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Len Ziehm On Golf

No Illinois Open for Small; he’s back in the PGA Championship

Mike Small has been prominent on the Illinois golf scene for years, either as a player or as the coach of the University of Illinois’ powerhouse men’s team.

This week it’s as a player – even though he’s not making his usual run at an Illinois Open title. Small has won that event four times and needs another to tie Gary Pinns’ record of five tournament titles. This year presented a good chance to get No. 5, too. The tourney, which concludes today (WEDNESDAY) at The Glen Club in Glenview, is on the same course that Small captured his previous four titles.

Small believes it’s his first Illinois Open absence since 2000, when an elbow injury prevented his participation. He has a good reason for being a no-show, though.

On Thursday Small tees off in the year’s final major, the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina. He understandably opted for the three days of preparation at Quail Hollow while the Illinois Open was in progress

“My first PGA since Oak Hill (2013),’’ said Small. “I’m looking forward to playing well.’’

No reason he shouldn’t. Small, 51, has been in eight previous PGA Championships and was the low club pro in 2007 at Southern Hills, in Oklahoma, and again in 2011, at Atlanta Athletic Club. This year’s appearance, though, is something special. It’ll be Small’s first appearance in the event as a senior.

Small will be paired with PGA Tour regular Jason Kokrak and Satoshi Kodaira, a four-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, in the first two rounds at Quail Hollow.

In his 17h season coaching the Illini, Small has the rare ability to blend playing with coaching. This year he played in three PGA Tour Champions events and tied for 43rd in the U.S. Senior Open. He got into the field at Quail Hollow by tying for third in the Professional Players National Championship in Oregon, an event he won three times between 2005 and 2010.

In a final tuneup for the PGA Small won the 36-hole Illinois PGA Senior Championship by six shots at Merit Club in Libertyville. That won’t be his last tournament locally, though. He will go after his 13th title in 17 years in the Illinois PGA Championship Aug. 21-23 on Medinah’s No. 1 course. Five days later classes begin in Champaign, and Small will focus on coaching again.

U.S. Amateur up next

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, the stars of Small’s current Illini team, will be in the field at next week’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera in Los Angeles. That event tees off on Monday with a big Chicago contingent among the entries.

Like Meyer and Hardy, Arlington Heights resident and Texas standout Doug Ghim figures to be among the leading contenders for the title. All are in the top 50 in the world amateur rankings.

Six others from the Chicago area survived qualifying tournaments. Wheeling’s Brian Ohr was medalist at a session at Midlane, in Wadsworth. Northwestern’s Dylan Wu, Derek Mason of Plainfield and Tyler Isenhart of Geneva advanced through an elimination at Village Links of Glen Ellyn; and Elmhurst’s Jordan Less and Chicago’s Charles Waddell went out of the area to earn their berths.