Chicago Sun-Times

Inside Golf

The Chicago Sun-Times updates on the Ryder Cup and other golf happenings.

Three of Illinois' four PGA contestants--Steve Stricker (5-under), Luke Guthrie (2-over) and D.A. Points (3-over)--will play on the weekend.

But a pair of 76s left Mike Small 12-over par on Friday after two rounds at the PGA  at Oak Hill, far from making the cut for the fourth time in his nine PGA appearances.


Even though the Illini golf coach was playing in only his third multi-day event since November, left with a bad taste in his mouth


``I brought nothing to the table all week,'' Small said. ``You have to hit the fairways, and I had trouble hitting it inside the ropes, let alone the fairways. This is my third event since November, but no excuses. I have to get better.''


With Illinois coming off an impressive season in which it finished second in the nation, Small, 47, is enjoying great success in his day job. And that's cut into his practice time.


``My [coaching] job has really exploded,'' he said. ``There are a lot more demands on my time--and of course, there's recruiting. But that's the way it is.''


He's also a 2013 inductee to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. But Small left Oak Hill pondering how to be more competitive in future PGAs.


``I don't know,'' he said when asked if he needs to play more competitive golf or simply practice more. ``I just have to figure things out. I need to get better, to spend more time at it and figure some things out.''


That said, he was pleased to be one of four Illini alumni in PGA field along with Steve Stricker, D.A. Points and Luke Guthrie.


``It's neat; we're growing as a program,'' Small said. ``It's fun to be a part of it. I just wish I could have held up my end fo the bargain and played a little better.''


A three-time winner of the PGA's national club-pros championship, Small has missed only one PGA since 2004, and has made the cut three times, most recently in 2011. That tournament and the Illinois Open are the only tournaments he's played in since November.

Illinos golf coach Mike Small took a run at his fourth PGA Professional National Championship, but settled for a fourth-place tie after shooting 72 in the final round on Thursday.


Small, who finished 4-under par, six shots behind winner Rod Perry, from Port Orange, Fla., was rewarded with berths in two events for his strong showing in the PGA Pros National, which was played in Sunriver, Ore.


Small is one of 20 players who earned a berth in the PGA, to be played at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., in August. Small was the low club pro at the 2007 and 2011 PGA tournaments.


He also earned a slot on Team USA for the PGA Cup, a Ryder-Cup style event that will be played in Northumberland, England, in September.


Small closed to within one shot of the lead by birdieing four of his first eight holes, but bogeyed the ninth and 14th holes to fall out of contention, then made double bogey on No. 18.










Most sports these days are as serious as a major knee injury.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tends to be as forthcoming as a POW when asked certain questions. The Blackhawks have ``lower body injuries.'' Even college teams conduct practices behind closed doors in these internet-wary times.

And then there is the Champions tour.

It features accomplished golfers over 50 who can still play. What they've lost in prodigious length, they make up for with  graciousness and a sense of entertainment.

 ``These guys get it,'' Champions tour president Mike Stevens said Monday at media for the Encompass Championship. ``They've all had great careers on the PGA tour. Now is the opportunity for them to give back. And that's what they do. They're very engaging, with autographs, pictures, even lessons.''


While they have perspective, they remain very competitive. Senior golfers have remarkable skill and nerve, and fans can see it on display in a way that's virtually impossible in other sports. When Michael Jordan, Denis Savard and Frank Thomas are past their prime, they're finished. Unlike golfers, there's no senior tour for them.


The Champions tour is coming to the Chicago area for first time since 2002 next month. The Encompass Championship, a 54-hole event, will be played at North Shore Country Club in Glenview June 21-23.


Tickets start at $20 and are available at


The field is loaded with players who have won majors and been major factors on the golf scene for decades. The commitments include Chip Beck, Mark Calcavecchia, Ben Crenshaw, Fred Funk, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Rocco Mediate, Corey Pavin, Kenny Perry, Nick Price, Jeff Sluman, Crag Stadler, Hal Sutton and Fuzzy Zoeller. There is also speculation that Fred Couples also may be a late entry.


