Charity first at Evans Scholars Invitational  

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

It’s a little more laid back on the Tour than the PGA Tour, the circuit those playing in this week’s Evans Scholars Invitational aspire to.

Why else would Steve Marino, a doughty professional who has seen time on both circuits, crank up a boom box and play reggae tunes during the pro-am at The Glen Club?

That just doesn’t happen on the big tour.

The stepping-stone league has a different vibe. Rare are the luxury boxes and corporate suites. Few are the televised tournaments – and the ESI, which commences Thursday morning and runs through Sunday, is not one of them. It’s like the PGA Tour, circa 1973 or so. You half-expect Charlie Coody to be on the leader board.

What abounds are quality players. A few weeks ago, hopeful Tyler Neff scored 27 for nine holes in a qualifier for the Nashville stop and wasn’t among those who made it to the week’s tournament. His round of 65 only advanced him to the playoff, and he didn’t make it out.

The biggest name in this week’s field is Angel Cabrera, whose 52 worldwide wins include the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters. He’s 49 and warming up for the senior tour, but should be a threat on the par 72, 7,225-yard Tom Fazio-designed course, where the fairways are reasonably wide and big hitters don’t have an overwhelming advantage.

Not quite as recognizable, but even more likely to contend for the $99,000 first prize from the $550,000 purse, is Alabaman Robby Shelton IV, who made a run at the Western Amateur in 2015 at Rich Harvest Farms, winning the qualifying medal and advancing to the semifinals. Shelton enters the week first on the tour money list.

Shelton has company, as 20 of the top 25 on the tour’s order of merit will tee it up. That crowd includes No. 3 Scottie Scheffler, No. 9 Tyler McCumber – son of two-time Western Open winner Mark – and No. 21 Maverick McNealy.

Local heroes include a pair of graduated Illini from the class of 2018: Nick Hardy of Northbrook and Dylan Meyer of of Evansville, Ind., the latter of whom is trying to adapt to the less-formidable course setups in professional golf compared to the amateur circuit, where hosting clubs often have a big say in protecting par.

Brad Hopfinger and Vince India, both of whom have won the Illinois Open on this course, are also in the field. India won the state championship last year, but his schedule on the circuit precludes him from defending, so this is his only appearance in the area this year.

The entire purpose of this endeavor isn’t really crowning a champion, but raising money and awareness for the Evans Scholars Foundation, the caddies-to-college program created by Chick Evans, the champion of yore, and his mother. At the moment, the program is funding the education of 985 caddie-scholars from Pennsylvania to the West Coast, with a heavy concentration of them coming from the Chicago area. To that end, Edward Jones has kicked in to allow free admission to the tournament, and CIBC helped finance the pro-am.

Around The Glen Club

Among the amateurs swatting it in the pro-am was Mike Keiser, the Chicago-based course developer who expects to make some news concerning a Chicago-area layout shortly. ... Caddie master extraordinaire Greg Kunkel, WGA boss John Kaczkowski and KemperSports prexy Josh Lesnik were also in the am portion of the field.

Tim Cronin


Olympia Fields fires Keith Foster

Writing from Chicago

Sunday, December 23, 2018

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced golf course architect Keith Foster had pleaded guilty to smuggling endangered species, which carries up to a five-year prison term on top of a $275,000 fine he agreed to pay and turning in all the illegal goods he’d imported.

On Friday, Olympia Fields Country Club fired Foster. The club announced its action at 12:04 p.m. Sunday, saying in an announcement to club members it “has severed all contracts and its relationship” with the 60-year-old architect, who ran an antique store in Virginia, and, it’s now known, an illegal business within that, on the side.

“We have done our best to mitigate the club’s damages resulting from his admitted offenses and are proceeding to formulate a plan to move forward with another architect,” the club told its membership.

Foster had been hired by Olympia to create master plans for upgrading the North and South courses, and had completed at least the South Course plan. What will happen to that plan is now unknown.

He had been selected from three other finalists: Tom Doak, Jim Urbina and Andy Staples. The club could circle back to one of those three or start a new round of interviews. The timetable called for no work to be done until the fall of 2020, which now comes after Saturday’s awarding of that year’s BMW Championship to Olympia’s North Course.

