Small comes up big, winning 7th Illinois PGA Championship

Small comes up big, winning 7th Illinois PGA Championship Nick Novelli, Illinois PGA

Small comes up big, winning 7th Illinois PGA Championship Nick Novelli, Illinois PGA

By Rich Mayor

Mike Small can only hope that his team is as successful this season as he has been individually this summer.

Small, the Illinois men’s golf head coach, won the Nadler Golf Cars 86th Illinois PGA Championship at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club on Wednesday evening. The victory was a record sixth consecutive Illinois PGA Championship title for Small, and his seventh in the last eight years. He was 8-under par in the 54-hole tournament, defeating Country Club of Decatur head golf professional Steve Orrick by one stroke.

“I went in with the mind-set that I wanted to be in it and wanted to be close with a chance to win at the end,” Small said. “There were a lot of great players there, many great players from Chicago so you never know what to expect. But you just have to go in and take care of your own business and hope you can be there in the end.”

Small took a four-stroke lead into Wednesday’s round after back-to-back 67s to open the tournament. His lead diminished by only one stroke as he and Orrick approached the final hole, a 186-yard par 3. Orrick shot first, splitting the center of the green and placing the ball 12 feet from the hole. Small’s shot, on the other hand, didn’t have the distance and landed in the water hazard in front of the green.

The thought of losing the tournament after being in control for 53 holes entered Small’s mind.

“I had a hard chip, an 81-yard shot over the water,” Small said of the last hole. “You go back to what you were trained to do, and what you’ve been doing for 20 years. I just had to handle the present and make a good shot, realizing that I still had a cushion. If that had been a bad shot, all heck would’ve broken loose. So I just had to regroup and connect the pieces to hit a solid third shot.”

And a solid third shot it was, rolling to 10 feet above the hole. To force a tie and playoff, Orrick would have had to make his birdie and Small miss his bogey. Orrick putted first and missed, so Small easily two-putted from 10 feet for the championship.

This triumph came on the heels of a second-place finish at the Illinois Open in July, coming up just short of tying a record five victories in the tournament.

“It was disappointing to not win the Open because I’d won it three years in a row,” Small said. “It was more of an up-and-down summer because I didn’t get to play as much as I usually do. But anytime you can win at that level in the summer, it’s a success.”