Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's official: 2018 BMW Championship will be held at Aronimink

   Aronimink Golf Club’s membership made it official this week when it agreed to stage the 2018 BMW Championship at their Donald Ross-designed gem in Newtown Square.
   The BMW Championship is the next-to-last stop in the FedEx Playoffs on the PGA Tour.  The playoff field is whittled to 70 by the time players arrive for the BMW Championship and the top 30 then survive and advance to the Tour Championship.
   The event tries to trace its lineage to the Western Open, although that’s a bit of a stretch. The Western Open dates back to 1899 and was considered a major championship among professional golfers before that term was really popularized when somebody dubbed the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship the Grand Slam. Pretty sure it was a sports writer who so dubbed those four events the Grand Slam, so take that for what it’s worth.
   The Western  had a much longer tradition than the Masters did, but the Masters had Bobby Jones and all those azalaes and all the sports writers could hit it on the way back from spring training and voila, it was a major championship.
   The one historical connection the BMW Championship has with the Western Open is that proceeds from the event benefit the Evans Scholars Foundation, which is the Chicago area version of the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Fund run by the Golf Association of Philadelphia. As a proud former J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Fund recipient, I am all for anything that benefits caddies.
   There is some concern that a golf tournament played in the Philadelphia area in mid-September won’t draw flies because all anybody cares about around here once football season starts is the Eagles, but I have always thought that was overblown.
   I wondered if anybody would come out to Aronimink on a Fourth of July weekend when the AT&T Championship was staged there in 2010 and 2011, but the galleries were large, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Yes, there were  more people there the first year when that Woods guy played than there were the second year when he did not.  But a lot of that 2010 following of Woods had as much to do with the still fairly recent headlines about his extramarital dalliances than it did with his golf game.
   And the Philadelphia golf community got well-deserved kudos for the way it pulled together to make sure the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course was a success despite dire predictions that the physical plant – not just the golf course, but the surrounding area -- just flat-out didn’t have enough space to stage a 21st-century major championship. Well, it sort of didn’t, but the membership at Merion, with a lot of support from Haverford Township and Delaware County in general, Lower Merion Township, the city of Philadelphia and golf fans all over this region, got it done.
   Among PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s typically corporate remarks upon announcing that the BMW was coming to Aronimink was, “Philadelphia is one of America’s great sports cities …” Thanks Tim, but we already knew that.
   “We look forward to bringing a major world-class event to Aronimink,” said Steven Zodtner, president of Aronimink. “Our membership and the Philadelphia golf community are excited to partner with the WGA, BMW of  North America and the PGA Tour to showcase our championship golf course and to return professional golf to our region.”
   And as golf fans, we can only thank the Aronimink membership for stepping up to the plate and making their golf course available for a big-time event such as the BMW.
   Turns out the Western was staged in Pennsylvania once in its previous life in 1959 when Mike Souchak won the event at the Pittsburgh Field Club.
   The event had become a staple on the Chicago sports scene and I’m pretty sure there was some grumbling when the PGA Tour sort of co-opted the event and said it was going to move it around. Pretty sure there is a promise that once every three or four years it has to be in the Chicago area, as it will be this year when it’s contested at the Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill.
   So if the Western Golf Association and the PGA Tour want to sell the BMW Championship as a direct descendent of the Western Open, who am I to argue? I’m just happy that me and the rest of the people around these parts who love the game will get to see its finest practitioners competing on the grand stage that is the 7,190-yard Aronimink layout  in about as important  – and rich – an event as you’ll find this side of a major championship.