Foster, whose design for Shepherd’s Creek in Zion is one of the Chicago area’s most popular courses, has become known for his restoration work in recent years. His restoration of Philadelphia Cricket Club won raves and helped lead to more work, including a contract with Congressional Country Club near Washington.

Congressional fired Foster on Saturday. He also has contracts to renovate Omaha Country Club in Nebraska and Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas, Tex. Their status is unknown.

Tim Cronin


Olympia Fields to host 2020 BMW, whoever the sponsor is

Writing from Chicago

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Olympia Fields Country Club has found the Western Golf Association’s 2020 playoff tournament under its Christmas tree.

It may or not be called the BMW Championship, but it will be played on Olympia’s famed North Course in August of 2020, the club announced to members on Saturday.

Olympia’s board of governors unanimously approved hosting the penultimate tournament in the PGA Tour’s playoffs on Thursday night, new club president Joe Tapajna announced to the membership.

The sixth hosting of the WGA’s premier championship will mark the 100th anniversary of Olympia’s first hosting of the Western Open, when the 1920 edition was won by Jock Hutchison.

The deal had been in the works for over 18 months, Tapajna said.

“We love to host championship golf,” Tapajna said. “We think it energizes our members. It gives us the opportunity to give us a little extra push to do the things we should do in terms of improving ourselves.”

BMW’s current deal with the WGA, which began in 2007 and prompted the renaming of the Western Open, concludes with the 2019 BMW at Medinah Country Club. So far, neither a renewal of the sponsorship, the end of the sponsorship, or a new sponsor has been announced. The lack of a renewal announcement at this year’s BMW at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia has led many to believe the German automaker, whose sponsorship has included funding Evans Scholarships when a player would make a home-in-one during the tournament, will not be back.

BMW of North America, now headed by Bernhard Kuhnt, is said to be less interested in using golf sponsorship to drive sales as previous chief Ludwig Willisch.

Olympia Fields’ announcement said the club was hosting the tournament for both the financial benefit it will bring to the club and the “ability to showcase our facilities on national television and keep OFCC in the focus of the U.S. and international golf community.”

Olympia Fields jumped back into hosting tournaments with the 1997 U.S. Senior Open. Since then, it’s hosted the 2003 U.S. Open, 2011 U.S. Girls Junior, 2015 U.S. Amateur and 2017 Women’s PGA.

This will be the sixth Western Open / BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. Aside from 1920, the club also hosted in 1927 (Walter Hagen), 1933 (MacDonald Smith), 1968 (Jack Nicklaus) and 1971 (Bruce Crampton).

Olympia also has a long-standing connection with the WGA through the Evans Scholars caddies-to-college program. Only Beverly Country Club has had more caddies gain the Evans scholarship.

Cog Hill was in a long run as the host of the Western Open when BMW came in as the sponsor and the tournament was moved from July to September. Aside from moving the tournament out of Chicago every other year to boost sales, the automaker’s North American’s management quickly became dissatisfied with Cog Hill’s location, which prompted a move to the north shore for a three-tournament run at Conway Farms in 2013, 2015 and 2017. The 2019 tournament at Medinah will be the first WGA championship there since the 1966 Western Open.

In related news, Olympia is effectively adopting a wait-and-see policy with consulting golf course architect Keith Foster, whose guilty plea for smuggling endangered species into the country to sell through his Virginia antiques store will result in a sentencing in March. Foster, who could be imprisoned for up to five years, has already forfeited $275,000 and turned over the unsold illegal merchandise.

Foster has already submitted a detailed plan for upgrading both courses at Olympia Fields that would have to be approved by the membership. No work would be performed on either course until after the 2020 season.

Tim Cronin


WGA's new offices under construction

Reporting from Chicago

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Western Golf Association, headquartered in the tiny north suburban village of Golf since April 1955, is building a new office building in nearby Glenview.

The building, at 2501 Patriot Boulevard, two blocks south of Willow Road and around the corner from The Glen Club, will either be the association’s new headquarters or an office building to alleviate the strain on the present headquarters building on Briar Road near the Golf train station.

