Former Illinois PGA executive director Vance Redfern dies

Writing from Chicago

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Vance Redfern, a career sports administrator who was executive director of the Illinois PGA Section from 1989 to 1995, died Sunday, Sept. 15, in Silver City, New Mexico. He was 78.

Redfern succeeded Ken Boyce as executive director of the Illinois PGA. In his tenure, the office staff doubled and the section grew in both professionals served and in stature.

“The administrative leadership Vance brought to the Illinois Section truly allowed us to become one of the most progressive sections in the country,” said Michael Miller, who rejoined the Illinois PGA under Redfern in 1991 and eventually succeeded him. “His vision for growth and his ability to build and train a cohesive staff with the experience necessary to service a growing membership helped pave the way for many of the things we were able to accomplish as a section in the ensuing years.”

Redfern was involved in college athletics before and after serving as executive director, as an assistant athletic director at Illinois and a similar post at San Diego State. Both tenures ended in controversy, but Redfern’s stint at the Illinois PGA was spotless.

“He brought a new dimension to our association both with his technical expertise as well as with his dynamic personality,” longtime Kankakee Country Club professional Paul Reinking said in 1999, when he was the section president and Redfern, then at San Diego State, was a candidate for athletic director at New Mexico State.

Redfern was the third executive director of the section, following Mike Hall in 1975, who established an office for the group that previously was run by longtime president Harry Pezzullo out of his trunk, and Boyce. He was the mentor to Miller after his return from a sports marketing firm. 

“Vance was not just a boss,” Miller recalled from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he helms the Southwest PGA. “He was a true mentor, friend and confidante. The guidance and counsel he provided me early in my career without a doubt helped me become a better Section Executive Director and has played a huge role in my career.”

Redfern was also a hands-on executive.

“Vance was never hesitant to step in and do whatever was necessary to get the job done,” Miller said. “He wasn’t one to just direct from behind the desk. He never asked or expected staff to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself. He led by example and because of that he earned the respect, dedication and loyalty of his team.”

Redfern’s last posting, as executive director of the Western New Mexico University Foundation, was a return to his roots. He was a 1963 graduate of Western New Mexico, a standout on the golf team, and a member of the school’s hall of fame. He retired in 2014.

His wish was to not have a service.

– Tim Cronin




Johns surprise winner as Small falters

Writing from Hinsdale, Illinois

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

There are no locks in golf, no matter how large the lead with 18 holes remaining.

Arnold Palmer could have told you that. Greg Norman still can.

Now, in Illinois, so can Mike Small. Holding a four-stroke lead with nine holes to play in the Illinois PGA Championship, Small, the 12-time winner of same, dropped seven strokes in a five-hole immolation that concluded with a pair of double bogeys on the 13th and 14th holes, an unexpected display that sent him from the lead to also ran in that handful of holes.

The beneficiary – who was also playing quite well, thank you – was Travis Johns, Medinah’s director of instruction. Johns, a 41-year-old native of Australia, had finished second three times in the section’s big dance, all three times at Olympia Fields to Small, which reminded him of his golf youth Down Under.

“When I was a kid from 13 to 18, there was a tournament called the Gary Player Classic,” Johns said. “A good friend, one of the best players I’ve ever seen play golf, played in this and I came second to him five times in a row – one year by 27 shots. When I’m playing against Mike sometimes, especially at Olympia Fields, it brought back memories of this guy wiping the floor with me.”

Wednesday at Ruth Lake Country Club, the memories were neutralized. Johns, fighting through westerly winds that gusted as high as 35 mph, fired a final-round 68 for 4-under 138 to capture the 98th Illinois PGA Championship. That was a stroke better than Garrett Chaussard, who finished with 69 for 139 thanks to birdies on the 13th and 15th holes. Small, who stumbled to a 7-over 78, tied with Brian Carroll (72) for third at 1-under 141.

Wednesday at Ruth Lake Country Club, the memories were neutralized. Johns, fighting through westerly winds that gusted as high as 35 mph, fired a final-round 68 for 4-under 138 to capture the 98th Illinois PGA Championship. That was a stroke better than Garrett Chaussard, who finished with 69 for 139. Small, who stumbled to a 7-over 78, and Brian Carroll (72) tied for third at 1-under 141.