Kan helps Purdue finish sixth

   Aurora Kan, the 2010 PIAA champion at Chichester, and her Purdue teammates got better every round to finish sixth in the team standings at the Hurricane Invitational, hosted by the University of Miami at the Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables, Fla. another classic layout designed – at the risk of starting to sound like a golf course design geek -- by that Donald Ross fella who created Aronimink.
   The Boilermakers were led by junior Anna Appert Lund, a Swede who fired a brilliant 4-under 67 in the second round on her way to a tie for eighth in the individual chase at 3-over 216. Appert Lund sandwiched the 67 with rounds of 75 and 74. Individual honors went to Daytona State’s Tiffany Chan, a sophomore from China, who had rounds of 71, 71 and 70 for a 1-under 212 total.
   Purdue had an opening-round 297 and followed it up with rounds of 293 and 291 for an 881 total. The Boilermakers’ Big 10 rival Northwestern put up fairly ridiculous totals of 280 and 282 in the first two rounds before falling back to earth with a final-round 297 for a 7-over 859 total, but still won the team title by six shots over host Miami (865). Iowa State finished third at 868, Louisville was another five shots back in fourth at 873, and another of Purdue’s Big 10 rivals, Minnesota, took fifth at 878, three better than Purdue.
   Sophomore August Kim, the St. Petersburg native playing in her home state, sandwiched solid rounds of 71 and 70 around a second-round 79 and was Purdue’s second-best finisher in a tie for 21st at 220. Marta Martin, a freshman from Spain, finished tied for 38th with consistent rounds of 76, 73 and 73 for a 9-over 222 total. Kan, the team’s senior leader, finished in a tie for 48th with rounds of 75, 74 and 76 for a 225 total, and freshman Linn Andersson, another Swede, had rounds of 77, 82 and 74 and finished in a tie for 74th with a 233 total.
   With Kan and a talented group of youngsters, look for Purdue to just keep getting better as Kan writes the final act to her career in West Lafayette, Ind.
   An old rival of Kan’s, Penn State senior Ellen Ceresko, was in the field along with the rest of the Nittany Lions. Ceresko, the two-time reigning Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur champion, had rounds of 76, 72 and 75 to finish in a tie for 34th at 223.
   The Nittany Lions finished 15th in the 16-team field with rounds of 297, 305 and 300 for a 902 total. They were led by senior Katlyn Elliott, who finished in a tie for 33rd with rounds of 74, 76 and 72 and a 222 total. Junior Elyse Archambault, like Elliott a Canadian, matched Ceresko’s 223 total with rounds of 71, 80 and 72 to finish in that group that was tied for 34th.
   When Kan won the 2010 PIAA title, she survived a three-way playoff and one of the participants in that playoff was Stani Schiavone. The former Bangor standout who started her collegiate career at Baylor, but is now at Ole Miss, had rounds of 81, 84 and 75 at the Biltmore to finish in a tie for 87th. The Bulldogs were last in the field of 16 with a team total of 932.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kan goes low to help Purdue finish fifth in Puerto Rico

