Thursday
Aug302018

Chang over Carroll in Illinois PGA playoff

Writing from Grayslake, Illinois

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The wait was worth it for Dakun Chang.

It took four days and three extra holes, but Chang prevailed in the 97th Illinois PGA Championship, beating Brian Carroll to capture the title in a three-hole playoff at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club in Grayslake. A pair of birdies combined with bogeys by Carroll on the first and third playoff holes gave Chang a 11-15 victory after they tied at 4-under-par 212.

“He had a rough first playoff hole, so I had to play smart,” Chang said.

For Chang, it’s his first state major, earned after he tied for third last year and tied for seventh in 2015, his first year in the Illinois PGA Section. Thursday’s triumph is an indicator he’ll be a threat for decades to come.

“I’d been contention the last couple years, so this feels really good,” Chang said.

Chang, an assistant at Twin Orchard in Long Grove, won $11,200 along with getting his name on the Jim Kemper Cup. He dropped a six-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, the par-5 third, and one of similar length on the par-5 18th to close things out after Carroll’s last hope ended when his approach leaked left and found a pond.

“I had 295 in, so it wasn’t like I was going to get anywhere back by the pin, but I thought I could get close to the front edge and maybe make a long one or chip in,” Carroll said. “But I hammered it too far left.”

Chang, a 26-year-old native of Asheville, N.C., came into the storm-delayed final eight holes leading by two strokes, but bogeyed the 11th and 12th to fall behind Carroll, who birdied No. 11 immediately ahead of Chang.

“I had a rough start,” Chang said. “I just wanted to get back in my game plan, try not to worry about it too much.”

He steadied his game with a par on the 13th and climbed back into a tie for the lead with a six-foot birdie putt on the devilish par-4 14th after a tremendous approach shot from the right rough. He was 139 yards out and in a divot.

“That was a good shot,” Chang said, smiling.

Carroll was on his way to parring in, and Chang did the same on the last four holes, setting up the playoff. Carroll scored 3-under 69 in the final round, the first 10 holes of which were played on Wednesday before darkness, while Chang scored 1-over 73.

“The last three holes I had a lot of chances, but nothing fell,” Chang said.

Carroll, the head professional at Royal Hawk in St. Charles, was in the same situation. His birdie on No. 11 from six feet was followed by seven straight pars.

“I was four shots out coming into the third round,” Carroll said. “I got a little bit back yesterday, got one (birdie) to start the day but couldn’t get another to get to 5-under. I didn’t think 4-under was going to be enough. I thought 5-under at least. I was lucky enough to be in the playoff.”

His drive on the first playoff hole landed in the left fairway bunker, and things went downhill from there, but he grabbed his best finish in the section championship regardless, plus $8,200.

“I’ve been trying to snag a major out here, and coming close,” Carroll said. “Semifinals in the match play this year before Chris Green knocked me out, a good first round in the Illinois Open two years ago. So I’ll keep playing good golf and see what happens.”

Curtis Malm of White Eagle in Naperville took third with a closing 1-under 71 for 2-under 214, his fifth top-three finish in the Illinois PGA Championship. Chris Ioriatti (70), Green (71) and Travis Johns (74) tied for fourth at 1-under 215. Ioriatti birdied twice on Thursday morning, Green birdied the last, and Johns, playing in the final pairing with Chang, missed on too many birdie chances for him to recount, and couldn’t get the double-bogey on the par-3 fifth on Wednesday out of his mind. His approach flew into the hazard.

“I didn’t deal with it very well,” said Johns, who posted his sixth top-five finish since joining the Illinois Section in 2010. “I don’t mind making a bad score if I hit a bad shot, which I hit plenty of, but that one wasn’t bad. I just misjudged the wind.”

With Chang, Carroll and Mike Small already exempt into next year’s PGA Professional Championship, the next nine finishers made the field: Malm, Ioriatti, Green, Johns, Matt Slowinski, Steve Orrick, Roy Biancalana, Luke Hemelstrand and Tim Streng. Slowinski’s solo seventh is his ninth top-10 finish, while Orrick’s solo eighth is his seventh in the top 10.

