GLENVIEW, Ill. - October 12, 2015 – Bill Abrams, PGA head golf professional at Balmoral Woods C.C. in Crete, Ill., has been named the 61st recipient of the Illinois PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award, the highest annual honor bestowed by the Illinois PGA on a PGA Professional.
“Being named the 61st Illinois PGA Professional of the Year is very humbling and overwhelming,” said Abrams. “To look at the previous winners of this award and to be selected to join this esteemed group is an honor I will cherish forever. I think about all the wonderful PGA Professionals who have influenced my career and I have a debt of gratitude to each of them. I am forever grateful for being recognized with this honor.”
Abrams, 48, will be honored at the Illinois PGA Special Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 22 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club. The awards program begins at 8:00 p.m., preceded by a 7:00 p.m. dinner reception. The evening’s program will feature all 2015 Illinois PGA Award winners:
- Phil Yudys of Wheaton, Ill. – Assistant Golf Professional of the Year
- Dan Kochevar of Glen Ellyn, Ill. – Teacher of the Year
- Dennis Johnsen of Grayslake, Ill. – The Youth Player Development Award
- Don Pieper of Gurnee, Ill. – The Bill Strausbaugh Award
- Nick Papadakes of Wadsworth, Ill. – The Horton Smith Award
- Hans Larson of Mount Prospect, Ill. – The Player Development Award
- Alex Mendez of Downers Grove, Ill. – PGA Merchandiser of the Year (Private Facilities)
- Rick Walrath of Lake in the Hills, Ill. – PGA Merchandiser of the Year (Public Facilities)
- Brian Morrison of Flossmoor, Ill. – The Bill Heald Career Achievement Award
- Juan Espejo of Chicago, Ill. – The Illinois PGA Distinguished Service Award
- Illinois PGA Golf Professional of the Year – Born in Towanda, Pa., Bill Abrams was introduced to the profession of golf at an early age having secured a job at Towanda C.C. doing “just about everything” at the facility. Golf however, was not Abrams’ first, or even second, sport. Standing 6’5” in height, basketball and baseball were his sports of choice. He became a four-year letter winner in high school in basketball and two years in baseball.
Following high school, Abrams attended Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., where he played four years of basketball and golf. He led the team in total rebounds in the 1987-88 season and in field goal percentage the following year before his senior year was cut short by a devastating knee injury.
Following graduation, Abrams took a job in the insurance industry before deciding golf was his true passion. In 1991, he relocated to the Chicago area and after a couple interviews, became an apprentice at Lincolnshire C.C. in Crete, Ill., under then PGA head golf professional Jay Williams.
Abrams earned his membership in the PGA of America in 1993 and two years later was named the PGA head golf professional at Lincolnshire C.C. After four seasons, he decided he wanted to focus on player instruction and coaching and spoke with his long-time friend David Mortell at Balmoral Woods C.C. in Crete, Ill., about setting up an academy at the facility. Mortell liked the idea and Abrams was named the PGA head golf professional in addition to his duties with the academy.
A tireless promoter of golf, Abrams’ goal is to always enhance the player’s experience. Whether it is introducing new programs or improving old ones, Abrams is dedicated to making the game of golf better every day.
Over the past 20 years, Abrams has dedicated his career to improving and giving back to the game of golf. He served as president of the Central Illinois Chapter PGA (CIPGA) from 2008-2012. He was a member of the board of directors of both the CIPGA (2004- present) and Illinois PGA (2005-2012) and has served on many committees over the years.
Among Abrams’ many awards, he was honored with the Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award, the Illinois PGA Horton Smith Award, the CIPGA Teacher of the Year Award, the CIPGA Horton Smith Award and the CIPGA Professional of the Year Award twice (2005, 2012). He was named a USKids Golf Top 50 Master Teacher, PING Regional Fitter of Year and Titleist Top 100 Fitter.
Abrams and his wife, Kathleen, live in Orland Park, Ill., and are the parents of a daughter, Leigh, and sons, Charlie and Tommy.
