Playing in the PGA Championship isn’t anything new to Mike Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach who qualified for this week’s final major championship of 2013 for the ninth time.
Small, who got into the tourney by finishing in a tie for fourth at the Professional Players National Championship in June, has made the cut in three previous PGAs and was low club pro in 2007 and 2011. His chances to do it again don’t look as good when the event tees of on Thursday at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., however.
“It’s weird. The last year and a half I haven’t played well,’’ said Small after finishing in a tie for 19th at the Illinois Open – an event he won four times. “The game’s hard for me now.’’
Small, who will also bid for his 10th win in the Illinois PGA Championship later this month at Olympia Fields, has had a big year away from playing. His Illini won the Big Ten title for the fifth straight year and finished second to Alabama in the NCAA Championship. He also was voted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, the induction to take place on Oct. 25 at The Glen Club in Glenview. At 47 he’ll become the youngest member of the Hall.
He ascribes to the theory that his game has deteriorated as his coaching has improved and insists recent equipment changes have not been a factor in the dropoff in his play.
“I need to start playing the way I coach my guys,’’ he said. “I need to take my own advice, and that’s not easy sometimes. Equipment’s not a problem. It’s me. I have a problem sustaining my concentration.’’
That’s understandable, given what goes with his success on the coaching end.
“I’ve played more social golf and done more clinics than I did before,’’ he said. “And I’ve been using myself as a test-dummy. That’s helped me become a better coach, but it is what it is. I’m not playing bad. I can still compete in PGA stuff.’’
Another revival for the Chicago Open
The last big tournament of the Chicago golf season will be a new/old one. The Illinois Junior Golf Assn. is reviving the Chicago Open, a tournament that includes Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Luke Donald on its list of past champions.
Last held in 2001, the next Chicago Open will be held Oct. 7-9 at Cantigny in Wheaton. It’ll be contested over 54 holes and offer a $50,000 purse. There’ll be five qualifying tournaments – Sept. 3 at Brown Deer in Wisconsin, Sept. 16 at Flossmoor, Sept. 23 at Country Club of Old Vincennes in Indiana and Lake Michigan in Michigan and Sept. 26 at Makray Memorial in Barrington. Players who don’t qualify in the first four events can take a second crack at it at Makray.
“In reviving the Chicago Open our goal is to provide an opportunity for aspiring tour pros and top amateurs to compete at a high level,’’ said Marty Schiene, the IJGA president. “Playing in a competition with such a rich history can make the event that much more meaningful to the contestants.’’
Did you know?
Northwestern recruit Matt Fitzgerald finished second in the English Amateur, losing the final 4 and 3 to Callum Shinkwin. Fitzgerald, who arrives at NU as a freshman in the fall, made the cut in the British Open and has climbed to third in the World Amateur Rankings.
With Michigan-based Kitchenaid extending its sponsorship the Senior PGA Championship will remain based in the Midwest. It was held at Harbor Shores, in Benton Harbor, Mich., in 2012 and Bellerive in St. Louis this year. Harbor Shores hosts again in 2014 and will also get the Champions Tour major in 2016 and 2018. Indiana’s French Lick Resort will host in 2015.
The Illinois PGA will hold its Senior Championship next Monday and Tuesday (AUG 12-13) at Lincolnshire Country Club.