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Len Ziehm On Golf

Was scheduling back-to-back Opens at Pinehurst No. 2 a good idea?

For American golfers June is the biggest month of the year. It’s U.S. Open time, and this June will be different than all the others. This time you need a primer to know what will be going on, so here goes:

The men’s U.S. Open dates back to 1895 and the U.S. Women’s Open to 1946. Never before have they been played on consecutive weeks on the same course. This year they’ll be played at Pinehurst’s No. 2 course in North Carolina, with the men competing from June 12-15 and the women from June 19-22.

Back-to-back stagings on the same course may never happen again. It’s a grand experiment by the U.S. Golf Assn., and I think it’s a great idea. The women will have to play on a beat-up course, but they have the chance to show just how good they are in comparison to the men – and I think you’ll be surprised when the strokes are added up.

Chances are, this experiment may never be tried again. David Fay, the former executive director of the USGA, was instrumental in the scheduling years ago. He believes that Pinehurst is the only facility that could accommodate such a back-to-back scenario, but he does believe that Pinehurst officials will be happy enough with the results to be willing to try it again. Time will tell.

At any rate, the country’s best golfers like the idea. The tourneys drew a record number of participants – 10,127 for the men and 1,702 for the women. The men, who had to either designate themselves as professional or have a Handicap Index of 1.4, had representatives from all 50 stages, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 75 foreign countries. The women, pros or amateurs with a Handicap Index of 2.4, had entrants from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 52 foreign countries. Thanks to the eliminations in May most of them have already been eliminated.

The men had 111 local qualifiers in May, and the survivors will kick off June at one of 10 sectional eliminations around the U.S. Unfortunately – and for the second straight year – Chicago doesn’t have one. The closest are in Ohio. Most of the PGA Tour players who aren’t exempt from qualifying have entered 36-hole eliminations at either Columbus or Springfield. That’s because the sectionals come immediately after the PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio – a Columbus suburb. More berths at Pinehurst will be offered there.

On the women’s side, there were no local qualifiers. Chicago did host one of the 13 sectionals, at Indian Hill in Winnetka. It had 71 players going after two spots at Pinehurst, and those advancing were Hannah Pietlia of Brighton, Mich., and Elizabeth Thong, of Thornhill, Ontario. Pietlia was medalist with 4-over par 146 for the 36 holes, two better than Tong. Streamwood’s Noriko Nakazaki was the top local player, finishing one strong behind Tony in a tie for third.

Both the men and women will have 156-player fields at Pinehurst, and both tourneys will cut to the low 60 and ties after the first two rounds.

The men’s sectionals in particular are always exciting, given that many name players don’t survive and quite a few competitors who aren’t PGA Tour players do. One of the latter with a seemingly great chance to do that is Vince India. A rookie struggling on the Web.com Tour, India was the talk of the local qualifiers.

The former University of Iowa golfer who grew up in Deerfield shot a 10-under-par 61 to earn medalist honors in a local qualifier at Waterlefe, in Sarasota, FL. India played there because it was close to his new residence in Lakewood Ranch, FL. India moved there after obtaining playing privileges at the Concession Club, the site of the annual Big Ten Match Play Championship.

Concession is also the home course for former PGA champion Paul Azinger and Tony Jacklin, the former U.S. and British Open champion. The name of the course was inspired by Jacklin, in honor of a memorable Ryder Cup moment when course designer Jack Nicklaus conceded him a short putt that led to the competition between the U.S. and Europe ending in a tie in 1969. Last month Concession hosted a new team event, the Concession Cup, which pitted amateur teams from the U.S. and Europe against each other.

“This is my third winter (at Concession), and Paul Azinger’s been quite the mentor to me,’’ said India, the Illinois State Amateur champion in 2010. “It’s helped for me to play at a facility that’s in major championship condition every day.’’

India didn’t survive the 36-hole cut in the rain-hampered South Georgia Classic, the previous week’s stop on the Web.com Tour at Kinderlou Forest in Valdosta, Ga. He spent time with Azinger working on his alignment after heading to Florida and it paid off with a six-shot win in the Open qualifier.

“I’d rather have the 61 in a tournament where they pay some cash out,’’ said India. “I’ve been struggling to post a number like this on the Web.com Tour this year.’’

India wasn’t the only Chicago medalist at the 18-hole local qualifiers. Chicago hosted two locals. Cog Hill teaching pro Garrett Chaussard was low man in the first, at George Dunne National in Tinley Park, with a 71. Northwestern star Jack Perry shared medalist honors in the second, at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest, with a 68. Chicago’s David Lipsky shot 66 at the South Bend Country Club to earn medalist honors there and Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr. – like India a struggling Web.com Tour player – was low man at Fox Hollow in Trinity, FL., with a 65.

Four other Chicago players got through the local at George Dunne – pro Andrew Godfrey of Homewood and amateurs Glenn Przybylski of Frankfort, Dan Stringfellow of Roselle and Kenneth Lee of Westmont. Max Scodro, the 2012 Illinois Open champion, and Libertyville’s Michael Schachner were survivors at Knollwood and University of Illinois junior Brian Campbell, the Big Ten player-of-the-year, qualified for sectional play in the Springfield, IL., local at Illini Country Club.

Przybylski had a big May, winning the 23rd and last staging of the Illinois State Amateur Public Links title at Harborside International before surviving his local Open qualifier. Przybylski had also won the Public Links event in 1994 and his repeat 19 years later should serve as a good springboard into U.S. Open sectional play.

In previous years most of the local survivors would opt for a sectional elimination close to home, but Chaussard and Campbell didn’t. A California native who played collegiately at Illinois, Chaussard planned to return to California for sectional play. Though sectional assignments weren’t announced at the time of this printing, the destination for both Chaussard and Campbell, also a California native, appeared to be Lake Merced and Olympic Club in the San Francisco area. Chaussard had particularly good vibes about playing there because he had qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open which was played at a California course — Torrey Pines – after getting through local and sectional qualifiers.

Just getting to Pinehurst would obviously be a great feat, but winning the title after going through 18 holes of local eliminations and 36 of sectional play would be astounding. Most champions are exempt from at least local play based on previous performances. The only players to win the Open after going through local and sectional play were Ken Venturi, in 1964, and Orville Moody, in 1969.

Category: Features