Now things get serious. The 67th playing of the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship kicks off a busy five months of tournament play for Chicago’s best golfers.
The host professional defends his title and puts his hopes of retaining his IPGA Player of the Year status will be on the line at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. Jim Billiter, who has won the Match Play title twice in the last four years, will definitely be in the spotlight again.
“Player of the Year doesn’t reward you financially,’’ said Billiter, “but the hard work that goes into winning it proves to yourself that, for one year, you were the most consistent player.’’
The Match Play is one of the Illinois Section’s four major championships. The winner thrusts himself into Player of the Year contention immediately because the tournament offers more Bernardi points than all but the Illinois Open, Illinois PGA Championship and IPGA Players Championship.
In 2015 Billiter won the Match Play as well as the IPGA Championship but didn’t win the Player of the Year award because he didn’t play in the Illinois Open. Last year Adam Schumacher, assistant pro at Indian Hill in Winnetka, won two of the majors – the IPGA Championship at IPGA Players – but Billiter beat him out for the season-long honor.
“In 2015 I played great, probably better than last year,’’ said Billiter, “but by missing the Illinois Open I had no chance. My goal last year was to play in every event. You can’t win Player of the Year if you don’t play them all.’’
Because he had also won two of the section’s one-day stroke play events Billiter had Player of the Year locked up before Schumacher’s victory in the last major. Billiter got off to a solid start in Monday’s first stroke play event at Libertyville’s Merit Club, shooting a 71 to tie for third behind Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson (69) and Chris Green of the Glen View Club (70).
This year Billiter faces an additional challenge. Kemper Lakes hosts the biggest tournament of the Chicago season, next months’ KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and the host professional gets a heavier-than-usual workload when his club is in the world spotlight.
“It’s been incredible, a lot of work buying for the (tournament) merchandise tent,’’ said Billiter. “We’re ahead of the game, but this winter I was tied up more than in the past. Because of that my expectations aren’t as high for this year. In years past I’d make as many as six trips in the winter, either with members or for tournament series.’’
Last year he got away just once, but home course knowledge should still mean something next week. The tourney starts on Monday with the semifinals and championship matched scheduled for Thursday, May 10.
Northwestern and Illinois will both be competing in an NCAA regional at University Ridge in Madison, Wis., when the women’s national collegiate championships tees off on Monday.
NU, runner-up in last year’s NCAA finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, is the No. 4 seed and the Illini are No. 5 in Madison. The top six teams advance to this year’s finals at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma. Illinois, however, finished ahead of NU in the Big Ten Championships, the Illini tying for second – their best finish in 42 years – and the Wildcats tying for fourth.
Hannah Kim became Northwestern’s first-ever four-time first team all-Big Ten selection after the conference tournament. The first-teamers also included NU’s Janet Mao and Illinois’ Grace Park and Bing Singhsumalee.
Hardy’s on a roll
The Illinois and Wisconsin men’s teams will get their NCAA regional assignments during Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. selection show on The Golf Channel. For Illini senior Nick Hardy that will mark the beginning to the end of a great collegiate career. He will turn pro at the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club the week after the NCAA finals.
Hardy was crowned the Big Ten’s individual champion for the second time last weekend and paced his team to its fourth straight conference title and ninth in the last 10 years. Hardy, who was also the individual champion as a freshman, gave the Illini eight straight years in which the school had the league individual champion.
The Chicago District Golf Association will conduct a 36-hole sectional qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open at Elgin Country Club as well as an 18-hole local qualifier for the U.S. Open at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont on Monday.
A 59-player field will compete for two spots in the women’s event while Cog Hill’s 90-player field will battle for five spots in sectional play. Patrick Flavin, the first player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year in 2017, heads the field at Dubsdread.
Here and there
Chris Ioratti, of Mistwood in Romeoville, captured the Illinois PGA Assistants title with a 1-up victory over Schaumburg’s Kyle Donovan at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale. Donovan prevented at all-Mistwood final with his 3 and 2 win over Mickelson in the semifinals.
Chicago will again have a second U.S. Open local qualifier – on May 17 at Thunderhawk in Beach Park – but survivors will have to leave the area for sectional play.