Illinois PGA Assistant Golf Professional of the Year – Phil Yudys, PGA assistant golf professional at Glen Oak C.C. in Glen Ellyn, Ill., has been named the 2015 Illinois PGA Assistant Golf Professional of the Year.
Born in Winfield, Ill., Yudys didn’t stray too far from his birth place having grown up in Glen Ellyn. He competed in many sports as a child, notably baseball, which he describes as the sport he loved the most. That all changed at the age of 13 when he was introduced to golf and the life-long passion that has grown in him over the years. He credits his high school golf coach, who continued to work with Yudys and allowed him to practice with the team even after cutting him his senior year, for instilling the passion in him for the game of golf.
Yudys, 32, graduated from Illinois State University in 2005 with a degree in business administration and insurance. Following his graduation, Yudys worked for a financial firm for two years before deciding to follow his passion for golf.
In 2007, Yudys returned to Village Links of Glen Ellyn, where he worked throughout high school as an apprentice golf professional. After a year a Village Links, Yudys moved on to Glen Oak C.C., as the 2nd assistant golf professional. He earned his membership in the PGA of America in 2010 and, in 2013, was promoted to the PGA 1st assistant golf professional at Glen Oak, where he remains today.
The experience Yudys learned from his high school golf coach instilled the passion for working with junior golfers he has today. One of his goals is to bring a positive mindset to all juniors who play the game, making it fun so that they continue playing and develop their own passion for golf. Since becoming the junior coordinator at Glen Oak participation in the program has almost tripled.
In 2013, Yudys took on the role as assistant varsity golf coach at Glenbard South High School, his former school. Since arriving, the team has won conference, regional and sectional titles the past two seasons and finished sixth and second, respectively, in the Illinois High School Association State Championships.
Yudys volunteers his time with the Chicago District Golf Association’s “Sunshine Through Golf” program, which aims to bring the game to veterans, juniors, individuals with physical and mental challenges, and the economically disadvantaged. He was named US Kids Golf Top 50 Instructor honorable mention in 2013 and 2014.
Yudys lives in Wheaton, Ill., with his wife Laura, and are expecting their first child in January 2016.
Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year – Dan Kochevar, PGA teaching professional at Oak Brook (Ill.) G.C., has been named the 30th recipient of the Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year Award. Since 1986, the Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year Award has honored outstanding teachers of golf among the PGA of America membership.
Born in Chicago, Ill., Kochevar, 52, attended John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he was a four-year varsity letterman in basketball and golf. He qualified for the state championship in golf all four years and finished fourth his senior year.
Kochevar attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where he was a three year member of the golf team. He graduated in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Management and Public Finance.
Following graduation, Kochevar entered the PGA program and accepted a position at Green Acres C.C. in Northbrook, Ill. After a couple stops along the way at Bryn Mawr C.C. and Medinah C.C., Kochevar earned his membership in the PGA of America in 1988 and took a teaching position at the Golf Learning Center in Itasca, Ill., where he would remain for the next 12 years.
In 2003 Kochevar accepted a PGA teaching professional position at Oak Brook G.C. during the summer months, and in the winter, spent his days teaching at White Pines Golf Dome in Bensenville, Ill. He regularly instructs fellow Illinois PGA Professionals, top amateurs, PGA Tour players and beginners. He feels his greatest strength as a teacher is one-on-one with small groups.
Kochevar co-founded The Player’s Service, which is a year-round training program for amateurs and juniors that focuses on all aspects of player development including their swing, putting, fitness, equipment and tournament management. Their trademarked phrase, “Developing Golfers into Players,” is evident as the program has produced over 60 players in Division 1 men's and women's golf and numerous others in Division 2 and 3 since its inception.
His dedication to junior golf in Illinois is well-documented having served as president of the Illinois Junior Golf Association (IJGA). Still a director of the IJGA Board of Directors, he is the second longest serving member in the organization’s history. He continues to volunteer his time with the IJGA serving on the executive committee. He was instrumental in starting the nationally recognized Mid-American Junior Golf Tour; designed for exceptionally talented 12-18 year old golfers throughout the Midwest to display their skills in hopes of gaining national exposure to play collegiate golf.
