Yes, there will be a Chicago area contingent in the year’s last major. Luke Donald, Steve Stricker and Kevin Streelman will tee it up Thursday in the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla, in Louisville, Ky.
But there’ll be some notable absentees, too. Mark Wilson and D.A. Points, both going through sub-par seasons, have the week off. So do up-and-coming University of Illinois alums Luke Guthrie and Scott Langley and – in a distinct departure from recent years – there won’t be a local among the 20 club professionals among the 156 starters.
Mike Small, the Illinois coach, has been a consistent qualifier and a few of his state colleagues have made appearances as well. Not this year, though. Small and Conway Farms’ Matt Slowinski fizzled in the last holes of the Professional Players National Championship, which determined the 20 qualifiers, but Curtis Malm’s near-miss was even more heart-breaking.
The first-year head man at White Eagle in Naperville was, for a while at least, at the top of the alternate’s list among the club pros. If one of the 20 couldn’t play for whatever reason Malm would be making his first appearance in the PGA Championship this week.
Malm, the Illinois PGA player-of-the-year the last two seasons, was in a six-man playoff for the last five club professional spots at Valhalla. He was the odd man out at the end of the four-hole playoff but still held out hopes of getting in – until a few days ago.
“I’m officially removed from the event,’’ said Malm. “They give the PGA (club pro qualifiers) to a certain date. If one withdraws after that they fill it with one of their guys.’’
In other words, a touring pro gets in – not a club pro. The PGA of America is the body that represents the club professionals (about 27,000 of them) in the golf industry. Malm is understandably disappointed.
“It’s terrible,’’ he said. “I’d definitely would have been down there (if there was a chance for his elevation to the field). It’s time for the PGA of America to step up and have a backbone. We’re losing control of our tournament.’’
The PGA does have the strongest field of the four major championships with 99 of the top 100 on the World Rankings entered at Valhalla. The lone absentee from that group is Dustin Johnson, who announced last week he is taking a leave of absence from golf to detail with personal issues. Tiger Woods’ status is also in doubt after he withdrew from last week’s Bridgestone Invitational with a back injury.
The Bridgestone, won by Rory McIlroy in a duel with Sergio Garcia, didn’t bode well for the chances of the players with Illinois connections fortunate enough to play at Valhalla. Donald (Northwestern) tied for 50th, Steve Stricker (Illinois alum) finished 65th and Streelman was 71st among the 72 players who completed all four rounds. Woods was among four who withdrew.
Here and there
The PGA of America announced on Monday that grounds tickets for the four tournament rounds are sold out. Those seeking tickets for the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin have until Sunday to pre-register.
As soon as the PGA Championship ends the LPGA Legends Championship tees off at nearby French Lick Resort in Indiana. Jane Blalock, who directs the Legends circuit, and Nancy Lopez will be inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame as part of the festivities.
Brian Carroll, of Royal Hawk in St. Charles, won the Illinois PGA Assistants title on Monday, carding a 5-under-par 137 over 36 holes at St. Charles Country Club for a four-stroke victory.
The nation-wide courses managed by Billy Casper Golf will conduct the World’s Largest Golf Outing next week to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. The Chicago area courses participating include Orchard Valley in Aurora, Whisper Creek in Huntley, Water’s Edge in Worth, George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Highland Woods in Palatine, Indian Boundary in Chicago, Chick Evans in Morton Grove and River Oaks in Calumet City. All the events will be held on Monday, Aug. 11, except Whisper Creek. The event will be held there on Tuesday, Aug. 12.
Arnold Palmer visited Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Gove last weekend to check out the place for next June’s Palmer Cup matches between college stars from the U.S. and Europe.
Hana Lee, a senior on the Northwestern women’s team, is competing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, which runs through Sunday in Glen Cove, N.J. She’ll try to duplicate the success of NU teammate Kacie Komoto, who recently repeated as the Hawaii State Match Play champion.