Mike Small played a practice round with Phil Mickelson at last year's PGA
Aug. 1, 2007
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois golf coach Mike Small is gearing up for a busy stretch this month. After playing in four tournaments in June and devoting much of July to recruiting, Small returns to competition at the PGA Championship Aug. 9-12 at the Southern Hills Golf Course in Tulsa.
This will be Small's seventh major, having made the cut at the 2005 PGA and missing it by a stroke in 2006. This is also the fourth straight PGA Championship for the Illini head man.
In May and June, Small won the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship, finished 30th at the Nationwide Tour Event, qualified for the U.S. Open, and tied for second at the PGA Professional Tournament in Oregon to qualify for next week's PGA.
The Illini coach, who has qualified for over 40 PGA Tournament events in his career, has tried to spend time working on his game in between recruiting.
"I have some flows in my golf swing I've got to work out quickly," he said. "My swing has gotten me around the golf course this summer, but it hasn't been sharp. Now I'm cramming for my final so to speak."
Small leaves Thursday for Tulsa to play in a couple of practice rounds Friday and Saturday and returns to Chicago for the Illinois Open, where he is the two-time defending champion, Monday-Wednesday before flying back to Tulsa for the PGA's first round next Thursday. Small has played Southern Hills once before, four years ago.
"It's still fun to go and play with the best players and compete against them because I'm always learning things I can share with the team. Tour events are neat, but majors are their own animals. The excitement, the atmosphere and the attention are one of a kind. That's what makes playing and practicing worthwhile."
Because of exemptions, Small played in more tournaments in 2006, but he's back into a routine he's had for six or seven years of playing five or six tournaments a summer.
A week following the PGA, Small returns to Champaign for the grand opening of the Demirjian Golf Practice Facility on Aug. 19 in conjunction with the annual Steve Stricker Golf Classic. Stricker, who sits 10th in the U.S. Ryder Cup Standings, played in the final group at last month's British Open.
"Steve has always been an Illini. His schedule is very busy, but for him to take a couple of days out of his schedule is generous on his part."
As far the building itself, Small said, "Last winter we used the short game area, which was great. There's nothing like that in college golf. This year we're going to be able to use both the short game area and the hitting bays. We'll be able to see the ball fly in the wintertime, which we've never been able to do."
The team returns to campus for classes, which start Aug. 21. The Illini play in five events this fall, including the Fighting Illini Invitational on Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Olympia Fields. Several incoming and returning players have made noise this summer with a pair of freshman, Chris DeForest and Steve Langley, winning major junior tournaments.
"Our incoming class this year is probably one of the most decorated we've had here in a long time," Small said. "I believe that they can make the transition to college golf. Some of our current players have some success in tournaments this summer as well."