Champ playing like his name

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Friday, August 4, 2017

As quarterfinal matches go, Friday’s Western Amateur showdown between Cameron Champ and Joaquin Niemann at Skokie Country Club was about as good as it gets.

Both players were in this year’s U.S. Open, with Champ finishing in a tie for 32nd.

Niemann, an 18-year-old Chilean heading into his freshman year at South Florida, is the world’s top-ranked amateur. Champ, who will be a senior at Texas A&M, could be a pro by this time next year.

Given that U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller watched the competition closely, the showdown could have been for a berth on this year’s team, along with a spot in Saturday’s semifinal. It could be argued that both deserve a spot.

Miller had to be impressed with both players, but especially Champ, who showed a delicate touch chipping and uncanny accuracy putting to go with his prodigious drives.

The bomber from Sacramento dispatched the rail-thin Chilean, 3 and 2, with a mixture of all of the above, earning the right to play Doc Redman on Saturday at 8:15 a.m.

“I just grinded it out,” Champ said. “I wasn’t driving it well. Kind of squirrely.”

Champ is a tough judge. For example, take his drive on the 557-yard par-5 11th, which zigs left, then right. To mortals, this is a three-shot hole. To Champ, it’s a 381-yard belt straight over a copse of trees behind bunkers guarding the dogleg on the left side of the fairway. From there, with 176 yards to go, Champ smacked a 9-iron onto the left side of the green.

That play displayed not only his brute strength, but his smarts. Niemann, who is also silly long, hit it about 330 off the tee and poked a hybrid into the bunker guarding the right side of the green, and the hole.

Champ, saying he is “a little more aggressive” in match play compared to stroke play, aimed away from the hazard with his second, since Niemann had already found the bunker. It paid off with 40-foot two-putt birdie to Niemann’s par save, and a 3-up lead. One-up at the turn, Champ had also birdied the par-4 10th.

Niemann cut the gap to 1-down with Champ’s double-bogey of the watery 12th and his own birdie of the 13th, but could get no closer. Champ won the 13th with a birdie, hey halved the par-4 15th with birdies, Champ doing so with a flop wedge from the gunch after a 330-yard drive. Champ closed his foe out with a two-putt par on the par-3 16th.

“The 15th hole was the best hole I played all day, hitting the flop shot to 15-18 feet,” Champ said. “That was the key to the match.”

He sank his birdie putt after Niemann had rolled in a 20-footer on the same line.

For the match, Champ was 3-under, Niemann even par, with the usual concessions.

Redman came from 1-down to beat Min Woo Lee of Perth, Australia, 3 and 2.

Derek Bard, the 2015 U.S. Amateur runner-up, will play medalist Norman Xiong in the opening semifinal at 8 a.m.. Bard scored a 2 and 1 victory over Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand in a match with only five halved holes to move on, while Xiong, of Canyon Lake, Calif., was forced to the 18th hole by Brendon Jelley before his matching bogey was good enough for a 1-up victory. Xiong’s birdie on the par-4 17th was the difference.

Tim Cronin


Hardy falls in Western Amateur Round of 16

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Friday, August 4, 2017

It was a morning for hot chocolate, hand warmers and surprises in the 115th Western Amateur’s Round of 16 at Skokie Country Club.

Down went Nick Hardy, the local favorite, 7 and 5 to Min Woo Lee of Perth, Australia, whose home is 10,945 miles from Glencoe.

Down went Ruben Sondjaha, falling 4 and 3 to Derek Bard, who was runner up to Bryson DeChambeau in the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields.

Down went Brad Dalke, whose solid play put Oklahoma over the top at the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms. He lost 2 and 1 to Joaquin Niemann, the 18-year-old from Santiago, Chile. Niemann rallied to win the 17th hole with a birdie after squandering most of a 5-up lead by losing four straight holes.

However, medalist Norman Xiong of Canyon Lake, Calif., came through, scoring a 3 and 2 victory over 2015 champion Dawson Armstrong of Brentwood, Tenn.

In other matches:

• Long-hitting Cameron Champ of Sacramento, Calif., took the measure of Lee Hodges of Elkmont, Ala., 3 and 2.

• In the battle for the Southern Cross, Nike Voke of Auckland, New Zealand knocked off Dylan Perry of Aberdeen, Australia, 5 and 4.

• Doc Redman of Raleigh, N.C., scored a 1-up victory over William Gordon of Davidson, N.C., sinking a 30-footer for birdie from off the green after being 2 down with seven holes to play.

• Brendon Jelley of Tulsa, Okla., beat John Pak of Scotch Plains, N.J., 2 up.

