May 19, 2016

Strong Field of Players Lined up for Rust-Oleum Championship

The PGA Tour is bringing its secondary circuit back to the Chicago area for the first time since 2008, but things have changed a lot since then.

The Glen Club, in Glenview, hosted the LaSalle Bank (or Bank of America) Open on what was then called the Nationwide Tour through 2008 before sponsorship problems set in. The return comes under the banner of the Tour on June 6-12 when the $600,000 Rust-Oleum Championship comes to Ivanhoe Club near Mundelein.

Scott Cassin, tournament director at The Glen, is also in that role at Ivanhoe and this week he explained just how different the tournaments of the past were compared to the upcoming event. It goes far beyond the tour’s name change. The Nationwide was more of a developmental circuit.

“That’s no longer the case,” said Cassin. “Now (the Tour) is the pathway to the PGA Tour. It’s gained a lot of stature in the last couple years with international players coming in.”

Previously, players used the Nationwide Tour to prepare for the PGA fall qualifying school. Now the Q-School feeds only into the Tour. So does the PGA’s Latinoamerica, Canadian and China circuits, which weren’t under the PGA banner a decade ago. The Tour’s best players go directly to the PGA Tour in 2017.

“This ( tour is still about fun, and there’s a lot of young, hungry golfers,” said Cassin.

And some older ones, too.

The initial entry list for Ivanhoe includes such names as: Jonathan Byrd, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour; Len Mattiace, a PGA Tour champion twice and once a runner-up in the Masters; and Greg Chalmers, a veteran of the international circuits with wins in both the Australian Open and Australian PGA championships.

Based on the early entrants, Ivanhoe will get nine of the current top 10 money-winners on the circuit, with the only top player not signed up being No. 1 Wesley Bryan. There’ll be a number of local players as well, headed by Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger, the last of seven players to earn wins in both the Illinois Amateur and Illinois Open. Winner of the Amateur in 2011 and the Open in 2014, Hopfinger moved up to the from the Latinoamerica circuit this year.

The structure of the Rust-Oleum Championship, which had been held the last two years in Cleveland, will be more comprehensive, too. At Ivanhoe — the tourney site for the next three years — there’ll be a celebrity pro-am and two qualifying rounds on Monday and the first local qualifier for the 2017 Drive, Chip & Putt contest on Tuesday before the 72-hole championship tees off. Tickets, though, remain affordable. They’re $20 for the week with those 17 and under admitted free.

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