The centerpiece of Johns’ round, which matched Dakun Chang's 68 as the best round of the day, was a string of three straight birdies beginning at the 13th. He was in the threesome ahead of Small, and so was charging when Small was retreating.

“I thought we were playing for second today,” Johns said. “The conditions were really, really difficult. I generally play pretty good in the wind because I can hit it low.”

That worked all the way around, especially on the par-4 10th, where he took dead aim at the peninsula green some 265 yards away and hit it.

“I have always gone for that green,” said Johns, who can belt it. “It was a two-club wind so it was like 285, and I can carry it about that. Luckily I hit it good and straight and it went on the green.”

It paid off with the second of his five birdies and cut Small’s lead to three strokes. It had been five at the start of the day.

Then came the birdie run and the move into the lead, not that he was sure of where he stood until about the 15th hole.

“I think it all happened really quickly,” Johns said. “It flipped everything. But we still didn’t really know.”

All of this was accomplished without the benefit of a sand wedge. Johns had lended his to a Medinah member who promptly went out of town. Since he wasn’t putting to his standard on Tuesday, he added a second putter to his bag on Wednesday, but never used it.

“I had it just in case,” Johns said. “If things didn’t go well, I would have used the other one. It worked out.”

It did, for his third Illinois major, the previous two an Illinois PGA Match Play and the Players Championship. He’s not only $12,000 richer, but an Illinois Open victory away from a career grand slam.

“That one’s getting a bit tougher,” Johns said. “I had a kid hit a hybrid past my driver this year. It’s getting ridiculous."

No true club pro has won the Illinois Open since Todd Tremaglio in 1998.

“We’re going to try our best,” Johns said with a smile.

Not smiling was Small, disappointed by his disastrous turn of events, but not angry.

“I’m not as upset as I thought I’d be,” Small said. “If this happens one time out of 13 times, I’m all right with it.

“I can’t remember the last time I did something like that. I think I gave away one Illinois Open with a three-putt bogey coming in. Besides that, I’ve had leads and I’ve held them pretty good. Sometimes when you’re not on your game, leads are harder to hold.

"It is what it is. I just hit bad shots. I hit wrong clubs four times on the back nine. But I didn’t play well from the start. Even though I shot under par on the front, it was a struggle.

“On 13, I laid up one inch in the rough, there was mud on my ball, and it was a difficult shot. On 14, I hit the wrong club.”

Small’s third on the par-5 13th carried 10 yards over the green. His pitch was short, his chip was just on the green, and he two-putted for a double-bogey 7 from there. Then his misclub on the par-3 14th ended up in the water, setting up another double.

“My fault,” Small said. “I didn’t play good. I didn’t handle the bad breaks. I didn’t fight through those. Some bad squirrelly stuff.

“I’m sure a lot of people aren’t unhappy with me.”

Around Ruth Lake

The top 10 players qualified for the PGA’s club pro championship next spring, thus getting a shot at making next year’s PGA Championship: Johns, Chaussard, Carroll, Small, Curtis Malm, Chris French, Andy Mickelson, Julian Thompson, Dakun Chang and Chris Ioriatti. … With high wind and no cut, the final round scoring average of 79.19 strokes, about eight strokes over par on a course that played to 6,709 yards.

Tim Cronin



Small comes up big - again

Writing from Hinsdale, Illinois

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mike Small has come from behind to win some of his dozen Illinois PGA Championship titles, but he’s most comfortable as a front-runner.

As in Tuesday, when the Illinois men’s coach raced through the field at Ruth Lake Country Club, scoring 8-under-par 63, a competitive course record, to take a five-stroke lead into the final round of the abbreviated 98th edition.

Small was 5-under after five holes and increased his lead from there, finishing with a pair of birdies to build a lead Secretariat would be proud of.

“I just want to play good golf,” said Small, whose swing adjustment about a fortnight ago to stand a bit farther from the ball at address paid off handsomely.

It was Small’s third 63 in the section championship. The others came in the opening round in 2007 and the second round in 2010. He won those titles by three and 11 strokes, respectively.

The competitive course record had been 6-under 65, set by Bart Bryant in 2013 U.S. Senior Open qualifying. Travis Johns, who scored 1-under 70 on Tuesday along with Garrett Chaussard, has the overall mark of 62 in a round of casual play.

