By his reckoning, Roy Biancalana has played eight rounds of competitive golf in the last eight years.
Evidently, that means he’s fresh. He’s three off the lead at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club after his first two rounds in the 2018 Illinois PGA Championship. He followed Monday’s 2-under 70 with a 1-over 73 and stood at 1-under 143, three strokes behind leaders Mike Small and Dakun Chang, when the storm-tossed tournament, delayed twice, was suspended for the day.
Where has he been? In Florida, for a start, and working his other job, that of a relationship coach.
“I was out of golf,” the 58-year-old Biancalana said. “I hit balls on the range, but I wasn’t playing tournaments. So it’s taken me a while to get my competitive chops back. I don’t feel really comfortable yet like I used to.
“I don’t know about expectation. I was surprised it’s taken me a while to feel, competitively, into it. I thought maybe I’d struggled in mechanics, but those are fine.”
Biancalana, an ordained minister who captured a pair of Illinois Opens in his first stint in the state, had three seconds in the Illinois PGA in a five-year span, the last time in 2007.
He went away from golf to concentrate on his relationship coaching, he said, after having “so many relationship disasters.
“Guys ask, ‘What got you into that?’ and I say, ‘Well, I got help and tried to figure out my personal life. I did to some extent and thought maybe I could help other people with the kind of questions that I asked.”
That began 11 years ago, which cut into his golf in the summer, and finally halted it completely until this year, when he returned from Florida. He’s teaching golf at St. Andrews in West Chicago when he’s not relationship coaching.
The trio of Small, Travis Johns and Curtis Malm finished in the gloaming, with Small carding his second consecutive 2-under 70 to stand at 4-under 140 entering the final round. Chang went out in 2-under 34 and stood at 4-under through 27 holes. He’s in one of 14 groups which will finish on Wednesday morning. The final round is planned for Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ll be in it tomorrow unless Dakun goes nuts on the back nine,” Small said. “I started off strong, birdied the first two holes, and then kinda hung in there the rest of the day.”
Small, the 12-time section champion, bogeyed the seventh hole but rebounded with a birdie on No. 14 to play the last 11 holes 1-under.
Johns birdied the seventh, eighth and 14th holes and was tied for the lead before a three-putt bogey on No. 15.
“It was fairly uneventful for me,” Johns said. “I had very good opportunities on 10, 11, 13 and didn’t make any of those.”
Johns has four top-five finishes in the last seven years, including joint second in 2013 and 2016. Chang tied for third last year and tied for seventh in 2015.
Small and Chang lead Johns (70 for 3-under 141) by a stroke and Biancalana, Malm and Brian Carroll by three. They’re the only six players under par, with Sean Gervais and Chris Green at even-par 144 and Eric Ilic even through 17 holes.
“I think the course is playing really hard,” Biancalana said. “Every hole’s a crosswind, and it’s difficult to get the distance. There are some places you don’t want to go.
“And these are probably the toughest conditions we’ve played all year, in terms of hot and sticky and windblown and the course is difficult. That’s why I feel exhausted.”
In Biancalana’s place, that was the par-3 fifth hole, which he double-bogeyed. He rebounded with birdies on the eighth and 13th holes before bogey on the 14th preceded a run of pars the rest of the way. He, Rich Dukelow and Brian Brodell had just arrived at the scoring area before the afternoon’s first rumble of thunder was heard. It came about a half-hour after the 89-degree heat and heat index of 96 subsided somewhat.
The day was bookended by heavy thunderstorms. The first one, which arrived before dawn and overstayed its welcome, dumped enough rain on the property to submerge the putting green and flood some bunkers.
Quick work by the Stonewall Orchard grounds staff allowed for a 9:45 a.m. start, 2 1/2 hours behind schedule, which meant the final threesome of the day commenced play at 4:12 p.m. They were on the course for just over an hour when play was suspended at 5:14 p.m., seconds after the first rumble of thunder from a storm that blew up just west of the course. That delayed play until 6:30 p.m., when the action resumed for 66 minutes until the flag was finally planted in the 18th hole for the day.