Happy New Year and eagles to all!

Writing from Chicago
Sunday, January 1, 2012

The celestial odometer has clicked once more, albeit not nearly as dramatically as in the big rollover of 1999-2000. However, it's always good to see the ball drop atop No. 1 Times Square and another year come around, for, as Joe Jemsek used to say when greeting customers, "That means I'm around too." Happy New Year to all!

And here we are for another year; a bigger year, potentially, filled with new ideas and culminating, as far as Chicago golf fans are concerned, with the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club at September's end.

There is much to contemplate before that, including the question of where in Chicagoland the 2013 BMW Championship (a.k.a. the Western Open) will be played. That answer was expected by Thanksgiving and has yet to be revealed.

The world season – and didn't it just end a few minutes ago? – commences at the posh Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course this week. (Your Chicago connection there, incidentally, is Mike Jones, the former Cantigny professional who is Kapalua's GM and director of golf.) Locally, the Eskimo Open takes place at Cog Hill on Sunday next. Born at Glenwoodie on the day of the 1963 NFL Championship Game, when a big group gathered to watch the blacked-out game via NBC's South Bend station, found the antenna didn't pick up the signal, and went out to play a few holes in the frigid air instead, the Eskimo Open has become a Chicago tradition. And this year's long-range forecast is favorable. It's supposed to reach 36 degrees on the 8th.

But before the first ball is struck, either in anger or humor, some housekeeping. Len Ziehm, the sage whose fine writing has graced the pages of the Sun-Times since Marshall Field V owned the place, has revamped his website ( Our Hero hasn't been around since the Foulis Brothers were inventing little details of the game such as the flagstick at Chicago Golf, but he is rumored to have a copy of the patent. His site, which offers news, commentary and travel sagas, is worth checking out. Even more hard news is presented by Rory Spears, a radio maven-turned-webber, via, an adjunct of the Golfers on Golf radio program. Spears is on the road checking out courses nearly as much as Ziehm. You'll want to read him as well.

When news is broken by one of us, we'll try and let everyone know. Ziehm kiddingly called us "The Big Three," but Spears and I know Ziehm is the Big Kahuna in this three-ball. We'll just draft in his wake and hope to pick up a scrap or two. Those sites are linked permanently on the right side of the home page, along with a handful of others you may find useful, or at least entertaining. Here are the three of us at a recent get-together at the White Pines Golf Dome, where Mike Munro, another of the Golfers on Golf quartet, holds court daily.

From left: Len Ziehm, Tim Cronin, Rory Spears

Eagles to all in 2012!

– Tim Cronin

WGA has notion for Alotian

Writing from Chicago
Sunday, December 4, 2011

The return of the Western Amateur to the Chicago area will take a detour in 2013. A big detour, one that may presage similar wanderings in the future.

The 2013 Western Am will be played at The Alotian Club, between Northpoint and Roland, Arkansas, near Little Rock, the sponsoring Western Golf Association has announced.

That’s a long way from Olympia Fields Country Club, the original scheduled site. Six hundred and forty-five miles, to be exact.

There are two logical reasons for the move, the first being the arrival of the United States Amateur at Olympia Fields in 2015. That’s two years more distant, but a membership that already hosts an annual college tournament – the highly-regarded Illini Invitational – didn’t want to overfill its outside calendar, not with a roster of members who like to play golf themselves. (Another tournament off the club’s schedule is the Illinois PGA Championship. Mike Small won the 2010 version on Olympia’s North Course.)

The course receiving the Western Am is relatively unknown to Chicagoans, but highly ranked nationally. Designed by Tom Fazio, it opened in 2004, was selected as the best new course in the U.S. by Golf Digest in 2005, and has quickly risen to 14th on that magazine’s national top 100 ranking.

The ownership also has pedigree. Little Rock tycoon Warren Stephens is the owner. His father, industrialist Jack Stephens, was a long-time member of Augusta National Golf Club, as Warren Stephens is. Jack Stephens also succeeded Hord Hardin as chairman of the club and the Masters Tournament.

In that regard, Alotian is a backyard course, much like Jerry Rich’s Rich Harvest Farms layout on the outskirts of Sugar Grove. But whereas Rich’s course, which will host the Western Am in 2015, was built in stages over a decade, and has a disjointed feel to it, Stephens pointed Fazio to the most interesting 300 acres of his 1,200-acre estate and told him to have at it. Three years and approximately $18 million later – including the purchase of a 300-acre farm for topsoil, according to a 2004 report in Arkansas Business – Alotian opened.

Those who have played it say Alotian has Augusta touches, from immaculate conditioning to elevation changes that make a player think, including the 200-yard par-3 sixth hole, with a 100-foot drop from tee to green. There are also cottages in the Augusta sense: eight bedrooms each.

What Alotian has not had, at least in a national sense, is a competition. The Western Amateur will change that, and bring both spectators and national publicity to what has to now been a private haven for Stephens, his hand-picked fellow members, and those lucky enough to be guests.

