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Len Ziehm On Golf

IWO, State Am titles will be decided in a two-day stretch

The biggest glut of tournament golf in the Chicago area in many years reached the overload stage this week with two of the most important championships sharing almost identical dates.

The 23rd Illinois Women’s Open concludes its three-day run on Wednesday at Mistwood, in Romeoville, and the 87th Illinois State Amateur wraps up its three days of competition on Thursday at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood.

Mistwood has hosted the last 19 IWOs, and director of golf Andy Mickelson said this year’s field was “the strongest and deepest we’ve had in years.’’ Seventy-eight players – the largest entry since 2014 – teed off in Monday’s opening round. It included 41 Illinois residents, 48 amateurs, an unusually large contingent of 27 professionals and three undeclared players.

Stephanie Miller is out to defend her title, won last year while she was still a University of Illinois golfer. Her collegiate eligibility gone, she entered this week’s tourney as a professional in search of the $5,000 check available to the champion from a $25,000 prize fund.

Among the other pros in the field was Mary Swanson, coach of the women’s team at Bradley University who was playing in her first professional event in almost 10 years.

While the women begin teeing off in their final round at 7 a.m. on Wednesday the 138 men in the Illinois State Amateur will be facing a cut to the low 35 and ties for Thursday’s 36-hole wrapup at Calumet.

Of the 138 who teed off in Tuesday’s first round 25 were exempt off previous performances and the other 113 qualified at one of nine sites across the state in June. The tourney is open to residents with handicaps not exceeding 7.4.

While the starters included seven of last year’s top 10 and 16 of the top 20, the field lacked the two biggest stars of recent years. Medinah’s Tee-K Kelly — who had finishes of first, eleventh, first and second over the last four years — turned pro and already has a victory on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour on his resume. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, soon to begin his senior years at Illinois, did not enter. His record in the tournament is almost as good as Kelly’s.

Hardy lost the State Am title to Naperville’s Ray Knoll in a four-hole playoff in 2014, finished third in 2015 and posted the most spectacular victory in event history last year at St. Charles Country Club. Hardy was a recond 28-under-par for the 72 holes and won by 10 strokes over runner-up Kelly.

That shootout in perfect scoring conditions at St. Charles, brought out the best in everybody. The course yielded 984 birdies and 41 eagles to the field over the 72 holes.

With Kelly and Mitchell gone the battle should be wide-open at Calumet, and another birdie-fest is unlikely. Calumet is hosting the State Am for the first time but is no stranger to big local events. The Donald Ross-designed layout hosted the Chicago District Amateur four times, the latest in 2016 when Andrew Price was the champion. Price, a member at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, did not enter this year’s State Am. Neither did frequent contender Dave Ryan, who won last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur.

Calumet, normally a par-71 layout, is playing at 6,619-yards and a par-70 this week. The private club hosted the Western Open in 1924 and maintains a bigger place in golf history after being the site of the eighth of Byron Nelson’s record 11 straight PGA Tour victories in 1945. His win in the Chicago Victory Open was one of Nelson’s record 18 wins that season.

Michael Grandinetti the CDGA president, is adding to Calumet’s history this week. For the first time in the long history of the State Am the host club will also be the home course of the organization’s incumbent president.

Calumet has become a hot spot for tournament play in recent years. Eight of its members, headed by club champion Lloyd Roth, qualified for the State Am and Calumet will also host the inaugural American Junior Golf Association All-Star event from July 31 to Aug. 3. It’ll feature 95 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15 competing for a national title.