Small Wins 10th Illinois PGA Championship
Aug 28, 2013
By Tim Kraft, Illinois PGA Staff Writer
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. - From 2003 to 2010, it wasn't a question of who was going to win the Illinois PGA Championship - it was more a question of by how much. In that span, Mike Small won eight consecutive Illinois PGA Championships, the last one coming by 11 strokes in 2010 on the South Course at Olympia Fields Country Club.
Having been shut out the past two years, Small returned to the site of that last major and claimed the 91st Illinois PGA Championship.
"I was happy to be back at Olympia," said Small, who won his record 10th career Illinois PGA Championship with a 3-day-total score of -4 (69-72-68). "This never gets old and that's why we compete."
Three years ago at this venue, Small overwhelmed the field with a total score of -13, including a 63 in his second round, which tied the Olympia Fields South Course record. There were no such heroics this time, but Small was pleased with the way he competed all week and noticeably happy to be back in the winner's circle.
"This is the one that means a lot to me because we're PGA members and this is a big deal to us," said Small, 47, men's head golf coach at the University of Illinois. "There's some added pressure, too, because you have people pulling for you. It's just a fun place to be and I hope they keep having it here."
It had been nearly three years since Small had won a major on the Illinois PGA calendar. Aside from his 10 Illinois PGA Championships, Small has also won the Illinois Open four times (2007, 2006, 2005, 2003).
Entering the day two strokes back of leader Matt Slowinski, Small played solid from the start, making par on the first six holes, while Slowinski stumbled, dropping four shots in that span.
By the time the final trio of Small, Slowinski, and Curtis Malm had reached the 10th tee, Small had taken control of the tournament, holding a three-shot advantage over his playing partners.
"I just kept grinding and I was putting really well," Small said. "To show that resiliency made me happy."
After all three players birdied the short par-4 11th hole, Small dropped in a 30-foot birdie putt on the 212-yard par-3 12th hole, pushing his lead to four strokes. Small followed up the back-to-back birdies with six consecutive pars to finish the tournament on top.
"That was a very good shot and the putt just happened to go in," said Small about his birdie on No. 12. "Today was a solid 68. I made some big par saves. And in the last 12 or 13 holes I didn't come close to making a bogey."
Slowinski, who posted a 4-under-par 67 yesterday, struggled to get anything positive going in the final round. He recorded three straight bogeys to start Wednesday's final round and was never able to dig himself out of the hole.
"I obviously got off to a rough start," said Slowinski, 35, PGA assistant golf professional at Glen Oak Country Club. "I had a little trouble with the speed of the greens and just couldn't quite get it going."
He salvaged his round by collecting two birdies in his last eight holes and finished in a tie for second place with Malm and Travis Johns. This was Slowinski's second runner-up finish in an Illinois PGA Championship, having finished four strokes back of 2011 champion Frank Hohenadel at Medinah Country Club.
"One of these days," Slowinski said about winning the section championship. "I'll keep plugging away. The shots will fall on the last day and I'll end up on top. Congratulations to Mike, though. I tried to keep up and he just came out on top."
Malm, who finished runner-up for the second consecutive year, took the tournament lead after making two straight birdies on Nos. 3 and 4. However, he 3-putted two of the next three greens, making bogeys on both holes.
"I got off to the exact start I wanted to," said Malm, 35, PGA assistant golf professional at St. Charles Country Club. "I think I had the lead at one time, but I struggled with the putter and the greens. The 3-putts just derailed everything. I went from leading by one to down two, so that's tough to recover from."
Malm, who finished runner-up for the second consecutive year, is still searching for his third major championship as Professional, having won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2000 and the Illinois PGA Match Play the past two years.
"I need (Small) to retire," Malm joked, when asked about how he'll get over the hump of second place. "It just has to be your day. One of these days it's going to be mine, I'll be holding the trophy, and we won't be talking about runner-up."
It's been quite a year for Small. His Fighting Illini team finished runner-up to Alabama in the NCAA finals, he competed in the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., his victory today in the Illinois PGA Championship and this October, Small will become the youngest member ever to be inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.
Wednesday's conditions were noticeably better for the field as temperatures dropped significantly overnight. The final round scoring average was 75.78, more than three strokes better than round two (78.82).
Small, along with the top 10 finishers in the 91st Illinois PGA Championship, receive an exemption to play in the 47th PGA Professional National Championship (PPNC), which will be contested June 22-25, 2014 at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The low 20 scorers in the PGA Professional National Championship will advance to the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Small is exempt from qualifying as a past champion of the PPNC.