   Aurora Kan, the 2010 PIAA champion as a senior at Chichester, started the homestretch of her senior season  at Purdue this week when the Boilermakers hosted the Lady Puerto Rico Classic at Rio Mar Country Club’s River Course in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
   Kan is the senior leader on a young team that is trying to get Purdue back among the elite. Kan  was a sophomore when the Boilermakers featured two future pros in South African Paula Reto and Laura Gonzalez-Escallon of Belgium and finished third at the NCAA Tournament. She has been to the NCAA Tournament every year, her first two years as part of strong Purdue teams and last year as an individual. I’m pretty sure she would like to have her teammates along for the ride at the NCAA Tournament this year.
   Kan opened the Lady Puerto Rico with rounds of 77 and 81 and Purdue sat in seventh place. Having covered Kan throughout her high school career, I’m guessing she took a look in the mirror after those two rounds and said quite simply, “You’re better than that.”
   In Tuesday’s final round, Kan ripped off a nearly flawless three-birdie, no-bogey 3-under 69 to lead the Boilermakers to a 290 team score that enabled them to move up to fifth in the final team standings at 890. Purdue had opened the tournament with a pair of 300s. The 290 single-day total was matched only by team champion Arkansas on Day 1 of the event.
   The Razorbacks backed up that opening-round 290 with rounds of 295 and 291 to cruise to the team title with an 876 total. LSU was seven shots back in second at 883 followed by Iowa State (884) in third and Northwestern (886) in fourth, four shots ahead of fifth-place Purdue.
   Iowa State was led by individual champion Chonlada Chayanun, who put together rounds of 66, 69 and 74 for a 7-under 209 total, the second-best  individual finish in the history of the event.
   Purdue got a strong showing from its  most talented player, sophomore Floridian August Kim, who matched par 72 in each of the first two rounds and then added a final-round 73 to finish in a tie for sixth at 1-over 217. Junior Anna Appert Lund (75-74-74—223) of Sweden and freshman Marta Martin (76-73-74—223) of Spain finished in a tie for 22nd and Kan’s final-round surge left her in 33rd place.
   Johanna Tillstrom, a senior from Sweden, had three straight 81s to finish in a tie for 75th at 243. A third  Swede, freshman Linn Andersson, competed as an individual and had rounds of 75, 80 and 76 to finish in a tie for 44th at 231.
   It was an encouraging start for a Purdue team that entered the Lady Puerto Rico ranked 45th in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin national rankings. Something tells me with a senior leader like Kan and some talented youngsters, that ranking is going nowhere but up.

PGA Tour returning to Aronimink?

   There were whispers around the Daily Times newsroom Wednesday – actually it was an email from editor Phil Heron, but the whisper thing sounds more intriguing – that the PGA Tour is coming back to Aronimink Golf Club in the form of the 2018 BMW Championship.
   The BMW is the penultimate event in the FedEx playoffs, the last step before the Tour Championship. It’s been moved around to several top courses, last year being played at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver, a course that has hosted three U.S. Opens, most  notably Arnold Palmer’s epic comeback victory in the 1960 Open. Cherry Hills, by the way, is a William  Flynn design, like so many of the courses in our area, including Rolling Green Golf Club.
   It’s not surprising that the PGA Tour would find a way to get an event back to Aronimink. The two AT&T Nationals staged at the Donald Ross gem in 2010 and 2011 were flawlessly run and drew huge and enthusiastic  galleries, despite being staged on the Fourth of July weekend. Aronimink was filling in for Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington D.C., while it was busy staging the 2011 U.S. Open.
   Aronimink produced two worthy winners in Justin Rose in 2010 (who would then get his biggest win three years later at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s East Course) and Nick Watney in 2011.
   Stay tuned on this possible development.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Kim, Lees, Bradbeer, Hummer

   The Philadelphia Section PGA’s Junior Tour sent out its 2014 year in review this week and some golfers with Delco ties picked up season-long awards.
   Radnor sophomore Gabby Kim was the Graham Co. Player of the Year in the 13-to-15 division. Also earning Player of the Year honors was Merion Golf Club’s Peter Bradbeer, a former Penn Charter standout who was the top performer in the 16-to-18 division in 2014.
   While Kim beat out Agnes Irwin sophomore Kaitlyn Lees for Player of the Year in the 13-to-15 division, Lees’ consistency was rewarded with the Sam Penecale scoring average award. Lees, the Inter-Ac League champion as an eighth-grader, still has her sophomore season ahead of her as the Inter-Ac girls don’t tee it up until the spring, assuming spring ever gets here.
   Another Sam Penecale scoring average winner was Case Hummer of Glen Mills, who won the award among the nine-holers.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Nicklaus' record starting to look pretty healthy

   This appeared in Saturday's Daily Times print edition under the Punch Shots banner, but it was worth posting on the golf blog. Plus I don't want you think I'm ignoring the golf blog just because the temperature's been stuck in the 20s a lot lately.

