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Len Ziehm On Golf

Knollwood welcomes Western Am — golf’s most physical tourney test

Ten straight days of major tournament action in the Chicago area comes to an end on Wednesday with the conclusion of the Illinois Open at Royal Fox in St. Charles, but the break won’t be a long one.

The 114th Western Amateur tees off next week, starting with practice rounds on Monday at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest. No tournament is as physically demanding as the Western Am. There will be 18-hole rounds Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 2-3, before the 156-man starting field is whittled to the low 44 and ties.

Those players will go 36 holes on Thursday Aug. 4, and the top 16 will advance to match play to decide the champion. There will be two rounds of matches on Friday, Aug. 5, with the semifinals and final on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Few non-professional tournaments carry the prestige of the Western Am, and only two are older – the British Amateur, which dates to 1885, and the U.S. Amateur, which was first played in 1895. Past Western champions include Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods.

This year’s elite invitational field has representatives from 20 countries. The defending champion is Dawson Armstrong of Brentwood, Tenn., a sophomore at Lipscomb University. Armstrong emerged the surprise champion at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, when he overcame Aaron Wise in a playoff that went 20 holes.

Wise went on to become the NCAA medalist and lead Oregon to the team title. He recently turned professional and will play in next month’s John Deere Classic on a sponsor’s exemption.

Six members of this year’s Western Amateur field played in the U.S. Open at Oakmont in June and nine qualified for at least one of golf’s major championships played over the last two years.

“The depth of our field is what has made the Western Amateur one of the most prestigious amateur golf championships in the world for more than a century,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association.

The WGA also conducts the Western Junior and BMW Championship, a PGA Tour event coming up at Crooked Stick in Indiana in September. The Western Am, though, provides more golf than either of those. The finalists will play the equivalent of two 72-hole tournaments plus a practice round in a five-day period.

That’s what makes it special, according to Adam Wood, a junior-to-be at Duke from Zionsville, Ind. He won the Western Junior in 2012 and was a Sweet 16 qualifier in last year’s Western Am.

“We love to have longer tournaments,’’ said Wood. “The players love a format like this one. The more golf you can play, the better.’’

Local entries are headed by Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who played in the last two U.S. Opens, was a Western semifinalist last year and won the Illinois State Amateur with a stunning 28-under-par performance last week. Also likely to contend are Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a junior at Texas; Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly, the State Am runner-up and a two-time winner of that title; and Bolingbrook’s David Cooke, the 2015 Illinois Open winner..

Here and there

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman has the last tee time (2:15 p.m, EDT) off the first tee in the PGA Championship’s first round Thursday at Baltusrol, in New Jersey. Luke Donald, the only other player with local ties in the field, has a more attractive pairing. He’ll go off with Matt Kuchar and Danny Lee at 1:05 p.m.

Dennis Johnsen, general manager and head professional at Pine Meadow in Mundelein, has been named the recipient of the PGA of America’s National Youth Player Development Award.

Medinah will host the second playing of the Bush Cup, a Walker Cup-style match between Army West Point and Northwestern, on Oct. 14. In last year’s first Bush Cup West Point and Yale played to a tie at Winged Foot, in New York. David Feherty will receive the Bush Foundation’s Humanitarian Award at the event’s dinner.

The Illinois PGA seniors and assistants will hold stroke play events on Monday (AUG 1) at Flossmoor Country Club.

The Chicago District Golf Association will conduct qualifiers for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Willow Crest in Oak Brook on Thursday and Cantigny, in Wheaton, on Monday. The CDGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship will also begin a four-day run at Eagle Brook in Geneva on Monday.