Unexpected problems didn’t faze Biancalana at Senior PGA tourney

In this chaotic year for scheduling golf tournaments the Illinois PGA did the best of the three major local organizations.  The pandemic forced the cancelation of the Western Golf Association’s two national junior championships and the Chicago District Golf Association had to call off its two biggest events – the Illinois State Amateur and Chicago District Amateur.

The IPGA, though, was able to salvage its four major events even though its tournament schedule couldn’t begin until July.

Last of the section’s majors was last week’s IPGA Senior Players Championship at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove. Black Sheep’s Kevin Healy won it, then led eight other of his competitors to O’Hare for a flight to the Senior PGA Professional Championship in Port St. Lucie, FL. A 10th IPGA member, Illinois coach Mike Small, was already there after opting to bypass the Players event.

Then things got very interesting – especially for Roy Biancalana, a veteran teaching pro who divided his time between St. Andrews, in West Chicago, and Blackberry Oaks, in Bristol, this year.

The Illinois contingent had to test negative for the Covid virus before they were allowed at the PGA Golf Club, where its Wanamaker and Ryder courses were used for the 32nd playing of the senior national championship. Their flight arrived in Florida at midnight on Tuesday and their tests were at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.  Results weren’t available until 7 p.m., meaning none of the players at Twin Orchard could get in a practice round.

Small did, but he had his problems, too.  He started the first round in spectacular fashion, going eagle-birdie on the first two holes, but – after finishing the first 18 in a tie 27th of the 266 starters – he became ill and had to withdraw from the tournament.

The field was cut from the 266 starters to the low 90 and ties after the second round, and only Biancalana; IPGA Senior Player of the Year David Paeglow, of Kishwaukee in DeKalb and David Hannon, a teaching pro at Links & Tees in Addison, survived to play in the third round. Paeglow and Hannon didn’t advance to Sunday’s final 18, when the field was limited to the low 70 and ties after 54 holes.

Biancalana didn’t think he did either when he finished his third round, but winds picked up after he was done and he managed to squeak into the field for the last round.  By then, though, the week had taken an understandable toll on him.

When he arrived in Florida he learned that his laptop was missing – and that was just for starters. His rental car broke down the same day he picked it up and a tooth that had been bothering him for awhile was acting up as well.

“It took two days to get a new rental car,’’ said Biancalana, “and I was on the phone trying to get the computer six-eight times a day.  That was distracting.  By the time I started the first round I felt tired.’’

Plus, he was also out $1,800 for the computer that was never located.

Though he had played the tournament courses many times in past years, the lack of a practice round was a problem.  Biancalana, who won two Illinois Opens and made the cut in a PGA Championship, has been a tournament player for 45 years and this was the first time he went into competition without a practice round.

“I did feel a little uncomfortable. I didn’t feel I read the greens right,’’ said Biancalana.  “I’ve played these courses hundreds of times, but it was a problem getting used to the grass.’’

He eventually did. Biancalana finished in a tie for 49th place, finishing at 5-over-par 292 for the 72 holes.  He was 23 shots behind champion Omar Uresti, who set a tournament scoring record with an 18-under performance and won by six strokes. The top 35 qualified for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2021.

Biancalana, though, will be back to PGA Golf Club’s courses.  Thanks to a fifth-place finish in the IPGA Championship he’s qualified for the PGA Professional Championship there in April where he will be “playing against the kids.’’ Now 60, he plans to beef up through weight-training and diet changes in time for that competition