The unsung heroes of the week populated the Stonewall Orchard grounds crew, headed by superintendent Larry Flament. Working long hours in heat, cold and rain, they kept the course playable despite drenchings that flooded area basements and extended the championship to a fourth day.

The field of 57 finishers, who shared in the purse of $70,065.03, averaged 75.35 strokes in the final round.

Tim Cronin
Wednesday
Aug292018

Chang leads Carroll by two in Illinois PGA

Writing from Grayslake, Illinois

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The phrase “overnight leader” is commonly used in golf to denote the player leading at the end of a round.

This year’s Illinois PGA Championship is different.

For the second night in succession, Dakun Chang is sleeping on the lead in the middle of a round. He did so Tuesday night, ahead by a stroke when the storm-tossed tournament was halted by darkness with Chang on the 10th tee at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club.

Wednesday night, the Twin Orchard assistant does so again, this time with a two-stroke advantage on Brian Carroll of Royal Hawk with eight holes to play in the final round. Chang stands at 5-under, with Carroll at 3-under, Travis Johns of Medinah at 2-under and Chris Green and Curtis Malm at 1-under. That fivesome, all of whom have played 10 holes, are the only players under par.

Steve Orrick, Chris Ioriatti and Roy Biancalana are at even par through 13, 12 and 10 holes respectively.

The final round is scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. It’s the first time the championship has extended into a fourth day since 1927, when it was played at match play.

“It was a little weird day today,” Chang said. “The delay (to restart the second round) threw me off this morning. I played pretty good on the front nine (finishing the second round), and the wait again (for the 5 p.m. start) was a little rough. But there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Chang made three birdies on a four-hole stretch beginning with the fourth hole, a 307-yard par-4. Chang drove to the fringe of the green and two-putter for birdie.

“That was the best drive I hit all day,” Chang said.

He sank birdie putts on the sixth and seventh holes as well, but bogeyed the third, fifth – by hitting his tee shot into a hazard and recovering with a brilliant pitch – and ninth, by which time the light was beginning to fade. But he rebounded with a par on the par-5 10th to remain 5-under, finishing the hole after the horn blew at 7:33 p.m. because he didn’t want to open tomorrow’s play with his second shot on the hole.

“Overall I’m pretty happy about my game,” Chang said. “Just have to do nine more – eight more – tomorrow.”

Carroll, four strokes in arrears of Chang after 36 holes, closed the gap to two strokes with birdies on the third, fourth and eighth holes, offset by a bogey on No. 9. Carroll dropped his approach on the par-5 eighth to 15 feet for an easy two-putt birdie.

“I knew I needed to shoot a low round to have a chance, and sometimes it’s almost easier to do that when you can break it into two,” Carroll said. “You think, ‘I’ve got to get to six or seven-under today,’ but you can get half of that and restart in the morning and not feel the pressure of having a great round going and ‘I have to hang onto it.’ ”

Johns birdied the third and fourth holes, the latter via a pitch to 18 inches, but double-bogeyed the par-3 fifth and bogeyed the par-5 eighth, when he was fortunate to find his ball in the gunch to the left of the green.

Mike Small withdrew despite standing one off 36-hole leader Chang, because Illinois’ men’s golf team begins practice on Thursday and Small, the head coach, has to be in Champaign to supervise it. That left Chang and Johns, two strokes behind Chang at the start of the round, as a twosome in the final pairing, which started at 5 p.m. With all threesomes ahead of them, they had to pace themselves or face long waits to play.

“I tried not to think about it,” Chang said. “But it was a long day.”

The second round concluded with Chang at 5-under-par 139 thanks to a back-nine 1-under 35, enabling him to complete a bogey-free 3-under 69 across two days. He led 12-time winner Small by one before he withdrew, and Johns by two, with Roy Biancalana, Brian Carroll and Curtis Malm four back at 1-under 143. They were the only players under par, and only Sean Gervais, Chris Green and Eric Ilic were at par 144.

Even with lift, clean and place in the fairway – a condition that continued in the final round on the waterlogged course, which has taken nearly three inches of rain since Monday morning on top of downpours before play began – the field averaged 77.44 strokes in Round 2.