   It was pretty strange watching Tiger Woods wince on every shot on his way to withdrawing before the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open was over Thursday.
   It was at the same Torrey Pines complex at which Tiger won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open, and where his body first started to betray him in a big way. Woods walked off the North Course Thursday while the 2008 Open was at the tougher South Course.
   Nobody could have imagined at the time that Woods’ 14th major championship victory might very well be his last, but that possibility seemed very real after two weeks of watching the greatest player of his generation chopping it around for an 82 last Friday in Phoenix and then hitting it right of right on nearly every tee shot Thursday at Torrey Pines.
   But there always was that caveat when the thought of Woods equaling and then passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships was brought up. It was always, if his life off the golf course didn’t cause any problems and if he could stay healthy.
   He has had issues in both areas at various times ever since he won that 2008 Open. Obviously, the 2009 incident that led to the demise of his marriage to Elin Nordegren and the subsequent revelations of infidelity didn’t help.  But co-parenting two kids with an ex — and by all reports, they get along fine — takes some work.
   And he very simply has not stayed healthy. While winning the 2008 Open on a broken leg was heroic, it might very well have led to many of the issues he has dealt with since then, including the weak back that plagued him Thursday.
   Somehow the guy who burst on the scene as Fat Jack in the early 1960s always stayed healthy, had a stable family life and remained motivated to win as many major championships as he could, getting the last one, quite memorably, in 1986 at the age of 46.
   He could never have imagined that a young kid would come along in the next generation and challenge those 18 majors. It’s starting to look, however, that Nicklaus’ 18 is going to remain the standard for a while, maybe even after Tiger’s career is over.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Merion East, Aronimink make the grade on top 100 list

   Golf Digest recently released its annual list of top 100 courses in America and Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course and Aronimink Golf Club, the Donald Ross gem in Newtown Square, continue to hold down places in the prestigious rankings.
   Merion’s East Course, a Hugh Wilson design (with a few tweaks from his first superintendent William Flynn, I’m fairly certain), stands at No. 5. The 2013 U.S. Open, won by Justin Rose with a 1-over 281 total, did nothing to damage the esteem with which the layout in the Ardmore section of Haverford Township is held.
   Just when it was starting to look like the U.S. Open would never return to Merion, where it had been staged four times, but not since 1981, USGA executive director Mike Davis took a chance and decided to try to overcome some seemingly staggering logistical odds and bring the 2013 Open back to the East Course. It was, in so many ways, a rousing success, so much so that the Daily Times sports staff named the golf course our 2013 Sports Figure of the Year.
   Merion East remains one notch ahead of Pennsylvania’s other most popular U.S. Open site, the sixth-rated Oakmont Country Club, which straddles the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Allegheny County. Golf Digest also gives Merion the nod over Oakmont as the best course in Pennsylvania, but it’s really just 1 and 1A in the minds of most golfers in our fair state.
   Aronimink sits at 90 on the top 100. The course, which hosted the 1962 PGA Championship won by Gary Player, gained quite a bit of notoriety with its two-year run hosting the AT&T National in 2010 and 2011 as the event took a hiatus from Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington D.C. while it played host to the 2011 U.S. Open.
   Justin Rose won the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink, giving him two of the biggest wins of his career within the county lines of Delaware County. Great golf courses identify great players.
   If you dig a little deeper,  Golf Digest also lists the top courses in each state and one more Delco course makes that list with Rolling Green Golf Club, site of the 1976 U.S. Women’s Open and preparing to host the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2016, ranked 18th in Pennsylvania.
   Rolling Green, like No. 13 Philadelphia Country Club and No. 14 Huntingdon Valley Country Club, is a William Flynn design.
   Pennsylvania will be well-represented on the USGA championship schedule in 2016. In addition to the Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green, the Open will be staged at Oakmont for the ninth time and the U.S. Men’s Mid-Amateur championship will be coming to the northwest corner of Chester County when Stonewell hosts that championship.
   Stonewall’s Old Course is the 10th-ranked course in Pennsylvania by Golf Digest.
   And speaking of USGA championships, it was announced this week that Philadelphia Cricket Club will play host to the USGA’s newest event, the Four-Ball Championship in 2020. The Four-Ball championships for men and women take the place of the Public Links championships on the USGA calendar beginning this year.
   The men will be at the Cricket Club in 2020. The 1907 and 1910 U.S. Opens  were staged at the Cricket Club’s original St. Martins Course . But the Wissahickon Course, a classic design by A.W. Tillinghast, opened for play in 1922. The Wissahickon Course is ranked as the 12th best course in Pennsylvania by Golf Digest.
   The Cricket Club will play host to the PGA Professional National Championship --  it will always be the National Club Pro to me – this summer. Part of the Cricket Club’s appeal as a tournament site is the addition of the Militia Hill Course, a Dr. Michael Hurzdan and Dana Fry production that opened in 2002. With two championship courses, the Cricket Club can handle the kind of large field that the National Club Pro will have before it is cut as well as qualifying rounds for match play in the Four-Ball Championship.
   The inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be held May 2 to 6 of this year at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. A week later the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be held at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore.  Brynn Walker, the Radnor junior who won the PIAA championship last fall, teamed up with Council Rock North junior Madelein Herr to qualify for the event.
   Almost forgot, so which is the No. 1 course in America, according to Golf Digest? That would be Augusta National, that course you can’t wait to see on TV when the Masters gets under way  in April. Augusta National overtook Pine Valley Golf Club, the rugged gem in the New Jersey Pine Barrens near Clementon.
   Both courses have their passionate defenders, but that’s the point of making up this kind of list, to fuel a few arguments at the 19th hole. Let’s face it, to be a top-100 course in America, you have to be pretty darn good and Delaware County is fortunate to have two such layouts inside its county lines.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kan finishes in a tie for 33rd at Harder Hall

