It was 1990, the U.S. Open was coming to the Chicago area – and Medinah Country Club – for the first time in 15 years, and the golf community was buzzing.
There was only one thing missing. There were no Chicagoans in the field.
Yes, Chip Beck, who had married a local woman and moved to the north suburbs, was playing. But he was only beginning to put his roots down in the area, and was thought of as a really good player from the South who was probably just passing through. As it happened, he’s been here for nearly 25 years now.
Completely missing were the handful of club pros and top-flight amateurs who almost always had worked their way through local and sectional qualifying, or had made an impact on the PGA Tour before moving south. Old-timers such as Bill Ogden, the sage of North Shore Country Club, and younger types such as David Ogrin, the pride of Waukegan, were not in the Big Show.
Nobody from Chicago was in the Big Show. It was the first time it had happened, a stunning development. Nobody expected the kind of domination that Chicagoans once had – way, way back in 1898, Fred Herd and Alex Smith, the head and assistant pro at Chicago’s Washington Park club, had finished 1-2 in the Open – but someone always had a kick at the can. Chick Evans won it all in 1916. Others came close, but gradually, the representation of golf-crazy Chicago in the U.S. Open declined.
In 1990, it was absent entirely, and that has been the case too often since. Generally, Chicagoans have been on the outside looking in when it comes to competing in the national Open.
The area’s best recent representatives have been transplants. Beck, then Jeff Sluman, and more recently Mark Wilson and Luke Donald all live in the area, and have happily been adopted by Chicagoland golfers as their own, but none are from the area.
In the past nine years, only one Chicagoland resident and just six Illinoisans have qualified for the U.S. Open through the sectional run by the Chicago District Golf Association. But perhaps things are looking up. Those six have advanced in the past five years.
University of Illinois coach Mike Small did so in 2007. D.A. Points, a Pekin native, elbowed his way in at Conway Farms in 2008. Springfield’s Kyle Peterman grabbed the only available spot in a playoff at Stonewall Orchard in 2009.
Burr Ridge’s Bennett Blakeman advanced from Bull Valley to Pebble Beach two years ago, and last year won the qualifying medal for a second straight year – itself a rare accomplishment – joined as a qualifier by Rockford’s Brad Benjamin, a former U.S. Public Links champion.
Blakeman, an Illinois Wesleyan graduate, is the lone Chicago-area qualifier in a decade. He advanced as an amateur in 2010, and as a pro in 2011. He’ll give it another go Monday at Village Links of Glen Ellyn, one of 15 Illinoisans in a field of 48 players chasing a mere handful of spots. (The USGA had not announced the precise number as of this writing, but it figures to be no more than three or four, based on previous sectionals and the strength of the field.)
Can Blakeman three-peat in the 36-hole test in a field that includes Tim “Lumpy” Herron and Tom Pernice? Or can someone else with Chicago roots, say, veteran pro Gary March, of Arlington Heights, punch his ticket to The Olympic Club? It won’t be easy.
Mike Harrigan got hot on a cold day, scoring a 7-and-6 victory against Terry Russell in the championship match of the Illinois PGA Senior Match Play at Shoreacres in Lake Bluff.
Harrigan, a veteran campaigner who long has chased a title in a state major, won seven of eight holes beginning on the fourth, with the highlight a 5-iron to within a foot on the 170-yard par-3 eighth. Russell conceded the birdie and failed to match. It ended with matching pars on the 12th hole, an early exit from the title match for Russell, the head pro at Bryn Mawr.
Defending champion Jim Sobb advanced to the semifinals before Harrigan scored a 1-up victory. Russell beat Glencoe’s Ken Mine 2 and 1 to advance to the finals.
Tom Miler, of downstate Kewanee, beat Taylorville’s Dave Ryan 1-up at Rockford Country Club to win the CDGA Senior Amateur, his second title of the season. He’d collected the Illinois Public Links title earlier in May. It’s Miler’s second CDGA Senior title in three years.