These have been quiet times for Mike Small, but that’s changing. The University of Illinois men’s coach is back in the spotlight going into the Illinois PGA Championship, which tees off on Monday on Medinah Country Club’s No. 1 course.
Small, 54, has won the tournament 12 times and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t do it again even though Medinah teaching instructor Travis Johns is the defending champion and will be competing for a repeat title on his home course.
Johns has been IPGA’s player-of-the-year four times in the last eight years. Small won the last of his three player-of-the-year awards in 2008, as his coaching duties have limited his participation in section events. Small, however, leads the Bernardi point standings heading into next week’s 54-hole tournament.
Stymied as a coach by pandemic issues which have negatively impacted the collegiate season, Small has stayed at the top level in tournament play this month. He was low club pro in the Illinois Open, finishing in a tie for ninth, then won the Illinois Senior Open for the fourth straight year last week. Next up is the section’s oldest tournament. The Illinois PGA Championship dates back to 1922.
“I’m just grateful that we have places to play and tournaments to play in,’’ said Small. “We haven’t been able to play much this year so any chance you get to play in an event, as a professional, you have to take advantage of it.’’
After the Illinois Open Small has an event bigger event. He’s one of nine IPGA qualifiers for the Senior PGA Professional Championship Oct. 15-18 at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. Among the other local qualifiers for the national event were Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb and Biltmore’s Doug Bauman.
As a coach Small has created a collegiate powerhouse, but when and where his Illini will compete again is uncertain as college administrators debate how to handle pandemic concerns relating to all sports.
“Who knows what the future holds,’’ said Small. “It’s a horrible pandemic, but life’s got to go on. I’m a proactive person living in a reactive world right now. We’ll play where they tell us to play. We’re just trying to figure out how to help the kids get better while waiting to hear from the NCAA.’’
BIG PAYDAYS FOR STREELMAN
Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is in position to cash in big-time with the PGA Tour’s FedEx Playoffs teeing off on Thursday. He goes into the three-event series at No. 22 so he was easily into this week’s 125-player Northern Trust tourney in Boston and it would take a horrible collapse for Streelman to not advance to the Aug. 27-30 BMW Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.
The top 70 in the FedEx standings after the Northern Trust advance to Olympia Fields, and the top 30 after that event go to The Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta Sept. 4-7. The Northern Trust and BMW Championship both have purses of $9.5 million. Prize money for The Tour Championship hasn’t been announced.
Even though the U.S. Open and Masters have yet to be played the FedEx Playoffs officially end the PGA Tour’s 2019-20 season.
HERE AND THERE
Mistwood, in Romeoville, has taken over management duties at 36-hole White Pines, owned by the Bensenville Park District, and Andrew Godfrey has moved over from Mistwood to be White Pine’s new head professional. Godfrey is second to Small in the Bernardi point standings.
Elmhurst’s Mark Wilson, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, is in the field at this week’s 100th playing of the Wisconsin State Open. Wilson, who has had trouble getting into tour events in recent years, won the Wisconsin State Open in 2001.
Pandemic issues have been far-reaching in the golf world, and Jerry Rich’s Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, has been a victim twice. The Big Ten Championship had to be called off there in May and now – following the Mid-American Conference’s decision to forego fall sports – the Sept. 25-28 Rich Harvest Farms Intercollegiate, hosted by Northern Illinois University, has been canceled as well. Next up at Rich Harvest is the Arnold Palmer Cup in 2021.