PGA Club Professional Mike Small and 2011 PGA Champion Keegan Bradley during the final round of play at the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia, USA, on Sunday, August 14, 2011. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)WWWW
Aug. 14, 2011
Johns Creek, Ga. - Video
University of Illinois golf had a great weekend at the PGA Championship. On Thursday, the world's fifth ranked player and Illinois alum Steve Stricker tied a major championship record with a 63 on the tournament's first day. Stricker and former Illinois player D.A. Points ended day two in the top five individually and finished tied for 12th and 10th, respectively. Then on Sunday standing alongside winner Keegan Bradley at the trophy presentation, head coach Mike Small, a former Illinois star, received honor as the top club pro at the event for the second time in his career.
Small matched the feat he accomplished in 2007, when he stood alongside Tiger Woods on the stage to receive the honor. He put together at least two days of memorable golf, firing a one-over 71 to become the only one of the 20 club professionals competing at the Atlanta Athletic Club to make the cut, then playing with K.J. Choi shot 70 in the third round on Saturday. He needed a scrambling par save on the 486-yard 18th Friday to make the cut Still it has his last stroke in his first round 73, a birdie on 18 that Small says gave him the momentum.
"The putt Thursday made my second day easier for sure," Small said. "I played my best golf of the summer on Saturday, then played pretty well through 10 holes today."
On what he'll remember from making his third cut in seven PGA Championship appearances, Small said "I think the way I handled the pressure on Friday. The final four holes are some of the toughest in all of golf. To par the last three knowing I needed them to make the cut, was rewarding."
Small, who says he's focused now on getting back and helping his players as they begin their season and a quest for a fourth straight Big Ten title, hadn't made as much noise this summer on the course as he has in year's past. Although Small qualified for the PGA Championship by being one of the 20 at the PGA National Professional Championship, the bar has been set a little higher as a three-time winner.
"I have still had a summer that thousands of guys like me would like to have," Small said. "I spent some time in Reno last week (while competing in the PGA tour event) and got some things worked out. It paid off this weekend."
Small has one more tour event left this fall as well as competing for yet another Illinois PGA title in two weeks. After playing a round with Stricker near Chicago on Monday, Small will have a lot to work with once again when he returns to Champaign on Tuesday. One of his protégés, sophomore Thomas Pieters, has had a particularly strong summer, finishing fourth at the European Amateur and most recently, a top-10 finish at an Alps Tour event. Two more current players, senior Luke Guthrie and junior Mason Jacobs, are one week away from competing at the U.S. Amateur. Recent graduate Chris DeForest nearly won the New York State Open after qualifying for the U.S. Open earlier in the summer.
In 2013, the NCAA Championship will be held at the same course as this year's PGA Championship. If the Illini, the fifth ranked team in the nation in 2011, can make it that far again, Small will have a lot of notes to give his team. He received some notable air time where announcers were quick to mention his role as golf coach at the University of Illinois, something not lost to the Big Ten Coach of Year has he looks to recruiting.
"It's great being a member of The PGA of America, and to be representing our members in this Championship," Small said. "It is a great opportunity for a PGA Professional and a reward. My being able to do what I have done has been a tremendous boost in my coaching at Illinois. The exposure that you would get in appearing in a major is something that I don't know can be measured. I feel it has helped us in our recruiting and in becoming a top-10 golf program."