``The competition is ridiculous, and it's fast,'' said Champions rookie Mediate, who won his first event in February. ``If you shoot around par on Friday, you're going to get your [butt] kicked.''


There's a chance Bill Murray, who has delighted galleries at the Pro-Am in Pebble Beach, will play in the Pro-Am portion of the Encompass


``Bill's doing a movie,'' said Jeff Sluman, longtime friend of Murray's.  ``If the movie gets wrapped, which he hopes it does, he'll be on a plane and he'll be playing. And that will be spectacular.''


Other celebrities committed to the event include Brian Urlacher, Robbie Gould, Joe Theismann and actor Dennis Haysbert. More celebrity players are yet to be announced as the Encompass tries to create a senior version of the Pebble Beach pro-am.

Rich Harvest Farms has been chosen to host the 2016 International Crown, a new LPGA event that will pit teams from eight nations against one another, LPGA officials said Thursday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.

Clearly designed with the popularity of the Ryder Cup in mind, the International Crown  will debut on July 21-27, 2014, at Owings Mills, near Baltimore. The second event will  be played in 2016 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, where the 2009 Solheim Cup was held.

The International Crown will feature three days of four-ball competition, plus singles matches on Sunday and will have a total purse of $1.6 million. It will be played in even years, when the Solheim Cup is not contested. Each team will have four players.

``The International Crown will take women's golf to the next level and allow fans to rally behind their homelands,'' LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan said. ``In sports, there's nothing greater than wearing your nation's flag, fans singing your national anthem, and bringing the crown home.''

The Rolex rankings will be used to select the countries and players who will participate. Under the current rankings, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Spain, Taiwan and England would be competing.

``We need this type of event,'' said Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked American. ``People always want to know why golfers from Asia are so good. Now we can see how all the countries stack up. Representing your country is the ultimate thing. Getting announced on the first tee when you are representing the USA, it doesn't get any better than that. It's a goal of mine to be in the event.''

It's also another opportunity for Rich Harvest Farms, ranked 58th in Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses, to showcase itself.

``We're honored to have the International Crown at Rich Harvest Farms,'' owner Jerry Rich said. ``We look forward to welcoming the wonderful spectators and fans of women's golf, including the youth in our community, to witness this global tournament.''



               The BMW Championship, which is operated by the Western Golf Association, was named Tournament of the Year for 2012 by the PGA Tour on Friday.

            The 2012 BMW, which was held at Crooked Stick, near Indianapolis, was attended by more 143,000 spectators, who saw Rory McIlroy, the top-ranked player in the world, capture the next-to-last tournament on the PGA Tour this season.

            The WGA, headquartered in north suburban Golf, was able to raise $3.1 million for its Evans Scholars Foundation, which has been helping caddies go to college since 1930, through the BMW Championship.

            ``[The PGA Tour is] pleased to acknowledge and congratulate the BMW Championship and the Western Golf Association on an outstanding event,'' said Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations. ``The Western Golf Association and title sponsor BMW should be extremely proud of being recognized as the best among their peers on the TOUR.''

            The BMW Championship will return to the Chicago area in 2013. It will be played at at Conway Farms in Lake Forest September 9-15.

            The BMW Championship also was the tour's Tournament of the Year in 2008, when it was held at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

            Noting that there are more than 40 events on the PGA Tour, Western Golf Association vice president of tournaments Vince Pellegrino said, ``To be singled out from among this esteemed group is truly humbling. Much of the credit for this honor should go to BMW. Its unparalleled commitment to excellence sets high standards for the event at every level.''



Veteran Americans fail in the biggest moments

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The Americans will have plenty of moments to stew on in the days, weeks and months following Europe's historic 14.5-13.5 comeback victory here at Medinah. In the biggets moments, on holes 17 and 18, some of the Americans' most experienced players just couldn't come through.

Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose came to No. 18 all square after Rose made a big birdie putt on 17. Off the 18th tee, Mickelson found the fairway while Rose found the rough. Yet Mickelson missed the green and Rose stuck his approach out of the sand to about 12 feet. Rose made the putt to pull out a point he appeared to have no business winning just 20 minutes earlier.