The cut came at 12-over 156 and included 65 players. With five withdrawals, including Small and host professional Jeff Pajula (who had to pick up his children from school), 60 started the final round, which began at 3:30 p.m. Nine finished their rounds, while Medinah head professional Marty D’Angelo had to withdraw. He had two holes remaining but has to be at work on Thursday. That leaves 50 yet to finish.

Tim Cronin
Tuesday
Aug282018

Small, Chang lead Illinois PGA, with Biancalana lurking

Writing from Grayslake, Illinois

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

By his reckoning, Roy Biancalana has played eight rounds of competitive golf in the last eight years.

Evidently, that means he’s fresh. He’s three off the lead at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club after his first two rounds in the 97th Illinois PGA Championship. He followed Monday’s 2-under 70 with a 1-over 73 and stood at 1-under 143, three strokes behind leaders Mike Small and Dakun Chang, when the storm-tossed tournament, delayed twice, was suspended for the day.

Where has he been? In Florida, for a start, and working his other job, that of a relationship coach.

“I was out of golf,” the 58-year-old Biancalana said. “I hit balls on the range, but I wasn’t playing tournaments. So it’s taken me a while to get my competitive chops back. I don’t feel really comfortable yet like I used to.

“I don’t know about expectation. I was surprised it’s taken me a while to feel, competitively, into it. I thought maybe I’d struggled in mechanics, but those are fine.”

Biancalana, an ordained minister who captured a pair of Illinois Opens in his first stint in the state, had three seconds in the Illinois PGA in a five-year span, the last time in 2007.

He went away from golf to concentrate on his relationship coaching, he said, after having “so many relationship disasters.

“Guys ask, ‘What got you into that?’ and I say, ‘Well, I got help and tried to figure out my personal life. I did to some extent and thought maybe I could help other people with the kind of questions that I asked.”

That began 11 years ago, which cut into his golf in the summer, and finally halted it completely until this year, when he returned from Florida. He’s teaching golf at St. Andrews in West Chicago when he’s not relationship coaching.

The trio of Small, Travis Johns and Curtis Malm finished in the gloaming, with Small carding his second consecutive 2-under 70 to stand at 4-under 140 entering the final round. Chang went out in 2-under 34 and stood at 4-under through 27 holes. He’s in one of 14 groups which will finish on Wednesday morning. The final round is planned for Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ll be in it tomorrow unless Dakun goes nuts on the back nine,” Small said. “I started off strong, birdied the first two holes, and then kinda hung in there the rest of the day.”

Small, the 12-time section champion, bogeyed the seventh hole but rebounded with a birdie on No. 14 to play the last 11 holes 1-under.

Johns birdied the seventh, eighth and 14th holes and was tied for the lead before a three-putt bogey on No. 15.

“It was fairly uneventful for me,” Johns said. “I had very good opportunities on 10, 11, 13 and didn’t make any of those.”

Johns has four top-five finishes in the last seven years, including joint second in 2013 and 2016. Chang tied for third last year and tied for seventh in 2015.

 

Small and Chang leads Johns (70 for 3-under 141) by a stroke and Biancalana, Malm and Brian Carroll by three. They’re the only six players under par, with Sean Gervais and Chris Green at even-par 144 and Eric Ilic even through 17 holes.

“I think the course is playing really hard,” Biancalana said. “Every hole’s a crosswind, and it’s difficult to get the distance. There are some places you don’t want to go.

“And these are probably the toughest conditions we’ve played all year, in terms of hot and sticky and windblown and the course is difficult. That’s why I feel exhausted.”

In Biancalana’s place, that was the par-3 fifth hole, which he double-bogeyed. He rebounded with birdies on the eighth and 13th holes before bogey on the 14th preceded a run of pars the rest of the way. He, Rich Dukelow and Brian Brodell had just arrived at the scoring area before the afternoon’s first rumble of thunder was heard. It came about a half-hour after the 89-degree heat and heat index of 96 subsided somewhat.

The day was bookended by heavy thunderstorms. The first one, which arrived before dawn and overstayed its welcome, dumped enough rain on the property to submerge the putting green and flood some bunkers.

