This could be last shot for Ghim, Hardy to win the Western Amateur

The history-rich Western Amateur isn’t always played in the Chicago area, but in recent years it has been – and that’s a good thing. It merits a prominent place on any golf calendar because it brings together the very best amateurs in the world — not just those from the United States.

Next week’s 115th playing of the tournament will have even more special meaning because of the prominence of local players. The 156 starters at Skokie Country Club, in Glencoe, include Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, who is coming off his victory in the Pacific Coast Amateur at 2015 U.S. Open site Chambers Bay in Oregon, and the University of Illinois’ dynamic duo of Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer.

Ghim, Hardy and Meyer were all in the Sweet 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of last year’s Western Amateur at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest, and Meyer is the defending champion at Skokie. They’ll be taking on a field that includes 2015 Western Amateur winner Dawson Armstrong; reigning NCAA titlist Braden Thornberry; Stewart Hagestad, low amateur at the Masters in April; and a foreign contingent headed by Kyle McClatchie of South Africa and Harrison Endycott of Australia.

The local trio have been frequent Western Am competitors – Hardy, in particular, is in the field for the fourth time — but this might be their last time chasing the prestigious trophy won over the years by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw. Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins and Tiger Woods. All three are college seniors headed for the professional ranks.

“It’s definitely special growing up in this area and having the Western Golf Association running their events around here,’’ said Hardy, from Northbrook. “I played in at least two or three Western Juniors, too, I just thank the Western Golf Association for everything they’ve done for my career.’’

Prior to his win in the Pacific Coast Amateur Ghim was the Big 12 Player of the Year for Texas and joined Hardy on the U.S. team for the Palmer Cup matches vs. collegiate stars from Europe.

Meyer, ranked No. 3 in the world amateur rankings, can join a very select group if he repeats as Western Amateur champion. Only six have done it, the last being Justin Leonard in 1992-93. The first was Chandler Egan, in 1904-05, and the others ranged from Chick Evans in the 1920s, to Bud Ward in the 1940s, to Frank Stranahan in the 1950s to Hal Sutton in 1979-80. Evans and Stranahan, both lifetime amateurs, won the title more than twice in the tournament’s early years.

Hardy and Meyer helped Illinois reach the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, in May and then took to the national scene. Both competed against professionals in this month’s John Deere Classic but the Western Am presents a much different challenge. It’s basically two tournaments wrapped up in one.

Players gather for practice on Monday (JULY 31) with the full field playing 18-hole rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the field is cut to the low 44 and ties for two more rounds on Thursday, Aug. 3. Those 72 holes over three days will decide the 16 qualifiers for the two-day match play portion of the tournament. The champion will be crowned on Saturday, Aug. 5.

Skokie hosted the tournament in 2010 when David Chung won the title, beating a field that included PGA Tour stars Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Like the tournament itself, the host club has a rich history for hosting big events. Originally a Donald Ross design, Skokie has also hosted the 1909 Western Open, the 1922 U.S. Open and 1998 U.S. Senior Amateur. Skokie was one of 11 charter clubs that established the WGA in 1899 to spread the game of golf across the Midwest. Only seven still exist.

Oak Meadows timetable

The long-awaited opening of The Preserve at Oak Meadows, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s renovated facility in Addison, is closing in.

The range and practice area opens on Monday (JULY 31) and that also coincides with what Ed Stevenson, executive director of the District, dubs Test Drive Week. Season tee time members and various golf industry personnel will get a sneak preview opportunity from July 31 to Aug. 6 and the course will open to all golfers on Aug. 7.

The formal grand opening will be held next April and the potential ground-breaking on a new clubhouse is expected in the summer or fall of 2018.