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Len Ziehm On Golf

Stadler ailing for his Encompass title defense

Chicago’s only pro tour stop of 2014, the Encompass Championship, is less than a month away. It’ll return to North Shore Country Club in Glenview from June 16-22, and this week’s tourney update suggests the event has some issues.

Defending champion Craig Staler visited North Shore and revealed health issues that have sidelined him for most of this year. He suffered torn cartilage in his knee in January in Hawaii and needed six weeks to recover. Then he injured his back shortly after returning to action.

Last week he pulled out of the Regions Tradition, one of the Champions Tour’s major events, after nine holes, and he won’t play in this week’s Senior PGA Championship. He’s targeting a new event in Branson, Mo., for his return, as a tune-up for his title defense at North Shore.

“I haven’t been healthy all year,’’ he said. “I hope it turns around.’’

Stadler wasn’t exactly at the top of his game when he arrived at North Shore last year, either. He hadn’t even contended in a tournament since 2007 before getting his victory.

“I had basically quit,’’ said Stadler. “I was basically in the bottom 10 every week, and I was tired of embarrassing myself. It was no fun at all, but then (swing guru) Billy Harmon re-routed everything in my swing. It was a work in progress, and it still is.’’

Stadler liked what he saw at North Shore and still does.

“Every player was amazed by the condition of the golf course,’’ he said. “All 81 of us fell in love with it immediately. Augusta (home of the Masters) is great, but (North Shore) is right with it. Its 10th fairway looks better than some of the greens we play. It’s certainly different from Butler National (Oak Brook) and Cog Hill (Lemont), where we had to grind it out in the Western Open on the PGA Tour. It’s a perfect setting for us to be here.’’

North Shore wasn’t exactly perfect on Monday, though. Temporary greens were used on two holes to allow for the putting surfaces to recover from rugged winter weather and the No. 14 hole was closed because a hawk living there has become overly aggressive with humans lately.

Tournament director Mike Galeski, however, was able to announce seven of the projected 10 celebrity participants in the two-day pro-am held concurrently with the 54-hole main event. Brian Urlacher and Toni Kukoc are returning. They’ll be joined by Northwestern men’s basketball coach Chris Collins, hockey legends Mike Eruzione and Jeremy Roenick, ex-Bear Gary Fencik and baseball great Roger Clemens.

Harbor Shores hosts Champions Tour major

Closest of the major tourneys (PGA, LPGA, Champions tours) is this week’s Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Harbor Shores, a Jack Nicklaus design, hosted the tourney in 2012 and will also host in 2016 and 2018. Last year the event was held at Bellerive in St. Louis. The Senior PGA has had surprise winners the last two years, England’s Roger Chapman having triumphed at Harbor Shores and Japan’s Kokhi Idoki winning at Bellerive.

Idoki will defend his title beginning on Thursday. The 72-hole test runs through Sunday and immediately follows the Champions Tour’s first major of the season. Kenny Perry won his third major title in the 50-and-over circuit last Sunday when he captured the Regionals Tradition at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Ala.

Here and there

Only two players – Hannah Pietlia of Brighton, Mich., and Elizabeth Tong, of Thornhill, Ontario — advanced to next month’s U.S. Women’s Open during Monday’s 71-player, 36-hole qualifier at Indian Hill in Winnetka. Pietlia was medalist at 4-over-par 146, two strokes better than Tong. Streamwood’s Noriko Nakazaki was the top local player, one stroke behind Tong in a tie for third.

The 13th Chicago District Senior Amateur runs through Thursday at Calumet Country Club in Homewood. Kewanee’s Tom Miler, the only player to win the tourney more than once, is going for a three-peat. He won in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Next week’s Illinois PGA Senior Match Play Championship has been moved from Shoreacres in Lake Bluff to Merit Club in Libertyville. Its three-day run will begin next Tuesday (MAY 27).