One of the favorite golf tournaments to watch on television each year for many Chicago golf fans, and for me as well, is the Sony Open in Hawaii. By broadcast time, we have usually survived the entire holiday season and are battling the snows and cold temperatures of winter. Seeing the green grass of Waialae Country Club, the blue Pacific Ocean, flowers and palm trees are a temporary respite from Chicago’s January climate. Also, this tournament is the first full-field contest of the new year (forget wrap-around season) and the broadcast is shown in prime time. And although there exists a lengthy distance of 4,865 miles between Chicago and Honolulu, HI, there are indeed some close connections between the two.
First played in 1965, 2021 marks the 56th anniversary of the tournament, and also marks the 23rd year with Sony Corporation as the title sponsor. But before Sony, the title sponsor was United Airlines, which has its worldwide corporate headquarters in Chicago. As a corporation, United Airlines evolved into UAL, Inc., and then became United Continental Holdings, Inc., located on South Wacker Drive.
In 2013, Scott Langley, who was born in Barrington, IL, and educated in Champaign at the University of Illinois, was making his PGA Tour debut in the Sony Open tournament. Langley carded an –8 (62) and led in the first round of the 2013 tournament. In the second round, he carded a –4 (66) positioning himself in second place. Langley ended the third round with a 65, tied for the lead with Russell Henley, another PGA Tour rookie. During the fourth and final round, the volcano goddess, Pele, was not smiling on Langley, and the golfing gods were not on his side, or, perhaps, it was the mischievous menehune that thwarted Scott, who finished T3, seven strokes behind Henley. Oahu could have provided this ‘Chicagoan’ with win #1 in start #1.
Three past champions of the ‘Hawaiian Open’ live in the Chicago area. In 2011, Elmhurst resident Mark Wilson (born: Menomonee Falls, WI) was crowned champion of the Sony Open in Hawaii when he carded a score of 264 (-16) and won $990,000. Twelve years earlier, in 1999, the first year as title sponsor, the Sony Open in Hawaii was won by Hinsdale resident, Jeff Sluman (born: Rochester, NY). Jeff’s score was 271 (-9) and his winnings as champion of that tournament were $468,000.
Gary Groh was born in Chicago on October 11, 1944. He attended Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI and joined the PGA Tour in 1970 playing regularly through 1978. In 1975, the tenth anniversary of the Hawaiian Open, Groh won the tournament with a score of 274 (-14) and dethroned the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus. Groh’s Hawaiian Open champion’s purse was $44,000. After leaving the PGA Tour, with a desire to remain at home in the Chicago area, Gary took the position of head golf professional at Bob O’ Link Golf Club in Highland Park. Bob O’ Link has been his golf home for more than 30 years and his residence is in nearby Lake Bluff, IL.
The global impact of the Sony Open in Hawaii is that it reaches over 560 million homes in some 220 countries via multiple national and international broadcast networks; Chicagoans can view the tournament on The Golf Channel and perhaps cheer for another local golf product such as Nick Hardy or Doug Ghim to become our fourth resident champion.