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Time To ‘Open’ The Illinois Open

GLENVIEW | For several years, the question has percolated among those who think the Illinois Open can be enlarged and improved.

Why is the Illinois Open really the Illinois Closed?

It’s open only to residents of Illinois. Live over in Gary, Ind., or Racine, Wis., or Paducah, Ky., or St. Louis or Davenport, have some game and want to pay to tee it up in an Illinois Open qualifier?

No dice. You are just across the border, so your money’s no good here.

It should be good here. It’s clear, from covering the Illinois Open since 1985, that the tournament, however worthy – and this year’s edition, with Max Scodro edging Eric Meierdierks on the fifth hole of a playoff, was noteworthy – is stuck deep in a divot.

That’s not because of the hard work of the Illinois PGA Section staff, from chasing sponsors to putting on a first-class show, with every convenience for the players and even electronic scoreboards for the fans. Kudos to the gang working from the basement at The Glen Club.

It’s because the Illinois Open could be so much more, if only it really was open. Open to anyone, from Maine to Maui, and Madagascar, too.

This was supposed to be the year. The Illinois PGA’s board voted to open the Open, but before the word could go forth officially, some of the old salts who like things just the way they are squawked loud and long. Most of them aren’t competitive anymore – think of them as duplicates of ol’ Uncle Joe, sleeping on the porch of the Shady Rest Hotel in Hooterville – but they love the chance to make the cut and finish 38th in the state championship of golf in Illinois.

Stunningly, the board backed off and reversed field.

It was back to square one, or maybe square zero.

That Scodro won and Meierdierks, the champion two years ago, engaged in a playoff, ought to give the old guard a hint of what the future should be. Meierdierks is off to the Colorado Open this week, which is open to anyone. Scodro, a pro since graduating from Notre Dame in June – he turned pro between the local and sectional qualifiers for the U.S. Open, but failed to advance to Olympic Club – won his first tournament as a professional.

It was the Arizona Open. He was in that state championship because his family maintains a home in Arizona as well as in Chicago. Scodro spent his senior year in high school in Arizona. Somehow, he’s eligible for both the Arizona and Illinois Opens. Next month, he’ll play in the Iowa Open, which holds up to 40 spots for pros outside the state, and welcomes non-resident amateurs as well.

The Iowa Open, won by Deerfield’s Vince India three years ago, could well have a better field than the Illinois Open. The Colorado Open, which regularly has players from across the country and from Canada as well, definitely will have a better field.

There’s something wrong with that picture. Scodro and Meierdierks see that and would like to see it fixed.

“It would help the tournament and help the players in Illinois,” Meierdierks said. “It would put their nose to the grindstone to improve.”

One would think so. And that would be the secondary improvement. The first would be an instant shot of adrenaline, both from the quality of the visitors, and a likely boost in the purse. More entries into qualifiers would mean more money feeding into the prize fund, which was $85,000 this year, not including an extra $5,000 available to high finishers playing Wilson Staff equipment.

Open the Illinois Open to all, and the purse could jump to $150,000, ahead of the $125,000 paid out in Colorado. Players would flock to qualifying sites.

“Word would spread quickly,” Meierdierks said.

Say, in the time it would take for him and a few others to fire off a tweet to their playing pals.

“I think they should open it up,” Scodro said. “You’d get all the best players from Michigan, Wisconsin. You could rename it the Midwest Open.”

Renaming isn’t necessary, but retooling is.

This week brings an opportunity to observe an option for retooling. The Illinois Women’s Open – which runs this week from Wednesday through Friday at the refurbished Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville – was opened a few years ago to players living in states that border Illinois, plus college players from schools in those states, no matter where they live. That broadens the field and provides excitement. Rarely is heard a negative word from Illinoisans about having their neighbors in the field. They understand the more, the merrier.

Some movers and shakers in the Illinois PGA haven’t grasped that concept. They see the Illinois Open as a private preserve to be milked once a year for cash. They should see the Illinois PGA Championship, limited to section members, as that cash cow, because they’re not getting the job done in the Illinois Open. Only 10 of the 34 pros who made this year’s cut were members of the Illinois PGA section.

It’s beyond time to end the charade and make the Illinois Open wide open. Murray in Maine, Marv in Maui and Marc in Madagascar all want to give it a go. Why turn them down?


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