Choi, Yang lead suspended 1st round of WPGA

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday afternoon at Olympia Fields Country Club featured Amy Yang against the course, and eventually against the weather.

She opened the 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship chasing morning leader Chella Choi, whose windblown 5-under-par 66 opened a one-stroke lead on Brittany Altomore.

But Yang had the advantage of playing much of her afternoon round on Olympia’s famed North Course in calm conditions, and took advantage from the start, making a birdie on the first hole and holing out from the fairway on the par-4 second, which is usually the 11th for member play.

A bogey on the third followed, but the 27-year-old South Korean’s card for the 6,577-yard course was nearly spotless after that, with four more birdies speckled on a field of pars and one bogey, on the par-3 17th, to stand at 5-under on the 18th tee.

Yang also beat the weather – almost. Play was suspended at 7:01 p.m. for an approaching thunderstorm. Lightning was seven miles away, too close for comfort, and the horn blew before Yang could hit her tee shot. First-round play for the 30 stranded players resumes at 7:45 a.m., with the second round slated to begin on time at 7:30 a.m.

Choi, in contrast, had to deal only with a persistent breeze from the west that gusted to 22 mph at times. While she hit only 12 greens in regulation, she made birdies on seven of those holes en route to the 66.

“My putting is there today, so I made a lot of birdies,” Choi said. “A lot of times, before a shot, I switched my clubs.”

She switched wisely enough to score birdies on four of her last six holes, a garrison finish that vaulted her to the morning lead. If Choi had a technical secret, she couldn’t explain it beyond saying “It’s a perfect line and my stroke is perfect, so I get a lot of birdies.”

That worked enough to open the stroke lead on Altomore before Yang shook down the thunder in the afternoon. And Altomore’s joined by Joanna Klatten, who was at 4-under through 16 before play stopped. She birdied the 14th and 15th to climb out of the second 10.

Meanwhile, defending champion Brooke Henderson and fan favorite Michelle Wie both opened at 3-under 68.

Henderson opened her morning round by saving par on the fourth hole with a long putt, and closed with an inward 32, birdies on three of her last six holes, plus a giddy thought.

“I was going to try to take it a day at a time and see what happens, but I’m in a great spot right now, so I’m really excited,” Henderson said.

Wie went around in the afternoon and poured in four birdies for an inward 4-under 31 after going out in 37. A brilliant approach on the 10th hole jump-started the inward half.

“I hit a sand wedge, and that was the shot that clicked for me,” Wie said. “Had a lot of fun in tough conditions.”

All the way to the finish, where she two-putted for birdie at the last, dodging a spike mark on her four-footer to finish the round.

World No. 1 Su Yeon Ryu celebrated her 27th birthday and first round as the top-ranked player with a 2-under 69, finishing just before play was called. Four birdies and a brace of bogeys were on her card. Like Choi, the wind was a factor for Ryu before it laid down at about 4:30 p.m.

“The wind was howling and sometimes changed direction,” Ryu said. “It’s really hard to make a decision. It was strong enough to affect putting as well, so that was one of the things I struggled with.”

She had 31 putts, but never three-putted, with two of her five one-putts saving par. The other three produced birdies.

Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko each scored 1-under 70 and are in a gaggle tied for 23rd at nightfall.

For Thompson, just playing was a relief. Her mother Judy was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and underwent surgery earlier in the month. She’s doing well enough that Lexi felt comfortable to play this week, and hopes to have her mother on hand at next month’s U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s been my outlet to go out and play,” Thompson said. “She’s a fighter. She always says to me, ‘Do the best you can do.’ To see how much she’s fighting, she’s an inspiration.”

Around Olympia

Photo by Len Ziehm for Illinois Golfer

Olympia Fields honorary member Carol Mann, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was the afternoon starter on No. 1. ... The sisters Jutanugarn were eight strokes apart, Moriya scoring 2-under 69, Ariya at 6-over 77 and tied for 128th. The cut is to the low 70 and ties. ... Rounds averaged about 5:15, played in threesomes on a course where many tees are but a few steps from the previous green. ... When you go 84 years between women’s major championships on a course, and have nothing of significance recorded in between, the course record is sure to be beaten. So it was when Brittany Altomore was the first to finish at 4-under 67. That blew June Beebe’s then 1-over 79 from the qualifying round of the 1933 Women’s Western Open out of the water. But Beebe, an Olympia Fields member, went on to win the title, her second in three years. ... The course was not jammed with people in the morning, but there was a good gallery with Michelle Wie’s group, and more fans turned out in the afternoon. There may have been 5,000 on hand over the course of the day. ... An Olympia member knocked down the rumor that only 70 of the club’s members had volunteered, saying, “You could hold a committee meeting out there.”