He was named to the list of “Best Teachers in Illinois” by Golf Digest and was honored with the 2002 Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year and 2006 Illinois PGA Junior Golf Leader Awards.
Kochevar lives in Glen Ellyn, Ill., with his wife Anne, and are the parents of twins, a daughter, Brooke, and a son, Kyle. Both siblings play Division 1 golf, Brooke a senior at the University of Maryland and Kyle, a senior at the University of Virginia.
The Youth Player Development Award – Dennis Johnsen, PGA general manager at Pine Meadow G.C. in Mundelein, Ill., has been named the recipient of the 2015 Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award. The Youth Player Development Award was established in 1988, recognizing the PGA Professional who is a leader in junior golf and who reflects the ideals of those who work with youth.
Born in St. Charles, Ill., Johnsen, 62, has been involved in youth player development going back to the early 1970’s. An outstanding amateur golfer, he was a member of the St. Charles High School golf team that took second in the state of Illinois in 1969. He attended Illinois State University, where he graduated in 1974 before starting his professional career at Pottawatomie G.C. in St. Charles as the general manager and head golf professional. Johnsen earned his membership in the PGA of America in 1976.
In 1980, Johnsen was named the PGA director of golf and sports activities at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, where he served a 25-year term that ended in 2004 when he was named the PGA general manager/head golf professional at Pine Meadow G.C.
He continues to implement innovative programs at Pine Meadow including a junior tour, women’s golf league, family golf festival, and his most successful idea, the family golf tees program which has exceeded even Johnsen’s expectations in regards to participation and growth of the program.
An early supporter of the PGA Junior Golf League Golf, Pine Meadow, at the recommendation of Johnsen, was one of two local courses that implemented the program in 2012, which is designed for boys and girls, ages 13 and under and features team vs. team competitions in structured leagues that provide a scramble format as opposed to stroke-play competition. In only three years, the popular program has increased both locally and nationally with only three teams in Illinois at its inception to an estimated 185 teams this year. Johnsen is chairman of the sub-committee for the PGA Junior Golf League in Illinois.
Johnsen is very active in the PGA both locally and nationally having served on numerous committees over the years. He previously was elected an officer of the Illinois PGA, first as secretary (1999-2000), then as vice-president (2001-2002), and ultimately as president (2003-2004). From 2008 to 2012 he was a member of the PGA of America Growth of the Game Committee and currently a member of the PGA of America Junior Player Development Committee, a role he has served since 2012.
He is a four-time recipient of the Illinois PGA Resort Merchandiser of the Year award, two-time Illinois PGA President’s Plaque Award for player development, 2008 Illinois PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year Award, and was honored twice (1999, 2001) as the Illinois PGA Professional of the Year, the highest honor bestowed on a PGA professional. In 2010 Johnsen was named the PGA of America Merchandiser of the Year in the Public Category.
Johnsen and his wife, Jacqui, live in Grayslake, Ill., and are parents of a son, Patrick, and daughters, Kara and Jennifer. They also have four grandchildren.
The Bill Strausbaugh Award – Don Pieper, PGA general manager at the Merit Club in Libertyville, Ill., has been named the recipient of the 2015 Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award, presented to PGA members for distinguished efforts in mentoring other PGA Professionals and supporting them in both employment and community service.
Born in Morton Grove, Ill., Pieper was introduced to the golf business at the age of 11 when he became a caddy at the Glen View Club in Golf, Ill. Caddying through his grade school and high school years was the position that set him on a path to a long and distinguished career in golf.
Following high school in 1980, Pieper, 53, was awarded the Chick Evans Caddy Scholarship, which is a full tuition and housing college scholarship for golf caddies through the Evans Scholars Foundation and Western Golf Association. Pieper attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where he earned a teaching degree in secondary business education in December of 1984.
