Tuesday
Aug072018

Logjam at the top in Illinois Open

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Daniel Hudson is two months removed from his golf career at Kansas. Now a pro, he has the dreams of any newly-minted professional, and so far, little to show for it.

He qualified for the PGA Tour’s Canadian circuit, the Mackenzie Tour, and play four straight tournaments in June.

Hudson has yet to play a round on the weekend. He missed the cut in all four tournaments.

He’ll make the cut, and money, this week. Hudson held a share of the lead as night fell on the rain-delayed second round of the 69th Illinois Open thanks to a second straight 4-under-par 68 that coulda, woulda, shoulda been better.

Hudson, who grew up in Western Springs and played high school golf at Lyons Township, was 11-under for the tournament standing on the 18th tee at Ravinia Green Country Club. He led by three, but not for long. He sailed his tee shot out of bounds on the par-5 and struggled to make an 8. That dropped him to 8-under to share the lead with Andy Mickelson and Brian Bullington – and eventually with amateur Brendan O’Reilly, who is 8-under through 10 holes of the second round – and brought a passel of players into the mix, and into the final round, which admits the low 50 and ties, or those within 10 strokes of the leader.

“I’d just hit a pretty good shot into 17 and almost holed that for birdie,” Hudson said. “Unfortunately I made one of the worst swings of the week on a hole where there’s trouble in that direction.”

Still, this is better than how he’s fared in Canada. He decided to pull out of this week’s tournament in the Great White North and qualified for the Illinois Open last week.

“It’s exciting I have a chance to win a golf tournament,” Hudson said. “I can’t tell you the last time that’s happened. I played a month on the Mackenzie Tour in June, felt I was playing well but didn’t get much out of it. Even this week I bet I’ve missed eight putts inside eight feet. If you want to win, especially on the PGA Tour, you’ve got to make those putts. There’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Mickelson, director of golf at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, added a 2-under 70 at The Glen Club to his opening 66 at Ravinia Green for a 36-hole aggregate of 8-under 136. Bullington, erstwhile Iowa standout from Manhattan in Will County, and aiming for a Tour card in the near future, posted his second straight 68 playing alongside Mickelson.

The gaggle at 8-under holds a one-stroke lead on professional Dakun Chang and amateurs Kyle Irlbacker and Matt Murlick, at 7-under 137, and are two ahead of second-year pro Kyle Kochevar entering Wednesday’s final round.

Bullington admitted to having “a rough spring,” attributing it to going through simultaneous swing and equipment changes. He realized he had to get longer or would be lapped by the field. That meant a higher swing speed with newer technology.

“I put on a lot of clubhead speed,” Bullington said. “That translates to a club or club-and-a-half less on approaches. You’ve got to trust your swing, and then you’ve got to trust it in tournaments.”

Bullington is at that point now. He qualified for the recent John Deere Classic, and while he missed the cut, fighting his way through the four-spot that Monday was an achievement.

Mickelson’s highlight of the day was the eagle that wasn’t on No. 15.

“Had 85 yards, hit a lob wedge, took one bounce, went in and came out,” Mickelson recalled. He settled for knocking in the five-footer for birdie, one of six birdies in the round.

A double-bogey on No. 3 caused by hitting into the gorse and two bogeys hurt his card, but he’s in his best position going into the final round of the state championship.

The horn to stop play sounded at 7:57 p.m., and when it did, Brendan O’Reilly stood at 8-under through 28 holes, building on his opening 67. And 2015 winner David Cooke was at 7-under with eight holes remaining in his second round.

Around the Open

The long delay – four hours at Ravinia Green and 3:42 at The Glen Club, forces the conclusion of the second round deep into Wednesday morning. Only then will the cut to the low 50 and ties be made, and then pairings, and then the final round. If there’s no more bad weather, the finish should come by 6 p.m. ... Scores at The Glen Club averaged 75.85 strokes for the in-progress second round, while the Ravinia Green crowd was at 77.59 strokes when play halted.

