Cog Hill auditioning to host a future major

The PGA Tour is back on the Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill this week. Which begs the question: Will the United States Golf Association and/or the PGA of America also be making dates there sometime in the near future?

The powers-that-be in Chicago-area golf are hoping that a $5.2 million renovation of the classic course in Lemont, Ill., has made the layout worthy of a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship.

“We’ve got to get a U.S. Open for Cog Hill,” said noted course architect Rees Jones, who is known as the “Open Doctor” for his ability make good golf courses even better, bringing them up to USGA standards.

“We’ve got to get (the USGA) to see how great the course turned out. I believe a U.S. Open will go there one day. The course is fairer. It has more of an ebb and flow. Every hole has been improved.”

Dubsdread has another big supporter whose opinion should go a long way with golf’s governing bodies, as long as he like the changes he sees this week in the BMW Championship.

Tiger Woods captured the tournament the last time it was held at Cog Hill in 2007, shooting 8-under-par 63 in the final round to finish two strokes ahead of Aaron Baddeley on his way to claiming the first FedEx Cup.

Woods played as an amateur at Cog Hill in the old Western Open, which morphed into the BMW Championship at the inception of the PGA Tour playoffs, and won the tournament three times before it became part of the postseason format.

“I think after Rees gets a hold of it and makes some alterations to it, I think that it depends on how severe he’s going to tweak the golf course, then yeah, you could possibly say you could get a PGA here or maybe a U.S. Open,” Woods said before the renovation began. “But probably a PGA, if anything.”

Dubsdread, one of four courses at Cog Hill, was designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee and opened to the public in 1963. It has been lengthened with the addition of new tees by nearly 300 yards to a maximum of 7,616.

Woods and most of the other pros couldn’t wait to get there this week.

“I haven’t seen it; not too many guys have,” Woods told reporters two weeks ago at the Barclays. “I’ve got a little bit of homework to do there.”

Of Jones’ work, he has said: “I like a lot of his stuff.”

Woods will be happy to know that Jones did not change the routing of the course, which Woods has said is one of those layouts that simply seem to fit his eye.

However, all 18 greens were redone with the SubAir System, which acts as an underground vacuum when water accumulates on the putting surfaces. That could cause some problems for the No. 1 player in the world, who has said he putts by memory and has struggled with the short stick in recent weeks.

In addition, the greens now have several tiers to create more pin positions, several new tees were added to create the additional length and all of the bunkers were reworked.

“This is a great piece of golf property and Dick Wilson did a wonderful job with the original design,” Jones said. “Many of the greens have been made a lot smaller because the green complexes are more important today than in the past. The ball goes so far now. Back when Dick Wilson designed this course and like my father, Robert Trent Jones, they always built big greens because on long holes you would hit woods into them. Now you hit mid-irons. So the green complexes have to be smaller.

“We still will have the Dick Wilson tongues and little small areas of greens. But the golfer will have to make choices — go for the fat of the green or go for the Dick Wilson tongue. That will depend on where you hit your tee shot, and the penalty will be greater if you go for the small part of the green and miss it. There will be all kinds of choices, so this will be a course of continuing interest.”

Camilo Villegas will be in the unusual position of coming to Dubsdread to defend the title he won last year at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. However, the Colombian has a history in Chicago.

“I go back with the Western Golf Association all the way back to the Western Amateur, being a medalist (in 2002, sharing the honor with Kevin Stadler),” Villegas said. “Trying to win that trophy was awesome, and they put on a great show. It was one of the best amateur tournaments we played.

“When I decided to turn pro and make golf my life, the Western Golf Association and then the tournament gave me my first invite to a professional event (the Western Open). You don’t forget those things.”

Villegas posted four rounds of 68 or better last year at Bellerive to beat Dudley Hart by two strokes and claim his first victory on the PGA Tour. He enjoyed it so much that he won again at the Tour Championship a fortnight later.

This season has been a disappointment for the guy they call Spider-Man, or El Hombre Arana. He ranks 52nd and needs a high finish to climb into the top 30 and qualify for the Tour Championship.

Villegas probably needs more than the tie for seventh he had at Dubsdread two years ago in the BMW.

