Look for Some New Wrinkles in the Illinois PGA's 2011 Season
Among the tweaks, the Radix Cup will be more prominent on the schedule
The Illinois PGA (IPGA) opens another busy tournament season in Itasca on April 11, but this year the Illinois Open and IPGA Championship aren’t standing alone as the featured events on the schedule.
“One of the keys is the Radix Cup, which is entering its 50th year,” said Jared Nowak, who is beginning his fifth season as the IPGA tournament director. “We’re going to make it a real big deal. It’ll be a little bigger, and we’ll promote the heck out of it.”
Though it hasn’t stood with the Illinois Open and IPGA Championship in stature, the Radix Cup has long been a big deal to those close to the Chicago golf scene. It’s a Ryder Cup-style match play event pitting a select team from the IPGA against the best amateurs the Chicago District Golf Association can assemble.
This year the matches will be held June 8 at their longstanding site, Oak Park Country Club. It was back in 1962 that Harry Radix, a former Chicago District Golf Association president and member of the National PGA advisory committee, got the competition started. Radix, the captain of five U.S. Olympic figure skating teams, wanted the Radix Cup to continue after his death in 1965, and it has withstood the tests of time with the pros owning a 32-15-2 edge in the competition.
Not counting the pro-ams played in Scottsdale in February and Las Vegas in March, the IPGA’s 2011 schedule calls for 49 events between the Spring Pro-Assistants Championship in Itasca on April 11 and the concluding Royal Cup Matches in Skokie on October 14.
The first of the section’s four major championships will be the 60th IPGA Match Play Championship on May 16–19 at Kemper Lakes. Travis Johns burst onto the Chicago scene with a rousing victory in that tournament last year and went on to dominate the player-of-the-year standings. Johns earned his biggest win with a 4 and 2 victory over Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb in the final after Sobb had won the IPGA Senior Match Play title the previous week.
After a busy winter in which he spent two months in Florida, a few weeks in his native Australia, and the rest teaching at the White Pines Golf Dome in Bensenville, Johns is plotting his title defense.
“I might have only one stroke play event leading up to the Match Play,” said Johns, who will play in a one-day section warm-up at Bloomington Country Club on April 25 following the season-opening best ball competition at Itasca. Then it’s off to Kemper Lakes. Last year’s Match Play win was the first of five victories for Johns, who became the third straight player to win the tourney in his first attempt.
“It’ll be tough to win five times again,” said Johns, “but realistically, I want to win the Match Play again. The stroke plays are just one day, and anything can happen. If I could do it all over again, I’d like to win the Section [IPGA Championship] and beat Mike [Small], and play well in the Illinois Open.”
Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, has won the IPGA Championship a record eight times in a row and had a whopping 11-stroke margin of victory over runner-up Johns last year on Olympia Fields’ South course. For the third straight year, Small couldn’t pull off a double at the Illinois Open; Wilmette touring pro Eric Meierdierks captured that title in 2010 at Hawthorn Woods.
About the only event John wasn’t a factor in last year was the Illinois Open, which the biggest tournament on the IPGA calendar. “I don’t seem to see eye to eye with that golf course,” he said.
Johns tied for 25th as Meierdierks held off University of Illinois golfer Luke Guthrie to get the win. Small, a four-time champion, tied for third. He’ll bid for a fifth Illinois Open title this year. If he gets it, he’ll tie Gary Pinns for most wins in that tournament. Pinns won five times between 1976 and 1990.
This year neither the IPGA Championship nor the Illinois Open will be at the top of Johns’ priority list. He’s earned a spot in the Professional Players National Championship (PPNC), won by Small last year, and hopes to play well enough there to qualify for the PGA Championship.
Small’s availability for IPGA events will again be limited, in part because of his coaching duties and in part because he wants to use the six exemptions on the PGA Tour that he earned via his win in last year’s PPNC in French Lick, Ind.
Johns and Meierdierks both were limited in their winter tournament opportunities. Johns played in four Florida events in December, finishing 20th, 10th, 10th, and second.
“I also played with some friends when I was in Australia, but mainly I was just teaching and traveling,” Johns said. He’ll resume his lessons at Twin Lakes in Palatine and also do some instructing at Green Gardens in Frankfort during the Chicago season.
Meierdierks’ winter wasn’t as pleasant. He headed to Arizona after winning his Illinois Open and played well in his first tournament there before back problems set in. They hampered him in an unsuccessful bid to survive the rugged PGA Tour qualifying school, and he was able to play in only one Gateway Tour event in January before his aching back stopped him again.
“I had a hard four months,” he said, “but then I found a really good doctor and a really good therapist. They gave me way more flexibility, and I’ve been cleared to play again. I’m pretty excited to see how things go. The time off made me realize how great golf is. Life isn’t the same without it.”
The IPGA is planning one new event, a June 13 junior-senior best ball at a site that’s yet to be announced. Players will sign up individually, then the field will be split down the middle by age. A blind draw will determine partnerships, and competition will be on the Stableford system.
As for site changes, the Illinois Senior Open goes to McHenry Country Club and the IPGA Championship returns to Medinah No. 1. The final major, the IPGA Players Championship, will be conducted on the North course at Eagle Ridge in Galena. Glen Oak’s Matt Slowinski won last year’s Players Championship in a playoff with Biltmore’s Doug Bauman. CG