Quick work by the Stonewall Orchard grounds staff allowed for a 9:45 a.m. start, 2 1/2 hours behind schedule, which meant the final threesome of the day commenced play at 4:12 p.m. They were on the course for just over an hour when play was suspended at 5:14 p.m., seconds after the first rumble of thunder from a storm that blew up just west of the course. That delayed play until 6:30 p.m., when the action resumed for 66 miutes until the flag was finally planted in the 18th hole for the day.

Tim Cronin

Monday
Aug272018

Streng leads seven by one in Illinois PGA

Monday, August 27, 2018

Writing from Grayslake, Illinois

Tim Streng did Monday at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club what he teaches youth golfers to do the other six days of the week. Hit it close and make the putts.

Streng, an instructor at the Wildcat Golf Academy at The Glen Club, fired a 3-under-par 69 and leads the 97th Illinois PGA Championship by a stroke over a sevensome of notables, including 12-time champion Mike Small.

“It was a tough day with the wind,” Streng said of the 20-mph southwesterly breeze, “but I had my wedges dialed in. Hit a lot of them to 10-12 feet and capitalized on a few. All my numbers were in a good spot.”

Streng seemed impervious to the wind. He birdied the third, eighth, 13th and 14th holes, but was vexed by the wind on the par-3 fifth, where he said it was swirling, and scrambled for par. On most of Stonewall’s holes, there was a crosswind, and on most of the others, it was either with the player or in his teeth. His only bogey was on the downwind seventh.

Streng, who won the Illinois PGA Assistant’s title in 2015, leads Small, Dakun Chung, Curtis Malm, Brian Carroll, Rich Dukelow, Roy Biancalana and Kurt Rogers by a stroke entering Tuesday’s second round.

“I thought the wind was a factor,” said Small, who authored three top-10 finishes in as many weeks during a mid-summer swing on a Champions Tour, finishing with a tie for 10th in the Senior Players Championship. “I made some good par putts, made a couple two-footers for birdie and a couple of others, but otherwise made nothing.”

Small, winner of five of the six Illinois PGAs played on this Arthur Hills-designed course, was 3-under until a bogey on the par-4 16th.

Malm played with Small, hitting 15 greens in regulation and paying the price with bogey on his other three holes, the fifth, seventh and 16th. But he made five birdies, including on the last two holes, to more than make up for it.

“You just try to survive the early rounds,” Malm said. “Try to play well on Monday and Tuesday and get into contention.”

Malm, who won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2000, has a solo second, two joint seconds and a tie for third in the section championship. His tie for second two years ago at Olympia Fields was painful, as he led in the late going before a triple-bogey on the penultimate hole.

“Obviously, I’d like to win it once,” Malm said. “The ultimate goal is to qualify for the PPC (the PGA Professional Championship, colloquially known as the Club Pro).”

Dukelow, a teaching pro at Medinah Country Club, eagled the par-5 eighth hole and scattered four birdies on his card en route to his 70, and did so playing hurt.

“I’ve been fighting a rib injury,” Dukelow said. “It’s 2 1/2 week now, but it still hurts. I don’t make a big deal about injuries, but this one hurts every time I swing. Maybe it makes my tempo better.”

Carroll, who tied for 10th last year, birdied two of his first three holes and didn’t make another until the par-4 15th, when he sank an 18-footer to make up for a bogey on No. 6.

“It’s a handful,” Carroll said of Stonewall. “I had a couple of chances early to take advantage of the course.”

Chang, off in the day’s second group, was 1-over through 10 holes, then clicked off birdies on the 11th, 14th and 15th holes, three of his five 3s on the back nine. That brought him in at 2-under 70, which held up as the lead until the early afternoon, when Streng asserted himself.

Biancalana, 58, returned to Illinois this year after a decade in Florida as a relationships coach, was bogey-free with birdies on the 16th and 18th to sneak into contention. He was a runner-up twice in the early 2000s.

Rogers, from Red Tail Run in Decatur, was the last of the field to join the crowd at 70, and did so with birdies on the ninth, 10th and 15th holes to offset a bogey on the sixth.

Defending champion Adam Schumacher scored 3-over-par 75 in uneven fashion, with a bogey-bogey-double bogey-double bogey stretch to score 43 on the front side, but raced home in 4-under 32. He’s tied for 28th. The cut will be to the low 60 and ties.