The loss of Hardy, the Northbrook lad entering his senior year at Illinois, eliminated the last local player from the festivities. He fell by the largest margin in any round since Nathan Smith dropped Chad Poling, 7 and 6, in the 2004 Round of 16.

Lee birdied the first extra hole (Skokie’s par-3 ninth) Friday morning to advance to the Sweet Sixteen; Niemann and Armstrong advanced with pars on the second extra hole (the par-4 first), eliminating Mason Overstreet, who bogeyed.

The quarterfinal pairings:

Xiong vs. Pak; Yoke vs. Bard; Niemann vs. Champ; Lee vs. Redman.

Tim Cronin


Xiong zips his way to Western Am medal

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ruben Sondjaja’s day at Skokie Country Club started at around 7:30 a.m. It ended at 8:15 p.m., when he finished the 36th hole of a grind that saw him fall from the lead to a tie for third place in the Western Amateur’s stroke-play qualifying with an ignominious quadruple bogey 8.

The Australian properly took the long view.

“I’m in the Sweet Sixteen,” he said. “That’s where you want to be. From here, it’s game on.”

Exactly. In fact, he tied for third with Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand, three strokes behind medalist Norman Xiong of Canyon Lake, Calif., whose astonishing 66-65 on Thursday at Skokie Country Club for a 72-hole aggregate of 14-under-par 270 means only that he’ll get a better seed when match play commences on Saturday morning.

It won’t happen until after a four-for-three playoff takes place at 7 a.m. to determine the 14th, 15th and 16th qualifiers. Two thunderstorm delays totaling 2 hours 21 minutes shoved the proceedings back enough that Sondjaja and Brad Dalke, the last pair, finished eight minutes past sunset. Much of their last two hours was spent in the rain, a few minutes of it in a blinding downpour. 

“It was tough,” Songjaja said. “It was physically tough and mentally demanding too, with all the starts and rain delays. It’s very hard to your mind in a position to compete.”

He holed out from a bunker on the par-4 17th to jump back to 15-under after a bogey on the 16th, but yanked his tee shot out of bounds at the 18th, which is playing as a 646-yard uphill par-4 this week, and then pulled his next tee shot barely out of bounds as well. He finally found the fairway with his fifth shot and scrambled to an 8.

“I had a few faults at the end, unfortunately,” Sondjana said. He also doubled 18 in the morning round, so his 6-over performance on Skokie’s toughest hole cost him dearly when it came to grabbing the medalist’s trophy.

As he said, the more important one remains. After the equivalent of a PGA Tour weekend, compressed into three days, now the hard work begins: four rounds of match play across two days for the finalists.

Xiong moved to the front from the back half of the field, finishing on the par-3 ninth hole in each round. He’s made 21 birdies and two eagles in four rounds – he’s 5-under on the par-5 seventh – and was 15-under in his last 54 holes after opening with a 1-over 72.

“I think there was a glimpse of it, but my goal was to just get into the Sweet Sixteen,” Xiong said of winning the qualifying medal. “I knew if I just played my game, I could get in there pretty solidly. Things got hot with my putter in the beginning of both rounds, and things went my way.”

He opened the final round with four straight birdies, and closed with birdies on the Nos. 3, 6 and 7. Then he waited, and when Sondjaja’s tee shots went haywire at the 18th, Xiong ascended to the top.

Xiong will play the No. 16 qualifier, whoever that is, from the quartet doing battle in the morning.

Around the greens

Hardy, the Illinois senior with the local following, was the only player with four rounds in the 60s (69-68-67-69). ... There wasn’t a great surprise in seeing Tony Romo miss the cut after rounds of 80-82. The surprise was that he was slapped with a one-stroke penalty for slow play. The WGA has timing stations are various points of the course, and Romo was late enough to get hit with the extra stroke.

Tim Cronin


Farnsworth captures Illinois Women's Open

Writing from Romeoville, Illinois

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mistwood Golf Club goes all out for the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open, its signature event. That includes live scoring online and a crew manning leader boards on the course.

All of which was superfluous to Alexandra Farnsworth of Nashville, Tenn.

“There’s a lot of leader boards out here, I really focused on not looking at them, and I really think it paid off,” Farnsworth said Wednesday.

By staying in her own world, the Vanderbilt senior managed to fire a 5-under-par 67 to win the 23rd IWO, finishing at 8-under 208 and beating fellow amateur Hannah Kim of Northwestern and Chula Vista, Calif., by two strokes. Pros Vivian Tsui of Canada and Samantha Postillion of Scottsdale, Ariz., who grew up in Hinsdale, tied for third at 5-under 211, and split first and second money to collect $4,250 each.

Addison’s Dana Gattone, heading into her senior year at Illinois, was the low Illinois resident, scoring 1-under 71 for 2-under 214.

