Country and Western

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The hottest country in golf right now, arguably, is South Africa.
 
Trevor Immelman, Rory Sabbatini, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Tim Clark. Thats a pretty strong top five.
 
Immelman won his first PGA TOUR event Sunday at the Cialis Western Open in convincing style. He buried the winning birdie putt on the 72nd hole to hold off a charging Tiger Woods.
 
Immelman is 26 years old. Many people questioned his selection as a captains pick on last years International Presidents Cup squad. They said he didnt deserve the two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR that went with it.
 
And Immelman told me, privately, on Friday that the criticism got under his skin, especially since he won $750,000 in 13 events on the U.S. Tour last year.
 
Anyway, all of that sniping goes away now. Immelman will make the next Presidents Cup team on his own. Suddenly he is on a short list of favorites for the Open Championship to be played a week from Thursday at Royal Liverpool in England.
 
What wont go away are the memories of the Western Open. It began in 1899 and entertained many title sponsors. But next year its newest incarnation will be the BMW Championship.
 
The word Western will no longer be in the title. Chicagoans are a proud and proprietary group. I know. I grew up in the Chicago area. When the Chicago Tribune bought the Chicago Cubs the powers-that-be at The Trib were smart enough to keep the name Wrigley Field.
 
Similarly, somebody in marketing at BMW should be brave enough to march into the executive suite and convince the Beemer bosses to find a way to keep the word Western in the title.
 
The tournament has earned it. And the people involved in the running of the event, especially the volunteers, will appreciate it. Hard to find anything objectionable about The BMW Western Open.
 
There is still time to make this simple and thoughtful accommodation. As one person told me Sunday, They are going to play the Western Open next year at Cog Hill. It will just be under an assumed name.
 
It was a harsh bit of humor. BMW is stepping up to the plate and forking over a lot of money. The companys product is solid, it is upmarket and it has earned its good reputation.
 
Let this column just serve as a reminder that the people of Chicago believe the reputation of the Western earned its place as well.
 
Say Western Open and you think of Chick Evans and the caddie scholars. You think of Walter Hagen, who won this thing five times. You think of Joe Jemsek, the patriarch of Chicago public golf who brought the Western to his beloved Cog Hill. You think of Marshall Dann, the man who brought the tournament back to Chicago full time. And you think of Tiger Woods, who in the last 10 years has changed the way the Western was perceived by the casual sports fan.
 
It was reassuring to see Woods on the prowl again late Sunday, making four birdies on the back nine and energizing a professional golf tournament, as only he can, for the first time in months.
 
In two years this event will take place in St. Louis at Bellerive. Woods has nothing against that citys good burghers. But, he said Sunday, it was unfortunate that there will be no PGA TOUR event in Chicago that year.
 
Bringing all of this back to Immelman, my wish is that his countryman and boyhood idol, Ernie Els, completely heals from knee surgery and begins challenging Woods, who is still healing from the passing of his father earlier this year.
 
It wouldnt be the worst thing in the world for professional golf to have a three-way playoff for the BMW Western Open next year between Trevor Immelman, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods.
 
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