U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN: Neff, Armstrong get into starting field

The 67th U.S. Women’s Open, which tees of Thursday at Blackwolf Run, in Kohler, Wis., has two late qualifiers with Chicago connections.

Aimee Neff, winner of the Illinois Women’s Open in 2008 and 2009, and amateur Ashley Armstrong, a Notre Dame sophomore-to-be who won the 2011 Western Junior title, were promoted to the starting field in the last few days after earning first-alternate status in their sectional qualifiers.

Neff is from Carmel, Ind., but some of her best golfing moments came in Chicago. In addition to her two IWO wins at Mistwood, in Romeoville, Neff last college tournament for Michigan State came at Lakeshore Country Club, in Lake Forest, when her Spartans upset NCAA champion Purdue for the title in 2011.

A days later Neff turned pro and is playing on the LPGA’s satellite Symetra (formerly Futures) Tour. She is coming off a tie for fifth on Sunday in the Island Resort Championship in Michigan, a showing that boosted her from 36th to 22nd on the circuit’s season money list with $9,486 won in seven starts.

Armstrong, who lives in Flossmoor, will have Cog Hill assistant pro Garrett Chaussard as her caddie.

The Women’s Open will have its 72-hole run on the same course that hosted a memorable 1998 staging, when Korean Se Ri Pak won in a playoff. Pak is one of nine players from the ’98 championship in this week’s field. Another Korean, So Yeon Ryu, is the defending champion.

Last year’s tourney purse of $3.25 million was the largest in women’s golf . This week’s purse will be announced later this week.

JDC caddie change for Johnson

Zach Johnson is both a tournament board member and frequent contender at the John Deere Classic but Illinois’ lone PGA Tour stop of 2012 will be unusual for the former Masters champion. Damon Green, who was on Johnson’s bag for his last 173 tournaments, won’t be there when the JDC tees off on July 12 at TPC Deere Run.

Green qualified as a player for the U.S. Senior Open, which will be played on concurrent dates in Michigan so Mike Bender, a former PGA Tour player who is Johnson’s swing coach, will be his caddie at the JDC.

PGA regulars Nick Watney, K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang are the latest entries to the JDC, which will have 11 of the top 16 finishers at last week’s PGA Tour stop, the AT&T National.

PGA-bound again

University of Illinois coach Mike Small couldn’t claim his fourth title in the PGA Professionals National Championship in California last week but he did finished fourth, which qualified him for next month’s PGA Championship at Kiahwah in South Carolina.

The Illinois PGA had 14 members among the 312 qualifiers for the PGA Professionals tourney, with Small and David Paeglow the only ones to survive the 36-hole cut. Paeglow, head professional at Kishwaukee in DeKalb, finished in a tie for 60th.

Here and there

Northwestern women’s coach Emily Fletcher got a big boost when Canadian Nicole Zhang transferred to NU from Notre Dame. Zhang was the top-ranked freshman in the country last season for the Irish when she had six top-10 finishes and one tournament victory….Nicole Jeray, the long-time LPGA player from Berwyn, tied for second at the Island Resort Championship, a showing that boosted her from 25th to 12th on the Symetral Tour money list….Defending Illinois Open champion Philip Arouca tied for 34th in last week’s Windy City Open at Bolingbrook. Californian Chris Kilkenny won the Golfweek National Professional Tour event. Arouca had his best finish since suffering a wrist injury last fall….The Chicago District Golf Assn. hosts a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier on Monday at Blackberry Oaks, in Bristol, as well as the first Illinois Amateur eliminations – Monday at Franklin County in downstate West Frankfort and Tuesday at both Sanctuary, in New Lenox, and Panther Creek, in Springfield…..Illinois PGA members get their last tuneup for the Illinois Open at the Ravisloe Classic, in Homewood, on Monday….Midtown Athletic Club, in Palatine, has scheduled a July 23 charity fundraiser at Kemper Lakes, in Long Grove, to benefit the Clearbook facility that provides treatment for people with developmental disabilities.