Tim Cronin



Women's PGA is wide open

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Wednesday, June 29, 2017

It’s hard to pick a winner in this week’s 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third under that name since the LPGA and PGA of America went in together on the second major championship of the year.

The reasons are myriad. First, everyone is at Olympia Fields Country Club this week. All of the top 100 players in the rankings are playing. Nobody’s ill, or hurting, or worn out and resting. That indicates a strong interest in glomming onto the big trophy and the $525,000 that goes with it.

Second, the battlefield is new to all. There’s no track record of who played well on the North Course in the past. It’s the first women’s major here in 84 years.

Third, the prize is significant. This was known as the LPGA Championship, the top competition in the organization, until three years ago, when the big partnership with the PGA of America and the luring of KPMG brought a new name to the old trophy. But most everyone of note in women’s pro golf since 1955 has won the title, from Louise Suggs and Mickey Wright to Inbee Park and defending champion Brooke Henderson. The notable exception from days of yore: Carol Mann, who learned how to play golf as a junior at Olympia Fields and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Here are the likely contenders for the crown on the 6,588-yard par-71 course beginning – expected overnight storms permitting – at 7:30 on Thursday morning:

• Henderson. The defender, a winner at Blythefield near Grand Rapids two weeks ago, jumping her to 12th in the world ranking. A big driver with decent short game, and when she’s on, deft with the putter.  Her stats are baffling. She’s third on the LPGA Tour in birdies but 83rd in putting and averages 1.78 putts when hitting a green in regulation.

“When I won Meijer, I think I kind of proved to some of the naysayers and proved to myself that I’m in a great position,” Henderson said. “This course is very tough. You’ve got to really think your way through. Hopefully that means I’m hitting a lot of fairways and keeping the ball below the hole on my second shots.”

• So Yeon Ryu. The winner last week in Arkansas, a feat that jumped her to No. 1 in the rankings from No. 3. She has a solid short game, as a 10-under 61 in the second round last week proved on top of her lead in season greens in regulation, and enough distance to keep up with the big kids. Nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts this season and the money lead – $1,212,820 – make her the favorite in a crowded field.

“I thought I was kind of far away from No. 1,” Ryu said, “but yeah, here I am, finally No 1. I’m living in a dream. I want to keep this position as much as I can, as long as I can.”

• Aryia Jutanugarn. Champion of the 2011 U.S. Girls Junior on Olympia’s South Course, she can duplicate Walter Hagen’s feat of clinching a national title on each side of the clubhouse by winning this week. She arrived at Olympia in form, having won in Canada a fortnight ago to sit briefly at No. 1, and hasn’t scored over par in her last 15 rounds, as befitting someone first on the LPGA Tour in birdies. So is regaining the top ranking a big goal? 

“It means a lot to me, but the most important thing is not about the ranking,” Jutanugarn said. “It’s more like how I’m going to play golf. I really want to be happy on the course. The ranking is like, if I get there, I get there.”

• Lydia Ko. The longtime No. 1 is now No. 3 and hasn’t won in a year, but recently has shown flashes of jumping back into contention. A tie for second at the Lotte Championship, advancement to the sweet 16 in Lorena Ochoa’s match play tournament, subsequent ties for 10th including a 65 and 64 on the card auger well for a big showing this week for Ko, ninth in scoring this season.

“I’m thinking more about how can I be more consistent and put myself in contention rather than thinking about, ‘Hey, I really want to be the No. 1 ranked player again,’ ” Ko said. “I think we all motivate each other.”

• Lexi Thompson. The world No. 4 shoulda-coulda-woulda won the first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration, but never got her hands on the Dinah Shore Trophy thanks to mismarking her ball on Saturday and getting penalized for it on Sunday. She fell to Ryu in sudden-death, but has won since, at Kingsmill in Virginia, on May 21, and has followed with a pair of joint runner-up finishers in her last two starts. She’s $410 from winning $1 million this season.

