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Len Ziehm On Golf

Ghim is only Illinois golfer to reach match play in U.S. Amateur

Nick Hardy, coming off playing the Western Amateur and Illinois Open back-to-back, was understandably tired last week – but not too worn out for one (or maybe two) more big events before he returns to the University of Illinois.

This week’s 117th U.S. Amateur in California presented a huge opportunity for both the Illini senior-to-be from Northbrook as well as Doug Ghim, an Arlington Heights resident about to enter his senior season at Texas.

If either or both played well in the U.S. Am they could be playing for the U.S. in the biennial Walker Cup matches before their final collegiate seasons tee off. The Walker Cup is the most prestigious event in amateur golf, and 10 players will be named to the U.S. team by captain John “Spider’’ Miller after the U.S. Amateur concludes on Sunday at the famed Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.

Ghim played well in the tourney’s 36-hole stroke play qualifying, finishing in a tie for eighth, and advanced to match play. Hardy didn’t, and his Walker Cup hopes are solely in Miller’s hands.

The Walker Cup matches against a team from Great Britain and Ireland will be held Sept. 9-10 at Los Angeles Country Club and both Hardy and Ghim are serious contenders for selection. They were among 16 players invited by Miller to play the Walker Cup course four straight days in December. Neither were guaranteed spots on the team, though, so their play in the U.S. Am will likely decide whether they make the team or not.

Hardy played the busier summer schedule. Both were in the Western Amateur two weeks ago at Skokie Country Club. Hardy made the Sweet 16 match play qualifiers for the third straight year while Ghim didn’t. Hardy also tied for second in the Illinois Open, which started two days after the Western ended. Ghim skipped that event at The Glen Club and Briarwood Country Club.

“I’ve played a lot of golf, but I’ll be ready for the U.S. Amateur,’’ said Hardy. “Then, hopefully, there’ll be the Walker Cup. It’s definitely hard to get that out of your mind, to not think about it. Do I think I’m one of the top 10 amateurs in the country? Sure, but there’s a lot of great players with a chance to make the team. It’s out of my control.’’

Both were among the 312 finalists who had to survive 36 holes of stroke play competition on Monday and Tuesday to get into the 64-man match play competition that started Wednesday. Ghim was a shoo-in after shooting a 67 on Monday. Hardy, after opening with a 73, was eliminated after shooting a 76 in the second round and didn’t reach the stroke play portion of the tournament.

Neither did any of the other eight Illinois players in the field. It took a 4-over-par score to qualify for match play. Wheeling’s Brian Ohr missed a playoff for the final spots by one stroke, Blaine Buente of downstate Troy was plus-8 and Hardy, at plus-9, was five off the cut mark.

Geneva’s Tyler Isenhart, Chicago’s Charles Waddell, Plainfield’s Derek Mason, Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Rockford’s Kyle Slattery were at least six strokes behind Hardy and Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell was disqualified after posting a first-round 67 because he failed to sign his scorecard. The match play qualifiers, though, did include Dylan Wu — a collegiate star at Northwestern.

The tourney drew 7,149 entrants and most were eliminated in nation-wide qualifying rounds last month. The 36-hole champions match will be played on Sunday.

Billiter’s in the driver’s seat

Just getting to play in the Illinois Open could finally get Jim Billiter the Illinois PGA Player of the Year Award. He missed out in 2015 despite winning two of the section’s four major events – the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Championship – because club duties as an assistant pro at the Merit Club prevented him playing in the biggest event, the Illinois Open.

Billiter became head pro at Kemper Lakes this year and was low IPGA pro at this year’s Illinois Open with a tie for 13th last week. Already the IPGA Match Play champion again, Billiter opened a big lead in the Bernardi point race and the next major – the IPGA Championship, which tees off on Monday on Medinah No. 1. Billiter won the IPGA Championship the last time it was played there, in 2015.

“My boss (general manager John Hosteland) has been super supportive,’’ said Billiter. “Others have had to step up when I’m gone. I hadn’t played in the Illinois Open in 10 years, and I was glad to be back.’’

Here and there

The first round of the U.S. Amateur produced a shocker among the seven Illinois players in the field. Two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Todd Mitchell of Bloomington shot a 67, then left without signing his scorecard and was disqualified. Mitchell took the blame for his mistake via Twitter on Monday night.

David Inglis, the Northwestern men’s head coach since 2014, has signed a contract extension through the 2021 season.

WGN’s Dan Roan, always the king of Chicago media golfers, outdid himself last week. He shot 63 at Chicago Highlands in a round that included a hole-in-one.
PGA Champions veteran Chip Beck has appearances scheduled on Sunday at Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, and Monday, at Eagle Brook in Geneva on behalf on behalf of Arcic Golf.

John Ramsey and Chadd Slutzky won the Chicago District Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Wynstone, in North Barrington, even though they had to overcome holes-in-one by their opponents in both semifinal and final matches.