Kearfott captures Will County Amateur; beats Natale in sudden-death playoff

    Reporting from Crete
    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    Tom Kearfott might not have been affected as much by Sunday’s consistently strong north wind at Balmoral Woods at the next guy.
    Says he, “The good thing about being 310 pounds is the wind doesn’t move you quite as much as it does these flatbellies. I’ve got a little advantage on them.”
    Kearfott, from downstate El Paso, was steady all the way around Balmoral on an equally windy Saturday, posting a 1-under-par 71, and his 5-over 77 on Sunday aggregated to 4-over 148, advancing him to a sudden-death playoff with defending champion Michael Natale of Chicago. Kearfott parred the par-5 first hole and Natale, wayward with his first two shots, bogeyed it – disbelieving that his par-saving putt didn’t break the way it had at the start of the round – allowing Kearfott, in his first attempt, to take the title and don the Brown Jacket.
    “I played steady today, just kept going,” Kearfott said. “I didn’t make any real bad mistakes.”
    Fellow downstaters Todd Mitchell (a multiple Illinois Amateur champion), Jeff Niepagen and Mike Cushing, all of whom work in the same Bloomington insurance office as Kearfott, convinced him to make the trip to Balmoral for the traditional kickoff to the amateur season in Illinois.
    “They’ve been after me for five years,” Kearfott said. “My kids are old enough now that I don’t have to stay home, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll play.’ “
    Their persuasion earned Kearfott office bragging rights. Mitchell tied for 14th, while Niepagen and Cushing settled for 21st.
    Ralph Houck, a superb low-ball hitter, tied Chris Thayer of Chicago for third, at 5-over 149. Houck was 1-over on his last six holes on Sunday, when the wind was at its most fierce, and his even-par 72 was the best round of the day.
    Look for a full report in the May issue of Illinois Golfer.
    – Tim Cronin


Is Augusta ready? Amen to that

IG Wed 4/4/2012 Masters Eve
Reporting from Augusta, Ga.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The gates opened late and closed early thanks to weather that was more than merely inclement, but for the time the general public strolled under the pines and around the wisteria at Augusta National, everything was bliss. Short of a triple bogey, it is difficult to imagine a bad day at the 29-hole facility (fun fact: there are actually 11 holes on the Par-3 course) on Washington Road.
Unless you were Billy Payne. He had to handle the slings and arrows of sportswriters quizzing him on the status a female membership -- or the lack thereof -- at the private for-profit club he presides over as chairman.
The question isn't new, as those who remember Martha Burk know, but it gained relevance because of the gender of the new CEO of IBM, one of The Masters' main three sponsors, is female. The last four CEOs of IBM were invited, either while or after they ran the company, to join Augusta National.
Payne, following a tradition that goes back to first chairman Cliff Roberts, called the matter a private club matter, said he wouldn't elaborate, and didn't, though he was prodded in various ways.
The entire matter may be moot, since Virginia Rometty, the new CEO, only occasionally plays golf, and it's not known if she belongs to any private golf or country club. She may think Amen Corner is the church down the street.
So while that business simmers, the 76th edition of the club's invitational golf tournament commences on Thursday morning, with top-ranked Luke Donald flying so far under the radar, he may well be walking. All the talk is about Tiger Woods -- who had most of the early gallery following him on Wednesday morning -- and Rory McIlroy, the current No. 2, who threw away last year's Masters beginning with his tee shot that caromed into the cabins on the 10th hole of the final round.
Funny thing is, it's not a two- or three-man tournament. Any of about three dozen players can win, which is true of any major. Eliminate those who grouse about the conditions, or can't figure out the greens -- the revamped sixth, with an expanded back right tier, is an extremely vexing question -- or become overwhelmed by the moment, and you're down to about three dozen, some of whom are regulars in that group and some who come and go.
Three who came and stayed for decades teed off together in the Par-3 tournament before the weather turned ugly. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player drew cheers, applause, and at least one gasp directed toward Palmer when they commenced firing, proving that at Augusta, at least at times, it's still 1962. Those who criticize the club on the membership issue think so as well.
The Buzz on Magnolia Lane: Dustin Johnson withdrew, but as is is an invitational, no alternate was named to replace him. Sorry, Ernie Els. ... The huge storm Tuesday night left debris scattered about the course, 1.4 inches of rain caused the banks of Rae's Creek to overflow, and wind felled a 150-year-old tree behind the 16th hole. It landed on a relative new restroom building, causing an unofficial $1 million in damage. The club says it will be repaired by Thursday morning. ... An update to Tuesday's missive on prices. They have gone up. It now costs $5.50 for a sandwich, chips and a Coke on the course, up $1 from past years. It costs more than that at the United Center just to smell the food.
- Tim Cronin