Farnsworth, two strokes behind 36-hole leader Tsui, was in the penultimate group, which played into her hands.

“I like coming from behind, and it was definitely a help to myself,” Farnsworth said. “It made me focus on myself. I could kind of tell (she was leading) because of the group of carts around us.”

Farnsworth scored six birdies, offset by a bogey on the par-3 14th. But she birdied the holes before and after to get to 8-under, while Kim birdied the 15th and 17th after her bogey on the 14th.

Kim went out in 3-under 33, but a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 10th put her into catch-up mode. She scored 2-under 70 for 6-under 210.

“That created a mental block for me,” Kim said of the double-bogey. “It was hard for me to get back to getting birdies. I just tried to play my game and get the putts rolling in again.”

Farnsworth had been winless in college play, and hadn’t hoisted a trophy since high school. She said she put more pressure on herself than she should have last year, thinking she had to hit certain scoring standards to realistically have a shot when she turns pro. That changed a few weeks ago after talking with friends.

“This breakthrough really, really means a lot to me,” Farnsworth said. “It’s frustrating being in the hunt a lot and not being able to pull through. I think I’ve learned from experience to focus on myself, don’t worry about the other people, and that really helped.

“I’m fully back to enjoying the game again.”

Postillion’s check was the biggest of her young career. She bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes, but birdied the par-3 17th to score 2-under 70 and get back into the tie with Tsui for low pro. Tsui also bogeyed the 14th, but played the last four holes in each par to finish at 72 for 211.

“For the most part, I handled the adrenalin well,” Postillion said. “Other than one hole today (the 15th, a sculled chip), I played a lot of great golf. I was never too worried about making bogeys and I was always patient about making birdies. It did not feel like a grind.”

Tim Cronin


Canada’s Tsui leads IWO, chased by Argentina’s Cammisa

Writing from Romeoville, Illinois

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Good players come from all over to tee it up in the Illinois Women’s Open, and the top of the leader board proves it, with three continents and four countries represented.

Vivian Tsui, who followed yesterday’s 67 with an even-par 72 and leads at 5-under 139 entering the final round, is from Markham, Ontario, by way of North Carolina State.

Lili Cammisa, whose 3-under 69 put her in a three-way tie for second, is from Argentina, and played her college golf in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Amateur Tess Hackworthy, tied with Cammisa at 4-under 140 after consecutive 70s, hails from Madison, Wis. and goes to Wisconsin.

Hannah Kim, entering her senior year at Northwestern and at 140 after a bounce-back 5-under 67, the day’s best round, is from Chula Vista, Calif., where she’ll play the U.S. Women’s Amateur later this year.

Samantha Postillion and amateur Alexandra Farnsworth, at 3-under 141, are from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Nashville, Tenn., respectively, though Postillion was born in Illinois and lived here until a few years ago. Farnsworth jumped to a 74 after an opening 67.

The low Illinois residents are amateurs Chicago’s Lindsay Dodovich and Addison’s Dana Gattone, who are joined by Katja Pogacar of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Ohio State, in seventh place at 1-under 143.

Kim’s round rocketed her up the standings. She was tied for 13th after her opening 73, which was her first competitive round since the Women’s Western Amateur. Practice and a summer class have taken up her time.

“Yesterday a lot of my putts weren’t dropping,” Kim said. “I hit all 18 greens in regulation and made one birdie. Today I hit it a lot closer.”

She made seven birdies as a result, including five birdies on the last seven holes, the longest a 24-footer on the par-4 12th hole that got her going.

“It was a bonus birdie for sure,” Kim said. “After that, they were all from three to four feet.”

Cammisa, who turned pro last year, is a two-time winner of the Argentina Women’s Amateur and a four-time winner at Nova Southeastern University in Daytona Beach, Fla. following five wins in three countries as a junior. Her best finish as a pro is a tie for seventh at the Brisbane Invitational over the northern hemisphere winter.

For that, she picked up $838.50. First prize at Mistwood is $5,000.

Samantha Postillion’s mother Kerry won the Illinois Women’s Open three times.

“I get more nervous watching than I did playing,” Kerry Postillion said Tuesday.

“It would be great to win one like my mom,” Samantha said after adding a 71 to an opening 70. “But, one shot at a time. I definitely hit it well enough today to go a lot lower. Putting, I was just kind of dying it at the hole. Tomorrow, I’ll be a lot more aggressive.”

The cut was at 6-over 150 and included 30 players. Defending champion Stephanie Miller (76-74) made it on the number. Ember Schuldt eagled the par-5 third hole for the second day running, but still missed the cut by two strokes.

Tim Cronin