Tim Cronin

Monday
Aug062018

Bauman belies his age; Mickelson, Chang lead Illinois Open

IG 2018/ 8/ 6 Illinois Open R1 Gamer

Writing from Riverwoods, Illinois

Monday, August 6, 2018

Doug Bauman is 61 years old and doesn’t know it.

He goes about his business on the golf course like a 25-year-old, bashing the ball far enough to make the effort more than worthwhile and giving more than a little competition to his younger peers.

Monday, there was more of the game. The longtime head pro at Biltmore Country Club in Barrington scored 4-under-par 68 at Ravinia Green Country Club and stands two off the lead after the first round of the 69th Illinois Open.

Everybody at Ravinia Green finished, but because of a longer thunderstorm delay, not everyone got back to the clubhouse at The Glen Club in the two-site championship. Twenty-four players will finish there, then scurry to Ravinia Green for their second round.

“It’s my best round in the last seven or eight Opens,” Bauman said.

He went out in an unglamorous even par 36, but rushed home in 4-under 32, including a chip-in eagle from six yards off the green on the par-5 11th, a birdie on No. 12, and a four-foot birdie at the last.

“It’s nice to put up a good score,” Bauman said. “I’m playing better the last couple years. Having four kids play golf, it keeps me swinging hard.”

He’s two strokes behind Andy Mickelson and Dakun Chang, whose 66s at Ravinia Green came on opposite sides of the course in the windless late afternoon.

They thus displaced Illinois sophomore Brendan O’Reilly of Hinsdale, whose 5-under 67 was the best of the morning wave and earned him the lead for three hours. Second-year professional Kyle Kochevar of Glen Ellyn and Marquette junior Matt Murlick of Winnetka matched O’Reilly’s effort late in the day.

Mickelson’s approach game was on the mark all day, but especially on No. 8, the 195-yard par-3, where he stuck a 6-iron six inches from the cup, the par-4 15th, where he dropped a 120-yard pitching wedge a foot from the pin, and the par-4 16th, where he had to punch out from trees and then holed a 55-yard pitch for a birdie.

“I was pretty focused for some reason,” said Mickelson, a professional at Mistwood Golf Club who lives in Lockport. “I’m really happy. This is as good as it gets for me. My wedge game’s one of my stronger suits.”

Minutes later, Chang came in with his matching 66.

“I had a good game plan coming in,” said Chang, an assistant at Twin Orchard. “Irons off the tees, score on the par 3s. I just tried to keep it in the fairway.”

He birdied three of the four short holes and two par-5s as well, along with the par-4 fourth.

“The greens were soft,” Chang said.

Mickelson and Chang are two strokes ahead of a sixsome including Kurt Slattery, Brandon Holtz, Brian Bullington and Bauman, all of whom, like O’Reilly, have stories to tell. Among the highlights:

• O’Reilly is entering his sophomore year at Illinois, where he crashed the lineup as a freshman on several occasions, and recently took third at the Magnolia Amateur and eighth in the Western Junior.

• Slattery, an assistant at Pinnacle Golf Course near Rock Island, made it into the John Deere Classic last year with an eagle-eagle finish, but was disqualified from last year’s Illinois Open when officials saw he was using a push cart rather than taking a cart or using a caddie. He’d like to make up for that faux pas.

• Bauman is 61 and bidding to become the oldest winner by about a decade, but also the low Bauman, as Greg, one of the sons of the longtime Biltmore pro, is also in the field. (Greg shot 8-over 80.)

• Holtz was the low professional last year and ended up $13,886 richer, tying for second behind winner Patrick Flavin.

Amateur Drew Pershing of downstate Washington and Daniel Hudson of Western Springs were the leading players at The Glen Club, also 4-under through 14 and 12 holes respectively, before the thunderstorm-delayed play stopped for the day.

