A highlight of last year’s Chicago golf season was the playing of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. It was a rousing success – a feel-good story capped off by Laura Davies’ 10-stroke victory on America’s first 18-hole course.
“It doubled our expectations from the crowd standpoint, and we learned a lot,’’ said Katherine Thigpen, the tournament manager for the U.S. Golf Association. “Everything was extremely positive. We heard how special it was from volunteers, fans, staff and players.’’
This year’s second staging will be at Pine Needles, in Southern Pines, N.C., next month but the last of the 17 nation-wide qualifying rounds will be at another special Chicago course. Medinah’s No. 2 course will be the site of the first significant competition of the Chicago season next Tuesday.
Medinah No. 2 had been unofficially designated the club’s “women’s course’’ while No. 3 hosted major championships like the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and – most recently – the 2012 Ryder Cup matches. The No. 1 course has hosted two Illinois PGA Championships since architect Tom Doak re-designed the layout.
Though No. 3 will be back in the spotlight in August as the site of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, now is the time for No. 2 to get the attention. Rees Jones was the architect in a $3 million renovation of that layout in 2017. Like the other Medinah layouts, it was a Tom Bendelow design from the 1920s.
No. 2 had been a tournament after-thought, but no more. The University of Illinois women’s team hosted a tournament there last fall and that event will return for three more years. Next week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open qualifier is another step in the right direction.
The Senior Women’s Open qualifier will have 15 players from the 50-and=over set competing for three spots in the 120-player field at Pine Needles May 16-19. Regardless of what happens at Medinah, there’ll be one Chicago player competing at Pine Needles. Jamie Fischer, a teaching pro at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, earned a place by finishing in the top 20 at Chicago Golf Club.
Fischer was third in last year’s qualifier, played on her home course, and then finished in an impressive tie for 12th in the finals.
The Medinah field is headed by veteran touring pro Elaine Crosby, the first-round leader at Chicago Golf who faded into a tie for 23rd and Medinah member Blue Kelly. Fifty-five of the Pine Needles starters are exempt off past performances, and they include Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon – former LPGA stars who didn’t compete in the event last year.
Last weekend was almost unheard of for the players with Chicago connections on the pro tours. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman had his second straight sixth-place finish on the PGA Tour, this one at the RBC Heritage Classic in South Carolina, and Luke Donald continued on the comeback trail with a tie for 33rd.
Jeff Sluman had his best finish of the season on PGA Tour Champions — a tie for sixth in the Mitsubishi Electric Classic in Georgia — and Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, an LPGA rookie, earned her biggest check on the premier women’s circuit — $,6,623 for a tie for 50th in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii.
Additionally, the three players on the PGA’s Web.com Tour cashed at the Robert Trent Jones Trail Championship in Alabama as did the two on the PGA Latinoamerica circuit in Argentina. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger tied for 18th, Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim tied for 29th and Deerfield’s Vince India tied for 35th in the Web.com stop and Highwood’s Patrick Flavin tied for 16th and Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly tied for 50th in the Latinoamerica event in Argentina.
Here and there
The Chicago District Golf Association, which will conduct the qualifier at Medinah, will also host qualifiers for two of its local competitions. The CDGA Senior Amateur elimination will be today (APRIL 24) on Silver Lake’s North course in Orland Park, and Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, will host the CDGA Mid-Amateur qualifier on Monday.
A format change has been announced for the 25th Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open, coming up in July at Mistwood, in Romeville. It’ll be a three-day event with the championship still decided over 54 holes, but the first day will be a pro-am and the field will play 36 holes on the second day, after which a cut will be made to decide the final round field. Andy Mickelson, Mistwood’s director of golf, said the change was made to increase the amateur players in the pro-am. “We also wanted to keep the tournament at 54 holes with the finish on Wednesday,’’ he said.
The Illinois PGA Assistants Match Play Championship concludes today at The Grove in Long Grove and the section’s first stroke play event for full members is Monday at Bloomington Country Club. The latter will have a weakened field with the top four players on last year’s Player-of-the-Year point standings – Medinah’s Travis Johns, Royal Hawks’ Brian Carroll, Twin Orchard’s Dakun Chang and Glen View’s Chris Green – all competing in the PGA Professionals Championship in South Carolina instead.