Illini season is over, Open sectionals are next

A great season came to an end for the University of Illinois men’s team on Tuesday as the Illini were eliminated by Southern California in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at Concession Club in Bradenton, Fla.

The Illini were Big Ten champions, won their NCAA regional tournament and were the top team in the stroke play portion of the NCAA finals, meaning Illinois was the top-seeded team in the eight-team match play finals. USC will meet Louisiana State for the NCAA championship on Wednesday.

Illinois’ players are far from done competing, however. Four of coach Mike Small’s five players survived the 18-hole local qualifying rounds for the U.S. Open. Brian Campbell, Thomas Detry, Charlie Danielson and freshman Nick Hardy will compete on Monday for berths in the U.S. Open proper.

As challenging as the NCAA finals have been for those collegians, the U.S. Open sectionals will be even more pressure-packed. Over 9,000 entered the Open, which will be played at Chambers Bay, a Washington club operated by Chicago-based KemperSports, from June 18-21. The field was whittled dramatically at the local eliminations, two of which were held in the Chicago area, but the real tension comes in the sectionals.

Most of the 156-man starting field at Chambers Bay will be filled through Monday’s 36-hole eliminations on what has long been dubbed “the Longest Day in Golf.’’

The Illini players be tested against much more than college competition, regardless of which sectional they compete in. Plenty of established players will be trying to qualify for the Open on Monday. Former world No. 1 Luke Donald, for instance, hopes to survive a sectional at Bears Club, a Florida facility of which he is a member.

Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points and Steve Stricker are in the usually loaded field in Columbus, Ohio, because they’ll be in the area to play in the PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament. Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Vijay Singh, Ben Curtis and Stewart Cink – all winners of major championships – also need to survive sectionals to get to this U.S. Open.

Defending JDC champ lauds Spieth

Brian Harman visited TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis this week to prepare for his title defense in next month’s John Deere Classic. When he returns for the July 9-12 tourney the spotlight will shift to Masters champion Jordan Spieth, but that doesn’t bother the lesser known Harman.

“(Spieth) is extremely popular,’’ said Harman, who is also in the U.S. Opens sectional shootouts on Monday.. “He makes every putt he looks at, and he’s great for the game because he cares about (the PGA) Tour. He’s not out chasing a bunch of appearance fees all over the world.’’

Other top players have done that during JDC week in past years, since the tourney falls the week before the British Open. Another who remains loyal to the JDC winner Stricker, a three-time winner. He’ll play in this year’s tourney, but made other news on Monday at the same time Harman was addressing the Quad Cities media.

Stricker will host the American Family Insurance Championship, a new event on the Champions Tour, in 2016 even though he can’t play in the June 22-26 event at University Ridge in Madison, Wis.. Stricker won’t turn 50, a requirement for Champions Tour players, until 2017 but he will play in two pro-ams during the new tourney’s championship week.

Here and there

The stars of the Illinois PGA will bid for their third straight victory over the best amateurs in the Chicago District Golf Association on Wednesday (TODAY) in the 54th Radix Cup matches at Oak Park Country Club in River Forest. The IPGA leads the series 34-17-2. First of six two-man team matches tees off at 12:30 p.m.

Doug Bauman, head professional at Biltmore in Barrington, repeated as champion of the IPGA PGA Senior Match Play tournament with a 1-up victory over Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb at Shoreacres in Lake Bluff.

Arlington Lakes closes for a year-long renovation after the Arlington Amateur concludes on Sunday.

The first of nine state-wide qualifying rounds for the Illinois State Amateur championship wil be played at Fox Bend in Oswego on Monday (JUNE 8). Finals are July 14-16 at Panther Creek in Springfield.

Two Illinois amateurs, Taylorville’s Dave Ryan and Inverness’ Mike Rice, lost out to Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., for the last of two qualifying berths for the U.S. Senior Open in a sudden death playoff. Chien Soon Lu of Pomona, Calif., shot 69 at Barrington Hills to earn medalist honors by three strokes.