Right behind them are notables including longtime campaigner Gary March, whose 3-under 69 featured a half-dozen birdies but also a double-bogey, and Ricky Palonis, whose 2-under 70 was one of several at that level but who is fortunate to be alive, much less playing golf.

Defending champion Patrick Flavin began his professional career with a 2-under 70.

All of the above played Ravinia Green, a shorter and tighter course than the more brawny Glen Club, where Wednesday’s final round will be contested. The low player of those finishing at The Glen Club, where play was delayed for 2 hours 25 minutes compared to the 1:45 at Ravinia Green, is Shaun McElroy, at 2-under 70, tied for 15th overall. The halves of the field switch courses for the second round.

O’Reilly’s single-bogey round was punctuated by six birdies, including a 40-foot putt to open the day on No. 1.

“Now I’ve got momentum,” O’Reilly said of that eye-opener. “Now I’m into the round.”

He stayed in it, and was 4-under after a birdie on No. 10. He made up for a bogey on the short par-4 No. 12, where he hit his tee shot out of bounds and escaped with only a 5, with birdies on the 16th and 17th to get to 5-under.

Slattery birdied the first two holes, gave those back immediately with bogeys on the third and fourth holes, then birdied Nos. 6, 7, where he considered himself fortunate to not hit his tee ball out of bounds, and converted a 30-footer for a birdie, 11 and 15 with nary a miscue to score his 68.

“I was driving it really well today,” Slattery said. “No special, just really solid. I could have shot 65, or 70.”

Holtz, if might be recalled, sells football equipment to youth groups year-round from his Bloomington office, and the Illinois Open comes in his busy season. But he carved out time to fire a 68 to start his bid to win the trophy along with the big check.

“This is very much a target golf course, and I like to rip it,” Holtz said. “You have to think out there. At The Glen Club, you can whale on it.”

Merlick’s 67 was bogey-free and featured a quartet of birdies on his opening nine, including a 40-footer on No. 12, and one, from eight feet, in the gloaming on No. 9 to end the day.

“I know going in that this course, I needed to attack, so I came out guns blazing and made a lot of birdies,” Merlick said. “It was so soft even my 7-irons would spin back a little bit.”

Then there’s Palonis, who starred in high school golf at Lincoln-Way Central and was starting a pro career when he was severely injured in an auto accident.

“My blood pressure was 18,” Palonis recalled. “I was on the way out.”

The recovery was arduous, but is complete, including a spinal fusion that kept him off the course for nine months. That operation worked, and Palonis is looking for sponsorship for his winter destination: the South African Tour, for which he qualified in the spring.

Given all that, 2-under 70 to open his title quest was a delight.

“I see life from a different lens now,” Palonis said. “This is definitely a bonus, no question.”

Around The Open

Tuesday’s order of business is to finish the first round at The Glen Club, after which those players will go to Ravinia Green for the second round, while Monday’s Ravinia Green contingent will tackle The Glen Club, weather permitting. ... The field at Ravinia Green averaged 74.70 strokes on the 6,870-yard course, while the preliminary average at the 7,101-yard Glen Club was 77.06.

Tim Cronin

Saturday
Aug042018

Cole Hammer captures Western Amateur

Writing from Northfield, Illinois

Saturday, August 4, 2018

If Cole Hammer wants to take up another sport, he might consider running the marathon.

If he does, bet on him. Hammer, an 18-year-old perpetual motion machine, played 76 holes in match play on Friday and Saturday, and survived all four matches.

His Western Amateur championship match with Davis Riley at Sunset Ridge Country Club appeared for a time to be a rout. Hammer was 4-up at the turn. Then Riley rallied, cutting the gap to 1-up after his birdie on the par-5 16th, even though he questioned the pin placement.

Riley could get no closer, halving the last two holes to make Hammer the 1-up champion.

Hammer isn’t the youngest to win, nor did he dominate, as two 20-hole wins will attest, but he may have the most complete game at 18 since Tiger Woods. He’s as long as he needs to be, has full and half-wedges at his command, and, most important, rolled in almost every putt he needed to across five days as co-medalist and champion.

“Surreal,” Hammer said. “This is the biggest day in my golf career without question. Nothing even compares. Individually this by far is the biggest tournament I’ve ever won, and to do it here at Sunset Ridge with my mom on the bag, it really means the world.”

Hammer had already been part of the winning team in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball this spring, but team golf is one thing and doing it yourself is quite another. This one was all his, from his 23-under-par 261 stroke-play total to share the medal to knocking off four straight foes in match play.

“I knew he had game,” said Riley, a 21-year-old entering his senior year at Alabama. “He said he’d admired me since he was 10, and now he just beat me.”

On the first nine, it appeared the feat would be easy. As the mercury climbed to 98 degrees, Riley seemed to be melting away. Hammer won the third hole with a birdie after a wedge to two feet, won the sixth with a birdie after a wedge to a foot, won the seventh with an eagle by draining a cross-green 60-footer, and rolled in a mere 20-footer to win the ninth hole.

“I just kept telling myself I was playing great,” Hammer said.

Four-up at the turn. Riley would have been excused for sneaking into the clubhouse at that point and jumping into a waiting car at the front door, but he saw hope in the middle of the muddle.

“I didn’t really have much doubt,” Riley said of his comeback hopes. “I had faith in what I was doing. I’d played the back as good as anybody all week, so if I stayed patient, I knew I was good enough to make a charge.”

He did. Riley got up and down for par on the par-4 11th while Hammer three-putted from eight feet above the hole, cutting the gap to three holes. Nearly driving the 12th green and chipping to six feet earned him a birdie and second straight hole, narrowing the margin to two holes.

“Me and my caddie were talking all round, we never felt out of it, even 4-down,” Riley said. “After 11, it was ‘Let’s do this.’ I thought the momentum was with me 100 percent.

“I hit some good shots and made some good birdies and gave myself a chance, considering I was 4-down at the turn.”

Hammer called a birdie putt to halve the 13th “a huge momentum putt,” and he used that momentum to win the 14th with a par, but Riley came back with a birdie 2 on the 15th after dropping his tee shot six feet from the cup. It was a two-hole margin again, and only 1-up in Hammer’s favor after Riley’s birdie on No. 16.

That rattled Hammer.

“He buried that 12-footer up the hill and it was not an easy putt,” Hammer said. “I would have been 2-up with two to go. Then he hit a great shot into 17. It was tough to see, but I stepped up and hit a great shot too.”

The match was loaded with great shots, and was clearly tense by the 17th, when short putts that would usually have been conceded were not. Riley had a chance to square the match but couldn’t sink a sliding downhill 10-footer for birdie. Hammer had already missed his 15-foot birdie attempt. Each player made a two-foot knee-knocker to take the match to the last, where both players bounced their flip-wedges off the rock-hard green into the collar, and could only make par. For Hammer, that was enough for the title, the first one he’s won with mom Allison on the bag.

“I’m excited to come back as the defending champion,” Hammer said of 2019, when the Western Am returns to Point O Woods. “It sounds cool.”

Hammer is the sixth Texas Longhorn to win the title, joining Rik Massengale, Ben Crenshaw, Justin Leonard, John Klauk and Beau Hossler. The 76 holes he played in match play tie Leonard (1992) and David Chung (1990) for the most played since the current format began in 1961.

“It’s safe to say I played more golf than anybody this week,” Hammer said. He played 12 more holes than Riley going into the final match. Asked if he wanted to play an emergency nine, Hammer quipped, “Oh my gosh, I’m ready to hit the bed.”

Hammer needed 20 holes to beat Brandon Wu in the morning semifinal, while Riley was a 4 and 2 winner over Tyler Strafaci in the other semifinal.