Unfortunately, her mother Judy took ill recently and was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Judy Thompson had surgery June 6. Thompson hasn’t spoken with reporters this week, but her agent said she will beginning Thursday.

• Michelle Wie. Apparently out of a long slump, Wie has contended enough to score six top 10s this year and rise to eighth on the money list. A fan favorite, she tied for fourth in Arkansas and tied for second at Blythefield.

Stacy Lewis, whose personal sponsorship by KPMG aided the arranging of tournament sponsorship, doesn’t think Olympia North is a bomber’s course.

“So I think it’s good,” Lewis said. “This golf course is opened up to a lot of different types of players. It’s really going to be a thinker’s course, plotting your way around because there’s quite a few holes here that I don’t need driver on. Ariya never hits driver, but for someone like Lexi’s length, there are holes where driver is taken out of play, and there’s opportunities for her to hit driver and go over bunkers.”

Ryu noted that the rough wasn’t as long as the previous two WPGAs, at Westchestern Country Club in 2015 and Sahalee Country Club in 2016.

“Easiest so far,” she said. But there’s a catch.

“Very different, these greens compared the last two years and any other major tournament course. To me, smaller, and really slopey, so the greens, one of the toughest for sure.”

At Olympia Fields, it almost always comes down to the short game. This week should prove no different.

Around Olympia

Golf Channel has offered a pair of special previews and a host of other programming from Olympia Fields this week, but live tournament coverage is only three hours a day, and from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Commitments to PGA Tour play take up the rest of the daylight hours. ... It’s hard to say how many people will turn out. While organizers are hoping most fans take the train, the main public parking lot on Dixie Highway appears to hold only about 500 cars.

Tim Cronin


Olympia prepares for the WPGA

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Off the course, the big news Tuesday at Olympia Fields Country Club was the extension of the agreement between the LPGA, the PGA of America and title sponsor KPMG for the Women’s PGA Championship through 2023, four years added to the original five-year term that began in 2015.

“If we’d have been in player dining and told them this is going on through 2023, you’d have gotten a 10-minute ovation,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said.

The deal includes a purse increase next year to $3.65 million. This year’s kitty is $3.5 million, with $525,000 to the winner.

“We’re going to continue to make sure that we make this one of the very best events not just in women’s golf, but in golf,” PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said.

The news on the course during the KPMG Pro-Am was the course springing a leak. In the afternoon, a sprinkler head near the 17th green went haywire, the leak so severe that the ground was damp all the way to the 18th tee. But grounds superintendent Sam MacKenzie’s crack grounds crew was on it so quickly, no damage was done to the course.

Photo for Illinois Golfer by Phil Arvia

Meanwhile, among early finishers, Ariya Jutanugarn’s team scored a best-ball 58, beating Angela Stanford’s squad by four strokes.

Wednesday at Olympia

Players have the course to themselves for final practice rounds before the first ball is struck in anger at 7:30 by England’s Holly Clyburn on the first tee on Thursday morning. Of the course, the KPMG Leadership Summit takes place in the pavilion overlooking the tournament’s 18th green.

Tim Cronin


Women's PGA week starts with shotmaking clinic


Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Monday, July 26, 2017 

There were about 700 people, many of them children by turns attentive, awe-struck, giggling and eventually eager for autographs, crowding the eighth tee at Olympia Fields Country Club’s South Course on Monday, delighted to see Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis and Phil Mickelson put on a shotmaking exhibition.

One of that quartet is not playing in the 63rd Women’s PGA Championship, which commences on Thursday on Olympia’s testing North Course, which hasn’t hosted a women’s major championship in 84 years. Since then, there has been a PGA Championship, a U.S. Open, an NCAA Championship and two Western Opens, plus the 2015 U.S. Amateur.

Lewis, for one, can’t wait.

“Frankly, we can play here,” Lewis said. “To add a female to that list of past champions where guys have played U.S. Opens, it’s really an honor for us to be here. It’s nice to see things changing and going in that direction.

“It’s awesome. You walk on property and you can feel it’s a major championship.”

Henderson had similar feelings.

“What’s so amazing about this major championship is we play the best golf courses,” Henderson said. “Watching Jim Furyk win (the 2003 U.S. Open), maybe I’ll have to go back and watch some highlights to see how he did it.”

