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Len Ziehm On Golf

Western Amateur presents a big step up in competition for Chicago stars

Imagine an Illinois amateur golfer shooting a 61 in a state-wide tournament and not winning. That’s what happened to Jordan Hahn at last year’s Illinois State Amateur. Hahn claimed the course record at Calumet Country Club, but he finished one stroke behind Patrick Flavin.

Hahn got even last week, winning the 88th playing of the State Am at Bloomington Country Club by a one-stroke margin over Bloomington’s Rob Wuethrich. That was a big win for Hahn, who – at 6-foot-8 – is Illinois’ tallest champion-caliber golfer, and he’ll go after an even bigger prize next week.

Hahn, a Spring Grove resident who is about to enter his senior year at Wisconsin, is part of the very select 156-man field that tees off on Monday in the 116th playing of the Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield.

Flavin will be there, too, but his projected final days as an amateur didn’t produce the desired first results. The Highwood resident who played collegiately at Miami of Ohio missed the 36-hole cut in defense of his Illinois State Amateur title and failed to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in an elimination event on Monday in Indiana.

Last year Flavin became the first golfer in 37 years — and only the second ever – to win the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year and he delayed turning pro because of it. He wanted to defend both those titles and turn pro after playing in next month’s U.S. Amateur at California’s famed Pebble Beach.

Now Flavin’s plans have changed. The Western will mark the end of his amateur career, and he’ll turn pro for the Illinois Open, which has an Aug. 6-8 run at The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods.

“It’s been a bummer, but I’m pumped up for that,’’ said Flavin.

Both Hahn and Flavin will face a huge challenge at Sunset Ridge, which last hosted a major event in 1972 when Jim Jamieson won the Western Open there.

“Man for man we’ll have the deepest field in amateur golf,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association. “The best of the best will be here.’’

The 156-man starting field will feature players from 21 countries outside of the United States. Heading the cast is Braden Thornberry, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, and No. 2 Collin Morikawa. Thornbery was last year’s NCAA titlist for Mississipi and Morikawa, who played collegiately for California, was a Western Am quarterfinalist last year at Skokie Country Club, in Glencoe.

Also in the field are U.S. Open qualifiers Chun An Yu, Philip Barbaree, Franklin Huange, Stewart Hagestad and Will Grimmer as well as Min Woo Lee, the 2016 U.S. Junior champion from Australia.

The Western offers the most grueling test in golf with the eventual champion needing to play the equivalent of two 72-hole tournaments in a five-day stretch. There’ll be a practice round on Monday and 18-hole rounds o Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 1, before the field is cut to the low 44 and ties. The survivors will play 36 holes on Thursday, Aug. 2, to determine 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of the tournament. Two rounds of matches will be played on Friday, Aug. 3, and the semifinals and championship match are on Saturday, Aug. 4.

Past Western champions include Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Justin Leonard, Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods.

Bits and pieces

Kyle English, of Crestwicke in Bloomington, posted a 5-under-par 139 at Westmoreland, in Wilmette, to win the Illinois PGA Assistants Championship. He was two shots ahead of Chris French, of Aldeen in Rockford, and Andy Mickelson, of Mistwood, in Romeoville. All qualify for the PGA Assistant Professionals Championship in November at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL.

Ex-Illinois golfer Dylan Meyer, who won the 2016 Western Amateur, is a late sponsor’s exemption into this week’s RBC Canadian Open.

Only two qualifying rounds remain for the Illinois Open. One is today (WEDNESDAY) at Royal Hawk in St. Charles. The other is the Last Chance qualifier next Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Willow Crest in Oak Brook. Players who didn’t advance through the first seven eliminations will be able to try again at Willow Crest.

The 17th Chicago District Senior Amateur at Itasca has been rescheduled. The 18-hole stroke play portion will be on Monday (JULY 30) with the low 16 deciding the title in match play over the following three days.