The WGA has needed more space and was seeking a new headquarters site for some time. It currently rents office space in downtown Chicago for its development – i.e., fund-raising – department, and in Oak Brook for tournament operations. The Evans Scholars operation, as well as the administration and public relations departments, remains in the Golf headquarters building.

This story broke in the late hours of Thursday. Western Golf has made no announcement on a groundbreaking, but the construction is well along.

Reporter Rory Spears both found the in-progress development and confirmed the WGA as the client of the construction firm with the village of Glenview building department on Thursday.

The WGA’s operations have exploded since John Kaczkowski succeeded Don Johnson as the CEO in 2010. It’s adding a Tour tournament in 2019 at The Glen Club and, thanks to increased fundraising via Kaczkowski-created initatives such as the Green Coat Gala and Match Play Challenge (the latter inspired by Mike Keiser), and revenue from the BMW Championship, is on track toward having 1,000 Evans Scholars in universities in the Midwest and Northwest by 2020, almost 200 more than when Kaczkowski was elevated from tournament director to boss. That will be the 90th anniversary of the admission of the first two Scholars to Northwestern.

Tim Cronin

Photos of the construction site by Rory Spears /


This story will be updated when more specifics are available.


Bradley comes back from the depths to win BMW

Writing from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Monday, September 10, 2018

The day Arnold Palmer would have turned 89

Six years removed from his last victory, Keegan Bradley had receded into the memories of many. He’d won a PGA Championship, he had a quirky stutter-step approach to the ball, and he was LPGA legend Pat Bradley’s nephew.

As he discarded the long putter when the anchoring bad was implemented, he’d also disappeared from leader boards.

He’s back. Scoring a tournament-record 20-under-par 260 brought him back, but he still needed to beat Justin Rose, who nearly always wins when big-time golf comes to Philadelphia. It took a playoff, but Bradley pulled it off, saving par while Rose bogeyed on the first playoff hole at Aronimink Golf Club to capture a rain-soaked and mud-caked BMW Championship.

Not bad for someone who went to bed Saturday night knowing he was within the top 30 for Tour Championship qualification thanks to big par putts on the last two holes of his third round, and would stay there if the final round was wiped out.

“It was the weirdest couple of days,” Bradley said. “I thought, man, if they call it I’m good, but I’m also glad I’m only three back. Thankfully we got out here and played, and I made it to Atlanta and more now.”

Bradley, who finished with his second 6-under 64 of the week, had birdied the 14th, 16th and 17th holes to get to 21-under and the lead, but bogeyed the last with a drive to the muddy left rough and an approach into the luxury suites to the right to fall back to 20-under.

“I played that 18th hole so bad,” Bradley said. “A mud ball on my second but a bad putt and the worst drive I hit all week. It left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Rose came in at 260 in the following group via a closing 3-under 67. He also bogeyed the last, leaving his second shot well short when his 4-iron was killed by a gust of wind, then failing to save par.

They would play the 18th again, and this time Bradley found the fairway, put his second in the collar 23 feet from the cup, and got up-and-down for his four.

Rose had made all 48 putts inside of five feet in regulation, but in the playoff from 7-feet 8 inches, he found the left edge. Bradley had no trouble converting from 17 inches for his first victory since 2012 at Firestone, erasing the bad taste. Within seconds, he was lifting wife Jillian and son Logan in the air as high as he’d lift the J.K. Wadley Cup.

“I thought to win and to have my son there, that would be the most incredible feeling,” Bradley said. “I’d seen it on TV so much. That was just awesome.”

His ride from PGA champion and a three-time winner, the last time at Firestone in 2012, to the bottom and back up was a difficult one, complicated by changing from the long putter to a conventional one.

“I went back and forth from an arm lock to a short putter, but I didn’t get mechanical with the long putter,” Bradley said. “When I got my swing to where it is, I was able to really sit down and focus on the fundamentals of putting with an arm putter.”

Bradley said watching Webb Simpson adapt similarly helped him immensely.

Two weeks ago at the first playoff tournament at Plainfield Country Club, he was in the final twosome after a third-round 62. He shot 78, and it looked like the Bradley of old was replaced by an old Bradley.

