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Len Ziehm On Golf

Lake Forest’s Hopfinger is mounting a bid for a PGA Tour card

The Web.com Tour is billed as the pathway to the PGA Tour, and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger is making progress on that journey.

Last fall Hopfinger regained his playing Web.com playing privileges with a gutty showing in two stages of the qualifying school. He survived Stage 2 with a 4-under-par final round to make it to the finals by one stroke.

In the finals Hopfinger covered those 72-holes in a solid 14-under-par – the exact number to earn playing privileges for the first eight tournaments of the Web.com season. No. 8 is coming up this weekend in the $550,000 North Mississippi Classic – a new event played in Oxford, Miss. It tees off on Thursday, and there’ll be a shuffling of players based on their money winnings after this tournament but it’s not a concern for Hopfinger.

“I had a fourth-place in the Bahamas and a top-20 in Mexico. I should have plenty of cash to play the rest of the year,’’ he said.

Actually, he long-term prognosis is better than that. He is No. 42 on the money list, and that makes him a contender to earn his PGA Tour card by the time the 27-tournament regular season ends in August.

“The goal is the top 25, so you can make the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “I feel a lot more prepared than I did two years ago when I lost my Web.com status.’’

Crack the top 25 in the regular season and Hopfinger will have status on the PGA Tour for the 2018-19 season. If he doesn’t make the top 25 he can still advance if he plays well in the four-tournament Web.com Playoffs in September. The top 25 there go to the PGA Tour as well.

Hopfinger, 28, is one of only eight players to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur (2011) and the Illinois Open (2014). He started playing at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park and has been coached by Jeff Mory, head professional at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, since he was 12.

He took his game to the collegiate ranks, playing at Kansas for one year and then transferring to Iowa for the final three. His teammates with the Hawkeyes included Deerfield’s Vince India, who won the Illinois State Amateur the year before Hopfinger did. India also made it to the Web.com Tour but lost his playing privileges. He would have regained them at last fall’s qualifying school but was one stroke behind Hopfinger.

So was Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr., also a former Illinois Open winner (2016).

That one swing difference has left India and Sainz struggling to get into tournaments while Hopfinger has been playing. Sainz got into five of the first seven tournaments, made the cut in three and had a tie for eighth in Colombia. He’s No. 64 on the money list and will also play this week in Mississippi, perhaps a good omen since he attended college at Mississippi State. Libertyville’s Michael Schachner made 10 birdies and posted a 65 in Monday’s qualifying round and will also compete in the North Mississippi Classic. India is 0-for-3 on making the cut in his Web.com appearances this season.

Hopfinger plans to play five weeks in row, ending the stretch at the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club in June.

“It’s been a wild ride,’’ said Hopfinger. “We all want to get to the PGA faster, but it’s not always that easy. I’m just grateful to still be playing golf for a living. I haven’t set any firm deadlines. I just want to keep getting better.’’

NU, Illini women chase Big Ten title

Last year coach Emily Fletcher’s Northwestern women’s team went all the way to the title match of the NCAA finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Starting on Friday the veteran squad begins another postseason at the Big Ten tournament at TPC Rivers Bend in Mainsville, Ohio. The NCAA regionals are two weeks after that.

The Wildcats, Big Ten champions in three of the last five years, are ranked 14th nationally and only Michigan State (12) is ranked higher among Big Ten teams. Coach Renee Slone’s Illinois team is peaking at the right time, though. The Illini take a No. 29 ranking into postseason play but have won their last two tournaments.

Here and there

Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim, the low amateur in the Masters, plans to turn pro after competing in June’s U.S. Open. As was the case in the Masters, Ghim has an exemption into the Open at New York’s Shinnecock Hills course thanks to his runner-up finish in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He’s finishing his senior season at the University of Texas.

Kemper Lakes members have given a name to the final three holes of their Kildeer course. Following a membership vote they’re calling it The Gauntlet. It’s marked by a rock near the No. 16 tee now and more decorations will likely be added prior to the staging of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June.

Preparations for the KPMG event are well underway with tournament staffers headed by director Jackie Endsley and director of operations Eric Nuxhol operating out of a trailer in the club’s parking lot. Cristie Kerr is the first player to request time for a practice round before tournament week. She’ll get an early peek at the course in June.

Weather problems forced the Illinois PGA to cancel its Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble at Metamora Fields and reschedule its Pro-Assistants event. Next up is the Assistants Match Play Championship, which begins its three-day run on Monday at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale.