Wednesday
Jun142017

It's Radix Cup Day!

Writing from River Grove, Illinois

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Joel Hirsch, who played in 23 of them, calls the Radix Cup “the premier event in Chicago golf.”

He’s right. The annual match of Illinois’ best amateurs and professionals is a treat for competitor and spectator alike.

Today brings us the 56th edition, held at Oak Park Country Club, as all but three have been since the inaugural at North Shore Country Club in 1962.

Started by North Shore pro Bill Ogden and Oalk Park pro Errie Ball to honor Harry Radix, perhaps the foremost amateur promoter of the game in the Chicago area, they settled at Oak Park because Radix was a member there. It’s been the permanent home since 1972.

Sentimental memories aside, the Radix Cup has evolved from a one-sided walkover by the professionals (who lead 35-17-2) into an annual toss-up. The teams have split the last 10 and last 20 matches evenly, the professionals scoring an 11-7 victory last year, and Wednesday’s encounter could go either way as well.

The matches feature an array of talent:

12:45 p.m.: amateurs Ray Knoll and Paul Schlimm Jr. vs. professionals Kyle Bauer and Adam Schumacher. Knoll won the 2014 Illinois Amateur, while Bauer captured the 2016 Illinois PGA Match Play.

12:55 p.m.: amateurs Dave Ryan and Tim Sheppard vs. professionals Frank Bruno and Brian Carroll. Ryan is the current U.S. Senior Amateur champion, while Sheppard was part of last year’s winning CDGA Senior Four-Ball team. Bruno, Oak Park’s head pro, and Carroll may be up against it.

1:05 p.m.: amateurs Vance Antoniou and Bob Youman vs. professionals Chris Green and Brian Janty. Antoniou won last year’s CDGA Senior Amateur.

1:15 p.m.: amateurs Kyle Nathan and Chadd Slutzky vs. professionals Garrett Chaussard and Mike Small. Nathan and Slutzky won the last two CDGA Mid-Amateurs, while Chaussard narrowly missed qualifying for the U.S. Open on Monday, while Hall of Famer Small has won a record 17 state majors.

1:25 p.m.: amateurs Charlie Netzel and Kyle Slattery vs. professionals Travis Johns and Matt Slowinski. Netzel is 22, Slattery 20, and both are Radix Cup rookies, while Johns and Slowinski had a combined seven victories.

1:35 p.m.: amateurs Andy Johnson and Steve Sawtell vs. professionals Brian Brodell and Frank Hohenadel. Sawtell was part of the CDGA Four-Ball title team in 2016, while Brodell and Hohenadel scored three top-10 finishes in IPGA play.

There’s an added treat this year. In an effort to get more spectators beyond the usual friends and family, Oak Park has encouraged members of the PGA Junior Golf League to come out, accompanied by their parents. The lads and lasses get a free lunch. Admission for everyone is free.

– Tim Cronin

Wednesday
May312017

Oklahoma knocks off Oregon for NCAA men's title

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The smart money in the morning said the NCAA Championship match would come down to the final pair, Oklahoma’s Brad Dalke and Oregon’s Sulman Raza.

Raza was the hero for the Ducks in 2016, needing three extra holes before providing the clinching third point over Texas in the title match at Eugene Country Club.

The junior would not repeat as the hero at Rich Harvest Farms. Dalke, a sophomore with a fullback’s build, built a 3-up lead after 15 holes and closed out Raza with a bogey 5 on the par-4 17th hole for a 2 and 1 match victory and the clinching point for his team in a 3.5-1.5 outcome.

It wasn’t really a surprise. Dalke played in the Masters this year thanks to last year’s runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur. He won the individual title at the regional hosted by Stanford, and opened stroke play at Rich Harvest with a pair of 2-under 70s.

Now all he had to do, with Blaine Hale and Max McGreevy having disposed of their foes on the 15th and 16th holes, respectively, was knock off Raza, whose resume included winning the Duck Invitational this year, in the final match of the five-match bout.

Dalke won the first two holes, was 2-up after eight, stumbled around the turn to allow Raza to square the match, and then went 3-3-4 beginning at the par-4 12th to move 2-up with four holes to play.

A par at 15 put Dalke dormie 3, and while Raza made an all-world up and down par at the treacherous par-3 16th, winning the hole when Dalke three-putted, the end came at the 17th. Raza sprayed his tee shot into the hay on the right, the start of the bogey that sealed his fate. While Dalke also bogeyed, matching Raza’s score was all that was necessary, and the trophy was soon in his hands.

“It’s been a week to remember, for sure,” Dalke said.

“Brad’s a big-time player,” Sooners coach Ryan Hybl said. “He’s beginning to realize he can dominate like he did at Stanford, not just win.”

Hale beat Norman Xiong 4 and 3, closing him out with a 15-foot par putt at the 15th. McGreevty matched pars with Edwin Yi on the 16th for a 3 and 2 victory. Oregon’s Wyndham Clark, who will return to Illinois for the John Deere Classic in July, beat Oklahoma’s Rylee Reinertson 1 up for the lone Ducks win.

Oklahoma’s Grant Hirschman and Oregon’s Ryan Gronlund were on the 18th hole, Hirschman having just squared the match with a birdie on the 17th, when Dalke scored the victory.

“I got behind the eight-ball early, gave the first two holes to Brad, then made a mistake by three-putting on No. 4,” Raza said.

It’s the second NCAA title for Oklahoma, and the first in the match-play format. The Sooners also won in 1989.

“Our common goal was to win this trophy, and by gosh, we did it,” Hybl said. “We didn’t have a weak link this week.”

Maybe it was the internal team competition Hybl concocted over the summer, what Max McGreevy said was called “optimist prime matches,” to hone their match play skills. After all, the Sooners made the final eight last year in Eugene, only to get bounced by Texas 4-1 in the quarterfinals.

“When we did those matches back at home, it got us into the right frame of mind to bring here,” McGreevy said. “And getting there the first time opens your eyes.”

“Last year we were so excited to get to match play,” Hale said. “ ‘Oh, we’re in match play, it’s been a great year.’ This year, it was, ‘Let’s get a championship.’ ”

They beat Baylor in the quarterfinals, knocked off fan favorite Illinois in the semifinals, and then took down the defending champions.

Tim Cronin

Tuesday
May302017

Illinois falls to Oklahoma in NCAA semifinal

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Napoleon had Waterloo.

Titanic captain Edward Smith had the iceberg.

Illinois’ men’s golf team has the 490-yard par-4 17th hole at Rich Harvest Farms.

It was there that the Fighting Illini dream of an NCAA men’s golf title won in their state went and died late on Tuesday afternoon. And while there were countless other miscues in the course of their semifinal match with Oklahoma, beginning at the first tee, the penultimate hole was the killer.

Hours after an improbable and dramatic rally against Southern California in the quarterfinals, the Illini couldn’t stage a repeat, and fell 3.5-1.5.

It wasn’t that the Sooners, who will play Oregon in Wednesday’s championship match, were so tough. It was that Illinois committed too many unforced errors. The 17th is the ultimate example. To Giovanni Tadiotto and Michael Feagles, Illinois’ two freshmen, it might as well have a chalk line around it.

“We’re going to put a positive spin on this,” junior Dylan Meyer, who won his match against Oklahoma’s Brad Dalke, 1 up. “We’re going to be stronger, more experienced.”

Tadiotto had hit his drive into the right rough in the morning quarterfinal against USC, so adjusted his line and aimed at the left side of the fairway in his semifinal match against Max McGreevy, who was 1 up. Tadiotto drilled his shot through the wind and ended up behind a pump house for the pond on the hole.

“We were grasping for straws, and he hit a drive five yards off the fairway, and behind the house, which is tough,” coach Mike Small said.

Thus began a 20-minute misadventure that included him getting relief, dropping on wood chips, electing to hit a full shot rather than pitch out, slipping on the swing and whacking the ball no more than 40 yards, hitting his third out of heavy rough over the green, finally reaching the putting surface with his fourth stroke, and two-putting for a double-bogey 6. McGreevy made a less adventurous par 4 to score a 2 and 1 victory.

“I was already 1 down, so it was hard to beat that,” Tadiotto said. “I don’t know if I slipped or not. I just found myself on the ground when I hit.”

That was Oklahoma’s second point of the necessary three to advance. Some 45 minutes earlier, Oklahoma’s Blaine Hale had closed out sophomore Eduardo Lipparelli, 4 and 3, despite Lipparelli chipping in for a matching bogey 5 on the 15th hole. After the match, Lipparelli announced he was returning to Italy and turning pro, expecting a start on the European Challenge Tour within weeks.

Meyer had taken control of his match against Dalke and Nick Hardy was going back and forth with Grant Hirschman. That meant Feagles, who had seen a 2-up lead after five holes evaporate, needed to win the last two holes of his match against Rylee Reinertson to force extra holes and keep Illinois alive.

But Feagles played the 17th similarly to Tadiotto, minus the drop. His tee shot landed on the weed chips to the left, his second flew the green, and after relief from a Golf Channel tower, he left his third in the rough. His fourth skidded 10 feet past the cup, and he lipped out his bogey putt. Another double-bogey 6, and a 3 and 1 loss to Reinertson gave the Sooners the nessessary third point to advance. The Hardy-Hirschman match was ruled all square.

With that, Illinois’ season was over. Five straight finishes in the NCAA top-five and six times in seven years, this time on home turf and with hundreds of Illini fans roaming the vast playground in Jerry Rich’s backyard, but again without a championship.

“We just can’t figure out this second afternoon match,” Hardy said. “But we’ll figure it our way out next year for sure. We know what we came here for. We expected bigger.”

It could have been mental exhaustion. Illinois, specifically Tadiatto and Hardy, had to come back to beat Southern California in the morning, scoring a 3.5-1.5 victory. Lipparelli also won his match, and Meyer halved his. But that grind carried over.

“I gave out a lot of gifts,” Tadiotto said. “Too much stuff like three-putts. In a national championship, you can’t give out gifts.”

“It started on the first hole,” Small said. “The stuff we teach, we didn’t do very good today. Whether it was emotional or mental fatigue, or nerves, we weren’t on point and were always playing catchup. They made a lot of great putts and we made a lot of mistakes.

“The course was tough, but we didn’t play like we’ve been playing.”

Small then turned philosophical.

“Do we all want to win? Yeah, we do,” Small said, “but I’m good with it, I really am. But I told the guys the fun is the ride, the journey. It really is. To get this close, it is tough not to win, but I’m not going to get hung up on that. I’m going to take away being in Chicago, the fans, the way they treated other teams, the way they treated our guys, the response our fans got from Golf Channel and worldwide is really cool. They were awesome. There’s never been consistent crowds like this at the national championship. That speaks volumes for Illini Nation and golf.

“We would have loved to have given them a win, but this was a young team that overachieved. We really did.”

Lipparelli revealed that he decided over the winter to turn pro after the season concluded. That means Small’s starting five will change next year, with either Bryan Baumgarten getting a regular berth or one of his incoming freshmen grabbing the fifth spot.

“I wanted to give all the best effort I could with every shot today,” Lipparelli said. “I love this team. My plan was to stay here four years but I had some opportunities. It’s tough it ended this way. I hoped this would end on a higher note.”

Hardy, meanwhile, will skip defending his Illinois Amateur title in July because of conflicts, but has lined up the Western Amateur, Illinois Open and U.S. Amateur, presuming his qualifies for the latter, in August.

Wednesday’s championship match starts at 2:10 p.m.

Tim Cronin

Monday
May292017

Illinois meets USC in NCAA Men's quarterfinal

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Monday, May 29, 2017

Illinois, which meets Southern California in Tuesday morning’s NCAA Championship quarterfinals, has a not-so-secret weapon for the match play competition.

Dylan Meyer, after all, is the current Western Amateur champion. He’s gone through the grind of 72 holes of stroke play to qualify, followed by the tenseness of match play.

His advice for his teammates is simple.

“One shot at a time,” Meyer said. “We don’t focus on score. You’ve just got to go out there and play your game. You can’t get ahead of yourself and you can’t really focus on your opponent. Play solid golf and keep putting pressure on them.”

Coach Mike Small agrees. He had to kick his charges – Meyer included – in the rump verbally late in the back nine of Monday’s windblown fourth stroke play round.

“We were leaking oil bad,” Small said. “Most of them had some cottonmouth, choking on themselves.”

Small explained that it was time to rev it up.

“They need to understand that this is a blessing, to have that opportunity to feel this way,” Small said. “You’re playing for your team, your brothers. Most people go through life in a funk. Their heart never raises, they’re just moping through it. To be able to test yourself, to feel the nerves, to get so worked up you can’t stand it, embrace that. That’s what athletics is.

“I think our team grew up a lot today.”

His players listened and reacted.

“You feel the vibe out there and the vibe wasn’t all that great,” Meyer said. “We had to do something to turn it around. He told us we had to get our stuff together, to put it in a ‘blank‘ way. We needed someone to get in our face.”

As a team, they had played the 15th and 16th in 7-over-par on Monday. They bounced back to play the 17th and 18th in 3-under, with Edoardo Lipparelli contributing his second eagle of a round of 4-over 76 via a sharp-breaking 25-footer on the par-5 18th, fellow freshman Giovanni Tadiotto rolling in a birdie at the last for an 80 – which ended up not counting – and Meyer canning a 15-footer on the par-4 17th after a brilliant approach in. Meyer bogeyed the last for 77, but the hay was in the barn by then, with Nick Hardy contributing an even-par 72 and Michael Feagles contributing a 76 before a supportive gallery decked out in orange and blue.

“That was the tournament for us,” Small said of the turnaround on 17. “Five guys played it in 1-under.”

They had played it in 11-over across the first three rounds, though Tadiotto hung up four of those squandered strokes via a quadruple bogey in the first round.

The Fighting Illini finished at 2-over 1154 after a final round of 16-over 304

Lipparelli said he allowed for three feet of break on his eagle putt. It tumbled in the left side of the hole.

“These pin positions were harder than the last few days,” Lipparelli said. “They’re putting the flags a little more tucked.”

He seemed ready for match play no matter who the foe would be.

“If you shoot a low score, you’re going to beat your opponent,” Lipparelli said. “Everybody has to do their business.”

That boils it down to the basics. Meyer was even more terse.

“Win,” he said. “Win at all costs.”

Illinois is seeded No. 3, USC No. 6. Lipparelli meets Sean Crocker on the 10th tee at 7 a.m., Tadiotto plays Andrew Levitt at 7:10 a.m., Hardy matches up with Rico Hoey (the top stroke-play Trojan, tying for sixth at 4-under 284) at 7:20 a.m., Feagles plays Cheng Jin at 7:30 a.m., and Meyer anchors the Illini against Justin Suh at 7:40 a.m.

The other quarterfinal matchups: 

No. 1 Vanderbilt, which finished at 13-under in stroke play, vs. No. 8 Nevada-Las Vegas, No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Oregon, and No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor. Illinois would play the winner of the Oklahoma-Baylor match should it advance to Tuesday afternoon’s semifinals.

Braden Thornberry of Mississippi won the individual title, scoring 11-under 277 with a final round of even par 72, to beat Mason Overstreet of Arkansas by four strokes. A trio of players, Scottie Scheffler of Texas and the Vanderbilt duo of Theo Humphrey and Matthias Schwab finished at 6-under 282. Meyer, at 4-under 284, tied for sixth.

Tim Cronin

Saturday
May272017

Illinois, Meyer step it up

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Next time a curling downhill six-footer feels like the biggest problem in the world, consider Dylan Meyer’s last couple of weeks.

The 21-year-old Illinois junior wasn’t feeling great during the Big Ten tournament, even though he won the individual title, and didn’t know why. It showed in his golf at the NCAA regional at Purdue, where he finished at 8-over 225, unaccustomed territory for him.

So was Carle Foundation Hopsital in Urbana, but that’s where he ended up for three days between the conference tournament and the regional – during finals week – while being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. He’ll live with it the rest of his life, but thanks to the quick diagnosis, he’ll be able to have a normal life.

“I’m just happy we figured it all out. It’s good to have great doctors around that helped figure everything out. I’m feeling a lot better,” Meyer said. “The medication’s working. I got my second loading dose before we left. And I have to go to the hospital and get infusions every eight weeks.”

