Illinois Golf Hall of Fame opens its door to Len Ziehm
If you like playing golf, watching golf or reading about golf, you'd love to have Len Ziehm's job.
His first U.S. Open was in 1973 at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania when a skinny kid from California named Johnny Miller shot a 63 in the final round to win.
His first Masters Tournament was in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus shot a back nine 30 to win his 18th major and last of a record six victories at Augusta National. The Daily Herald golf columnist the last 10 years, he has reported on all things golf since 1968, the first 41 years at the Sun-Times and just completed 30 years reporting for Chicagoland Golf.
Along the way he's covered 28 U.S. Opens, 11 Masters, 19 PGA Championships, 4 U.S. Women's Opens, 34 Western Opens and an untold number of state tournaments.
For his dedication to the game, The Illinois Golf Hall of Fame welcomes Ziehm and five others to their storied club at 6 p.m. Friday at The Glen Club in Glenview.
Others being honored include Emil Esposito, an Illinois PGA Professional who won the Illinois Open in 1966 and 1974 and the 1979 Illinois PGA Championship; Carol Mann, a 38-time winner on the LPGA Tour; William Langford, a leading golf architect; philanthropist Francis Peabody who led the way in the formation of the Chicago District Golf Association in 1914; and Harry Radix who created the pro tour original ranking system in 1934 and was a supporter of golf locally and nationally.
"We have the largest class since 1997, and one of the strongest Hall of Fame classes of all, with representatives from many aspects of the game," Selection Committee Chairman Tim Cronin said.
It would seem Ziehm never takes a break. He also started travel writing projects 10 years ago and created lenziehmongolf.com, in part, to document visiting 47 states (with Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming still to get to).
As he prepared for his big night, we asked him why he does what he does.
Why do you enjoy golf?
Lots of reasons. It's a lifetime sport that gets you outdoors, provides an element of exercise and can be both social and competitive. The game is physically and mentally challenging, and we've met lots of nice and/or interesting people of all age groups, playing abilities and interest levels along the way.
It used to be the Western Open, which was last played in 2006. The golf landscape has changed a lot since then. Now I guess it'd be the PGA Championship -- always played on great golf courses with the strongest field. I like the idea it moves around the country, though not so sure it should have been moved to May. I liked it when it was known as "Glory's Last Shot."
Jack Nicklaus, far and away. Probably the best interview in any sport. Not that I've agreed with everything he's said, but he's always accessible, never dodges a question. His answers are expansive. They go beyond just what's required. His insights are always thought provoking. He'll talk on subjects beyond golf. He was that way in his playing heyday and remains that way as a retiree.
Lifetime rounds played?
Not enough good ones, to be sure. I've tried periodically in the past to determine the number of courses I've played and believe it to be about 600.
Started playing at age 11 but not steadily until 23 when I took my first job after college (at the Hammond, Ind., Times -- now The Times of Northwest Indiana). I've played as many as 60 rounds in season (that would count for handicap purposes) along with lots of outings and 9-hollers.
If you assume an average 40 rounds a year for the last 52 years, that'd be a little over 2,000. Lots of golf for somebody who's never been very good. Handicap has never been below 16, but I do have one hole-in-one (at age 15) and six career eagles.
Favorite places to play?
In the Chicago area it's varied over the years -- Cog Hill No. 2, Pine Meadow, Stonehenge (where I was a member for over 30 years), now White Deer Run.
Other than Stonehenge I was always a public course player but played quite a few rounds over the years at Medinah and Kemper Lakes.
Played a lot of great courses nationwide. Augusta National was certainly the most memorable (one round in 1991). Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run, Pete Dye Course at French Lick, Copperhead at Florida's Innisbrook Resort -- they all come to mind for one reason or another on the fun spectrum.
A course to play one day?
It has to be St. Andrews. Despite all the traveling I've barely played a round outside the U.S. Seems odd, I know.
Favorite player quote?
My favorite sports quotes are from the musings of Yogi Berra, but I guess we should use a golfer. One that comes to mind is from Jose Maria Olazabal, the European captain, after the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah: "No matter who won at the end, that's probably the finest golf tournament in the history of our game." Hard to argue with that.
The hall of fame induction
It's quite an honor. I'm humbled and most appreciative. No media member has been inducted since 2004 and I'll be only the fifth in 30 years.
I'm a journalist first on the career front, but golf has given me so much. I always looked on it as a sport that wrote well. I covered a lot of other things but golf was a staple.
In my early years covering (at the Sun-Times) it meant basically reporting on local tournaments. Then the sport evolved and the beat exploded into a nationwide one. There was a time when I considered it the best beat in the paper.
The sports landscape has changed in the last decade or so, but I feel very fortunate to still be writing about golf. It remains a great game with lots of interesting people to meet and stories to tell.