There are plenty of good players among the assistant professionals in the Illinois IPGA. That’s why Chris French’s domination of the 2017 Don Drasler Assistant Player of the Year race is so impressive.
French, one of two assistants under Duncan Geddes, PGA Director of Golf Operations, at Aldeen Golf Club in Rockford, accumulated 3,139.9 points in last year’s Assistant Player of the Year race. Runner-up Casey Pyne, of Crestwicke in Bloomington, was a distant second with 2,766.0, and Adam Schumacher, of Indian Hill in Winnetka, third with 2,760.5.
Schumacher won both the Illinois PGA Championship at Medinah No. 1 and the IPGA Players Championship at Eagle Ridge in Galena. Both tournaments are among the section’s four major events and Schumacher won both by three-shot margins but he was no threat to French in the Assistants competition. That’s how good a season French had.
“The big difference from other years is that I put in more time playing and practicing,” said French. “It was great to see the hard work pay off. You don’t always see that in the golf business, and if the results are not there it can be extremely frustrating.”
French, 32, won three stroke play events outright – at Cress Creek in Naperville, Mistwood in Romeoville and Kishwaukee in DeKalb -- and tied for first in another at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn. He also tied for fifth in the Assistants Championship at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville and added some points by tying for 42nd in the Illinois Open.
Not only did French notch some victories, he did it with some great scores on quality courses – 65 at Cress Creek and Mistwood, 67 at Calumet and 68 at Kishwaukee. Those scores might not have been his best performances of the year, either. He set the Aldeen course record last fall with a 9-under-par 63.
Aldeen is an established tournament site, too. It hosted the Illinois State Amateurs of 2001 and 2013 and was the site of this year’s Illinois Women’s State Amateur.
Not bad for a player who once quit the golf business altogether for five years. That was after playing four years of high school golf at Byron, which is near Rockford, and then earning junior college All-America recognition in two years at Rock Valley College in Rockford. After that he didn’t think that golf was for him, and he left the sport.
“The main thing I did then was in music. I was a recording engineer. We made records for bands,” said French. “That’s as far away from golf as you can get.’’
Then he moved to Asheville, N.C. for new surroundings, started to play golf again and soon after got back into the business. He found a job as an assistant at Reems Creek, a public course in Asheville.
Five years ago, he got a call from his good friend, Dan Cameron, who let him know about an opening at Aldeen in Rockford where he grew up. He took an assistant’s job at Aldeen, working alongside Cameron and his play steadily improved, leading up to his breakthrough campaign in 2017.
“Duncan Geddes was the main one who encouraged me to keep playing,” said French. “After I won this (Player of the Year) award he told me I should take it as far as I can. He gave me the time off to play and practice.”
After his big season French spent the winter in Florida “to see what would happen” and then played on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour in the spring. He had the company of some other Illinois hotshots – Tee-K Kelly, David Cooke and Brian Bullington – on that circuit. Kelly even won a tournament.
French competed in tournaments in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic from early May until early June without any notable successes.
“I didn’t play very well,” admitted French. “I lost momentum. It was cool to play on some great courses there but it was a little shock, too, because I had never been out of the country (U.S.).”
He plans to go back in the fall, though. The Latinoamerica Tour doesn’t hold tournaments in the summer, preferring to resume its season in the fall. So, French’s three-month stint at Aldeen will conclude in August and that’s why he gives himself little chance to repeat as Assistants Player of the Year. He will, however, be around for the IPGA Assistants Championship, which is July 23 at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette.
“I already missed two (IPGA Assistants) tournaments because I was playing in Latin America and I’ll miss more in the fall,” he said. “Not playing every event hurts in terms of repeating.”