With the world's best golfers waiting to take the Ryder Cup stage, some of Illinois' finest youth golf talent will bask in the spotlight today at Medinah Country Club.
They'll take part in the Ryder Cup's Youth Skills Challenge, featuring 32 finalists ranging from ages 6 to 17. The summer-long challenge, supported by the Illinois PGA, culminates with today's finals, where golfers will compete in driving (distance and accuracy), chipping and putting to determine a boys and girls winner in four age groups.
The finalists survived regional tests at several suburban courses: Pine Meadow Golf Club, Oak Brook GC, Cantigny and Cog Hill.
"It's something they're never going to forget," said Bill Ibrahim, senior director of operations for the Illinois PGA. "They actually get to stand and compete on the actual golf course that the United States and Europe are going to compete on. It's going to last with them forever."
The youth skills challenge was created in 2006 for the PGA Championship, which was held at Medinah. Ibrahim was among the Illinois PGA members behind the concept.
The challenge drew about 1,200 participants in 2006 and its success inspired the 2012 Ryder Cup adaptation.
"We didn't see any negatives to encouraging youth to play golf and to provide a little bit of competition," said Ryder Cup director Michael Belot, who also directed the 2006 PGA Championship. "It just made that much more sense to do it when a bigger event, the Ryder Cup, came along."
And this summer's program far exceeded the 2006 numbers. Ibrahim said the initial budget was for about 2,000 golfers, but "overwhelming" registration numbers forced them to expand to account for more than 3,000 participants.
"Some of the older kids were very competitive and there for the competition, but for us it's all about seeing the looks on these kids' faces," Ibrahim said. "It just makes golf fun and that's what we're trying to do."
The PGA inquired about establishing the program nationally after the 2006 event, but it never came to fruition. Now, however, Ibrahim said the program could expand beyond Illinois.
"Illinois has developed the blueprint and done a wonderful job with that," Belot said. "I don't see why other people wouldn't want to do it."