That’s every eight weeks forever.

Illinois coach Mike Small has been impressed with Meyer’s pluck through the illness, diagnosis and recovery.

“He got a bad lie,” Small said. “We talked about it. It’s the cards he’s dealt. What are you going to do about it. Whine, or get up there and hit the bad lie as well as you can. He got a bad lie in life, and he’s got to deal with it. I think he will.

“This is a serious illness, and something he’s going to have the rest of his life, but the doctors have a handle on it. I was relieved that we found out what it was and we got it taken care of.”

Meyer played only one practice round between the Big Ten championship and the NCAA regional, and was not sharp. But he appeared back on track on Saturday. Saying he was 100 percent on Saturday and playing like it, he scored 5-under-par 67 at Rich Harvest Farms in the second round of the NCAA Championship after finishing the final seven holes of the storm-delayed first round in the morning.

He finished with a deft lob pitch from the rough to the right of the 18th green to within three feet of the cup, and poured the putt in for his sixth birdie of the day and fourth of the back nine. A bogey on the par-4 15th sullied his otherwise-pristine card, with opened with a birdie and featured a stylish par save at the par-4 eighth.

“It was a momentum booster,” Meyer said.

Was it ever. Meyer birdied the ninth and then birdied three in a row beginning at the 12th. He sat in a tie for sixth at 6-under 138 after the morning wave of the second round with only a handful of afternoon players threatening, and was all but a lock for a top 10 placing going into Sunday’s third round – weather permitting, as the forecast calls for thunderstorms after 10 a.m..

“He’ll be a first-team All-American,” Small went on. “He’s had a great season. He keeps getting better all the time. I envision him next year being even better than he is now. It’s a progression. When he gets a chance to showcase it, we want him to go full-bore, go after it and embrace this moment. And he does.”

Fellow junior Nick Hardy, who scored even-par 71 in the second round and stands at 1-under 143, had empathy for his pal, who he’s known since before they became teammates.

“Whenever you see someone go through adversity like that, they find a way to bounce back and become stronger,” Hardy said. “Dylan was dealt some tough adversity the past month and a half, and he fought through it really well. I didn’t even know he’d play regionals, so it was pretty cool being able to pick him up a little bit. He was struggling, but he’s back to 100 percent and he’s definitely got it figured out.”

Meyer and Hardy led the way for the Fighting Illini, with teammates Edoardo Lipparelli (71-141), Michael Feagles (76-145), and Giovanni Tadiotto (74-148) also in the mix.

Illinois is third after 36 holes at 11-under 565, behind only Nevada-Las Vegas (14-under 562 and Olkahoma (13-under 563). Of the top 12 teams at the halfway point of the stroke-play portion, only Illinois is a northern school. All the others, including usual suspects Southern California, Louisiana State and Oklahoma State, are from warm (or warmer) areas of the country.

“We’re right in the thick of it, right in the position we wanted to be,” Hardy said. “We’re excited.”

What Illinois had ten-fold compared to the other teams was local support. The combination of the weekend, the sun finally coming out and the track record Illinois has compiled over the last decade conspired to draw about 2,200 people to Rich Harvest by 1 p.m., with more coming in the gate after that. For college golf, that’s an enormous crowd.

“It’s huge,” Meyer said. “It helps with the adrenalin, gets you going, but you’ve got to manage it in the correct way, be able to keep yourself calm going to the next tee box.”

He didn’t have to do that after sinking the shortie for a birdie 4 at the last. A fist pump and a fierce wave of his visor both reacted to and incited the pro-Illini gallery around the home hole to get louder.

“This is a lot more people than what we’re used to,” Meyer said. “It can be distracting if you let it be distracting, playing to the crowd if you let it be distracting.”

But not so much for Meyer, who won the Western Amateur before a healthy gallery at Knollwood Club in Lake Forest last year, or Hardy, who romped in last year’s Illinois Amateur and has played in the last two U.S. Opens. They seem unflappable.

“We’re a mentally strong-enough team that we don’t really worry about that, just go and play your game,” Meyer said.

Tim Cronin

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