The Western Am’s played in the heat of late July and early August, with 36 holes played on each of the last three days – at least for those who survive to the match-play championship final round. The location and the topography will make the championship even more of a marathon. While Alotian has caddies – including a pair of brothers who are Evans Scholars, Joe and Kevin Evans, economics majors at Northwestern – it’s a cart-only course. Caddies generally act as forecaddies. Presumably, that will change the week of the Western Am, but if it’s 100 degrees with humidity to match, the situation will get sticky.

Stephens saw the caddie connection a logical reason to invite the Western Golf Association to bring the Western Am down south for the first time since 1966, when it was held on Pinehurst No. 2.

“Hosting a world class competition and supporting scholarships for caddies made the decision to welcome the Western Amateur to Arkansas an easy one,” Stephens said in a WGA release.

The 2013 date may make it possible for an Arkansas Razorback to contend for the title. Ethan Tracy, a native of Hillard, Ohio, won this year’s Western Am at North Shore. He’ll have graduated from Arkansas in the months before the 2013 championship, the 111th in a string that began at the Glen View Golf & Polo Club in 1899.

– Tim Cronin

The Western Amateur calendar

2012 Exmoor Country Club, Highland Park, Ill.
2013 The Alotian Club, Roland, Ark.
2014 Beverly Country Club, Chicago
2015 Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, Ill.
2016 Knollwood Club, Lake Forest, Ill.

'In control' Rose triumphs at Cog Hill

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Sunday, September 18, 2011

Even in a golf tournament that is effectively a wire-to-wire victory, there is a moment when the eventual winner has to perform, a time when a shot absolutely has to be made.

For Justin Rose, that moment came Sunday at 4:45 p.m. The leader or co-leader since hostilities commenced on Thursday, he had hit his second shot on the par-4 17th hole just short of the green. The holder of a five-stroke lead on steady Australian John Senden earlier in the round, Rose, an Englishman born in South Africa, now led by only a stroke.

He was 12 yards from the cup, sitting firmly on the fairway, and was mulling pulling his putter from the bag.

“The chicken stick,” he called it. “I had a little chat with myself. I was very aware, very conscious, these are the moments when tournaments are won.”

Rose and caddie Mark Fulcher conferred.

“I said, ‘What do you like?’ and he said, ‘I see a 54 (degree wedge) landing on the green, a bit of check, then releasing.’ Had he said putter, I would have putted it, so he gets kudos there for sure.”

Rose’s chip played out the way Fulcher envisioned, with a bonus. It dropped into the cup for a birdie 3, and a two-stroke lead that allowed Rose to play Dubsdread’s treacherous 18th hole the way he preferred, while Senden, now two back, had to press.

Both parred the last, and Rose, with an even-par 71 on the softest of days, totaled 13-under-par 271 and captured the 108th Western Open, marqueed for the fifth time as the BMW Championship, by two strokes at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club. Senden finished with a 69 for 11-under 273, with Geoff Ogilvy third at 274 via a 69. That trio was out of the Tour Championship picture entering the week, and now are headed to Atlanta. But the Western was decided on Dubsdread’s penultimate test.

“You can boil the whole day down to that hole,” Rose said of the 17th.

Senden also thought so.

“It was a beautiful shot that he hit,” Senden said. “He left the ball in the correct spot if he missed (the second shot) under the circumstances. It was a great shot under pressure.”

Senden had tried to apply pressure, but made only a pair of birdies, on the ninth and 10th holes, amid a sea of pars on a day where it drizzled, then rained, then poured, then stopped, with the wind only a rumor. He hit 15 greens in regulation, but his only other one-putt greens besides the birdie holes produced a trio of par saves.

“I focused on my game; on putting well and getting the ball in the hole,” Senden said. “I really wanted to catch him and win the golf tournament.”

He trailed by five after Rose’s brace of birdies on the sixth and seventh holes, but began to trim the lead on the ninth with his 16-foot birdie putt and Rose’s bogey 6. The lead was three.

From there until his tee shot on the 16th, Rose would hit only one fairway. Bugged by the changing conditions, he was changing jackets, pullovers, everything but his shoes while trying to keep the ball in play.

Senden’s deficit was two strokes when he dropped a 43-footer for a 3 on the 10th hole. Rose’s bogey on the par-5 15th, when his tee shot came close to going out of bounds to the right, made it a one-stroke margin. Suddenly, the pressure was on.

Rose had been there before. He’d won last year’s AT&T National when leading after three rounds, and six PGA Tour or European Tour tournaments in all. He knew how to finish.

“In terms of my hands and my feel and my heart rate, I felt absolutely 100 percent in control today,” Rose said. “Never felt uncomfortable, didn’t feel nervous on the first tee, felt like I had my game. All week, actually, and I think that’s a calmness more than anything.

“I practice closing. Every Sunday when I’m not in contention, I practice it. I practice doing the right things, having the right mindset. I think it’s very difficult just to expect to have it when you’re in contention and when you’re in the lead.”

The payoff came even before Sunday, he said.

“I’ve improved my position with my final round most of the time,” Rose said. “I think I’m 15th in scoring average on Sunday.”

He was first in scoring average this week starting with Thursday’s 8-under-par 63. Mark Wilson tied him at 11-under 131 after 36 holes, but Saturday’s 2-under 69 put him four shots clear of the field coming into the final 18 holes.

