Four of the world's top six amateurs will be battling for the title in the 110th Western Amateur at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park this week. Among them is Patrick Rodgers, who won the Western Golf Association's Junior tournament in 2011.
"The Western Am and the U.S. Amateur are the two biggest in amateur golf. This is when we want to be peaking," said Rodgers, coming off a dazzling freshman year at Stanford.
He was on the U.S. teams in the Walker and Palmer Cup competitions and also won the individual title at last fall's Fighting Illini-Olympia Fields Invitational.
With previous champions including Chick Evans, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, the Western Am may be the most grueling test in golf.
The 156-man field began play Tuesday with the first of two days of stroke-play competition.
The field will be cut to the low 44 and ties after today's round, and the survivors will play 36 holes Thursday to decide the Sweet Sixteen who compete in match play Friday and Saturday to determine the champion.
"Now more than ever golfers are athletes, and the tournaments are totally separate," said Rodgers of the stroke- and match-play aspects of the Western. "You've got to make sure your game is sharp in all areas or you'll get exposed as the week goes on. If I were to win the Western Amateur, it'd be my biggest victory."
To do it he will have to beat a star-studded field that includes Alabama junior Bobby Wyatt, the world's No. 1 amateur; Washington senior Chris Williams, last year's Western Am medalist; and Alabama sophomore Justin Thomas, winner of the Haskins Award as top college golfer as well as the Nicklaus Award for Division I player-of-the-year and the Mickelson Award for top collegiate freshman.
Rodgers is No. 3 in the world amateur rankings with Williams No. 5 and Thomas No. 6.
Exmoor is the fourth Chicago club in a row to host the tournament, following Conway Farms, in Lake Forest; Skokie, in Glencoe; and North Shore, in Glenview. Exmoor previously hosted the Western Am in 1904 and 1952, and it was the site of Western Junior championships in 1917 and 1998.
The Medinah Six:
Though the site of September's Ryder Cup matches Medinah Country Club hasn't had many players contend in the area's bigger tournaments the past few years.
That all will change at next week's Illinois State Amateur at The Links at Kokopelli in downstate Marion.
Medinah will have six players in the 138-man field that begins play next Tuesday: Dan Stringfellow, Andrew Hulett, Jimmy Slovitt, Bradley Klune, John Callahan and John Madden.
That's the most of any club represented. All six either survived the 10 statewide qualifying rounds or were otherwise exempt.
Stringfellow, a junior at Auburn who lives in Roselle, appears to be the best bet to contend. The 2008 Illinois Junior champion, he tied for third at last year's State Am and finished sixth at the recent Illinois Open.
Here and there:
Last weekend was huge for two Illinois tour players. Gary Hallberg, who grew up in Barrington, finished second to Fred Couples in the British Senior Open, and recent University of Illinois graduate Luke Guthrie continued his spectacular start as a pro, finishing second in the Buy.com's Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio.
He lost the title in a playoff. In three starts on the PGA Tour plus the one Buy.com Tour outing Guthrie has earned $371,072.
The first two of the four regional finals in the Ryder Cup Youth Skills Challenge will be held Saturday at Oak Brook and Pine Meadow in Mundelein.
Stevenson High School senior Stephanie Miller and Northwestern sophomore Nicole Zhang are among the qualifiers for next week's U.S. Women's Amateur. It starts Monday at The Country Club in Cleveland.
The eight Chicago area facilities managed by Billy Casper Golf will host the World's Largest Golf Outing and Wounded Warrior Project on Aug. 13. Courses participating are Chick Evans, in Morton Grove; George Dunne, Oak Forest; Highland Woods, Hoffman Estates; Indian Boundary, Chicago; Orchard Valley, Aurora; River Oaks, Calumet City; Water's Edge, Worth; and Whisper Creek, Huntley.
•For more golf news check out Len's website, www.lenziehmongolf.com. Len can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays in the Daily Herald.