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Small comes up large

PGA Professional Mike Small, the men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, parred the final hole Friday to assure that he'd make his third cut in seven PGA Championship appearances.

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Mike Small put together rounds of 73 and 71 to make the cut in Atlanta. (Getty Images)

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Three-time National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., the men’s golf coach at the University of Illinois, recorded a par worthy of a keepsake DVD on the 18th hole Friday afternoon, closing out a 1-over-par 71 to assure making his third cut in seven PGA Championship appearances.

Though there wasn’t a television camera operating when Small marched up the final fairway early Friday afternoon, he said that he would remember his scrambling par-4 on the 486-yard 18th hole. Small had blocked his drive right over the bunkers and into trees and a large gallery.

“I was over there in those trees, had a good lie and the whole crowd was there and everything, and I had to move the crowd, and everybody's around there, talking,” said Small. “I had a shot where I had to hit it … hole is 215, to carry it, I had 198 to get it over the water; and I hit it hard and tried to hook it and it turned out great, and it stayed on the green, which was good. It ended up about 40 feet away, not a hard putt and I limped up there six feet and had that to make par.

“That was a shot I was feeling it was cool to have, because again, I'm in a position where my life doesn't depend on this,” he added. “I want to play well; nervous as heck, but that was a shot at some glory there.

“Playing in these things carries credibility,” said Small, 45, who guided his third consecutive Big Ten Conference champion team last spring. “This is my 10th overall major and it's kind of fun to do that and it's kind of fun to see how I do. Playing here helps the (Illinois) program immensely. It’s why we’re a top-10 program.”

Yet, Small was quick to correct that making the cut is but one of his goals.

“There's where I would get caught, because of the competitor in me, I want to do well. I want to beat these guys,” he said. “I do stupid things that you do when you don't play a lot. My golf swing isn't very good right now. I'm piecing it together, and it's frustrating because I know what I used to do.”

As high as Small felt following his round, Friday afternoon was heartbreaking for 2004 PGA Professional National Champion Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio. The PGA teaching professional at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club, Sowards had a first-round 69 and seemed headed to playing the weekend’s 36 holes.

Sowards headed into the 18th hole at 2 over par – two strokes above the cut line – and in position to make his first PGA Championship cut in five attempts. However, he hit his tee shot right into a group of trees, and when punching out of trouble, hit his ball across the fairway and into the water. He knocked his fourth shot across the green, finishing with a triple bogey-7 for a 76.

“They moved the tee up, which in hindsight I should have just laid up off the tee,” said Sowards, “But I felt like if I hit a driver perfect then I'd be able to play aggressive. If I didn't hit it good, it's no problem, just lay up and make bogey. I was under a tree over there, and thought I hit a perfect layup. Everybody applauded and the guys up there that could see the fairway even told me ‘good shot.’

“I thought it was perfect, and I went up there and it was nowhere. So it went in the water, and then I just nuked a wedge and I knew once I knocked it over the green, it was going to be tough.”

Even though he didn’t advance to the weekend, Brad Lardon of College Station, Texas, felt that his week was full of positives. He finished with an 83 and 156 total.

“It's always great to be coming out with the best players in the world, and for a while competing with them. It was a little disappointing to play like a dog on the back nine, but that's the way it goes sometimes,” said Lardon, the PGA director of golf at Miramont Country Club in Bryan, Texas, who made his second Championship appearance and first since 2007. “This course will kick your butt if you fall down, and I fell down and couldn't get back up.

“I'm not going to let nine holes ruin 40 years’ worth of practice,” he added. “I'm thankful we all have 20 spots and got a chance to get in every year.”

PGA Club Professionals in the 93rd PGA Championship:
Mike Small, Champaign, Ill.            73-71—144


Did Not Make 36-Hole Cut:
Bob Sowards, Dublin, Ohio            69-76—145
Steve Schneiter, Saratoga Springs, Utah        72-76—148
Sean Dougherty, Overland Park, Kan.        74-74—148
Jeff Coston, Blaine, Wash.            76-73—149
Rob McClellan, Butler, Pa.            78-72—150
Mike Northern, Colorado Springs, Colo.        77-74—151
Stuart Smith, Reno, Nev.            72-81—153
Craig Stevens, Dallas, Ga.            76-77—153
Rob Moss, Broadview Heights, Ohio        78-77—155
Faber Jamerson, Appomattox, Va.        77-78—155
Dan Olsen, Free Soil, Mich.            78-77—155
David Hutsell, Baltimore, Md.            76-80—156
Brad Lardon, College Station, Texas        73-83—156
Jeff Sorenson, Blaine, Minn.            75-83—158
Marty Jertson, Phoenix, Ariz.            75-84—159
Danny Balin, Greenwich, Conn.            81-79—160
Todd Camplin, West End, N.C.            82-79—161
Scott Erdmann, Tigard, Ore.            80-81—161
Brian Cairns, Waterford, Mich.            85-79—164