Hammer was 2-up after 11 holes, but Wu birdied three straight holes to square the match, then rallied again on the 18th by rolling in an 18-footer for birdie after bogeying the par-3 17th.

Hammer won the match with an approach to about four feet on the par-4 second hole after Wu missed the fairway with his tee shot, missed the green with his approach, and was 40 feet from the pin with his third shot. The par-saving putt missed and it was handshake time.

Riley was gunning for his second straight victory in Illinois. He captured the Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields Country Club last year. It’s his fourth Western Am appearance and second Sweet Sixteen appearance, while this was Hammer’s second Western Am and first match-play placing.

Riley couldn’t feel too bad considering how well he played all week. He perked up even more when it was noted that last year’s runner-up, Doc Redman, won the U.S. Amateur a fortnight later.

“That’s a good statistic there,” Riley said.

His next stop? The U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.

Hammer will be there as well.

Tim Cronin

Saturday
Aug042018

Hammer, Riley in Western Amateur final

Writing from Northfield, Illinois

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Cole Hammer needed 20 holes for the second straight morning, but he survived again, advancing to Saturday afternoon’s final match in the 116th Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge Country Club.

He’ll play Davis Riley, a 4 and 2 winner over Tyler Strafaci in the other semifinal, at 1:20 p.m.

Hammer, the 18-year-old Houston phenom who’ll start his career at Texas later this month, was 2-up on Brandon Wu after 11 holes,  but Wu birdied three straight holes to square the match, then rallied again on the 18th by rolling in an 18-footer for birdie after bogeying the par-3 17th.

Hammer won the match with an approach to about four feet on the par-4 second hole after Wu missed the fairway with his tee shot, missed the green with his approach, and was 40 feet from the pin with his third shot. The par-saving putt missed and it was handshake time.

Riley is a 21-year-old senior at Alabama who is gunning for his second straight victory in Illinois. He captured the Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields Country Club last year. It’s his fourth Western Am appearance and second Sweet Sixteen appearance, while this is Hammer’s second Western Am and first match-play placing.

Tim Cronin

Friday
Aug032018

Hammer into Western Am semifinals

Flavin ousted in Round of 16

Writing from Northfield, Illinois

Friday, August 3, 2018

“It was a fight,” Cole Hammer said after his 18-hole Western Amateur quarterfinal bout with Spencer Ralston on Friday afternoon at Sunset Ridge Country Club.

Hammer, down two holes with five to play, got off the green canvas of Sunset Ridge’s expertly manicured fairways for a 1 up victory partly via his own game and partly because of a bad break that befell Ralston when he stood 2-up and had belted a drive within 140 yards of the cup on the par-4 14th hole. Hammer was five yards ahead.

Hammer’s drive was on the carpet. Ralston’s sat down in a divot.

“It was an unfortunate break but I still thought I could get a club on it,” Ralston said.

He tried to, but the Georgia junior’s wedge sailed off to the right near a tree, and left him with a bad angle to the green.

“The fairways were getting kinda firm and it came off the hosel a little bit,” Ralston said.

Hammer, conversely, dropped his wedge within eight feet and sank the putt for a birdie, his first of the round, to close within a hole.

“Turning point,” Hammer said, who nonetheless felt for Ralston. “He got so unlucky a couple times today. He tried to get on top of it and it came off the heel a little bit.”

Hammer told his mother and caddie Allison, “Might be an opening,” when he saw Ralston’s ball in the divot. Then he took advantage with the close-in wedge and birdie putt.

“It gave me some momentum,” Hammer said. He would follow up by winning the par-3 15th hole with a par to square the match, take the par-5 16th to go 1-up via a brilliant second shot to about 18 feet for a two-putt birdie, and match Ralston with a bogey on the treacherous par-3 17th and a with par 4 on the 18th, the latter with a baby-soft chip from the rough to within three inches of the cup. Ralston’s bid to square and extend the match, a 12-foot putt, edged the lip on the left side and stayed out.

