New Butler National pro could be PGA’s player to watch


Andy Svoboda, the new head professional at Butler National in Oak Brook, has made a big impression since arriving on the Chicago golf scene in March, and this week he could make an even bigger one.

Svoboda is one of two Illinois PGA members to qualify for the PGA Championship, which tees off Thursday at Valhalla, in Louisville, KY.

Jeff Kellen, Svoboda’s predecessor at Butler National and the newly-named head man at North Shore in Glenview, also will be in the field as will Brad Marek, who was a stalwart growing up in Arlington Heights and won the 2005 Illinois State Amateur.

That trio will take on the world’s best touring pros, with LIV golf member Brooks Koepka the defending champion. Koepka figures to battle Rory McIlroy for the title.  Both won their last starts, with McIlroy doing it in impressive fashion on Sunday at the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina.  McIlroy also won the last PGA Champions play at Valhalla, in 2014.

Svoboda, Kellen and Marek were among 20 club professionals to qualify golf’s second major championship of the season at the PGA Professionals Championship two weeks ago in Texas. Two Chicago-connected PGA Tour members – Luke Donald and Doug Ghim – will also be in the field at Valhalla but Svoboda looms as one of the most interesting longshots.

With career winnings over $1 million on both the PGA and Korn Ferry tours before turning to the club pro ranks Svoboda has been nothing short of sensational since joining the Chicago club pro ranks.

He was second in the Professionals Championship, then followed up with another runner-up finish in last week’s Illinois PGA Match Play Championship at Bull Valley, in Woodstock. Prior to those finishes he was the medalist in a local qualifier for the U.S. Open, so his hopes to play in that major are still alive as well.

Svoboda, now 44, was edged out in the first of the Illinois PGA’s four major tournaments of the season when his birdie putt on the 18th hole hit the back of the cup and spun out.  Had he made that putt he would have forced a playoff for the title with Medinah’s Travis Johns, the tourney champion.

“Andy’s a great player and plays the game like a true gentleman,’’ said Johns. “He got an unfortunate break at the end, but I had a lot of fun competing against him.  He’s going to win a lot of these events going forward.’’

Johns has already had his share of Illinois PGA victories, winning the Match Play for the first time in 2010, the Players Championship in 2014 and the IPGA Championship in 2019.

He hadn’t been in the Match Play final since 2017 prior to his title run last week. Now he needs to win August’s Illinois Open to complete a career Grand Slam of the IPGA’s major events.

Johns got to last week’s title match by beating defending champion Chris French, of Aldeen in Rockford, in the quarterfinals and reigning IPGA Player of the Year Brian Carroll of The Hawk in St. Charles in the semifinals. French won last year after qualifying for last year’s PGA Championship.

HERE AND THERE: The men’s teams at Northwestern, Illinois and Notre Dame all wrap up their three-day NCAA regional tourneys today (WEDNESDAY, MAY 15) with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA finals May 24-29 at LaCosta in Carlsbad, CA.

Chicago State finished fifth behind champion Florida A&M in the PGA Works Collegiate Championship at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass.

The ninth Chicago District Mid Amateur begins its three-day run on Monday (MAY 20) at Elgin Country Club with Glenview’s John Ramsey the defending champion.   Qualifying for the CDGA Amateur begins the following day.