Jim Furyk suffered a similar fate. He came to the 17th tee 1-up on Sergio Garcia, only to give it away with bogeys on 17 and 18. On the par-3 17th, his tee shot landed in the bunker, his second shot was well past the hole, and -- after a very lengthy session trying to read the putt, nearly falling into the water in the process -- he missed the comebacker. On 18, Furyk missed an utterly crucial 5-footer that would have halved the match, instead giving a point away to Garcia.

Then there was Steve Stricker -- who went 0-for-4 in his four matches at this Ryder Cup. After Martin Kaymer bogeyed 15 to square the match, Stricker made a big, gutsy 8-footer at 16 to halve the hole and keep the match tied. On 17, Stricker's tee shot landed just off the edge of the green, about 35 feet away. After Kaymer putted past the hole, Stricker putted even farther past the hole. Kaymer made the comebacker, and Stricker -- one of the purest putters in the world -- missed it and made bogey, falling 1-down heading into the 18th. That meant Kaymer only had to halve the 18th to win the Ryder Cup. Stricker found the back of the green from the fairway, but Stricker was closer from a fairway bunker. Stricker, after a lengthy read, missed the putt well to the left, and Kaymer two-putted to retain the Cup. Stricker didn't make a single birdie over the final eight holes, making three bogeys instead.

In the end, Europe simply made the big shots -- think of Ian Poulter's incredible approach from the edge of the gallery on 18, Rose's putts on 17 and 18, and Kaymer on 18 -- and the United States simply couldn't seal the deal.

Luke Donald records the first point of the day

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Luke Donald -- the hometown boy playing for the road team -- did exactly what European captain Jose Maria Olazabal needed him to do: Put a point on the board early.

"It was a big honor for me, that (Olazabal) had that trust in me," Donald said. "It means a lot to go out and lead the team."

Donald knocked off Bubba Watson in the first singles match of Ryder Cup Sunday, winning 2&1. It looked like it would be easy, but it wound up being anything but. Donald was pin-hunting all day, making six birdies, and had a chance to close out Watson 5&4, but he missed a short eagle putt on No. 14. He then missed a short birdie putt on No. 15 -- which, again, would have won the match -- to give Watson hope. Then, Watson chipped in on No. 16, sending the crowd into a tizzy and giving him a realistic chance of stealing half a point from Donald.

Donald's tee shot on the par-3 16th sailed over the green and into the bunker, but the Northwestern grad showed why he's regarded as the best bunker player in the world, knocking it to within two feet to clinch the match and cut the Americans' lead to 10-7.

"I don't know what I would have done going down 18, the nerves were starting to build and Bubba was putting serious pressure on me," Donald said. "You expect that at this level. ... It's nice to get the first point for Europe."

Those mood swings have been typical of a wild Sunday at Medinah. Flags have been going up and coming down on the leaderboard all day, as the massive crowd has been alternately silent and raucous. At 1 p.m. (that's Central time, Rory McIlroy), the U.S. led in just one of the 10 matches on the course. At 1:15 p.m., there were four U.S. flags on the board against just three European ones. At 1:25, Europe led four of the first five matches. At 2:05, the second, third and fourth matches were all square. At 2:15, as Watson made his charge on Donald, Europe led just three of 12 matches.

Rory McIlroy almost misses his Ryder Cup tee time

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Maybe Rory McIlroy needs to invest in a better alarm clock. Or just hire a personal time assistant.

The world's top-ranked golfer arrived at Medinah barely 10 minutes before his scheduled tee time against Keegan Bradley, the third match of the day at the Ryder Cup. NBC reported that McIlroy got his time zones mixed up, and thought he was teeing off an hour later than he actually was. McIlroy got a police escort to the course -- a necessity given the traffic around Medinah this morning -- and was in the parking lot with hardly any time to spare before his 11:25 a.m. tee time.

McIlroy got to the tee just in time -- to the cheers of a crowd that was clued in to the situation -- took several practice swings (no time for the range), and missed the fairway, off to the right. His approach out of the rough came up short, but he almost holed out his chip, settling for a tap-in par and a halve with Bradley.