After graduation and teaching for one year at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Ill., Pieper returned to the golf business accepting a position as an assistant golf professional where it all began – the Glen View Club. It was there he would learn what it meant to be a PGA Professional from his mentor and role model Ed Oldfield, Sr.
Pieper earned his membership in the PGA of America in 1989 and after four seasons at the Glen View Club, he acquired his first PGA head golf professional position at Big Spring C.C. in Louisville, Ky. In 1992, he returned to Illinois accepting the head golf professional position at the Merit Club, and in 2001 became the PGA general manager, where he remains today.
Throughout his career, many of Pieper’s former assistants have achieved head golf professional positions at different facilities. It is his goal to not only mentor professionals by helping them advance their careers, but to develop juniors through education and golf, while always giving back to the community. He lives by the PGA creed – “trying to make golf a better game by making your golf game better, one person at a time.” To that end, though his relationship with Mr. Bert Getz, owner of the Merit Club, two Illinois PGA Foundation scholarships were established in Pieper’s name and the Merit Club’s original golf course superintendent, and Illinois Golf Hall of Fame member, Oscar Miles.
Pieper served on the Illinois PGA Board of Directors from 1996-2008 and was elected secretary (2001-2002), vice president (2003-2004) and president (2005-2006). He was the first Evans Scholarship recipient to hold the office of president of the Illinois PGA. He also served on the Illinois Junior Golf Association board from 1999-2007. Pieper currently serves as the President of the Illinois PGA Foundation.
Pieper was honored in 2003 as the Illinois PGA Professional of the Year, the highest honor bestowed on a PGA Professional.
Pieper and his wife, Mary, live in Gurnee, Ill., and are the parents of sons, Ken, Jim, Don and Tim.
The Horton Smith Award – Nick Papadakes, PGA head golf professional at Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest, Ill., has been named the recipient of the 2015 Illinois PGA Horton Smith Award. The award is given annually for outstanding and continuing contribution to developing and improving educational opportunities for fellow golf professionals.
Born in Emmetsburg, Iowa, Papadakes got his start in the golf business as a cart boy at Sawgrass C.C. in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. After attending the University of Iowa in Iowa City, he earned the assistant golf professional title at Sawgrass in 1997, where he remained for five seasons before returning to the Midwest to accept an assistant golf professional position at Conway Farms G.C. in Lake Forest, Ill.
During his time at Conway Farms, Papadakes, 43, earned his membership into the PGA of America (2003) and introduced several new programs at the club that became very successful and are still prevalent today. After six seasons, Papadakes accepted the PGA head golf professional position at Old Elm Club in Lake Forest, serving eight seasons until this past January when he was offered the same position at historic Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest.
Two of Papadakes’ passions are educating and mentoring of the PGA Professional. Since getting involved with the governance of the Illinois PGA in 2010 after being elected to the board of directors, Papadakes has made both of those passions his mission. He was appointed chairman of the Illinois PGA Education Committee in 2010 and, during his tenure, the educational opportunities for the membership have been at the highest level. Papadakes and the Education Committee have conducted over 50 seminars and three teaching and coaching summits, where attendance averaged almost 200 members.
A perennial contributor to education, Papadakes regularly attends programs offered at the PGA Merchandise Show in the winter. In 2012, he organized a round table discussion with 40 of the education chairpersons from each PGA Section in the country, where best practices and innovative programming were shared. The round table was a huge success and will be a regular addition to national programming every two years.
Papadakes feels that mentoring and the education of his members, staff and his fellow PGA Professionals are some of the most important duties he performs as a PGA Professional. He continues to create innovative programming that helps young professionals succeed in their careers and in life by being positive role models in the community.
This is the second time Papadakes has been honored by the Illinois PGA for his contributions to education. In 2012 he was presented the Illinois PGA Horton Smith Award, the same year he was a member of the Illinois PGA Ryder Cup Committee, serving as the captain of both the United States and Europe practice ranges.
Papadakes and his wife, Jennifer, live in Wadsworth, Ill., and are the parents of a son, Niko, and a daughter, Morgan.