Chicago deserves a regular PGA Tour stop

By Rex HoggardSeptember 11, 2013, 5:12 pm

The City of the Big Shoulders has given us big-time sports icons like Wrigley Field, the Monsters of the Midway, Michaels Jordan and Ditka and now, Conway Farms, about an hour up the Skokie Highway from downtown in the cozy enclave of Lake Forest.

If that sounds a bit harsh know that the dig isn’t directed at either the Tom Fazio design or the North Side faithful. By all accounts, the site of this week’s BMW Championship is a fine country club course.

“It’s great in the fact it’s a golf club,” said Luke Donald, a member at Conway Farms and the de facto host of this week’s BMW. “There’s no carts, no tennis courts. It’s all walking. It’s a great membership, a lot of low single-figure handicaps. People are very passionate about their golf here.”

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Good for Donald, a transplanted Chicagoan via Hemel Hempstead, England, for taking an active role in his community and with the PGA Tour, whom he lobbied to bring the penultimate playoff stop to Conway Farms. But with apologies to the former world No. 1, his statement sounded more like a membership drive campaign than a Tour endorsement.

While “no carts” and “great membership” may work in some towns, in Chicago – arguably the nation’s best golf city – it leaves one feeling as if something has been left on the table.

Following a largely successful two-decade run at Cog Hill, the BMW went on the road in 2008 (Bellerive in St. Louis, Mo.) and again in 2011(Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.). Since those road shows, it seems the Second City has become second class when it comes to Tour golf.

Next year’s BMW Championship heads west to Cherry Hills in Denver – which, as a logistical aside, will be quite a haul for players coming from the Monday finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship – furthering a disturbing trend.

How is it possible that the nation’s third-largest market has become a part-time Tour player? Steve Stricker plays more than that.

If the Tour and the Western Golf Association, which runs the BMW, are married to the event’s vagabond existence, may we suggest the circuit not stray too far away from the 312 area code.

A town that enjoys an embarrassment of classic golf riches – from Chicago GC to Medinah to Olympia Fields – seems to have become mired in a mediocre lineup of “fine” golf courses and misplaced motivations.

Like The Barclays, the playoff opener, the BMW should rotate, but only within the confines of Chicago-land, nothing else makes sense.

And just to show that Chicago’s relative irrelevance when it comes to high-profile golf is not limited to the Tour’s short-sightedness, consider that the U.S. Open bolted Olympia Fields in 2003 and has never looked back. And no, Wisconsin’s Erin Hills – site of the 2017 Open – is not greater Chicago.

Only the PGA of America, which held last year’s Ryder Cup at Medinah, seems inclined to keep Chicago in the major championship rotation.

Maybe Olympia Fields isn’t the U.S. Golf Association’s cup of coffee and Butler National’s membership policies are too archaic for the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but considering the scope and scale how does that leave the Windy City persona non grata on the golf calendar?

Rees Jones’ redesign of Cog Hill 2009 dropped the Dubsdread layout out of favor with many a Tour frat brother.

“I thought I was pretty done here. It worked out. I get rewarded with a trip to Cog Hill,” Geoff Ogilvy dryly opined at the 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship after earning a trip to the BMW.

But that’s no reason to settle for something safe (Conway Farms) or to relegate Chicago to a supporting role on the Tour landscape. There are too many classic golf courses, too many passionate fans – these are, after all, the same folks who flock to Wrigley more than a century removed from the Cubs’ last World Series victory – to over react in such a way.

Every Tour stop has a charitable story to tell, but the BMW’s beneficiary is particularly rooted in golf. The WGA supports the Evans Scholars Foundation, which currently includes 840 caddie scholars and 14 scholarship houses at universities across the Midwest.

More importantly, the foundation has more than 9,800 alumni. If you’ve spent any time in the golf business you’ve met someone whose life has been profoundly impacted by the Evans program.

What the WGA does, primarily through the BMW, is a true feel-good story, which is why the event deserves better. The Evans Foundation deserves better. Chicago deserves better.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.