As qualifying rounds begin this week, the Tournament future of dozens of Shootout hopefuls hangs in the balance. First conducted before the 1999 event, the purpose of the qualifying rounds is to give golfers of all skill levels the opportunity to earn an invitation into the Midwest’s most popular two-person scramble event.
In order to compete in any of the first five Shootouts, participants received an invitation directly from the Tournament Competition Committee. Golfers were selected based on their performance in other local events. Although this meant The Shootout would feature most of the top players in the area, many high-quality golfers were unable to make it into the field.
To help grow the Tournament and widen the competitive base, the Invitational Shootout Qualifying process was established. Since its introduction, seven Shootout champions have earned their way into the field by qualifying.
“I remember before our first Shootout at Maple Meadows back in 1999” said 2004 Champion Joe Hill. “John and I had to qualify to get invited and The Competition Committee was a little concerned whether we would be skilled enough to play. Both John and I played nine holes with a Shootout Committee member following us. Although I can’t remember the score, we didn’t have too much trouble making the cut.”
Although there were two qualifiers in 1999, Joe Hill and John Eterno were the only players to make the cut. The next year The Shootout had three times the number of players looking to qualify, so three different events were conducted. The three qualifiers were hosted at Flagg Creek Golf Course, Palos Municipal and River Bend in Woodridge.
Probably the most embarrassing qualifier was 2010 when Dave Hyland and Kevin Neill played their qualifying round at The Links at Carillon. No one knew that both Hyland and Neill played college golf until they hit their first shots. “Hammer” Hyland nearly drove the 330-yard first hole on the White Course. Hyland/Neill would go on to the set the all-time low scoring record in the 2009 Shootout. From that point on, players with scratch handicaps or better were no longer required to qualify.
This year’s qualifying rounds are expected to attract some of the best players in the Chicagoland area. With 2015 Shootout registrations at an all-time high, Tournament officials expect as few as four spots will be available to qualifiers.
“I’m working with a number of young players at Fresh Meadow Golf Club to help them get ready for their Shootout qualifiers” said McMouw Cup Champion Mick McDonnell. “With only a few qualifying spots available I feel bad for a lot of these guys who have been working on their game throughout the offseason.”