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Mike Small cashed checks in two different professional tournaments in a matter of a few days this week. (E.M. Pio Roda/
Mike Small cashed checks in two different professional tournaments in a matter of a few days this week. (E.M. Pio Roda/

Small edges Benzel for Low PGA Professional Award

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University of Illinois Golf Coach Mike Small won the crystal trophy as the best-finishing PGA Professional Sunday to cap off a unique week for him. Small won the Illinois Open on Wendesday before rushing to Tulsa for the PGA Championship.

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

TULSA, Okla. -- PGA Golf Professional Mike Small earned the Low Golf Professional Award at the 89th PGA Championship Sunday as he edged out fellow PGA Golf Professional Ryan Benzel by a single shot. Benzel carded a 74 Sunday to finish at 17-over 297, while Small finished with a 75 to get in at 296.

Small, who has competed in the last four PGA Championships, received a special Waterford Crystal from PGA of America President Brian Whitcomb during the trophy presentation concluding the final round at Southern Hills.

"Honestly, I just wanted to play the best I could," said Small. "You don't try for things like that during the tournament. You just try to play the best you can, but it turned out okay.

"It's nice to be recognized," he said about the presentation following the end of play. "I don't think it's just me as it is the PGA Professional Club Pros, all 28,000 of them, being represented."

Even with the award for Low PGA Golf Professional, Small was anxious to improve his game for the next time.

"I've made the cut in two of these (PGA Championships) and missed the cut last year by one shot, so I know I can be competitive," Small said about his performance for the week. "I've just got to get better on the weekends. I'm not sure what it is, maybe something with the pace of play or the fatigue or something, but I've got to figure that out."

Small, the men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, accomplished a bit of a statistical oddity this week. He was able to cash checks from two separate professional events in a span of five days. Small won the Illinois Open earlier in the week and then flew into Tulsa for the PGA Championship.

"I played three practice rounds here," he said, "went home to play three rounds in the Illinois Open, and then four more here; so that's 10 straight days of golf. I'm ready to pack up the clubs for a while."

Benzel, a PGA Assistant Professional at Seattle Golf Club, made a strong run at the title as he birdied three of his final five holes, but his birdie putt on the final hole wouldn't drop as it rimmed out.

"I still struggled early today," Benzel explained, "until kind of midway through my back nine -- but that's the way it goes."

Benzel, playing in his first PGA Championship, said he would take away many great memories from his experience.

"I'll definitely remember the golf course," he said following his round. "How it played, where the holes were, I'm sure the yardage book will be popular back at home. Playing in front of all the people, that was a lot of fun, and I had family down here, my dad was on my bag, so that was pretty fun as well."

Benzel also had another great memory from his time at the 89th PGA Championship as he played his final round with Dave Bryan, the Host PGA Head Professional at Southern Hills. Benzel was asked if he would like to have Bryan join him in his round after Sergio Garcia's disqualification left an odd number of players in the field.

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"My boss almost had an opportunity to play as a marker when the PGA was at Salhalee (in 1998)," Benzel explained, "but whoever it was declined to have a marker with them. Being a PGA Professional myself, I was obviously going to say yes because it would be a great experience for another PGA Professional.

"Dave is a great guy," Benzel said following his round. "He was extremely nice and I think it got us a little more of a fan base as he had some members out there following along."

As competitors in the 89th PGA Championship, Ryan Benzel and Mike Small did themselves proud. By making the cut at a major championship, both were able to advance when such stalwarts like Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, and Zach Johnson could not. As representatives of the PGA of America, they showed the world of golf that the PGA crest represents class, integrity, and professionalism at the highest levels.

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