Two of the very best amateurs in the Chicago ranks will play as professionals for the first time in this season’s first local pro tour event.
Tee-K Kelly, two-time Illinois State Amateur champion, and Nick Hardy, who whipped Kelly with a record-setting performance in their last meeting in the State Am, have accepted sponsor’s exemptions into the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship. It’ll return to Ivanhoe Club from June 4-10, shortly after Hardy wraps up a great collegiate career at Illinois.
“I’ve had a great college experience and have learned a lot from Coach (Mike) Small,’’ said Hardy. “I look forward to a strong finish with my teammates and then moving on to the next phase of my golf career. I know how valuable a sponsor exemption is, and I’m very appreciate to the Rust-Oleum Championship for giving me this opportunity.’’
Hardy, from Northbrook, had such an invite to the Rust-Oleum in 2016 and missed the 36-hole cut. He received another exemption into last year’s John Deere Classic prior to his senior season for the Illini and qualified for all 72 holes. Hardy also qualified for two U.S. Opens as an amateur but his most brilliant moment came in the 2016 Illinois State Amateur at St. Charles Country Club, when he was a record 24-under-par and beat runner-up Kelly by 10 strokes
Kelly, from Wheaton, won the Illinois Am in both 2013 and 2015. He played collegiately at Ohio State and won an NCAA Regional before turning pro. He spent last season on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour where he won the Puerto Plata Open in the Dominican Republic and had four other top-10 finishes. He didn’t earn promotion to the PGA’s satellite Web.com Tour, however, so he must either play his way into tournaments or get in via sponsor exemptions.
Rust-Oleum director Scott Cassin called Hardy and Kelly “two of the finest young players to come out of the state of Illinois in decades.’’
There’ll likely be at least two others looking for similar professional opportunities soon. Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, the low amateur at last week’s Masters, and Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, the first player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year in 37 years, are also finishing up their college careers, Ghim at Texas and Flavin at Miami of Ohio.
All four are on strong college teams that are expected to earn berths in the NCAA regionals that begin on May 14 at various sites around the country. The finals are May 25-30 in Stillwater, Okla.
Ravinia Green to host Illinois Open
The Illinois PGA has decided on the alternate site for the finals of the 69th Illinois Open on Aug, 6-8. It’ll be Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods.
Ravinia will join The Glen Club, in Glenview, as the site for first- and second-round play in the 54-hole competition. The Glen, home of the IPGA offices and the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, will host the third round, which will involve the low 50 and ties after the first 36 holes.
“Once again we feel we have two outstanding courses,’’ said IPGA executive director Carrie Williams. “Ravinia Green is a tighter-tree-lined layout and contrasts in style to The Glen Club. We’re also looking forward to showcasing the club’s recently updated amenities.’’
Ravinia Green has never hosted the Illinois Open, biggest event on the IPGA schedule. The club has 100 bunkers on its par-72 course, which measures 6,866 yards from the back tees, and water comes into play on 10 holes.
Heritage beckons Donald
Once the world’s No. 1-ranked player, former Northwestern star Luke Donald’s game has declined in recent years – but not at the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage Classic. Donald has always been stellar in that event, which traditionally follows the Masters.
The 50th anniversary playing of the tournament at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C., tess off on Thursday. Donald has been runner-up five times in the event and was in the top-3 in seven of the last nine years. He’s never won it, though. Last year he finished on stroke behind champion Wesley Bryan.
PGA Tour records became detailed in 1934, and only six players have been runner-up in one tournament five times, and just two have more runner-up finishes in the same event. Jack Nicklaus finished second in the Canadian Open seven times and Phil Mickelson was runner-up in the U.S. Open six times.
Nicklaus also made the list of six a second time with his five runner-up finishes in the Ford Championship at Doral – an event which is no longer held. Others with five runner-up finishes were Payne Stewart in the Honda Classic and Greg Norman in the BMW Championship.
Donald, who didn’t qualify for the Masters, missed the cut in five of his eight starts in the 2017-18 season. His best finish was a tie for 32nd.