PGA, Korn Ferry tours re-open; WGA names Chicago Highlands for ESI tourney

The men’s pro golf tours resume tournament play on Thursday (JUNE 11), ending three months of inactivity because of Covid-19 pandemic concerns.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and the next four players in the world rankings will be in the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Texas. The strong 148-player field there will also include Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a struggling PGA Tour rookie who starred collegiately at the University of Texas.

The PGA’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will re-open where the PGA Tour played its last round on March 12 – at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL. This time, though, the competition will be on Sawgrass’ Dye Valley Course instead of the more famous Stadium Course.

A new event, the tourney at Sawgrass will be called the Korn Ferry Challenge and it’ll precede another new event – the following week’s King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village – which is just a few miles away. Those events are where the bulk of the players with Illinois connections will be competing.

The Korn Ferry has two players ranked in its Top 25 – Northwestern alum Dylan Wu (5) and Illinois alum Nick Hardy (23). In previous years the top 25 at season’s end would be awarded PGA Tour cards for the following season. Not so now.

“I can’t get my PGA card until the end of 2021,’’ said Hardy. “The season will be around 50 events by the time it ends next year.’’

Because of all the cancelations and postponements the top 25 won’t be determined in 2020. The events over a two-year span will determine who moves up to the big tour.

Hardy, though, is in good shape with play resuming – even though he didn’t spend the pandemic layoff in an ideal golf atmosphere. He experienced golf much the way all Chicago golf enthusiasts did.

“I came back to Illinois from Arizona the first week of April, during the early beginning of this whole (pandemic) thing,’’ he said. “Illinois restrictions were pretty strict – no golf,’’ he said. “So I went to Indiana 12-15 times in April and played with my buddies (a mix of college players and club pros).’’

He found a course there – Palmyra Golf Club in St. John – via Google and that kept him sharp until May 1 when he resumed practicing at Merit Club in Libertyville. Hardy has no regrets about taking the imposed tournament layoff away from warmer golf destinations.

“It was nice to be home with my family at that time,’’ he said. “All my family is in Illinois, so I spent the quarantine time with them.’’

Hardy departed for Florida on Sunday (JUNE 7) to get familiar with his tournament courses of the next two weeks and was mentally prepared for a major change in tournament atmosphere. As is the case with the PGA Tour event no spectators will be allowed at TPC Sawgrass and media will be basically tour personnel and The Golf Channel staffers. Family members and friends of the players can’t even come to the courses and there won’t be any live TV coverage there.

“It’ll be odd, pretty quiet,’’ said Hardy. “The Korn Ferry doesn’t have the number of spectators the PGA Tour gets anyway, but I’ve played in a lot of tournaments where there weren’t many spectators.’’

In addition to Wu the Korn Ferry event will have six other Illinois players resuming their bids for coveted PGA playing privileges. Luke Guthrie, another Illinois alum, isn’t in the top 25 but — at No. 51 – he’s in position to qualify for the Korn Ferry Playoffs. The top 75 make it.

Five others have to improve to get there. Another Illinois alum, Scott Langley, is No. 85. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger is tied for 86th, Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope 111th, former PGA Tour winner Mark Hensby tied for 118th and Deerfield’s Vince India 134th. Hopfinger, Hensby and India are among the 10 players who own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open.

The Korn Ferry Tour held a new tournament, the Evans Scholars Invitational, at The Glen Club, in Glenview, last year and the event was to return there in May. It was postponed as part of the concerns over the pandemic and rescheduled for Sept. 9-13.

The Glen Club was not available during those dates, and this week the Western Golf Association named the new site. The ESI will be played at Chicago Highlands, a private club in Westchester. An Arthur Hills design that opened in 2010, the tournament will mark Highlands’ first pro tour event.