NU women take on NCAA, Women’s Open challenges

The long road to the U.S. Open tournaments begins this week, and the prospects couldn’t be brighter for the Northwestern women’s team.

Coach Emily Fletcher’s squad won its second Big Ten title in three years earlier this month and earned the school’s third straight berth in the NCAA finals with a runner-up finish in last week’s regional elimination in Raleigh, N.C.

The NCAA finals are May 22-27 at Concession Club in Bradenton, FL., but the sectional qualifiers for the 70th U.S. Women’s Open come up before that. Eight of the nation-wide 36-hole eliminations are on Monday (MAY 18) and one is at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette. Four of Fletcher’s top-six players – Hana Lee, Kacie Komoto, Suchaya Tangkamolprasert and Kaitlin Park – have entered the 80-player field that will send its top finishers to the July 9-12 finals at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania.

“We leave it up to our players to sign up for the U.S. Women’s Open,’’ said Fletcher, “but for us it’s a great benefit that they’re playing at Westmoreland. We played our fall event, the Windy City Classic, there so we know that golf course.’’

Westmoreland is one of five Women’s Open sectional sites that have hosted previous USGA championships. Patty Berg won the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Westmoreland in 1938. This year’s Women’s Open drew a record 1,873 entrants. They came from 49 states (only Maine was without an entry) and 54 foreign countries.

U.S. Women’s Open qualifying dates are set by the U.S. Golf Assn. and college players aren’t always able to compete in the sectional qualifiers. Last year, for instance, the Women’s Open sectionals were held during the NCAA regionals. This year, though, college stars could compete in both the NCAA finals and Women’s Open within a few weeks’ span.

That enticement wasn’t lost on the NU women. Only Fletcher’s two freshmen – Hannah Kim and Sarah Cho – bypassed the sectional. The only drawback to the four players participating in the sectional is that the team will make a later-than-usual departure for the NCAA finals. Instead of leaving for Florida on Monday of tournament week the team will depart on Wednesday.

Fletcher feels the chance for her players to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open outweighs the loss of practice time at Concession, a Jack Nicklaus design that will also host the men’s Division I finals starting on May 29.

“Our players are balancing a lot with the NCAAs, but this is a great opportunity for us,’’ said Fletcher. “We have a really talented group, and we’re real excited for this.’’

Men’s teams compete for NCAA berths at Concession starting on Thursday (MAY 14). Illinois, which has ruled the Big Ten six of the last seven years, is the No. 1 seed at a a three-day regional at Sangamore club in Noblesville, Ind. Twenty-four women’s teams have earned berths at Concession and 30 men’s teams will compete there.

Unlike the women, Chicago has no sectional qualifier for the men’s 115th U.S. Open. It’ll be played at Washington’s Chambers Bay course from June 18-21 with the 156 qualifiers determined after local and sectional eliminations whittle the field from 9,882 entrants nation-wide. That’s second largest in tournament history behind last year’s Open at Pinehurst, N.C., which drew 10,127 entrants.

Chicago has two 90-player 18-hole local eliminations for the men – Wednesday (MAY 13) at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake and Monday (MAY 18) at Flossmoor Country Club. Five players from each will advance to sectionals, the closest of which are in Ohio on May 25.

Here and there

The Illinois PGA Match Play tournament runs through Thursday at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove and Itasca will host a stroke play event on Monday.

Cog Hill, in Lemont, will host the Dubsdread Spring Classic, a four-player team event with an 8 a.m. shotgun start, on Saturday.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. Mid-Amateur Championship runs Monday through Wednesday at Bowes Creek in Elgin.

Former Chicago Wolves’ staffer John Golz is the new membership and marketing director at Kemper Lakes.