Ziehm: Chicago area will be well-represented in this week's pre-Masters events

The countdown to the year's first major golf championship is on.

The first tee shot in the 87th playing of the Masters isn't until next week on April 6, but - with Augusta National's membership expanding its event in recent years - the preliminaries start this week.

Unless Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy or Kevin Streelman can pull off a win in this week's Valero Texas Open, the Masters will again be without a Chicago player next week. The last time a local player competed in the Masters was in 2016 when Ghim, still an amateur, tied for 50th place.

Locals, however, have had success in the Masters preliminaries - the Augusta National Women's Amateur, which started in 2019, and the Drive, Chip & Putt finals, first contested at the Georgia club in 2014.

The ANWA starts its 54-hole run this Wednesday. The first two rounds will be played at Champions Retreat, a nearby course, then all of its competitors play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday. Spectators start arriving at the Masters site for Saturday's final round.

While several Illinois-connected players were invited to previous ANWA tourneys, the one competing this week seems a bonafide contender. Crystal Wang, a fifth-year senior at the University of Illinois from Diamond Bar, California, won her first collegiate tournament on Sunday, making birdies on three of the last four holes at the Clemson Invitational.

Last year Michael Jorski of Clarendon Hills was the winner in the Drive, Chip & Putt's boys 12-13 division. He's not among the 80 finalists this year, but four Chicago-area players survived the regional qualifier held at Medinah.

Qualifiers for Sunday's Drive, Chip & Putt finals at Augusta National hail from 29 states and Canada. They were the survivors from 342 local qualifiers and 10 regional eliminations held across the country over the previous year.

Northbrook's Martha Kuwahara looms as a strong contender in the girls 14-15 age group. Also a qualifier for the finals in 2022, she smacked a 268-yard drive en route to winning at the Medinah regional. One of nine returnees nation-wide from last year's finals, she's excited about her return to Augusta National.

"I really want redemption from last year," she said. "This year I feel I can do a lot better."

The other three Chicago qualifiers are boys - Emory Munoz of Lockport in the 7-9 age group; William Comiskey of Hinsdale in the 10-11 category; and Ben Patel of North Aurora in 12-13.

Kuwahara plays locally at The Glen Club, Comiskey and Munoz at Cog Hill and Patel at Black Sheep.

The first two rounds of the ANWA as well as five hours of Drive, Chip & Putt coverage will be televised on The Golf Channel and Peacock. The final round of the ANWA will be carried on NBC and Peacock. CBS, which has televised the Masters since 1956, will again carry the main event.

Here and there:

The Masters will have 89 starters plus the winner of the Valero Texas Open, assuming he hadn't qualified previously. All 89 were invited by Augusta National, and they include 18 playing on the PGA Tour's rival LIV Tour. That group includes six former Masters champions. The LIV circuit competes at Orange County National in Orlando starting on Friday.

Masters invitees also include J.T. Poston, winner of last year's John Deere Classic, and Belgium's Thomas Detry, who starred for the University of Illinois from 2012-16.

Arlington Heights' Doug Ghim, while not qualified for the Masters, had his best finish in 12 starts in the PGA Tour's wrap-around season on Sunday - a tie for 16th in the Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic.

Robert Sereci has announced that he'll end his eight-year stint as general manager and chief operating officer at Medinah Country Club on May 25.

Jake Mendoza is back on the maintenance staff at Rich Harvest Farms, the Sugar Grove club that hosts the LIV Tour in September. He was at Rich Harvest from 2005-08 and has also had stints at Medinah, Winged Foot and Detroit Golf Club.

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