Defending champ Cooke has a dilemma going into the Illinois Open

David Cooke won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2015 and last year as a professional. He may well have problems just making his first-round tee time to open his title defense when the 71st playing of the tourney tees off on Monday at White Eagle Club in Naperville.

Cooke’s win last year was special.  After holding off Northbrook’s Nick Hardy – now a member of the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour, for the title at The Glen Club in Glenview – Cooke was off to his wedding in North Carolina and then what he hoped would be the start of a career as a touring pro in Europe.

The wedding went off fine, the European venture not so much.  Cooke, who grew up in Bolingbrook and  starred in college at North Carolina State, missed the cut in the German Open (won by Paul Casey), the KLM Open (won by Sergio Garcia) and the Spanish Open (won by Jon Rahm).  Then he didn’t play well in the European Tour qualifying school.

“I loved Europe but played terrible, so I didn’t pursue it,’’ said Cooke, who returned to Chicago and  planned to enter qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour.  It was canceled because of pandemic concerns, but Cooke proved he can still play.  He finished second in an event on the Tour Red mini-tour at Flossmoor Country Club and shot a course record 64 in an informal round with Andy Krajewski, his long-time swing instructor, at Naperville Country Club.

A married man needs a job, though, and Cooke didn’t have a tour to play on so he did the next best thing.  He became a caddie.

He started on the Korn Ferry Tour and Daved Kocher, one of his first players, won a tournament in Mexico on March 1 – the circuit’s last event before all the golf tours were shut down for three months because of the coronavirus issue.  That immediate success led to Cooke getting work with Chesson Hadley on the PGA Tour.

Cooke carried for Hadley in the 3M Open last week in Minnesota and is on his bag again this week in the Barracuda Championship in California.

“I love caddying, and I’m getting exposure to the PGA Tour,’’ said Cooke.  “If I can get a full-time job I’m going to do it. I’ve got to stick with a full-time thing.’’

Cooke left his clubs in Chicago, and — if Hadley survives the 36-hole cut on Friday  — he’ll have a tough time getting back for the Illinois Open since the Barracuda Championship concludes on Sunday. Cooke will try, though.

“I love the Illinois Open, but there aren’t enough tournaments like that,’’ said Cooke. Winning the Illinois Open – even winning it twice – doesn’t get Cooke into any other professional events and this week’s Illinois Open isn’t like the won he won last year. Because of pandemic concerns the field for the finals was cut from 264 to 156 and White Eagle is the new host site instead of The Glen.


STATE OF MIND: The Wisconsin State Golf Association allowed out-of-state residents to compete in its State Amateur this week, and Illinois players took full advantage since the Chicago District Golf Association had previously canceled its own state championship over pandemic concerns.

About 20 Illinois players were among the 156 to tee off Monday at Milwaukee Country Club.  They were allowed in the Wisconsin event if they were members of clubs in the Badger state and promised they wouldn’t play in a corresponding championship in another state.

Wisconsin, though, lost some players, too.  Three of that state’s best amateurs opted for the Western Amateur, being contested at Crooked Stick in Indiana.  That trio includes three top college players – Hunter Eichorn (Marquette), Piercen Hunt (Illinois) and Harrison Ott (Vanderbilt).  Eichorn was the Wisconsin Amateur champion last year and Ott won the title in 2018 .

The Wisconsin Amateur ends on Thursday and the Western Am, with only two players from Illinois among its starters, runs through Saturday.  The Western is a national championship put on by the Chicago area-based Western Golf Association.

CDGA OPENER: The 107th tournament season of the Chicago District Golf Association finally got started on Monday with the CDGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe.  The tourney concludes on Wednesday (today).  The bulk of the CDGA season — including the State Amateur and CDGA Amateur — was wiped out by pandemic concerns.