Onward to Augusta

Reporting from Covington, Ga.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
This is the land of the Waffle House, to say nothing of grits, gravy slathered over everything, even at Chick-fil-A. It is where there's a church on every other corner -- there are even more of those that Waffle Houses -- but where you can, a year after the Atlanta Thrashers departed for sunny Winnipeg, you can still find a hockey game on the local cable sports network.
This is one more example of how the Deep South has always been a collection of contradictions.It is mentioned because Covington, the outpost of the moment, is a few exits, 120 miles worth by the map, down Interstate 20 from a certain invitational golf tournament that attracts international attention.
That explains why 78-room budget motels are filled to the brim in early April. It isn't because the azaleas are in bloom, because this year, the blooms have already come and gone. Spring came early in the Deep South as well. As someone said today, "We went right from fall to summer." Except for the occasional ice storm, winter is a rumor in Covington.
Masters Fever is not. Golf fans everywhere count the days to this week, and merchants, whether innkeepers or sous chefs, count the money anywhere win a couple of hours of the Augusta National Golf Club. The country may be just coming out of a recession, but in these parts, the money tree sung of in "Raintree County" about a half-century ago still blossoms, and, unlike the azaleas, on time, just as Clifford Roberts intended when he and Bob Jones created Augusta National and The Masters in the 1930s.
The annual renewal seems even more anticipated this year, what with the revival of Tiger Woods' ability to close the deal on Sunday afternoon. With Woods coming back to winning form, with Rory McIlroy returning to the scene of his collapse last year -- but with the knowledge that he can not only win a major, but dominate one -- and with a host of others, from overlooked Luke Donald to Phil Mickelson looking to get fitted for a new sports jacket come Sunday afternoon, there are those who are saying no Masters, and there have been 75 previous editions, has been more anticipated.
We like hyperbole as much as the next scribe, but that is a bit much. Do those panting prognosticators not remember 1997, Woods' first appearance at Augusta National as a professional? All the golfing world wondered how the kid would do.
After going out in 40, he did all right, coming back in 30, a stylish 6-under, on Thursday afternoon, and going on to make history, as if on cue.
What about any year from 1959, the first year after Arnold Palmer's first victory, through about 1984? That's how long it took for him, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus all to be considered past their primes -- with Jack putting the lie to that with his incandescent back nine two years later. Wednesday, they'll probably play together in the Par 3 contest, and they'll all be on the first tee Thursday, when Player joins Arnie and Jack as an honorary starter.
The Masters always is looked forward to. It is a special tournament in a special place. Augusta National is the most natural looking artificial place in creation -- the Disney World of golf, massaged and perfected and tweaked once and again -- and it all works. You can go on and on about what Augusta's board may do wrong -- expect female members within a decade or so, allowing the distaff portion of the 1 percent to join their brothers -- but there is no better run tournament, from how players are treated to how spectators are welcomed, but from the practical and financial end.
Grandstands are ample, viewing mounds are many -- they were invented here, but at Sawgrass -- and, whereas everyone else in Augusta has their hand in your pocket like a Chicago alderman, at The Masters, a golf shirt is priced like a golf shirt from any club, and you can get change back after handing the cashier $5 for a chicken breast sandwich, chips and a Coke. (And, yes, so close to Atlanta, be assured it's a Coke, even though the spigots on the pop machine after covered over, lest overt sponsorship creep onto the grounds.)
There seems to be no chance of that, any more than CBS' announcers, working with a proverbial gun to their collective heads this week, will start blurting out the size of the purse. Years ago, club boss Hord Hardin was asked about the possibility of a title sponsor for The Masters. Said Hardin, "We're not going to become the Pizza Hut Masters."
Speaking of which, it's the dinner hour. The aroma of the Waffle House is singing its siren song. There must be a Pizza Hut in this town.
-- Tim Cronin


