What to expect when the world's greatest golfers return to Medinah
Ryan Potts knows more than most about what Tiger Woods and Medinah Country Club mean to each other and to golf.
On one level, even a cynical fan becomes a sentimental romantic at the prospect of Woods and Medinah rekindling their love affair in August when the fabled course hosts the BMW Championship and brings together the world's best golfers.
As the tournament's executive co-chairman, Potts, a Glen Ellyn attorney with impressive golfing credentials of his own -- he once shot 68 at Medinah as a college player -- has a vested interest because a successful Woods guarantees a successful BMW.
But Potts also has seen up close how Woods tamed Medinah's "Monster" reputation.
It came during the 2006 PGA Championship, when Potts volunteered as Woods' personal marshal on the final day of the tournament, the second time Woods hoisted the Wanamaker trophy at Medinah.
This was at the peak of "Tigermania" and Potts' job was to protect Woods' ball in the rare event he missed the fairway and to usher the golfer through the ropes.
"I could not believe how he had the ability to zone out the crowd," Potts said. "I mean it was mayhem around him. People were screaming, and they wanted to just touch him and be around him. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and he seemed to be in a totally different world."
Will that scene repeat itself at the BMW Championship? Who else could conquer Medinah's Course No. 3? Here's what to expect when the field tees off Aug. 15.
The BMW field -- the top 70 players in the FedExCup standings -- will return to the Chicago area two years after the PGA Tour playoff event came to Conway Farms in Lake Forest. With his glorious Masters win -- arguably the greatest comeback in sports history and 14 years after his last victory at Augusta -- Woods is ranked No. 20 and Tigermania is enjoying a resurgence.
"Given his history and his recent Masters win and just all these players in the top 70, we think Medinah is going to be one of our biggest BMW championships yet," volunteer coordinator Rich Van Voorhis said.
The Tour moved this year's BMW to August instead of September. That's a welcome change for fans who previously had to choose between golf or football and for kids who are still on summer vacation.
With the new schedule, event organizers at the Western Golf Association are expecting 125,000 spectators for the week.
"Tickets have been selling really well," Potts said. "Hospitality has been selling really well, especially of late, and I don't know if it's the Brooks (Koepka) effect or the Tiger effect, but there seems to be kind of a renewed interest in it."
The fairway bunkers at Medinah Country Club's 18th hole could challenge the pros playing at the 2019 BMW Championship in August.
- Courtesy of Charles Cherney/WGA
Still a 'Monster'?
Speaking of Koepka, he's one of Potts' picks to do well at Medinah. The course owes its "Monster" reputation to its length, playing to a whopping 7,561 yards for the 2006 PGA Championship.
"Brooks Koepka is the best golfer in the world right now, and he hits it far. He hits it straight. He putts well. He chips well. He has all the characteristics that one would need to win at Medinah," said Potts, a club member who played on the University of Illinois golf team from 1995 to 1998 after graduating from Fremd High School in Palatine.
But in the past 20 years, there's only one golfer who has won a major tournament there. Hint: He wears red and black on Sundays.
"I don't know if you can ever count out at Tiger Woods at Medinah," Potts said.
And that may prove true considering how well Woods is playing on par 3's. Woods is the fifth best par-3 scorer on Tour heading into this week's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Three of Medinah's four par-3 holes -- 2, 13 and 17 -- play long and over water. Van Voorhis calls the trio some of the best-looking holes in golf.
"The 17th hole has always provided some drama," Potts said. "It's a tough shot over the water with wind downhill, so it's kind of difficult to pick a club. That's always a popular viewing spot for people."
The best shot Potts ever saw from Woods at Medinah? The one no one remembers from the 2006 PGA.
"It was the 14th hole. He was in a bunker like 80 yards away after hitting two terrible shots. I mean, he had a pretty comfortable lead, but he opened up an 8-iron and hit this punch bunker shot that I've never seen anyone ever hit before."
The last time Tiger Woods won at Medinah was the 88th PGA Championship in 2006.
- AP FILE Photo
A ticket inside the members-only club, the site of the 2012 Ryder Cup, will be as much of a draw as the field. Medinah's spectacular clubhouse opened in 1926 with a palatial, Moorish design, built as a retreat for the Shriners, a branch of the Masons.
The clubhouse's domes and arches will make quite the backdrop (and photo op) to the practice putting green.
"Medinah members have shown they have a willingness and a desire to open up the club once every several years to the best players and see how they compete against the golf course," Potts said. "It's something we've done in the past. I know it's something I was excited about this year, and candidly, I hope it's something we continue in the future."
Potts and Co-Chairman Mike Crance serve as the main liaison between the club and the WGA, helping to identity Medinah members who can contribute with corporate hospitality sales and volunteering.
The event's charitable mission also will inspire volunteers to give back. Proceeds from the championship will support the Evans Scholars Foundation, a WGA program that provides full tuition and housing scholarships to caddies in college.
"This year, it's going to be a record year," Van Voorhis said. "We have 985 Evans Scholars enrolled at 18 leading universities throughout the United States."
More than 2,000 volunteers will help stage the championship. There are a few volunteer spots still available, but the deadline to sign up is Saturday.
"There's a good opportunity to interact with players and officials and people who have given their life to the game of golf," Potts said.
2019 BMW ChampionshipWhen: Aug. 13-18
Where: Medinah Country Club
Parking: The event will use the Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale for general parking. To access the lot, $20 parking passes, which include shuttle transportation, must be purchased in advance.
TV: Golf Channel and NBC will broadcast tournament play
Purse: $9.25 million in prize money