“I enjoy Cog Hill, I enjoy Chicago,” Villegas told reporters on BMW Championship media day. “The fans are great. I’m excited (the tournament will be at Cog Hill) for the next three years.

“I’ve only heard good things about the job Rees did in redoing all the greens and lengthening the golf course and putting in some extra bunkers and just making it more of a challenge. Not only that, from a viewer standpoint, it looks unbelievable.”

Chicagoans hope the USGA and the PGA of America are just as enthused.

Notes and quotes

  • Paul Casey of England, who has been sidelined by a rib-cage injury, hoped to play last week in the Deutsche Bank Championship but once again was forced to withdraw.

    Casey, who has not played in more than six weeks because of a torn oblique and strained intercostal muscles in his right side, apparently took the advice of veteran Scott Verplank.

    “After living through it, you can’t play again until it completely goes away,” Verplank told Casey, ranked No. 3 in the world, on the driving range early in the week at the TPC of Boston.

    Casey might not have been listening only to Verplank. He told reporters that he had a call into his doctor asking if he could injure himself further by playing and would listen to whatever advice he received.

    Three hours later, after saying he was “probable” for the Deutsche Bank, the Englishman withdrew.

    “I want to play,” said Casey, who played college golf at Arizona State and lives most of the year in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I would not be here if I didn’t want to play.

    “I have had some really good advice, and they all say the same thing — rest.”

    Casey was 27th in the FedEx Cup standings at the beginning of the week, and after not playing in Boston he slipped to 36th. Because that’s still in the top 70, he is eligible to play this week in the BMW Championship.

    If he can’t make it back for the PGA Tour playoffs, Casey hopes to return for the final events of the Race to Dubai on the European Tour, where he began the week second in the standings.

    “There is a lot of stuff, all with big purses, but I do not want to continue to have this problem going into next year,” he said. “It seems like a lot of guys, just the word on the street and talking to the doctors, is that a lot of guys come back too early and you still have these niggling problems. I don’t want that.”

    If he cannot make it back for any of the official events, Casey’s last chance to play this year probably would be the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ charity event, in December.

  • The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, which had been on the LPGA Tour’s endangered list, will be held for at least one more year, it was announced by tournament officials last week.

    The tournament will be played July 1-4, 2010, at Highland Meadows Golf Club in suburban Toledo, Ohio, saving the circuit from seeing yet another event go belly-up.

    “We are excited to be able to continue the tradition of bringing the finest women golfers in the world to Northwest Ohio along with the opportunity to raise money for several local children’s charities,” Tournament Director Judd Silverman said.

    “We are grateful to Owens Corning and Kroger for their continued commitment especially during this difficult economic climate. Owens Corning and Kroger’s commitment provides the tournament with a solid financial foundation from which to build a successful event.”

    Tournament host Jamie Farr, who played Corporal Klinger on the television series “M*A*S*H,” had given the event a 50-50 chance of surviving into 2010 when he talked about it during tournament week in July.

    It was at the Jamie Farr Classic this year that several of the top players on the LPGA Tour met in a Toledo restaurant and drafted a letter requesting that LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens be replaced.

    The letter, which reportedly was signed by Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Cristie Kerr, Natalie Gulbis and others, complained about the fact that seven LPGA tournaments have folded since 2007 and voiced concern about strained relationships with some sponsors.

    Bivens resigned a few days later.

    Eunjung Yi of South Korea captured the 25th Jamie Farr Classic in July, beating Pressel in a playoff.

    Over the years, the tournament has donated about $6.2 million to more than 100 Toledo-area charities.

  • Though he was eliminated from the PGA Tour playoffs to end the worst season of his career, Adam Scott was one of fellow Aussie Greg Norman’s Captain’s Picks for the International team in the Presidents Cup. That means that Scott’s plan to have knee surgery will have to be put on hold for a bit.

    Scott holed a 25-foot putt on the final hole of the Barclays to finish in a tie for 58th and wound up 110th in the FedEx Cup standings, 10 spots shy of where he needed to be to advance to the Deutsche Bank Championship.

    “It’s something I should have had done at the start of the year,” Scott said of the surgery on a cyst in his right knee.

    The 29-year-old Aussie said the cyst, unrelated to the six times he has dislocated his right kneecap, has become more bothersome in the last few years and that doctors will either drain and patch it or remove it completely.