Conway farms confirmed for 2013 BMW

    Writing from Chicago
    Monday, March 12, 2013

    At least one BMW Championship – traditionally called the Western Open – will be played at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest.
    The 2013 iteration has been locked in by the Western Golf Association and the PGA Tour. Conway officials want the 2015 playing as well, and will get it if the first edition goes well. The club originally demanded both the 2013 and 2015 tournaments be in the same contract, but the deal signed gives the club and PGA Tour a mutually-agreed option to play there in 2015.
    “Many of our volunteers and contributors to our championships and scholarships live in the city’s northern suburbs, and this gives us the opportunity to reward their support by showcasing the world’s top golfers on a course in their own backward,” Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s tournament VP, said in the WGA's release.
    That, and title sponsor BMW’s interest in marketing to the north shore crowd, were among the ingredients that went into the formula that dislodged the tournament from Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont – considered by some WGA directors driving from far off Highland Park and vicinity to be on the other side of the moon – and moved it north. Others included Luke Donald’s membership at Conway Farms and player dissatisfaction with the Rees Jones renovation of Cog Hill’s Dubsdread layout, a Dick Wilson design.
    The deal confirms the WGA’s contract provision with the PGA Tour that at least every other BMW is played in the Chicago area, and puts the local playings on an odd-numbered year basis. This year, the tournament is at Crooked Stick Golf Club, near Indianapolis, and in 2014, it’s at Cherry Hills Country Club, near Denver.
    So the BMW / Western returns to the northern suburbs of Chicago for the first time since 1972, when Jim Jamieson won the Western on a cold, rainy week at Sunset Ridge Country Club, and for only the seventh time in its history. It has been a rare visitor to the neighborhood since the 1899 inaugural at the Glen View Club.
    In the release, Donald said of his home summer club, “(I)t provides such a different test every time you play it, (it) is sure to make the BMW Championship a thrilling event for players and fans alike.”
    Conway is a Tom Fazio design that winds through a housing development. Officials plan to cut down trees to allow room for corporate tents and other infrastructure associated with big-time golf. Spectators will have to be shuttled in, for the small parking lot at the clubhouse will accommodate only players, and the grassed auxiliary lot near it will be filled by tournament operations.
    The Western had been played at Cog Hill since 1991, with 2008 the exception. Jemsek Golf used that year, when the BMW was played at Bellerive Country Club in Town & Country, Mo., to bring in Jones for his $5.2 million renovation of Dubsdread. The hope was to get a U.S. Open. Instead, the Jemsek family lost the favor of several Tour players, including mild-mannered Steve Stricker, who had won the Western there.
    The announcement updates the lineup of confirmed and potential BMW tournament sites thusly:
    2012: Crooked Stick Golf Club, Carmel, Ind.
    2013: Conway Farms Golf Club, Lake Forest, Ill.
    2014: Cherry Hills Country Club, Cherry Hills Village, Colo.
    2015: TBA (potentially Conway Farms)
    2016: TBA (potentially Harding Park Golf Course, San Francisco)
    – Tim Cronin


Tour renegotiating S.F.'s BMW contract to accommodate Conway Farms

Writing from Chicago

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The PGA Tour and the city of San Francisco are renegotiating the contract that calls for the BMW Championship to be held at Harding Park, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.

Doing so would allow Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest to host it in 2013 and 2015, which the club is requesting. It would also fulfill the sponsoring Western Golf Association's desire – and contract – to play at least one of every two BMWs in the Chicago area.

The Tour wants to push back a BMW appearance at Harding Park and add two Schwab Cup playoff tournaments – that's the Champions Tour finale – to make up for not playing the BMW in San Francisco in either 2013 or 2014.

Harding Park general manager Phil Ginsburg told the Chronicle the plan calls for playing the BMW at the course in 2016, and adding two Schwab Cups from 2017 to 2019.

"This could turn out to be a win-win for everyone," Ginsburg said. "It gives the Tour needed flexibility, strengthens our existing agreement and brings extra tournaments to Harding for the next decade."

Tour executive David Pillsbury told the Chronicle that the contract with the city calls for the BMW, traditionally known as the Western Open, to be played in one of the next two years. Previously, it had been reported here and elsewhere that the BMW had to be played at Harding Park by 2015. The 2014 tournament is slated for Cherry Hills Country Club, near Denver, leaving 2013 as the only date to fulfill the current contract.

"We've told all the parties the same thing throughout this dialogue: Look, we have a contract with the city of San Francisco to bring the penultimate playoff event there in 2013 or '14," Pillsbury told the Chronicle's Ron Kroichick.

"Until we are able to secure approval from the city to do otherwise, we plan on honoring our contractual agreement. We're hopeful, but it's not done until it's done."

If the deal is approved by the San Francisco brass and the double visit to Conway is locked in, the BMW schedule would line up like this:

2012: Crooked Stick Golf Club, Carmel, Ind.

2013: Conway Farms Golf Club, Lake Forest

2014: Cherry Hills Country Club, Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

2015: Conway Farms Golf Club, Lake Forest

2016: Harding Park Golf Course, San Francisco

If the Tour and San Francisco can't reach an agreement, everything aside from this year's visit to Crooked Stick and the 2014 jaunt to the Rockies is up in the air.

– Tim Cronin