The golf season must really be upon us now. The Masters tournament – a sure sign of spring – is just a week away and two of Illinois’ PGA Tour players are assured spots in the field.
Kevin Streelman got in by virtue of his dramatic win – a record seven straight birdies to finish his final round — at the Travelers Championship in Hartford, Ct., last June. Luke Donald is in because he was in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings at the end of 2014. The world’s No. 1 player for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012, however, has some work ahead if he’s to remain among the invitees for 2016.
Donald finished 2014 as No. 34 in the rankings and has steadily dropped. Augusta National’s membership also extends invitations to players who are in the top 50 a week before that year’s Masters and – after four players were added to the field on Monday – Donald’s ranking was down to No. 50. The former Northwestern star tied for third in the 2005 Masters but was one shot off the cut line after 36 holes last year.
Streelman, who made the cut last year but settled for a tie for 42nd place after struggling in with a 79 in the final round, is in the field for this week’s Shell Houston Open – the last event to determine Masters qualifiers. It tees off on Thursday with Donald sitting out.
Other local Masters hopefuls D.A. Points and Mark Wilson will also be competing. Both former Masters contestants need to win to get into this year’s field, and Points proved it could be done. He got into the 2013 Masters by winning at Houston.
Assuming Tiger Woods enters and the Houston winner isn’t already among the qualifiers this Masters could have 101 players – the biggest field since 1966. That isn’t likely, though.
The qualifiers include four injured players – Kevin Stadler (wrist), Graham McDowell (ankle), Brooks Koepka (ribs) and Steve Stricker (back). Stricker underwent back surgery after his last tournament appearance in December. Stadler has been idle since January and McDowell and Koepka withdrew from the last two tournaments because of their injuries. They could bypass the Masters as well.
Woods is still trying to regain form after recovering from back problems. He won’t play at Houston but could join the Masters field as late as his April 9 tee time. The Masters has no entry deadline for its qualifiers.
Miller leaving Illinois PGA
The Illinois PGA is looking for a new executive director. Michael Miller, who has held that post the past 20 years, will leave on May 1 to become executive director of the PGA of America’s Southwest Section. New IPGA president Jim Opp said the section is in no hurry to find a replacement for Miller.
Miller, 52, is only the third executive director in Illinois PGA history. The first, Ken Boyce, served from 1976-88. Vance Redfern took over until 1995 when Miller, his assistant, replaced him. Miller, who started with the IPGA as tournament director, has been with the section for 27 years.
“Leaving was a difficult decision because this has pretty much been my whole career,’’ said Miller. “But this will be the next stage of my career – a bigger section with a little different culture. And the climate change doesn’t hurt, either.’’
The Southwest Section, which encompasses all of Arizona and part of Nevada including Las Vegas, has more members and covers a bigger geographical area than the Illinois Section. Its membership is much heavier on the resort side than Illinois and junior golf is a huge priority. The Southwest conducts over 60 youth events.
Masters week officially starts on Monday with practice rounds, but the club will again host the finals of the Drive, Putt and Chip competition on Sunday. The nation-wide competition for youngsters in the 7-15 age category was a big hit in its debut last year, and this year’s 80 finalists include three from the Chicago area.
Effie Perakis of Glenview is among the 10 finalists in the Girls 7-9 division. Inverness’ Caroline Smith made it in the Girls 12-13 division and Sugar Grove’s Jimmy Morton will compete in the Boys 14-15 competition.
Masters week also triggers golf promotions at Chicago locations. One of the biggest will be at Libertyville Sports Complex, which will hold its fourth annual Green Jacket Week of special offers and events beginning on Monday.