    Scott, whose last victory came in the 2008 EDS Byron Nelson Championship, started the season strong with a tie for second in the Sony Open in Hawaii, but he did not finish in the top 30 in any of the 16 PGA Tour events he played after that.

    He missed the cut in 10 tournaments, including six in a row over a two-month stretch, and failed to make it to the weekend in three of the four majors, finishing in a tie for 36th in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

    The only other tournaments he has on his schedule for the rest of the year are the Australian Masters, Australian PGA and Australian Open.

  • Annika Sorenstam, who stepped away from tournament golf at the end of last year in order to start a family and pursue other interests, gave birth last week to her first child.

    The 38-year-old Swede announced the arrival of a daughter, Ava Madelyn, who weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces and measured 19 inches.

    “We are all doing well and we truly appreciate the support we have received,” Sorenstam was quoted as saying on the website. “We are very excited about our new addition and will keep everyone posted in the coming weeks.”

    Sorenstam, who is married to Mike McGee, son of former PGA Tour pro Jerry McGee, gave fans a chance on her website to help pick out the baby’s name. Ava led the voting with 24 percent, and Madelyn received 20 percent.

    A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Sorenstam won 90 titles around the world, including 10 major championships.

    When she left the game last year, she was careful not to use the word “retirement,” saying she was leaving open the possibility that she might return.

  • Jack Nicklaus claimed he never would be a ceremonial golfer, but a shift in his position should be a great thing for the game.

    Nicklaus and Augusta National Golf Club announced last week that the greatest golfer of all time will join Arnold Palmer as honorary starters for the Masters next year and hit the opening tee shots.

    Instantly, there was speculation that Gary Player will join them sometime soon.

    Palmer first was the honorary starter in 2007.

    “I have always had great respect for Arnold and his legacy at the Masters, and I did not, in any way, want to infringe on the opportunity for Arnold to have and enjoy this Masters tradition for himself,” Nicklaus said in a statement.

    “He is so deserving of this honor, and thus I felt it was his time, not mine. Recently, I was invited by both Augusta National and Arnold to join him on the first tee, and because he enthusiastically supported the invitation, it became an easy decision for me.”

    The tradition of honorary starters at the Masters began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison, who performed the duty from 1963 to 1973, and Fred McLeod, who did it from 1963 to 1976.

    Ken Venturi did the honors in 1983, and Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead were a threesome for nearly 20 years into the new century.

    Nicklaus won five Masters titles and Palmer claimed four, and in a five-year stretch between 1962 and 1966, the Golden Bear captured three victories at Augusta and Arnie won two.

  • Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion who has struggled this season because of a wrist injury, began his latest comeback last week in the European Masters at Crans-Sur-Sierra, Switzerland.

    He missed the cut by one stroke at 74-67–141 but had to be encouraged by making six birdies in the second round, in which he needed only 25 putts after taking 33 the day before.

    The South African did not play well enough in 13 tournaments this season to finish in the top 120 in the FedEx Cup standings and qualify for the PGA Tour playoffs.

    “The season as a whole has been, from a golfing standpoint, very frustrating,” said Immelman, who finished in the top 20 only when the tied for 19th in the Transitions Championship and tied for 20th at the Masters.

    “Kind of been on and off, obviously more off than on. I’m hoping I’m through all of that now. I’ve come here obviously not being able to practice as much as I would generally like to. I haven’t obviously been able to play my way into form. But from a health standpoint, I’m hoping it’s all done.”

    The injury was diagnosed as severe tendinitis with tears in the cartilage, and it cost him a chance to earn his third berth on International Team for the Presidents Cup matches next month at Harding Park.

    “I had a tumor the size of a racquetball extracted from my diaphragm at the end of 2007,” Immelman said. “Earlier that year, I had a stomach parasite and lost 25 pounds. The last few years from a health standpoint have been pretty challenging. But what can you do? You have to keep moving on and hope all of this is out of the way now.

    ” … (The Presidents Cup) has been on my radar the whole season, but unfortunately I haven’t done enough to make the team, to make that top 10. So there’s nothing I could really be upset about there. I’ve always felt that in a team competition, you need to play your way on the team fair and square.”

    Immelman last played on the PGA Tour in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last month, finishing in a tie for 60th.