For Small, who had six birdies, plus an eagle on the par-5 fifth, the key was staying in the moment.

“I try to do what I tell other people, not to think about it,” Small said of his torrid start. “When I struggle playing and get in bad ruts, it’s because I look at a round of golf like a coach. I evaluate everything. I evaluate recruits, my team, but when you play, you can’t evaluate when you’re playing, because if I do, then you’re out of what you’re playing.”

Small counted his 240-yard 3-wood to 12 feet on the par-3 third as a bonus birdie. It moved him to 3-under, and dropping a 30-foot eagle putt on the fifth brought him to 5-under in as many holes. It was the day’s only eagle on the 522-yard par 5.

It could have been better. He splashed an 8-iron into the water on the par-5 15th and missed a trio of 10-footers.

“It should have been in the 50s,” said one observer.

Small had scored 1-under 71 in Monday’s round, which was cancelled when more than half the field was unable to finish. He tried to put that aside by the time he reached the first tee.

“I was in a position where I wasn’t sure it was good or bad,” Small said. “Who knows what I was going to shoot today. You try not to evaluate it, but human nature is to look at it. I was 1-under but four back (of Brian Carroll).”

Carroll scored 2-under 69 in his do-over, three strokes higher than the original 66 that was vaporized. He’s tied for third with Chris French (68 on Monday) entering the Wednesday’s second and final round.

Between Small and that duo is Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson, eligible to play in the section soiree for the first time. He made the most of it with a 3-under 68 featuring a quartet of birdies.

Mickelson’s charge on the morrow is to track down Small.

“I’d just like to keep pace,” Mickelson said. “Honestly, I would hope he shoots another 8-under, because it’s real easy to watch and pace yourself on. If he does, it’s over, but if you keep pace, you’re in (second) anyway.”

Small’s first victory in the Illinois PGA came in 2001, when he beat Dino Lucchesi by two strokes at Kemper Lakes. He won eight straight from 2003-2010 and picked up victories in 2013, 2014 and 2016 as well. He’s 94-under with a 47-stroke margin over the field in his dozen triumphs.

Something of a part-time player with his coaching duties, Small said this was only his fourth tournament of the year. He adjusted his swing to stop crowding the ball at impact at the behest of Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute, who watched him hit balls in Champaign a few weeks ago.

“He a biomechanist, and he saw something he thought would help,” Small said. “It helped.”

Around Ruth Lake

Small on cancelling the first round: “That’s an argument for another day. You can’t have an opinion on it. If you do, it’ll mess with you.” … An ace was recorded by Kurt Rogers of Decatur’s South Side Golf Club with a 3-wood on the 242 yard par-3 third hole. Alas, he gave the two strokes back two holes later on the par-5 seventh. He finished with a 2-over 73. … While Small, Carroll and French were under par both Monday and Tuesday, Jim Billiter and David Pagelow couldn’t repeat the feat, scoring 72 and 66 respectively. … The field averaged 77.60 strokes on a breezy day. Six players were under par and another seven at par.

Tim Cronin



Carroll's lead washed out in deluge

Writing from Hinsdale, Illinois

Monday, August 26, 2019


Three rain delays, the last of which flooded a portion of the golf course, wiped out the first round of play in the 98th Illinois PGA Championship at Ruth Lake Country Club. Because at least half the field did not finish, the scores of those who started were wiped out. The first round will be replayed tomorrow. The schedule for the remainder of what is usually a 54-hole test has not been finalized.

Before that decision, made just before 5 p.m., a number of good rounds had been turned in. The following account reports what had taken place before the third and final rain delay:


On-and-off golf doesn’t seem to bother Brian Carroll. That equanimity served him well on Monday at Ruth Lake Country Club. Hopscotching across a pair of rain delays, and just beating a third to the clubhouse, Carroll scored 5-under-par 66 to take the lead in the still-in-progress Illinois PGA Championship, a lead wiped out when play was halted for the day.

“I’m really happy with the outcome,” Carroll said after finishing his round with a 20-foot birdie putt featuring four feet of break. “I rolled in a couple you don’t expect.”

