Encompass, John Deere: Let’s go birdie-watching


We can learn from this swing.

We can learn from this swing.

CHICAGO—It’s a shame the Windy City no longer has its mid-summer classic, the Western Open, lighting up the Cog Hill sky like fireworks around the Fourth of July.

If I were the commissioner, the BMW playoff event at Conway Farms would be an add-on, especially because it’s not here every year. It will be played in Denver this year. . . although it was welcome news when tourney officials confirmed the BMW will return to Conway in 2015.

That said, there’s some good golf to watch for Chicago-area fans this summer. And while it will be a bit under the radar, courtesy of our fascination with team sports, the opportunities are there for golf watchers.

The Encompass Championship brings the Champions tour back to North Shore Country Club in Glenview on June 20-22.

We can say, `No way' while admiring this swing.

We can say, `No way!’ while admiring this swing.

And the John Deere Classic, which is in the closer-than-you-think Quad Cities, returns to TPC John Deere on July 10-13 for the best “litttle’’ tournament on the PGA Tour.

The beauty of the Encompass is that unlike previous senior-tour efforts in Chicago, it has the setting right. North Shore is a convenient classic, the perfect type of golf course for golfers of any age to watch pros of a certain age.

Spectators can see the golf up-close and maneuver easily on North Shore to maximize their viewing experience. In addition, it’s fun to see past heroes still playing their game. They don’t hit it as far, but they often hit it well.

One of my favorite memories of the inaugural Encompass is walking with Fred Couples and Corey Pavin—in the same group—on Sunday. Couples was bombing it 80 to 100 yards past Pavin, who curiously was playing a big cut that exaggerated his short hitting.

It's no day at the beach for these guys.

It’s no day at the beach for these guys.

And yet, when they got to the green, Pavin was often putting after Couples. To complete the irony, the usually even-keeled Pavin pounded a club in frustration after missing one of his best birdie opportunities.

When all was said and done, though, Craig Stadler, was the unlikely and gracious Encompass champion. How could any of us resist seeing a man with that Walrus physique hoist the big trophy?

With an expanded celebrity pro-am field that’s expected to include Brian Urlacher, Roger Clemens, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Collins, Toni Kukoc and Gary Fencik, the Encompass also will an interesting undercard.

If the measure of a tournament is the quality of its champions, the John Deere Classic has a lot going for it. Jordan Spieth, who has emerged as a top-10 player, burst into the spotlight last July by winning at 19 years of age in dramatic fashion, sinking a sandshot to sneak into the playoff he eventually won.

Spieth followed 2012 winner Zach Johnson, who ended the quest of three-peat champion Steve Stricker to add a fourth straight JDC title. Other past winners include Kenny Perry, Vijay Singh and David Toms.

At the John Deere, the winner always gets really into it.

At the John Deere, the winner always gets really into it.

The JDC, one of the biggest charity fund-raising stops on the PGA Tour, also uses its exemptions with exceptional flair. It received a lot of publicity for inviting Michelle Wie, who missed the cut by two strokes in 2005 after a late swoon.

But the tournament quietly has also given opportunities to up-and-coming players, including Johnson and Spieth—and this year will be no different.

The world’s top-ranked amateur, Patrick Rodgers, an Avon, Ind., product who plays at Stanford, returns for his third straight JDC. Other college standouts who will be appearing are NCAA tournament champion Cameron Wilson (Stanford), Jordan Niebrugge (Oklahoma State) and Steven Ihm (Iowa).

While North Shore is a quintessential suburban country-club experience, TPC Deere Run is a rolling beauty that has majestic views of the Rock River. The players go low in the JDC—Stricker set the record at 26-under in 2010—which makes for entertaining viewing.

Before the tournament moved to Deere Run—which was designed by two-time winner D.A. Weibring—it was played at Oakwood, where Tiger Woods was “famously’’ out-dueled by 5-7, 220-pound journeyman Ed Fiori on Sunday.

I walked with that unlikely duo in 1996, and the memory of seeing Woods take a quadruple bogey and four-putt for double bogey on a flat green from eight feet are indelible. The quad—quad city in the Quad Cities—came when Woods hit his tee shot into a pond, then banged his next shot off a tree back into the pond.

It’s not the same as the image of Woods walking triumphantly down the 18th fairway at the Western Open.

Then again, its uniqueness gives a certain appeal. It’s a reminder that for those who love golf, the Encompass and the John Deere Classic are an opportunity to see all kinds of things.


Editor’s note: Click on photos to enlarge.



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