Cooke’s bid for a repeat is just one sidelight in Illinois Open

The UL International Crown may wrap up on Sunday, but there’s no break on the area tournament calendar. The 67th Illinois Open begins its three-day run on Monday at two St. Charles clubs, Royal Fox and Royal Hawk.

Defending champion is Bolingbrook’s David Cooke, who posted the best 54-hole score (199) and best score in relation to par (16 under) in winning by five strokes at Royal Melbourne in Long Grove last year.

As always, the Illinois Open has an interesting field. Among the other amateurs among the 258 starters is Bears’ cornerback Kyle Fuller.

Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, who has won the title four times, will be joined in the field by one of his star players – Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who won the Illinois State Amateur with a record 28-under-par performance at the nearby St. Charles Country Club last week.

Small will also have one of his future players in the field in Tommy Kuhl, a 16-year old from downstate Morton. Still in high school, Tommy has already committed to the Illini while his 18-year old brother Pete will be playing for Wisconsin in the fall.

The Baumans will also be a family act again. Doug, head professional at Biltmore in Barrington, will be joined by sons Greg and Riley.

Carlos Sainz Jr., of Elgin, is also part of the pro contingent. The low amateur in the 2006 Illinois Open at The Glen Club in Glenview, Sainz played on the PGA Tour last year and is splitting time between the and PGA Latinoamerica tours this season.

Gary Groh, the long-time head professional at Bob O’Link, in Highland, Park, will be the oldest player in the field. The 71-year old Groh won the Illinois Open when it was contested at Royal Fox 22 years ago.

Royal Fox returns as the tournament site after a 15-year hiatus and this year’s staging marks the 25th anniversary of the first Illinois Open played at the course. Since last hosting the tournament has changed its format to allow more players from the state-wide qualifying rounds to participate in the finals. That necessitated the need for an alternate course, and Royal Hawk will fill that bill.

The field will play 18-hole rounds at both courses Monday and Tuesday and the final round – for the low 50 and ties and anyone within 10 strokes of the lead – will be at Royal Fox on Wednesday.