very best college stars to battle the PGA Tour players in the 44th staging of the $4.7 million tournament July 7-13 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL., on the outskirts of the Quad Cities.

Invitees included the top two players in the amateur world rankings – Stanford golfers Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson – plus Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge and Iowa’s Steven Ihm. Niebrugge will defend his titles in four big events this summer – the U.S. Public Links, Western Amateur, Wisconsin State Amateur and Wisconsin State Match Play.

Rodgers is receiving his third straight JDC invite and Ihm had one last year. Wilson wouldn’t likely have been included had he not won the individual title at the NCAA Championship last week.

Jordan Spieth, who won last year’s JDC in a five-hole playoff, was a sponsor exemption in 2012 after he had completed his freshman year at the University of Texas. He lauded Peterson’s exemption approach.

“Other tournaments need to look at this event as an example,’’ he said at Monday’s media kickoff. “It’s just the opportunities that come out of this. There’s no way that I win last year without that opportunity from the year before. There’s no way that I’m able to feel comfortable on the PGA Tour so quickly without the starts I was given. This tournament does it right.’’

Spieth has done a lot right since becoming the youngest winner of a major professional tournament in 80 years at the 2013 JDC. Still shy of his 21st birthday, he made the U.S. Presidents Cup team, contended at both the Masters and Players Championship and has climbed into the world’s top 10 in the rankings.

Coming off four straight weeks of tournaments, Spieth showed he still has a winning touch at TPC Deere Run. He holed a bunker shot on the last hole of regulation play last year to get into the playoff, in which he beat defending champion Zach Johnson and Canadian David Hearn. Spieth was asked to attempt the same bunker shot at the media day, and he holed the shot again.

Stymied in the sectionals

Five players were Chicago connections were medalists as local qualifiers for the U.S. Open, but none of them survived Monday’s 10 nation-wide sectional eliminations to get into the 156-player finals scheduled for June12-15 at Pinehurst, N.C.

One who wasn’t so sharp in the locals – Brian Campbell, Illinois’ Big Ten player-of-the-year – did earn a spot at Pinehurst through a sectional in California and Mark Wilson, PGA Tour regular from Elmhurst, and Illinois alum Luke Guthrie qualified in the Columbus, Ohio, sectional. As PGA Tour players both were exempt from the local eliminations.

Two others still have an outside chance of playing at Pinehurst. Illinois alum Scott Langley, who plays on the PGA Tour, was first alternate at Memphis, Tenn., and Roselle amateur and Medinah member Dan Stringfellow was second alternate at Springfield, Ohio.

Here and there

The 53rd Radix Cup matches between top professionals from the Illinois PGA and top amateurs from the Chicago District Golf Assn., will be contested Wednesday (JUNE 4) at Oak Park Country Club. The pros lead the series 33-17-2.

General manager Janet Dobson has announced her retirement after 35 years at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove.

Top-seeded Doug Bauman, of Biltmore Country Club in Barrington, captured the Illinois PGA Senior Match Play championship at Merit Club in Libertyville.

Connie Ellett, a junior on the Northern Illinois women’s team, has been named the first recipient of the Betty Rich Award for her dedication and leadership on the course.

Don Pieper, general manager and head professional at the Merit Club in Libertyville, has been named chairman of the Illinois PGA Foundation.

The Chicago qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links tourney will be Wednesday at Sportsman’s, in Northbrook.

First Illinois Open qualifier is Thursday at Deerfield and first Illinois State Amateur qualifier is also Thursday, at Kankakee Elks.

The Mental Health Assn. of Greater Chicago has scheduled its fund-raising outing for July 17 at Makray Memorial in Barrington.