The Women’s Western Amateur has been played without interruption since 1901, and the 123rd staging begins on Tuesday at White Eagle, in Naperville. The always popular Illinois State Amateur also tees off that day at Bloomington Country Club. This will be that tourney’s 92nd playing.
Obviously the players will be more familiar in the State Am, to be played at Bloomington for a record ninth time, but the Women’s Western – always one of the most prestigious events in women’s golf – may have its strongest field ever. The 120 competitors represent 29 states and 15 countries.
“Our partnership with the Western Golf Association (which began in 2019) has helped us strengthen our fields,’’ said Susan Buchanan, the WWGA president, “and our local players are getting better along with the national ones. They’ve realized that they can play in a big, strong national tournament without having to travel.’’
Geneva’s Sarah Arnold and New Lenox’ Grace Curran, who finished one-two in the Illinois Women’s State Amateur, are also Western contenders and Naperville’s Lisa Copeland, the runner-up as a 15-year old in last year’s Western Junior. Is also in the field.
Defending champion this week is Teglao Jeeravivitaporn of Thailand, and she’ll be trying to become the first repeat winner since Meredith Duncan in 2000-01. The 2021 champion, Marissa Wenzler, is also competing.
In its rich history the tournament has had only nine back-to-back winners, the first being Chicago’s first great woman player, Bessie Anthony, who won the first three titles in 1901-03. She was the lone three-peater, and the best known of the others to win two in a row was Hall of Famer Louise Suggs, who won in 1946-47 in the years leading into the creation of the Ladies PGA in 1950.
Past Western Am winners also include Nancy Lopez (1976), Beth Daniel (1978), Cristie Kerr (1998), Grace Park (2003), Brittany Lang (2006), Stacy Lewis (2012) and Ariya Jutanugarn (2012). Past Western competitors have won 327 times on the LPGA Tour, including 12 major titles, and made 28 Solheim Cup appearances.
While the field is stronger, the venue is also tougher than the last two playings at Park Ridge and Sunset Ridge. White Eagle was the site of LPGA tournaments from 1992-94 and also hosted two of the last three Illinois Opens. The original Arnold Palmer design was upgraded in recent years by Todd Quitno.
There will be 36 holes of stroke play qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday with the top 32 advancing to match play. Matches will run Thursday through Saturday.
STATE AM: Hinsdale’s Mac McClear will defend his title at Bloomington and try to become the first repeat winner since Ethan Farnam. He won in 2019 and 2021, with the pandemic canceling the event in 2020. Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell was the last to win in consecutive years (2002-03).
McClear, who won last year at Westmoreland in Wilmette, also captured two of the last three Big Ten individual while playing collegiately for Iowa. Last year he beat out Illinois’ Tommy Kuhl at Westmoreland, and Kuhl won’t be on hand this week. He recently entered the professional ranks, but McClear will have one particularly tough opponent in Parker Wisdom, the home club hopeful.
Wisdom, who led Illinois Wesleyan to the Missouri Valley Conference title as a senior, tied for third in last year’s State Am.
The 132 players competing at Bloomington were determined after eight state-wide qualifying rounds in June. The full field of finalists will play 18 holes on Tuesday and Wednesday, then the field will be cut to the low 35 and ties for a 36-hole wrapup on Thursday.
Bloomington, which opened in 1896, last hosted the State Am in 2018 when Jordan Hahn was the winner. At 6,561 yards and a par 70 it’ll be the shortest course to host the event since 2008.