Illini Coach Mike Small Atop Illinois PGA Championship Leaderboard After 36 Holes

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Mike Small finds himself in what has to be a familiar position for the Illinois PGA Championship final round - the last group.

The University of Illinois men’s golf coach holds the 36-hole lead of a tournament that he’s taken home the trophy 12 previous times in his career. At 54 years old, Small fired a 8-under-par 63 at Medinah Country Club Tuesday to take a massive six-shot clubhouse lead before the afternoon wave of competitors teed off later in the afternoon.

Small, who sits at 10-under-par through 36 holes and is one of eight players under par in the championship, saw his lead dwindle to one shot thanks to a lot of solid play in the afternoon. After posting a 2-under-par 69 Monday, Small created a hot start for himself by going eagle-birdie-birdie in his first three holes on his way to a front-nine 31. Small’s bogey-free 63 was just two shots off the course record set by PGA Tour star Justin Thomas in the third round of the BMW Championship.

Small, an Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inductee in October 2013, will be paired in a threesome with the pair at 9-under-par of Andy Mickelson and Frank Hohenadel both representing Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville.

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Mike Small's front nine in second round of 2020 Illinois PGA Championship
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Mike Small's back nine in second round of 2020 Illinois PGA Championship

Small, who is entering his 20th season as the head coach of the Illini program, is arguably the most successful head coach in Illinois athletics since taking the job in 2000. He was named the NCAA coach of the year in 2015 and has guided the Illini to Big Ten Championship titles in 10 of the last 11 seasons and coached two NCAA individual champions in that span (PGA Tour players Scott Langley and Thomas Pieters in 2010 and 2012).

Under Small’s direction, the Illini have advanced to the NCAA Championships in each of the last 12 seasons and in 14 of Small’s 19 seasons. The Illini have won five NCAA Regional titles, including four consecutive NCAA Regional Championships from 2013-2016, becoming one of just two schools in NCAA history to do so, and have finished among the top five teams in the nation in five of the last seven seasons, highlighted by an NCAA runner-up finish in 2013. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Small’s Illini have been a consistent force among the top 25 in the Golfweek Bushnell Coaches Poll and own the longest streak ranked in the top spot.

Small has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year a conference-record 11 times in his career (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2002) and has also been named Midwest Regional Coach of the Year nine times in his career (2019, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2003). Under his direction, Illinois athletes have won 26 All-America honors and 50 All-Big Ten accolades.

Small has continued his professional career while coaching, most recently making his debut on the PGA Champions Tour. Since 2000, he is a three-time PGA of America National Champion, a three-time PGA Professional National Player of the Year, a 12-time IPGA Champion, four-time Illinois Open Champion and he has participated in 13 major championships. Small has made the cut in 15 of 34 PGA TOUR events since he began coaching at Illinois, and has appeared in several PGA TOUR Champions events, earning three top 10 finishes. He was named the 2017 OMEGA Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year as well.

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