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Len Ziehm On Golf

Small goes for No. 12 in Illinois PGA Championship

Mike Small considers himself a coach first and a still-competitive player second. Next week, however, those roles may be blurred a bit.

The University of Illinois men’s coach goes after his 12th title in the 94th Illinois PGA Championship. The event begins its three-day run on Monday on the South Course at Olympia Fields Country Club.

Next month Small returns to Olympic Fields as a coach, as his Illini host the 11th playing of the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. It’ll be a highlight of the fall season for the Illini, who will also make another Chicago appearance on Oct. 9-10 in the Northern Intercollegiate event at Beverly Country Club.

First things first, though. Small has won his 11 IPGA titles since 2001 and he captured the crown both times during that stretch when it was played at Olympia Fields, of which he is a member. He is in the rare position of not being the defending champion this time, however. Small tied for seventh in last year’s IPGA Championship at Medinah’s No. 1 Course. Jim Billiter, assistant pro at Merit Club in Libertyville, won the title there.

Small, who won his last two IPGA Championships back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, goes into this one standing second to Glen View’s Kyle Bauer in the section’s player-of-the-year race. Small has been player-of-the-year three times, but a limited tournament schedule related to his coaching duties has hampered his chances in recent years.

Bauer leads the standings, largely off his win in the first of the section’s four major events – May’s IPGA Match Play Championship — while Small’s tournament season has featured a tie for ninth in the Illinois Open and a tie for 43rd on the national level at the U.S. Senior Open.

Two former players of the year, Medinah’s Travis Johns and White Eagle’s Curtis Malm, are third and fourth in the standings behind Bauer and Small. Maximum points are on the line in the IPGA Championship, so next week’s results will go a long way to determining this year’s player of the year.

Donald got hot at the right time

Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star and world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, couldn’t have picked a better time to play his best tournament of this PGA Tour season. He finished solo second, behind 21-year old South Korean Si Woo Kim, in the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., on Sunday.

The Wyndham was the last tournament offering FedEx Cup points. The lucrative four-tournament FedEx Cup Playoffs begin on Thursday with The Barclays at Bethpage Black in New York.

In finishing second Donald improved his place in the FedEx Cup standings from No. 99 to No. 48. No player made a bigger climb in the Wyndham, which had a field full of players hoping to position themselves for a playoff run.

By getting to No. 48 Donald seems assured of spots in the first three FedEx events – the Barclays, the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston and the BMW Championship — played this year at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis. All three are $8 million tournaments. Only the top 125 on the FedEx list qualified for The Barclays. The top 100 after Sunday’s finish advance to the Deutsche Bank and the top 70 after that compete in the BMW Championship.

Not only did Donald climb in the standings last week, he also made a hole-in-one during the event. That earned him a lifetime of Wyndham vacations as well as a one-week vacation for his caddie.

Here and there

Eagle Brook, in Geneva, has announced the completion of a $2.5 million improvement project that started in January. The clubhouse underwent an extensive renovation, changes were made to the golf course and a new fitness center and wellness studio were created.

Baltimore Country Club has been named the site for the 2017 and 2018 Big Ten men’s championships. A site for 2017 has not been determined.

The Arlington Amateur has been scheduled for Sept. 10-11 on Arlington Lakes’ recently-renovated course.

Deerpath, in Lake Forest, celebrated its 90th anniversary on Sunday with the event also marking the start of a master plan renovation.

John Blumenshine, playing out of Cantigny in Wheaton, was the only player under par in the 4th Chicago District Super Senior Amateur. He posted a 2-under 69 at Biltmore, in Barrington.

Next event on the CDGA schedule is the 24th Illinois State Mid-Amateur, which begins a two-day run at Flossmoor Country Club next Tuesday.