One the biggest offseason developments in golf this year was the shifting of the 101st playing of the PGA Championship to May from its usual August dates. This week we’ll see how that works out. It tees off on Thursday at New York’s Bethpage Black course.
Previously the PGA had been “Glory’s last shot,’’ the last major championship for the PGA stars. Now it’s the second, and there’s a little more to it than that. One thing that made the PGA different from the other majors was that the field includes the best club professionals, as determined by their finish in the PGA Professionals National Championship.
The PGA Professionals had a date change, too, to accommodate the move of the major event. It was played in Bluffton, S.C., two weeks ago, and that didn’t help Illinois PGA members.
Mike Small, the men’s coach at Illinois and a three-time champion of the club pros, couldn’t compete because his college team was still playing. The IPGA still had 11 qualifiers in the 312-player field at the PGA Professionals event but none reached the final round. Holding the event when there was still snow on the ground in Chicago didn’t help their preparations.
“It’s hard to be prepared for a tournament at that level,’’ said Garrett Chaussard, who repeated as champion of the first local major of the season – the IPGA Match Play Championship, held last week at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove. “It’d be interesting to see if they could work out our qualifying in the previous fall. That might work out better.’’
Seemingly the qualifiers for the PGA Professionals event would have an edge in the Match Play because they had a tournament tuneup. None could beat Chaussard, however.
While he qualified for several previous PGA Professionals tourneys in the past, he didn’t make it into this one. Still, he beat two players who did — Twin Orchard’s Dakun Chang in the semifinals and Royal Hawk’s Brian Carroll, in the finals — to become only the fourth player in the tourney’s 68-year history to successfully defend a title.
Lack of tournament preparation wasn’t the only surprising aspect in Chaussard’s success. He’s also adjusting to being a father. His wife Diana gave birth to their first child, daughter Marie, three months ago.
“I was surprised, because playing has been on the back burner,’’ said Chaussard, who was in Small’s first recruiting class at Illinois 2001 and worked at Cog Hill, in Lemont, and Chicago Highlands, in Westchester, before coming to Skokie three years ago.
From Chicago Golf to Pine Needles
The inaugural playing of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open was a big hit at Chicago Golf Club last summer though it was played opposite a major on PGA Tour Champions nearby. The second version, which tees off on Thursday at Pine Needles, in Southern Pines, N.C., is opposite the PGA Championship.
Jaime Fischer, teaching pro at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, is in the 120-player field as one of 55 exempt players. She bypassed the qualifying rounds because she finished in the top 20 (tie for 12th) at Chicago Golf Club.
Fischer is paired in the first two round at Pine Needles with Kelley Brooks, the director of golf at Bethpage. Brooks will be competing at Pine Needles instead of tending to her usual duties when her home course hosts the PGA Championship.
Here and there
Both Northwestern and Illinois have women’s teams in the NCAA finals. NU is in the finals for the seventh straight year. Illinois is making its first appearance in the finals, which begin a six-day run Friday at Blessings Golf Club in Arkansas.
The men’s teams from Illinois and Northwestern both conclude NCAA regional play today at TPC Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. The top five teams there move on to Blessings for the men’s finals May 24-29.
Illinois State’s Ray Kralis is the Missouri Valley Conference’s men’s coach of the year.
Brian Chasensky, formerly an assistant superintendent at Chicago Golf Club, is now the superintendent at Shoreacres, in Lake Bluff.