Curtis Malm, may have been the defending champion in the Illinois PGA Players Championship this week, but he was lucky to even be in the field.
The 36 players invited into the last of the IPGA’s four major tournaments is determined off a season-long point list, and Malm was one spot out until Shaun McElroy, of North Shore in Glenview, dropped out.
“It was the same as last year,’’ said Malm. “I didn’t play much. This was only my fourth event. I snuck in off my finish (11th) at the (IPGA) Championship.’’
Malm’s win was no fluke, though. The director of golf at White Eagle, in Naperville, has been one of the section’s top players for years. He won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2000, then went on to win back-to-back titles in the IPGA Match Play as well as the IPGA Players. Now he needs only to win the IPGA Championship to own a title in all four of the section’s majors.
“That’s No. 1 on my priority list,’’ said Malm, whose club will host next year’s Illinois Open for the second time in three years.. “It would be the culmination of everything if I could finish the Illinois PGA Grand Slam.’’
Malm shot 68 in Tuesday’s final round of the 36-hole IPGA Players at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest. His 3-under-par 141 was good enough for a one-stroke win over Brian Carroll of The Hawk, in St. Charles. Reigning IPGA champion Andy Mickelson, of Mistwood in Romeoville, and Garrett Chaussard, director of instruction at Skokie Country Club, tied for third, two behind Malm.
The tournament came down to the final hole. Malm made birdie after hitting a wedge shot to three feet. Then he waited for the rest of the field to finish. Carroll, his main challenger, needed to make par from a green-side bunker to force a playoff but he couldn’t connect on his par-saving putt.
Chaussard came into the last event offering Player of the Year points trailing only Chris French, of Aldeen in Rockford. French faded to a 79 in the final round and wound up in a tie for 13th place. That enabled Chaussard to earn his second Player of the Year honor in the last three years.