Not so Monday, when the delayed final round was conducted.

“I was calm today,” Bradley said. “I wasn’t calm that day.”

Part of his demeanor came from eyeing the leader boards, a departure from his norm.

“There were so many players up there and the quality of the players, I needed to know,” Bradley said. “It made me feel calm, which is rare.”

Rose climbed to No. 1 in the world rankings anyway, a decent enough consolation prize.

“It’s a boyhood dream,” Rose said of the achievement, which comes without a trophy but with a great deal of pride.

There almost wasn’t a playoff. Rose hit his third shot on the 72nd hole to 16 feet and had a nearly-straight putt to save par and win.

“I hit a great putt in regulation to win it,” Rose said. “It’s the best putt I’ve ever hit to try and win a tournament.”

It lipped out on the right side, prompting a groan from those remaining from the gallery of about 5,500 fans playing hooky from work on a dreary day.

“It’s obviously a big consolation being world No. 1,” Rose said. “That’s something I will look back on and think it was an incredible achievement, an incredible moment.

“Give me a half-hour maybe and I might be able to say I really enjoyed it.”

Billy Horschel (closing 6-under 64) and Xander Schauffele (3-under 67) tied for third at 19-under 261. Horschel raced to an opening 5-under 30, but a bogey on the par-4 15th, sandwiched between a pair of birdies, hurt his cause. Schauffele rallied with birdies on the 15th and 17th, and needed one more.

Rory McIlroy had a day that might have been spectacular. He hit 16 of 18 greens and made but two birdies on a bogey-free day, finishing solo fifth with a 68 for 18-under 262.

Tiger Woods gave it a late run, but his 5-under 65 for 17-under 263 and a share of sixth with Webb Simpson wasn’t enough. In retrospect, his even-par 70 on Friday was the damper on his week. The field averaged 67.333 strokes that day, and he failed to take advantage.

“At the end of the season, to make it back to the Tour Championship after all I’ve been through is a pretty good accomplishment,” Woods said.

Woods is also exempt into next year’s U.S. Open. His 10-year pass from his 2008 victory ran out this year.

The moment, though, belongs to Bradley. Undoubtedly a cowbell or two has been rung back home in Massachusetts, that tradition started by the parents of aunt Pat after her LPGA triumphs. How he played all week rang especially true on Monday.

The race to East Lake

Bradley, who started the week 52nd, and Xander Schauffele moved into the top 30 and earned a berth in the Tour Championship next week. Emiliano Grillo and Jordan Spieth fell out of the charmed circle.

For Spieth, it’ll be his first failure to get to Atlanta since he arrived on Tour with a flourish five years ago. He finished with a 3-over 73 for 3-under 277, tying for 54th in the BMW and ending up 31st in the season standings.

That also means he’ll fall one short of the 25-tournament minimum Tour players must play, unless they play in a previously-unvisited tournament once every four years. He could get fined $30,000, which would make the week a loss for him since he earned 20,520, but also be suspended for up to the first three tournaments next season, which is to say, in a few weeks. Of course, those are tournaments he doesn’t play in anyway, unless he’s told to to avoid the fine.

“I assume it will either be a fine or I’m adding some in the fall,” Spieth said. “I’m not sure. I was in control of my destiny and didn’t have it this week.”

Around Aronimink

Keegan Bradley won $1.62 million. Justin Rose settled for $972,000. Brian Harman, 68th and last, collected pocket change of $18,360. ... Paul Casey withdrew before the round, citing a bad back. He was locked into the Tour Championship, having arrived at Aronimink 17th in the standings. ... Ryan Armour’s 6-over 76 was the high round of the week and dropped him from a tie for 21st to a tie for 51st. ... The field averaged 68.912 for round four and 67.884 for the week, the first time a PGA Tour tournament field has averaged under 68 strokes. The last two rounds were played under lift, clean and place. ... It was the 18th playoff in Western Open / BMW Championship history, and the first since 2000, when Robert Allenby beat Nick Price at Cog Hill. ... The scoring mark of 260 eclipsed by a stroke the 261 fired by Marc Leishman last year at Conway Farms Golf Club. Leishman tied for 41st at 6-under 274.

Tim Cronin