Carroll’s effort, including birdies on three of his first four holes, earned him a two-stroke lead by 3:04 p.m., when the lighting-warning system hooter blew, forcing the remainder of the field off the course. Unlike the earlier delays, there was no lightning, but the subsequent deluge brought an end to the proceedings for the day and prompted the cancellation.

Jim Billiter (Kemper Lakes) and Chris French (Aldeen), at 3-under 68, share second among those who finished. David Paeglow, the king of Kishwaukee, came in at 2-under 69, with 12-time champion Mike Small carding 1-under 70 with a bogey at the last.

They’re the only players under par, including the majority of the field still to finish. Fifty-nine players from the afternoon contingent of the field of 133 hadn’t even started.

“Stop and go, everybody’s got to do it,” said Carroll, whose other birdie highlights included a 20-footer on No. 13 and a 25-footer on No. 17. “As long as you get your body loose, you’re all right.”

This had been Carroll’s best start in an Illinois major since a 66 to open the 2016 Illinois Open. He finished in a tie for 12th.

In real life, Carroll is the head pro at the Hawk Country Club in St. Charles. He’ll be able to get plenty of work in there before heading to Ruth Lake, jugging his vocation and avocation like the rest of the field.

“I was planning to go there in the morning before I come here, get stuff done and be not too much behind when I get back on Thursday,” Carroll said. “This is not the main part of our job. It’s part of it – we love to play tournament golf and we’re lucky to play great places like Ruth Lake.”

Billiter bounced back from a 1-over 36 on his first nine – featuring a four-putt double-bogey on the 17th hole – with a four-under 32 to finish.

“I was hitting it good,” Billiter said. “If you drive it well, it’s wedges in. Plus I was playing with Curtis (Malm) and we were hitting it right next to each other. So I could see hit shot go into the green, so I had a lot of teaches. I was fortunate to be behind him at certain times.”

Billiter said he’d been missing too many fairways this year, but not on Monday.

“Once I hit fairways, I can get my confidence back like the old days three years ago,” Billiter said. “I know I can go pretty decent from the fairways. From the trees, I have problems.”

Tuesday, he and the rest of the field get to try the same thing again.

Tim Cronin



Thomas drives away with BMW

Writing from Medinah, Illinois

Sunday, August 18, 2019 

Justin Thomas made 27 birdies and two eagles this week on Medinah No. 3, but the biggest reaction he made all week came when he sank a 14-foot putt to save par on the treacherous par-4 12th hole.

An instant after the ball tumbled into the cup, Thomas’ right fist punched the air. His lead over challenger Patrick Cantlay in the BMW Championship would remain three strokes. It had been six at the start of the day, then was whittled to five, four and then two with a two-shot swing on the par-5 10th. Thomas had birdied the 11th with a lovely pitch to two feet to go three strokes ahead, but with Cantlay threatening, he couldn’t afford another miscue.

Thus, the long punch-out to the fairway after finding the right rough off the tee, followed by the pitch to 14 feet. Followed by, to his great relief, the par-saving putt.

“The birdie on 11 was big but the par on 12 was bigger,” Thomas said. “The tee shot was right behind a tree, and Jimmy (Johnson, his caddie) said, ‘Chip it out.’ That putt gave me a lot of momentum.”

Enough for him to grab the BMW Championship by the keyring and drive away with it.

Cantlay would get no closer than three strokes the rest of the way, and while Hideki Matsuyama, who needed only 20 putts in slapping his second 63 in three days on the scoreboard, he was never a threat.

Thomas’ total is almost a typographical error: 25-under-par 263 with a finishing 4-under 68. Cantlay’s runner-up total of 22-under 266 with a closing 7-under 65 would have won all but seven of the 116 playings of the Western Open / BMW. Hideki Matsuyama took third at 20-under 268 by throwing a second 9-under 63 in three days into the fight. And he was still five strokes back. 

Tony Finau’s score of 18-under 270, good for solo fourth place, was the winning score of Tiger Woods at the 2006 PGA. The ghost of Tom Bendelow, the original architect of No. 3, must be wondering what the royal and ancient game has come to.

While Thomas moseyed about Medinah like it was his personal playground as some 35,000 fans looked on, appearances deceived.

“I was really nervous driving to the course,” Thomas said. “Time to put the phone away. Then the locker room guys giving me advice on how to finish off a tournament. I was like, ‘I’ve done this a couple times, guys, but thank you.’ It’s a lot of the outside noise that makes it harder sometimes to stay focused.”

