Tuesday marked the start of the biggest six days of tournament golf in Illinois this year. The 26th Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open, at Mistwood in Romeoville, started things off with a 36-hole session. The final round is Wednesday (TODAY) and then the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic begins its four-day run on Thursday in downstate Silvis.
Neither event was held in 2019 due to pandemic concerns, and that only magnified some fond memories in the IWO field.
Tristyn Nowlin, the recent University of Illinois star, takes a one-stroke lead over Ueakarn Songprasert, of Bloomindale, into the final 18 holes at Mistwood. Playing well at MIstwood is nothing new for Nowlin. In 2018 she finished second in both the IWO and Women’s Western Amateur there.
“I love this place,’’ she said. “Technically it’s been three years since I’ve been here, but it seems like two weeks.’’
Nowlin was low amateur in her runner-up finish in 2018. She recently turned professional and recently won the Michigan Women’s Open.
“I’m just playing state opens for now,’’ she said. “I’ll have a lot of good trips since making the transition, and whatever money I make I’ll use for (LPGA) Q-School.’’
After Wednesday’s final round she’ll compete in state opens in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida before qualifying school begins in the fall.
While Nowlin has her own good memories of Mistwood, the field’s veterans stars Nicole Jeray and Jenna Pearson have theirs, two. Both won the tournament twice, Jeray in 1998 and 2003 and Pearson in 2007 and 2011. Only amateur Kerry Postillion, with three wins in the IWO’s first six stagings, won more times.
Jeray and Pearson both looked back on the two individuals who did the most to get the tournament to where it is today but are no longer here. Kosin, who founded the event in 1995, was just named to the next induction class into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. He was a cancer victim in 2009.
Mistwood owner Jim McWethy, who provided strong support once the event moved to Mistwood in 1999, passed away within the last year after dealing with a lung ailment.
“I knew Phil for a long time. He was such an advocate for women’s golf,’’ said Pearson, who lost an epic 10-hole playoff in a bid for a third IWO title. “Phil was gung-ho to have us here, and both Phil and Jim were unbelievable guys.’’
Jeray is eighth and Pearson tied for 16th going into the final round.
“This tournament is all because of Phil Kosin,’’ said Jeray, who had a long career on the LPGA Tour and is now a full-time teacher at Mistwood. “He was very upset that there was no Illinois Women’s Open. I had played in the men’s Illinois Open. Who know if this tournament would have ever happened without Phil Kosin. He was ahead of his time.’’
McWethy was in ill health when Jeray started working at Mistwood.
“I was just starting to get to know him,’’ she said. “This club is all because of his heart and his passion. I’m really sorry I didn’t get to know him better.’’