   Aurora Kan, who won the 2010 PIAA championship as a senior at Chichester, started gearing up for the last half of her senior season at Purdue by finishing in a tie for 33rd at the Harder Hall Women’s Invitational, part of a prestigious series of amateur events for women held in January each year in Florida.
   The first stop on the series was Harder Hall Golf Club in Sebring, Fla. and Kan put together rounds of 77, 82, 81 and 82 for a 322 total.
   The chairman of the Harder Hall, which concluded Sunday, is Carol Semple Thompson, the World Golf Hall of Famer from western Pennsylvania who has won the Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur title something like 22 times, give or take a championship.
   Kan, a three-time Daily Times Player of the Year during her brilliant scholastic career at Chichester, wasn’t the only Boilermaker in the Harder Hall field. Sophomore August Kim, a native Floridian, had a strong showing, firing rounds of 75, 78, 74 and 79 for a 306 total that left her in 11th place.
   Another familiar name in the field was that of reigning Philadelphia Women’s Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, one of the top Mid-Amateur players in the country. Stasi had rounds of 80, 80, 78 and 76 to finish in a tie for 21st at 314.
   Stasi is based in Florida now, but took a trip home last summer and added an eighth Philly Women’s Amateur title to the seven straight she won from 1999 to 2005 when the South Jersey native was known as Meghan Bolger.
   The Harder Hall title went to 16-year-ol d Nelly Korda, sister of Jessica, a grizzled LPGA Tour winner and veteran at age 21. The Kordas are the daughters of Petr Korda, a former Australian Open men’s singles tennis champion. Nelly Korda had rounds of 74, 75, 73 and 69 for a 3-over 291 total that was three shots better than runnerup Allison Emrey, a senior at Wake Forest.
   The Florida series of women’s amateur events continues this week with the Sally, shorthand for the South Atlantic Amateur Championship held at Oceanside Country Club in Ormond Beach, Fla. and next week’s Jones/Doherty Women’s and Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, which is staged at Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
   Hey, it beats the heck out of the sub-freezing temperatures that we’ve been enduring.