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Len Ziehm On Golf

Women’s selection show marks the start of NCAA tourney coming to Rich Harvest

The NCAA golf championship started in 1898 but has been played in the Chicago area only four times. Olympia Fields hosted in 1931 and 1943; North Shore, in Glenview, was the site in 1936 and Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, was the host venue in 1997. All those finals were strictly for men’s teams.

Women’s collegiate golf started in 1982 and never made it to Chicago for its NCAA finals. Now the men’s and women’s tournaments are played back-to-back at the same site and Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, has the honor of hosting both tournaments next month.

The buildup for those big events start on Thursday, when the NCAA announces the 72 teams and 24 individuals who will compete in the women’s tournament on The Golf Channel. The competition begins at four regional sites – the Scarlet Course at Ohio State, the Rawls Course in Lubbock, Tex., and the school courses at Georgia and New Mexico.

Each regional gets 18 teams and six individual qualifiers and the low six teams at each regional and the low three individuals not on those teams advances to Rich Harvest for the finals. The women’s compete there from May 19-24 and the men from May 26-31.

Conference champions get automatic invites into regional play and a selection committee determines the other qualifiers so that creates plenty of nation-wide suspense for Thursday’s announcement.

Coach Emily Fletcher’s Northwestern team has qualified for the last four NCAA tournaments but the Wildcats aren’t automatic qualifiers this year. They were edged by Michigan State for the Big Ten title and automatic berth last weekend. NU shouldn’t be worried about Thursday’s announcement, however.

In the most recent GolfWeek rankings of NCAA women’s teams the Wildcats were No. 11. Last year the Wildcats tied for ninth in the stroke play portion of the finals in Washington and were one stroke short of advancing to match play, where the team title is decided. The only suspense for the Northwestern team will be in the determination of the school’s regional assignment.

It won’t be quite the same for Illinois, which didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament last year. The Illini showed improvement this season but struggled to a seventh-place finish in the Big Ten tournament. That showing dropped the Illini ranking from No. 29 to No. 41.

The Illini men’s team, a long-time powerhouse, is a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament but will go after the Big Ten title first. It’ll begin on Friday at Baltimore Country Club. Last weekend the Illini won the Kepler Intercollegiate on Ohio State’s Scarlet Course and reigning Western Amateur champion Dylan Meyer was the individual winner. Coach Mike Small’s team will learn its regional assignment on May 4.

Here and there

Medinah’s Rich Dukelow is the hottest player going into the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship – the section’s first major event of the season that’ll be played at Kemper Lakes from May 8-11. Dukelow teamed with Travis Johns to win the IPGA’s Pro Assistant event at Ruth Lake and then won the first stroke play event of the season, shooting a 4-under-par 68 at Weaver Ridge in Peoria on Monday.

New Kemper Lakes head pro Jim Billiter has the same schedule conflict that he had in his previous job as an assistant at the Merit Club in Libertyville. Billiter, champion of both the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Championship in 2015, will miss the Illinois Open again. As was the case when he was at Merit Club, a major event at his club will keep Billiter out of the IPGA’s biggest tournament.

The Chicago District Golf Association will open its tournament season next Monday with a qualifier for the CDGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Village Greens of Woodridge.