“I thought it was in,” Ralston said.

Hammer’s 1-up victory advanced him to Saturday’s 8 a.m. semifinal against Brandon Wu, who outlasted John Augenstein in 19 holes. In the other match, it’ll be Tyler Strafaci, the grandson of 1953 Western Amateur medalist Frank Strafaci, against Davis Riley. Strafaci beat Kaiwen Lio, 2 up, while Riley knocked off Hayden Springer 5 and 3.

“We didn’t play great golf for a while, and then, middle of the back nine, we started to play like ourselves,” Hammer said. “The course was firmer and it was windier this afternoon, and the greens were faster, but I think we were a little bit tired after 36 holes yesterday, finishing late, having the dinner that lasted until 9:30 and then getting up this morning. I think that was a little bit of a factor.”

Hammer had gone 2-up with a long two-putt birdie on the par-5 13th, leaving a 60-foot putt 10 feet short but sinking that putt to win the hole after Hammer had driven his tee shot next to the lip of a fairway bunker and had to wedge out.

“I felt didn’t have a whole lot of energy out there on 13,” Hammer said. “Him making birdie sucked some more out of me and I told myself, ‘Man, you cannot do this. You’re still in this. Fight!’ ”

Hammer may be 18, but with a U.S. Open appearance in 2015 and a U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title in his pocket from earlier this year, the Texas-bound teen from Houston has plenty of experience to draw on. And he has the spunky attitude of the former shortstop that he is.

At that point, however, Ralston, a 20-year-old Gainesville, Ga., native, looked and felt in control.

“I was pretty positive there, like, ‘Get on a roll.’ Then I drove it in a divot,” Ralston said. “I think him kind of seeing that before I even hit kinda changed his mindset a little bit.

“It’s a funny game we play.”

It is, but Ralston, whose next stop is the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, enhanced his reputation with excellent play all week.

“It’s one of the best fields in the world in amateur tournaments,” Ralston said. “It kind of proves to yourself you belong. There’s a lot of positives. You can’t hang your head.”

In the morning, Hammer needed 20 holes and scored only even par but advanced to the quarterfinals of the 116th Western Amateur on Friday, beating Davis Shore.

Hammer, the Houston teen who’ll enter Texas later this month, saw Shore square the match with a par on the par-3 17th, but birdied the second extra hole – only his third birdie of the round after 24 in the 72-hole stroke play competition – to advance to Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal match against Ralston.

Ralston knocked off local favorite Patrick Flavin of Highwood 3 and 2 after trailing 2 up at the turn. Ralston strung together four straight birdies beginning at the 10th to take a 1-up lead, then watched Flavin bogey the 14th to take a 2-up edge. Flavin’s three bogeys on the back nine helped seal his fate in his final amateur start. He’ll turn pro for next week’s Illinois Open.

Sam Stevens, whose 51-foot birdie putt Thursday night tied him with Hammer for the stroke-play medal, was run over by 15th-seeded Liu in his match. Liu was 5-under, including the usual concessions, over 14 holes.

The Round of 16 matches:

Cole Hammer d. Davis Shore, 20 holes

Spencer Ralston d. Patrick Flavin, 3 and 2

John Augenstein d. Collin Morikawa, 4 and 2

Brandon Wu d. Kyle Michel, 6 and 5

Kaiwen Liu d. Sam Stevens, 5 and 4

Tyler Strafaci d. Isaac Merry, 1 up

Hayden Springer d. Isaiah Salinda, 2 up

Davis Riley d. Min Woo Lee, 4 and 3

The Quarterfinals:

Hammer d. Ralston, 1 up

Wu d. Augenstein, 19 holes

Strafaci d. Lio, 2 up

Riley d. Springer, 5 and 3

Tim Cronin

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