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University of Illinois Golf Coach at PGA Championship
The combination of recruiting trips and spending six weeks away from competition was enough of a conundrum for Mike Small to engage some extraordinary efforts to prepare for his fourth straight appearance in the 89th PGA Championship.
The head coach the past six years at his alma mater, the University of Illinois, Small decided that he would be better served to play Monday through Wednesday in the Illinois Open, before flying Wednesday evening to Tulsa for the season's final major. Should all go according to plan, Small would have plenty of time to make a 2:45 p.m. Thursday tee time at Southern Hills Country Club.
"I wanted to be in that tournament mode, and I'm more in a coaching mode," said Small, who has competed in seven career majors, including three PGA Championships. "I didn't want to come out here on Thursday and face a 6½-foot putt and not know what it would feel like under tournament conditions. I played a lot of golf back-to-back when I was on the Tour, which includes practice rounds, so I'm used to playing non-stop.
"It was unfortunate that the tournaments came in the same week, but I wanted to play the Illinois Open, which I've won three of the past four years," said Small, who teed off Monday at 12:30 p.m. at The Glen Club in Glenview, Ill.
Should he survive the 36-hole cut, the 54-hole event will conclude Wednesday at approximately 3 p.m. Small has booked a non-stop flight at 8 p.m. to Tulsa. "I should be golf-rested," said Small. "I may not do well, but I may do well in both."
Small played 2½ practice rounds at Southern Hills, and got to know the course pretty well prior to the PGA Championship. "I think this course is great. It has a country club feel to it. It's shaped like a major championship, however. It's not an Oakmont, where I played a month ago, or a Medinah. It's more intimate. It's a ball-striker, target golf course. The rough may not look bad at first, but it's phenomenal. I lost a few balls. The ball settles in and the grass flops right over it and sucks the ball in. The spotters are going to have their work cut out for them this week."
Off the course and on the recruiting trail this summer, Small already has seen his and his staff's work pay dividends. One of the Fighting Illini recruits is Chris DeForrest of Cottekill, N.Y., the reigning Westfield Junior PGA Champion. "We've had a good recruiting season and we're in good shape," said Small. "Winning the Junior PGA is a big win for him and should propel him into college golf and hopefully give him a lot of confidence."
Small also has reason to enjoy his friendly confines in Champaign. The school opened a $5.1 million indoor practice facility that will serve both the men's and women's golf teams. "You can practice any shot in golf any time you want in Champaign," said Small. On Thursday, Mike Small will feel like he has doubled his pleasure in a major championship.
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