A downpour on Sunday prompted the declaration of lift, clean and place in the fairway, but it didn’t help scoring much. The field of 120 averaged 78.44 on the 6,935-yard par-72 layout. Of the top 20 players, the only one to play the most difficult stretch, holes 4-5-6, under par was Sean Gervais of Chicago Golf Club, who was 1-under thanks to a birdie on No. 4, which helped him to a 1-under 71.

Tim Cronin

Sunday
Aug122018

Crafty Koepka captures classic PGA

Writing from Town and Country, Mo.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Brooks Koepka can shed the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect tag forever now.

He’s a force in golf, and with three major championships in his pocket, has an inside track to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

And Tiger Woods confirmed he can play championship golf again.

Those are the twin lead stories to come out of the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, and if it sounds like that’s slighting Koepka, who has collected those three majors, including the last two U.S. Opens, in just six starts, consider what he says about what others think:

“I don’t care about what anybody else says. You’re going to have fans and you’re going to have people who hate you,” Koepka said after grabbing the tournament by the throat on the last four holes, and thus grabbing the Wanamaker Trophy as well.

He has more of the former than the latter now, whether he knows it or not. Thousands hung around for the trophy ceremony, which is usually conducted to the taillights of the gallery.

Koepka’s 4-under-par 66 for a PGA-record 16-under 264 was good for a two-stroke victory over Woods, whose 6-under 64 electrified the gallery of approximately 50,000 and coaxed millions to television screens around the world.

However, the numbers don’t really tell the story. Koepka and Woods both battled their way around a Bellerive course that stiffened somewhat as the day went on. Koepka snapped a tie with fellow competitor Adam Scott with 10- and six-foot birdie putts on the 15th and 16th holes after Scott had birdied five of seven holes to climb into a tie at 14-under.

Woods then battled his way within a stroke, and would have tied Koepka on the back nine but for a would-be birdie putt that was a quarter-turn short of falling in on the par-4 11th and a bogey on the par-4 14th. (Not hitting a fairway on the front nine and still scoring 3-under 32 was a push, but Woods rued his erratic tee game during and after the round.)

His chance to make history, returning to glory from the back injury that threatened his ability to walk, much less play golf, was finally thwarted by a hazard-inducted par on the par-5 17th, but he birdied the last, draining a 20-footer, to break a tie with Scott and take solo second. Scott finished at 13-under 267 with his 3-under 67.

Koepka, 28, beat two childhood favorites in Woods and Scott, which added to the flavor of the day.

“When I watched Adam win at the Players (in 2004), I was so mad when he hit it into the water, probably as mad as he was,” Koepka said. “And Tiger, he’s why all of us all play. I don’t think I ever dreamed I’d be playing against them.”

He was, and he outplayed them. All week, Koepka had generally kept the ball in play – hit the fairway, hit the green, hit the hole – while driving it over the horizon. That’s a splendid combination. Woods noticed as much in a practice round.

“It’s tough to catch Brooksie when he’s hitting it 340 (yards) down the middle,” Woods said. “At Shinnecock, he was just bombing it, and he’s doing it here. And he’s making putts. Doing that, he’s tough to beat.”

When he missed, he missed long, making recovering for par possible. Koepka double-bogeyed the sixth hole in the first round and had only four bogeys, back to back in each of the last two rounds, the rest of the way.

The bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes brought defending champion Justin Thomas briefly into a tie for the lead, but Koepka never relinquished a share. Thomas slid back with bogeys on the 14th and 16th holes. Scott failed to convert chances after climbing to 14-under on the 13th, notably at the par-5 17th when he slid a six-foot downhill putt past the hole.

Koepka kept steady of mind even when missing birdie chances at No. 12, 13 and 14. His 12-foot birdie on the 15th pushed him to 15-under, and the follow-up 6-footer on No. 16 for 16-under and a two-stroke lead effectively cued the engraver.

“I had the momentum coming off 13,” Scott said. “When I missed that putt on No. 15, and he was putting after me (and made birdie) ... you know, there are huge moments in tournaments.”

Scott saw it as the turning point.