Turned out having a six-stroke lead made him more nervous than a pot of coffee, and invited the world to offer a pat on the back.

“I had guys telling me congratulations on the front nine, on No. 13,” Thomas said. “This tournament is far from over.”

Thomas was 1-under on the front nine and even for the day after a bogey on the 10th hole, but hammered a wedge out of the right rough on the par-4 11th to two feet for a birdie he said “propelled me.” He might have been too giddy given the next tee shot, but the big save steadied him and he played final final six holes in three under, sinking an 11-footer on the par-3 13th, a 4-foot, 9-inch putt on the par-4 15th, and a 14-footer at the par-4 18th, right after Cantlay closed with a 38-foot birdie.

Even that wasn’t good enough the way Thomas could seemingly summon the ball to disappear when he needed to down the stretch.

“I think I needed to make the putts on 12, 14 or 15 if I really wanted to get some momentum on my side,” said Cantlay, who birdied only the 15th, of those three holes, but missed a 19-footer for eagle after driving the green on the 291-yard hole. “Him saving par on 12 was big, and I tried to get one back on 13 (sinking a 15-footer for birdie) and he made it (from 12 feet) on top of me. I thought I hit good putts on 14 and 15 and they didn’t go in.

“He just played really well, and it was going to be hard for me to get to 25-under anyway.”

The triumph not only made Thomas $1.655 million richer, it vaulted him to the top see in next week’s Tour Championship. Under the curious handicap scoring system concocted by the PGA Tour’s skunk works, Thomas will be listed as 10-under on the scoreboard before he strikes a ball in anger. Cantlay, the No. 2 seed, will be 8-under, and so on until the final five players in the 30-man field, including Bryson DeChambeau, start at even par.

“I can certainly say one thousand percent I never slept on a Wednesday lead,” Thomas said to laughter.

The race to East Lake

Matsuyama, Lucas Glover and Jason Kokrak climbed into the top 30 and are off to Atlanta for a shot at the pot of gold, while Shane Lowry, Andrew Putnam and Harold Varner III dropped out to make room the them.

Tiger Woods finished tied for 37th at 7-under 281 and well out of the running to defend the Tour Championship he captured last year. He needed to finish 11th or thereabouts to have a chance at moving on.

“I didn’t have the short game I needed to make a run,” Woods said.

Only twice in 18 holes did his approach shot land within 20 feet of the cup.

“I don’t know if it’s reps or not. I didn’t have a feel for what I needed to do this week. I struggled out of the bunkers this week, especially today. I misjudged the sand – some were hard, some had some softness to it.”

Around Medinah

Phil Mickelson changed his shoes in the parking lot and hit only a few drives and chips before getting to the first tee, the hectic regimen because lighting struck the Eaglewood Resort and started a small fire during an early-morning thunderstorm. Mickelson evacuated but left his clubs and golf clothes in his top-floor suite. They were retrieved just in time. “The building got struck by lightning right above me and blew out a brick chimney,” Mickelson said. … To the PGA Tour’s credit, the round was played by USGA rules with the ball down, rather than the “lift, clean and place” local rule commonly used after heavy rains. Medinah was socked by over 3/4 of an inch of rain in the early morning, and 1.94 inches for the week. “I was very surprised,” Woods said of the decision. … Matsuyama’s 20-putt final round is the lowest for a Western Open in the Shotlink era. The PGA Tour mark is 18, shared by 10 players. … The scoring average for the week was 69.928, precisely 2.072 strokes under par, while the Round 4 average of 70.420 was the highest of the week. … There were seven bogey-free rounds on Sunday, jumping the week’s total to 34. Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Vaught Taylor and Brandt Snedeker each had two of them. … The announcement of BMW’s three-year extension as sponsor of the tournament neglected to mention the length, though that has been confirmed, came out Sunday rather than Tuesday after a clash of egos within the automaker, and was never issued as a printed release despite, or perhaps because of, three PR operations being involved. … Next year’s BMW is at Olympia Fields Country Club in south suburban Olympia Fields, which has hosted five previous Western Opens, the most recent, in 1971, won by Bruce Crampton.

Tim Cronin