Henderson was 5 when Furyk held off the field to win that Open.

Now 19, Henderson has played the North Course twice so far, and has the logical assessment.

“It’s a tough golf course,” Henderson said. “Especially if the wind picks up like this. It’s not going to be super-low scoring. If you get solid under-par rounds each and every day, your chances are really high.”

Mickelson, once again heaping plaudits on caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, said brother Tim Mickelson will carry his bag for the rest of the year, and that he has no idea whom Mackey will work for next.

“There’s going to be a lot of great players (asking), but one great player is going to be lucky enough to have him, and he’s going to bring a lot to his game. They’re going to be a great team.”

The quarter-century Mickelson and Mackay were together is unusual in the player-caddie realm. Even Jack Nicklaus and Angelo Argea were together only about 20 years.

“We’ve gone through highs and lows on the course and highs and lows off the course,” Mickelson said of his relationship with Mackay. “We wanted to end it at the U.S. Open, because that’s where it started in 1992. We wanted to make it exactly 25 years, but technically it was, because our first event was the qualifier in Memphis in 1992. We knew that final round in Memphis (this year) was our last round together, most likely, and it was an emotional day.”

One prospect is Jon Rahm, whose agent is none other than Tim Mickelson.

The appearance of Mickelson, who tied for 55th in the 2003 U.S. Open, was not by happenstance. He, like Lewis, is paid to represent KPMG, the title sponsor of the Women’s PGA.

Tuesday at Olympia

There’s a pro-am, in which a few hundred amateurs will torture themselves on the course while playing with the pros, who will try to get in some serious practice. It runs all day.

Tim Cronin


Jackson Park redesign unveiled

Assumes closure of two streets within park

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

By Tim Cronin

The redesign of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses from 27 holes to 18 has been revealed, and, aside from a 7,354-yard, par 70 golf course largely designed by Beau Willing of the golf course architecture firm headed by Tiger Woods, calls for the closure of part of Cornell Ave. from about 65th St. to 67th St., and Marquette Dr. from Stony Island Ave. to Jeffrey Ave.

If built as planned, there would be two underpasses, one under Jeffery and another under Richards Dr., next to the lakefront, to connect what are envisioned as three parcels for the 18-hole course plus a six-hole short course and junior golf area on what is currently the 18th fairway of Jackson Park, adjacent to the current clubhouse on Richards.

“We are looking to maximize playability with ample width and low cut green surrounds while still offering a strategic test for players of all skill levels,” a statement by Woods’ TGR Design explained. “We want to ensure that we provide a memorable course for all ages to enjoy, but also one which will stand up to the world’s best players.”

Willing’s routing provides for wider fairways than those on the current courses. The footprint of the property meant he came up with a routing with five par-3s and three par-5s, rather than the usual four of each.

The course would start by a new building, called the pavilion, with 10 holes on the largest footprint of the three, between Richards, Jeffrey, 67th St., Stony Island, the truncated Cornell, and Hayes Dr. Three holes would be located east of Jeffrey and serve and the connection to the South Shore property, where the 10th through 14th holes would be wrapped around the South Shore Cultural Center – the old clubhouse for South Shore Country Club – and a public beach. If a tournament is held there, tees adjacent to the par-3 12th hole would be used to drive over the beach to the 13th fairway, bringing Lake Michigan into play.

From the 11th green to the 14th green, the lake will be on the golfer’s right, with the 12th green on a peninsula currently not used for golf and the 13th fairway running aside the shoreline.

The last four holes of the course would be along the perimeter of the property with out-of-bounds to the left. The par-5 18th hole would be a slight dogleg right, going north from 67th St., with Cornell in play for a really wayward left second or third shot to the final green.

The original plan called for $30 million for construction and an endowment of lower green fees for city residents. That does not include the underpasses or expected reconstruction or reinforcement of lakefront shoreline walls. One estimate for one underpass was $11 million.

The first public comment on the plan and other aspects of the Jackson Park-South Shore renovation and the Obama Presidential Center will come tonight at 6, when a public meeting is held at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South Shore Dr. Other meetings are Saturday at 10 a.m. at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island, and Tue., June 27 ay 6 p.m. at La Rabida Hospital, within Jackson Park on the lakefront.

Note: An earlier version of this story stated there were five par-5s on the course.