Legends could be the best women’s tour for Berwyn’s Jeray

Nicole Jeray has long been the only Chicago area woman playing on the pro golf tours, and it hasn’t been easy for her.

Jeray, from Berywn, turned pro after a great collegiate career at Northern Illinois in 1993 and has been in the qualifying tournament for the Ladies PGA Tour on an almost annual basis. Sometimes she’s made it, sometimes not, but this week could be her biggest week of the season.

At 45 she’s already cashed checks on all three women’s tours this year and her biggest could be coming at the fourth annual Legends Championship on the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind., — that circuit’s lone major championship until the U.S. Women’s Senior Open finally makes its debut at Chicago Golf Club in 2018.

Jeray has made one cut on the LPGA circuit in seven starts, cashing in for a tie for 70th place at the Marathon Classic in her last start, and she’s made two cuts in six tournaments on the Symetra Tour after making 18 in 21 starts in 2015. The Symetra — the LPGA’s version of the men’s Web.com Tour — is filled with up and coming young players, most just out of the college ranks.

In her lone Legends start of the year Jeray had a tie for 11th at the Walgreen’s Charity Classic in Phoenix in March. Cashing on all three tours is an accomplishment in itself. Rosie Jones is the only other player to do it.

The Legends circuit was kind to Jeray from the moment she turned eligible at her 45th birthday last November. She entered the Monday qualifier for a tournament in Delray Beach, FL., and got into the starting field by making a birdie on the first playoff hole, eliminating three other rivals for that spot.

In the 36-hole tournament she shot 73-66, posting five birdies in the first eight holes of her second round, to finish runner-up to Liselotte Neumann. Neumann’s 68-68 performance was 8 under par and good for a three-shot win over Jeray, who was happy to pocket $18,000 as the runner-up.

This week the stakes are much bigger. The Legends Championship offers a $325,000 purse with $37,700 going to the champion. Juli Inkster will defend her title and the field also includes such prominent players as JoAnne Carner, Jane Blalock, Patty Sheehan, Donna Caponi, Michelle McGann, Nancy Scranton, Pat Bradley and Val Skinner. In addition to Inkster past champions in the field include Lori Kane (2013) and Laurie Rinker (2014).

The schedule calls for practice rounds and a qualifying tournament on Thursday, a pro-am and the Legends Hall of Fame inductions on Friday and tournament rounds Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m. Sandra Haynie and Elaine Crosby will be the inductees into the Hall, based at the West Baden Springs Hotel near the Pete Dye Course.

Banner week for the Illini

University of Illinois golfers had their moments all over the globe the last few days. Thomas Pieters was the most notable. Playing for Belgium, he finished fourth in the Olympics in Brazil on Sunday, the same day recently-turned-pro Charlie Danielson tied for 22nd in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, an event that had five Illini products in the starting field.

Illini success continued on Monday. Coach Mike Small, who made the cut in the U.S. Senior Open at Scioto, in Columbus, Ohio, finished with a 70 in the rain-delayed event to finish in a tie for 43rd place and junior-to-be Nick Hardy moved into an excellent position on the first day of the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills in Michigan, shooting a 68 to stand tied for 14th after the first day of stroke play qualifying.

Here and there

Vince Antoniou used his home course advantage to win the 15th Chicago District Senior Amateur over Pekin’s Tim Sheppard at Wynstone, in North Barrington. They have more battles coming up, in the 24th Illinois State Mid-Amateur at Flossmoor Aug. 30-31 and the 30th Illinois State Senior Amateur at Bloomington Country Club Sept. 12-14.

Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb captured the Illinois PGA Senior Championship, posting a 4-under-par 140 total for 54 holes at Whisper Creek, in Huntley.

A few spots are still available in the KemperClub Championship, a two-man team event that will be played Sept. 26-28 at Hawthorn Woods, The Glen Club in Glenview and Royal Melbourne in Long Grove.

The Fore the Bees outing has been scheduled for Sept. 21 at Cantigny, in Wheaton. It’ll benefit the Bayer Bee Care program and the Children’s Discovery Museum.

The fourth Chicago District Super Senior Amateur is Thursday (AUG 18) at Biltmore, in North Barrington.