"We didn't have that in mind," European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. "All of a sudden we realized that Rory was not here. We started to look for him and nobody knew."

McIlroy famously overslept during a nap before the final round of the PGA Championship this year, arriving at Kiawah Island a mere 30 minutes before his tee time. That worked out pretty well for the Northern Irishman, as he shot a 6-under 66 to win his second major by eight strokes.

Europe sending its best out early in Ryder Cup singles

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Jose Maria Olazabal isn't messing around in today's singles matches at the Ryder Cup.

Facing a 10-6 deficit going into today's final 12 matches, the European captain is sending out some of his biggest guns early in an effort to get back in the game. It's a page out of Ben Crenshaw's playbook in 1999 at Brookline, when he sent out his hottest players early. That year, the Americans -- needing 8.5 out of a possible 12 points -- won the first seven matches of the day, as Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, David Duval, Tiger Woods, and Steve Pate immediately seized the momentum for the Americans.

Olazabal remembers that well, as he was playing Justin Leonard, who secured the Cup-clinching half-point.

When asked what his lasting memories of 1999 were, Olazabal said: "All the players after the matches were over in the locker room, and seeing I would say more than half of the players crying all together there, me included."

So Olazabal is sending out world No. 3 Luke Donald first (vs. Bubba Watson), red-hot Ian Poulter second (vs. Webb Simpson), and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy third (vs. Keegan Bradley).

"Regarding the pairings, obviously we couldn't hide anything," Olazabal said. "We are trailing four points. We have to put the players that are playing well out there. We knew that they would know that."

Of course, Love, the American captain, is trying to close out the Cup early. Watson, Simpson, Bradley and Phil Mickelson (fourth, vs. Justin Rose) are a combined 5-1 over the first two days of play.

"At the end of the day, if we want to win this match, we have take their big guns down," Olazabal said.

Love has Steve Stricker (vs. Martin Kaymer) and Tiger Woods (vs. Francesco Molinari) in the final two matches.

"It's hard to decide who the best six or the best eight players on your team are, and it doesn't really matter which ones you put in which order because everybody is playing so well," Love said. "Individually, I wouldn't want to play anybody on our side, so we didn't really try to match up."

Love said one reason he put Woods at the end is he's "used to teeing off at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon; that's kind of his usual time on weekend." He also wanted a strong anchor at the end, just in case.

"I needed some stability, I think, in different spots," Love said. "You needed guys like Tiger and Strick down towards the end."

Here are the full pairings:
11:03 a.m.: Bubba Watson vs. Luke Donald
11:14 a.m.: Webb Simpson vs. Ian Poulter
11:25 a.m.: Keegan Bradley vs. Rory McIlroy
11:36 a.m.: Phil Mickelson vs. Justin Rose
11:47 a.m.: Brandt Snedeker vs. Paul Lawrie
11:58 a.m.: Dustin Johnson vs. Nicolas Colsaerts
12:09 p.m.: Zach Johnson vs. Graeme McDowell
12:20 p.m.: Jim Furyk vs. Sergio Garcia
12:31 p.m.: Jason Dufner vs. Peter Hanson
12:42 p.m.: Matt Kuchar vs. Lee Westwood
12:53 p.m.: Steve Stricker vs. Martin Kaymer
1:04 p.m.: Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari

GoVision makes its presence felt at Ryder Cup

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Chris Curtis, CEO of GoVision, provides mobile LED technology for major events around the country.

But Curtis is thrilled to be at the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

"It's been awesome. Being in the event business, we've done everything," said Curtis, who is based in Texas. "But, the Ryder Cup probably is my favorite so to be a part of it is very exciting."

The 40,000 fans at the Ryder Cup each day certainly have appreciated GoVision's impact at the event. The massive screens -- there are over 5 million pixels on the course -- are sprinkled throughout the course and many congregate around them for updates and highlights.

GoVision screens were also a key part of the opening ceremonies Thursday evening.

The coolest location is the screen in the water, on the 15th hole.

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