Even if he makes the cut again, says Mike Small, he won't be satisfied. (Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda, PGA.com)
Getting here is only the first step for overachieving Small
Mike Small is playing in his fifth PGA Championship, an awesome accomplishment for a man whose real job is coaching the men's golf team at the University of Illinois. Increasingly comfortable in big-time situations, his goals this week are greater than ever.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
CHASKA, Minn. -- Playing in major championships is becoming routine for Mike Small, who has played in three U.S. Opens and is making his fifth start in the PGA Championship this week at Hazeltine.
Small, the head coach of the men’s golf team at the University of Illinois, recently captured his second PGA Professional National Championship title with a final-round 68 at Twin Warriors Golf Club in New Mexico, defeating Stephen Schneiter of Utah and Merion’s Mark Sheftic by one shot.
“It's an accomplishment I take strongly and a lot of pride in,” said the 43-year-old Small of his second National Championship win in five years, which earned him a spot at Hazeltine. “I was lucky enough to have it be my second. But it was just as good as the first, really. For all PGA pros, it's our major. All four majors wrapped into one for us. It means a lot. It gives us a lot of confidence and nice thoughts heading into this week that we can represent the PGA.”
Shortly after his win in New Mexico, Small admitted he surprised himself a little bit, considering he hadn’t played much tournament golf beforehand and had actually been struggling with his game.
“I hadn't played in a multi day event since November before that event,” said Small, who has made the cut in two of the last three PGA Championships with a career-best finish of a tie for 69th at Southern Hills in 2007 where he was the low Club Professional. “I played in two stroke plays I think in our section. One pro-pro and the U.S. Open local that I played. So to go there and do that was a surprise.
“I mean, I knew I could win it because I've won it before and I've been competitive every year. But it was neat to have the breaks go my way and coming down the stretch I didn't cost myself or anything. I played solid,” he added. “I actually won it in a backwards way. But it gives me a lot of confidence. I'm playing better. I prepared more and my health is better. I have instances when it's not very good, flashes that I need to tidy up, some mental, some physical.”
Most of all, the biggest hurdle Small hopes to tackle this week in Minnesota is to play solidly throughout the weekend.
Like most of the 20 PGA Professionals in the field, Small conceded that the No. 1 goal is always to make the cut. However, since he’s done that in the past, he’s looking for more now.
“I think the last three times I played in the PGA, I made two cuts; I missed the other by a shot,” he said. “I've been competitive. So I've got to make the cut again as the first course of business but then I'd like to be more competitive on the weekend than I have been. I think personally I deserve that, and I think I need to push myself into believing that I need to play a little better on the weekend and I can play a little better.”
In order to solidify those positive thoughts, Small has enlisted the help of some sports psychologists that work with his Illinois team.
“When I make that cut on Friday, my goal isn't satisfied,” Small said. “My goal in the past has been to make the cut, and I think subconsciously maybe it's been satisfied. I know at Baltusrol I was inside the top 30 going into the weekend; I think at Southern Hills, I birdied the first hole in the third round and I was in the top 20. My expectation level, I got ahead of myself. And I think maybe I just kind of laid down a little bit.”
Now, Small said, the objective is to have an afternoon tee time on Sunday, which would mean great positioning for a high finish. It’s something he’s done before too, having won twice on the Nationwide Tour in 1997.
“My goal is to tee off after noon on Sunday this week,” he said. “I have to have that, come Saturday morning after I make the cut, I need to have that mindset when I'm teeing off that my job isn't done yet. I have to just take it up another notch, I think. I have to be stronger. I have to be more positive, more ready to compete instead of thinking that my job is done for the week.”