Mike Small couldn’t compete in last week’s PGA Professionals Championship in Florida — which offers a spot in the field for the PGA Championship in two weeks at Kiawah in South Carolina — for one good reason. He’s a college coach first and his Illinois team had to win the Big Ten championship again.
Though Small was prevented from winning a major individual title for the fourth time, his team got the job done, capturing the Big Ten title for the sixth straight year and 11th time in the last 12 last weekend at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.
As successful as the Illini have been in conference play, they have yet to win the NCAA title and their path to it starts Wednesday when The Golf Channel announces the regional assignments for the national championship. The Illini are hoping to be assigned to a May 17-19 regional at Sagamore in Noblesville, Ind. — a good steppingstone for them to get to the NCAA finals.
Whether they get their preferred close-to-home regional assignment isn’t that important. The Illini, enduring an 11-month layoff from competition because of pandemic concerns, still won five tournaments and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the 13th straight year.
”College golf is very thankful we could play this spring after being on the shelf for so long,” said Small, in his 17th season guiding the Illini. “Winning the Big Ten is always special for the kids. You try to get as many wins as you can.”
Illinois has a fine indoor facility to use in the winter months but its outdoor course, formerly Stone Creek and now called Atkins, is undergoing a renovation.
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”We’re adding 800 yards and redoing all the bunkers and greens,” said Small, who expects the work to be completed next spring.
This Illinois team has two solid seniors, Michael Feagles, who won the Big Ten’s Les Bolstad Award for low scoring average this season, and Belgium’s Giovanni Tadioto, who has also been on four straight Big Ten Championship teams.
Adrien DuMont de Chassard, a recruit from Belgium who tied for second individually in the conference tournament, is waiting in the wings to lead next year’s Illini as are junior Tommy Kuhl and sophomore Jerry Ji, a recruit from The Netherlands. They formed a solid starting five throughout the season.
Best at Dubs: Chicago’s first of three local qualifiers for the U.S. Open was dominated by Brian Bullington, a former University of Iowa golfer from Frankfort. He scorched the famed Dubsdread course at Cog Hill Monday with a 7-under 65.
Four others advanced to sectional play: Jeremy Nevius, of Mountainside, Nev., shot 67; Elmhurst’s Jordan Less, who plays for Northern Illinois, shot 68; and Chicago’s Larry Blatt and Zach Burry, of Appleton, Wis., had 70s. Blatt is a former U of I player.
Cog Hill hosted one of 109 local qualifiers that feed into the finals at Torrey Pines in California next month. Cantigny in Wheaton hosts the next local qualifier Monday, and the final one in Illinois is May 17 at Illini Country Club in Springfield. Most of the local survivors will bid for spots at Torrey Pines in sectionals in Ohio later this month.
Here and there: Two of the top Midwest golf resorts have new head pros. Mike Weiler, former head pro at Wynstone in Barrington, has taken over at Eagle Ridge in Galena, and Ryan Brown, who had been at Eagle Ridge, is now in charge at Grand Geneva in Lake Geneva. Dave Hallenbeck, who has been at Grand Geneva in various capacities for 48 years, is now the resort’s ambassador while planning for his retirement. … Luke Donald, the long-ago Northwestern star and former world No. 1, snapped a streak of 10 straight missed cuts on the PGA Tour with a tie for 54th place in the Valspar Championship last Sunday. … Brad Helms, one of the longest-running superintendents in the Chicago area, is retiring. He’s been at Palatine Hills the last 39 years. … Abbey Daniel, of Covington, La., and Celine Herbin, of Doral, Fla., were the survivors of last week’s qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open at Kishwaukee in DeKalb. … Foxford Hills in Cary hosts a Pars in the Stars tournament teeing off a 7 p.m. Saturday.