There’s just one major tournament left in the Chicago area golf season, and it’s both an old and new one.
The Chicago Open, which tees off at Cantigny in Wheaton on Monday, has been played 23 times but the stagings have been spread out with a variety of competition levels. The first was in 1914 and the last in 2001. The Chicago District Golf Assn. conducted the first one at another Wheaton course – Chicago Golf Club — as a highlight in its first season in operation.
Bob Gardner, a Hinsdale Golf Club member who won the U.S. Amateur twice, captured the first Chicago Open. It was a 72-hole event then. The tournament was revived several times after that but the format and locations changed. The champions are noteworthy, though. They included such prominent players as Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bobby Locke, Ken Venturi and Luke Donald.
Donald was an amateur playing on Northwestern’s golf team when he won at Chicago’s Beverly Country Club in the only sports event played in the immediate aftermath of he 911 tragedy.
The upcoming Chicago Open is being conducted by the Illinois Junior Golf Assn. to raise funds for its programs. There were seven qualifying rounds. Three were played out of state – in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. The others were at Chicago courses to whittle the approximately 300 entrants to the starting field of 120. They’ll compete over 54 holes for a guaranteed $50,000 purse, and many of the competitors will use it as a tuneup for the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament Dec. 12-17 at LaQuinta, Calif.
“That was the intent. We scheduled it when there was a down time between professional events and when our staff was available,’’ said Carrie Williams, the IJGA executive director. “We have eight tournament directors on staff. We can administer the event with our existing staff.’’
The field was geared towards mini-tour players, but exemptions were extended to the PGA sections in Illinois and four neighboring states. The Illinois PGA got five of them, and they went to Mike Small, Steve Orrick, Rich Dukelow, Matt Slowinski and Danny Mulhearn.
The Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana sections were given three exemptions each. The field will be cut to the low 50 and ties for the final round. The tourney was last discontinued because the PGA’s satellite Buy.com Tour established a competing Chicago event, then known as the LaSalle Bank Open. It’s no longer held.
Williams believes the caliber of player will be similar or better to what it was then. Two players who won previous Chicago Opens – Scott Hebert (1998) and Bob Ackerman (1999) – will be in the field. Both are long-time Michigan club professionals
In addition to the club pros the IJGA has given exemptions to Toni Kukoc, the former Chicago Bull; Jake Scott, winner of the last PGA National Assistants Championship; and Joe Kinney, the reigning Illinois Open champion.
Malm repeats as IPGA Player of the Year
Curtis Malm, assistant professional at St. Charles Country Club, finished in a tie for 25th place in the Illinois PGA’s final major event of the season on Tuesday but it was good enough to retain his IPGA Player of the Year title.
Malm needed to hold off Matt Slowinski, assistant pro at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn, in the IPGA Players Championship at Metamora Fields near Peoria to keep his lead in the season-long point race. Slowinski tied for 36th.
Eric Ilic, of Links and Tees in Addison, won the tournament with a 4-under-par 138 for the tourney’s 36 holes. He was one stroke better than Cantigny assistant Dukelow and David Paeglow of Kishwaukee, in DeKalb.