Three weeks ago University of Illinois men’s coach Mike Small won the Illinois PGA Championship for a record 11th time, with two of those victories coming at Olympia Fields Country Club in 2010 and 2013. This weekend Small reverts from player to coach with hopes that his well-regarded Illini can do as well at the Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invitational.
It’ll be the season opener for the Illini, who were ranked No. 4 by Golfweek and No. 6 by the Golf Coaches Assn. of America in preseason polls. Annually one of the top collegiate invitations in the country, the Olympia Fields test is also — potentially at least — the beginning of the collegiate careers for both Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, two of the most promising young players to come out of the Chicago ranks in years.
While tournament rosters haven’t been announced, Ghim could be in Texas’ lineup and fellow freshman Hardy was among Small’s latest recruiting class at Illinois. Ghim was runner-up in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship this summer and medalist in the Western Amateur. Hardy was runner-up in both the Western Junior and Illinois State Amateur.
Hardy’s presence aside, Illinois’ lofty rankings are understandable since Small has five of six players returning from last year’s squad including All-Americans Brian Campbell, Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry.
The Illini reached the match play finals of the NCAA tournament three times in the last four years, but winning their own event this weekend won’t be easy. The 15-team field for the three-day 54-hole event that tees off on Friday comprises one of strongest in collegiate golf with Texas and Stanford looming as the top challengers for the host team.
In the first in-season poll, released by TheGolf Channel this week, Texas was No. 2 and Illinois No. 3 behind Oklahoma State. In addition to Ghim, the Longhorns have the two finalists from this summer’s Western Amateur at Chicago’s Beverly Country Club in champion Beau Hossler and runner-up Scottie Sheffler, both Californians.
From the tours
Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman won’t be in the Tour Championship, last event of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs. It begins Thursday at East Lake in Atlanta, and Streelman couldn’t retain his spot among the top 30 qualifiers. Despite a closing round 66 at the BMW Championship on Sunday Streelman ranked only 48th after the first three events of the four-tourney playoff series.
Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr. continued his bid to earn his PGA Tour card for 2015 with a tie for 12th in the second event of the Web.com Tour Finals. He’s tied for 16th midway through that four-tournament series and the top 25 money winners after the finals conclude on Sept. 21 advance to the premier circuit next season.
Northwestern alum David Lipsky won the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, an event co-sponsored by the European and Asian PGA Tours. The victory earned Lipsky his playing privileges on the European Tour for two years and elevated him to the top spot in the Asian Order of Merit.
Lake Forest’s Chip Beck held the first-round lead in the Champions Tour’s Quebec Championship last week but a pair of 75s after that relegated him to a tie for 49th place. Hinsdale’s Jeff Sluman tied for 10th and is now in fifth place in the Charles Schwab Cup point race with five events left in the season.
Holmes tops IPGA honorees
Jim Holmes, head professional at Ravinia Green in Riverwoods, has been named the 60th recipient of the Illinois PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award.
Katie Dick, of Chicago’s Bryn Mawr Country Club, is Assistant of the Year while Wheaton’s Gary Pinns was named the Teacher of the Year and Brett Packee of Vernon Hills took the Youth Player Development Award.
Others cited include Eric Aldrich, Glen Ellyn, Player Development Award; Tim Buscombe, Champaign, Bill Strausbaugh Award; Todd Sones, Vernon Hills, Horton Smith Award; and Wally Hines, Naperville, Bill Heald Career Achievement Award. Merchandiser award-winners were Lake Zurich’s Andy Shuman (private clubs) and Hampshire’s Steve Gillie (public facilities). All will be honored Oct. 23 at Medinah
Coming up next
The Illinois State Senior Amateur runs Monday through Wednesday at Royal Club of Long Grove. It has an 85-man field, but figures to be a two-man duel. Either Taylorville’s Dave Ryan, the defending champion, or Kewanee’s Tom Miler have won the last three titles in the event and five of the last six.
There’ll be 18-hole rounds on Monday and Tuesday before the field is cut to the low 35 and ties or any player within 10 shots of the lead for the final round next Wednesday, Sept. 17.