“Mentally this is the best I’ve ever been in being under control,” Rose said.

And at the best possible time. By winning, Rose not only collects $1.44 million, he moved from 34th to third in the PGA Tour’s playoff point system, so not only played his way into next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, but can win the FedEx Cup and the $10 million that goes with it by winning where Bobby Jones grew up.

“To give myself control of my own destiny next week is something I didn’t foresee at the beginning of the week,” Rose said. “An amazing outcome.”

– Tim Cronin

Next Chicago stop? Conway Farms is favored

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Sunday, September 18, 2011

Besides Crooked Stick, where does the Western Golf Association go from here?

To Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, seemingly the leader in the BMW Championship wish list clubhouse?

To North Shore Country Club in Glenview, where a committed membership endowed an Evans scholarship worth $135,000 during the recent Western Amateur?

To the Glen Club in Glenview, which once hosted a Nationwide Tour tournament?

To the Merit Club in Libertyville, where the U.S. Women’s Open was held in 2000?

To Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Hawthorn Woods, which hosted a PGA Championship in 1989?

Or back to Cog Hill, which has hosted 20 Western Open / BMW Championship weeks – more than any other course, including Butler National – with distinction?

We may know in 30 days or less. WGA CEO John Kaczkowski wants to make a decision relatively quickly, to jump-start the process of putting the pieces in place if, as expected, the tournament leaves Dubsdread for the northern suburbs of Chicago.

All of those potential new venues have drawbacks, from distance to downtown – Kemper Lakes is farther from the Loop than Dubsdread – to a lack of real estate to park cars, erect tents, or just move people around the golf course. Dubsdread has none of those drawbacks, and, thanks to the tender loving care put forth by new superintendent Scott Pavalko and his predecessor, Ken Lapp, was in pristine condition.

Plus, the WGA gets the place for free, which probably would not happen anywhere else.

But Conway Farms, where Luke Donald is a member, and North Shore, which is a little more than a mile from WGA headquarters, are the two lead horses in this race, with Conway in front, if only because it has been campaigning longer.

“They’ve looked at a bunch of different courses and they’ve come to me and kind of narrowed it down to a few, one being Conway, and I think it has the merits to support going there,” Donald said. “It’s a great course. I think the players will love it. Logistically it should work, and I think its location is a plus as well.”

Rose, who recalled being beaten up by Dubsdread in a qualifying round for the 1997 U.S. Amateur, is the biggest new fan of the pride of the Jemsek family’s portfolio.

“I certainly would like to see it come back here,” Rose said. “For me, the Chicago crowd has always come out and supported this golf tournament. It’s got a lot of history here too, now, and I’d certainly be pushing for it to come back.

“I know they made changes and the changes aren’t necessarily to everybody’s liking, but it’s a championship golf course that’s incredibly tough. I think the course is a very strategic golf course, and it tells you to play it a certain way, and if you don’t play it that way, you will get punished out there.”

Georgia no longer on their minds

Along with winner Justin Rose, John Senden and Geoff Ogilvy advanced to the Tour Championship by finishing well – 1-2-3, in fact – in the Western. But that pushed three other players to the sidelines.

Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, and Kyle Stanley were dismissed from the East Lake cotillion, and now can only dream about winning the tour’s $10 million bonus prize.

Call him Mr. Top Ten

Donald’s fourth place finish was his 11th top 10 finish in 16 PGA Tour starts this season, which includes a win at the World Match Play in Tuscon. He also has two wins this year on the European Tour, and about $5.4 million in U.S. tour earnings.

What he didn’t do Sunday, and had in common with the all in the field but Senden, was challenge Rose. Donald’s 68 was achieved somewhat in the shadows.

“It was hard to go on a big run and go really low,” Donald said. “Three-under was as good as I could have probably done out there.”

Around Dubsdread

The gallery was about 25,000 for the second consecutive day. The big parking lot across Parker Road was deep with cars at mid-morning, with more fans turning in, but the numbers were well off the halcyon days when the Western was played on the Fourth of July weekend. The unofficial four-day total of 84,000 (including 20,000 Thursday and 24,000 Friday) may well be higher than internal estimates by WGA officials. One whisper had 11,000 attending on Thursday and 12,000 on Friday, based on car counts. ... Sunday’s scoring average was 71.841, about a stroke over par, with Tommy Gainey’s 78 the high score. The weeklong average was 71.540, a little under last year’s 71.850 thanks to soft conditions, especially on Friday, which dawned cool and remained overcast all day. ... Phil Mickelson, the harshest critic of Dubsdread, finished in a tie for 56th, collecting $18,080. He would have won more, but for a double-bogey on the 18th hole. Call that Rees Jones’ revenge.

– Tim Cronin

Rose wins at Cog Hill

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Sunday, September 18, 2011

Justin Rose won the grand finale at Cog Hill on Sunday, his 12-yard chip-in birdie on the 17th hole helping him to a two-stroke victory over John Senden in the 108th Western Open / BMW Championship at Dubsdread. Rose finished at 13-under 271. Details to follow.

– Tim Cronin