“I had a chip (for birdie) on 16 and a putt on 17 and didn’t make it,” Scott said. “That was my last hurrah. It would have made it interesting.”

Woods’ day-long adventure made it very interesting. They sold everything in the Bellerive merchandise tent but earplugs, and those were necessary, so loud were the galleries for Woods to do something.

He did plenty. Eight birdies. No fairways hit until the 10th hole. Out in 32. Visions of an 18th major championship (15th as a professional) dancing in the humid air. That turned out to be  a mirage, but for one brief shining moment, Bellerive was Camelot.

Woods’ run brought to mind the charge Jack Nicklaus made to win the 1986 Masters, only his time, the fairy tale didn’t have the dramatic ending. Four strokes off the pace at the start, Woods went out in 3-under 32 and was only a stroke back after piling a birdie on the 13th hole on top of one at the 12th.

“The golf course was soft, it was gettable, and I had to go get it,” Woods said. “I tried.”

Woods eventually hit five of seven fairways on the back nine but only matched his 3-under 32 from the front. That millimeters-short putt on the 11th and the lip-out when trying to save par on the 14th were the difference between runner-up and a playoff with Koepka.

As it was, Woods all but brought the house down.

“These fans were all so positive, I can’t thank them enough,” Woods said.

Koepka – remember him? – concurred.

“You could hear roars on 10 and 11 9 (for Woods), and they would trickle down across the course as they changed the leader boards, every three seconds,” Koepka said. “The loudest road came when I was over my putt on No. 8. Did he birdie 9?”

Oh yes, did he.

“When he did it was incredible.”

Then Koepka made some noise of his own, sinking that birdie putt, as he had the one on No. 7, as he would the one on No. 9, to go out in 2-under 33. Eventually, the throng that came to cheer Woods saluted him as well.

“I’ve never seen this many people at a golf tournament,” Koepka said. “I don’t even know what to say, there were so many.”

Years from now, many who were here will even remember Brooks Koepka was the winner.

Full house again Sunday

One of the more impressive aspects of the week was the gallery. It was obvious the thousands who poured into Bellerive each day were thrilled to be at a major championship from the way they acted. In four days on the course and watching television coverage – a writer tends to gravitate to the screen since the production can be at many places at once – only a couple of “baba booey” yells were heard. This, with perhaps 45,000 to 55,000 on hand each day. It was more like a Masters gallery, with everyone at Augusta National on their best behavior lest they get thrown out and banned for life.

Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson said he’d never seen so many people at a major championship – though Doug wasn’t yet on the beat when the Masters sold an unlimited number of practice round tickets. The crowds here compared to the big final-round crowds for the Western Open at Cog Hill when Greg Norman or Woods was leading or stalking the leader and over 50,000 would turn out on Sunday. And the 45,000-square foot PGA merchandise tent was mobbed, sometimes with admission allowed only when someone left.

In our experience, only the final round of the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, when vendors were told to be ready for 65,000 fans, appeared to be measurably larger than any of the four tournament days here.

Around the PGA

Koepka won $1.98 million, Woods $1.188 million from the purse of $11 million. Stewart Cink and Jon Rahm, who briefly threatened, tied for fourth at 11-under 269. ... Koepka is the fifth player to win the U.S. Open in the same year, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Woods. ... With the schedule change, Koepka will defend his PGA title next May at Bethpage Black before defending the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June. ... Illinois graduate and European Tour standout Thomas Pieters made a run, and was 6-under for the day when he double-bogeyed the par-5 17th hole, hitting two shots into the creek that meanders down the right side. That killed his chance at an upset and landed him in a tie for sixth at 10-under 270. He still shot 66. ... Ben Kern, the lone club pro to make the cut of the 20 in the field, scored even-par 70 on Sunday for 3-under 277 and finished tied for 43rd. ... Rickie Fowler teed it up on Sunday, but nothing happened. He scored 1-over 71 for 8-under 272 and tied for 12th. ... The field averaged 69.338 strokes on Sunday, and 70.125, barely over par, for the week. ... The U.S. Ryder Cup standings didn’t change among the top eight, who are now locked in, but Woods gave every reason to captain Jim Furyk to select him next month.

Tim Cronin