BEACH PARK, Ill. – August 16, 2023 – Mike Small (University of Illinois) carded a final round 3-under-par 69 at Thunderhawk Golf Club, including two birdies in his final three holes to win the 2023 Nadler Golf Cars Illinois PGA Professional Championship. Small has now won this event 14 times and has become the winningest PGA Professional at a Section Championship across all 41 Sections Nationwide. He also repeated his feat of being only one of two Illinois PGA Professionals to win the Section Championship and Senior Section Championship in the same year. Small will lead a group of 11 Illinois PGA Professionals at the 2024 PGA Professional Championship at Fields Ranch at PGA Frisco East and West Courses on April 28 – May 1, 2024.
“It’s fun to compete, it’s fun to come up here and play,” said Small. “I appreciate the PGA of America and the Illinois Section that provides us the chance to play for some money and a Championship. I don’t get up here a lot during the summer, but this one I refuse to miss. It’s our Championship. I’m proud of the Section and all of the players. It’s always something that’s important to me and it’s always nice to do well.”
It took all 36-holes to determine this year’s Illinois PGA Professional Championship. Small began the day with a one-stroke lead and battled his playing partners, Andy Mickelson (Mistwood Golf Club), and Jim Billiter (Ivanhoe Club), as well as Jeff Kellen (Butler National Golf Club) who was in the penultimate group.
Pressure was immediately put on Small to hold his lead. Mickelson came out hot and birdied the first two holes to challenge the lead. After a routine par on the first hole, Small birdied the par-5 second hole from the left rough and poured in a 30-footer on the par-3 third hole to move to 8-under-par and regain sole possession of the lead. His lead increased on that hole as Mickelson’s tee shot was just a hair long and he was unable to get up and down for par.
After a bogey on the fourth hole, Small’s other playing partner (Billiter) started to apply some pressure. Billiter hit his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole to about four feet and made birdie to get to 6-under-par. At the time, he was one stroke off the lead and tied for second with Mickelson.
Billiter proceeded to string together a nice stretch over the next three holes. He made birdie on the par-5 seventh hole after his second shot came up short of the green. He hit his third shot to tap-in range and moved to 7-under-par. Mickelson left his second shot in a similar spot as Billiter and also made birdie to get to 7-under-par. Small, who hit the seventh green in two, lagged his eagle putt up to tap in range as well and made birdie to stay in front of Billiter and Mickelson by one stroke.
The par-4 eighth hole was playing 300 yards in the final round of the Illinois PGA Professional Championship. Trailing by one, Billiter drove the green, landing his drive pin high about six feet from the hole. He made the eagle putt, moving him to 9-under-par for the tournament. He played holes six through eight 4-under-par and was the solo leader of the tournament during that stretch.
Small and Mickelson both drove the ball into the right greenside bunker on eight. Both players played nice bunker shots onto the green but failed to convert their birdie opportunities. Small remained at 8-under-par and found himself trailing Billiter by one stroke, while Mickelson was 7-under-par.
The ninth hole seemed to flip the tournament for the final group. Billiter hit the green in regulation but was on the far left-hand side of the green. He three-putted for a bogey and fell out of the lead. Small left his second shot short and failed to get up and down. He made bogey and fell to 7-under-par. Mickelson also hit the green in regulation and converted his 15-footer to get back into the lead at 8-under-par.
In the group ahead, Kellen was putting together another impressive run. After playing holes seven through 11 at 6-under-par in round one, Kellen found his stride in the same stretch in the final round. He eagled the par-5 seventh hole after six straight pars to get to 6-under-par. He then took advantage of the short par-4 eighth hole to get to 7-under-par. Birdies on nine, 10, and 11 gave Kellen a two-stroke lead over the field as he got to 10-under-par for the tournament. In total, Kellen played holes seven through 11 in 6-under-par.
Small and Mickelson did not go away easily. Small made bogey on the 10th hole, but birdied the next two holes to get back to 8-under-par. At the time he trailed Kellen by two strokes.
After his birdie on the ninth hole, Mickelson hit his second shot on the par-5 11th hole to the front of the green. He hit a nice chip shot and tapped in his birdie to move to 9-under-par, and trailed Kellen by one stroke.
The birdies came to a halt down the stretch for the final groups. Kellen was forced to punch out on the 14th hole and made his first bogey of the day. He followed that up with another bogey on the 15th hole and dropped back to 8-under-par. Mickelson also made back-to-back bogeys on 14 and 15 and fell back to 7-under-par.
Although he seemed to be struggling through the back nine, Small was 7-under-par and just one stroke behind Kellen through 15 holes. He found his moment to pounce on the par-5 16th hole. Kellen, and Mickelson both made pars after hitting their third shots into the greenside bunker. Small attacked the flag with his third shot and left himself about four feet for birdie. Another tap-in for Small put him in a tie for the lead with Kellen at 8-under-par with two holes to play.
Mickelson would not leave the party just yet. He played his tee shot on the 16th hole to the front of the green and left himself an uphill putt about 12 feet from the cup. Mickelson made the clutch putt to join Kellen and Small at 8-under-par.
Coming down to the 18th hole, both Kellen and Mickelson made par after hitting the par-5 green in regulation. Small had 108 yards into the green on his approach shot on 18. He hit a clutch shot into the green, sticking it to about a foot, slamming the door shut on the field. Small cleaned up his birdie to finish 9-under-par and secured his 14th Nadler Golf Cars Illinois PGA Professional Championship.
“When I hit it, I looked up and said, ‘that’s going to be good,’” said Small. “I just was hoping it wasn’t going to spin back too much. All of those guys are good players. I really enjoyed my company with those guys today. It was anybody’s game out there with the two-round tournament and a lot of guys in contention. You can’t go out there and play against your group, you just have to go out there and play as well as you can. I think we fed off of each other for the most part.”
Kellen and Mickelson finished in a tie for second place. Kellen was one of three players in the field to card the lowest round of the day at 4-under-par 68 for a tournament total of 8-under-par 136. Mickelson finished the final round at 3-under-par 69 for a tournament total of 8-under-par 136.
Chris French (Aldeen Golf Club), who qualified for this year’s PGA Championship, finished T4 at the Nadler Golf Cars Illinois PGA Professional Championship. He carded rounds of 68, 70 for a two-day total of 6-under-par 138.
Kyle Donovan (Oak Park Country Club), and Matthew Rion (Briarwood Country Club) rounded out the top five with scores of 5-under-par 137.
The Illinois PGA had nine qualifying spots into the 2024 PGA Professional Championship on the line this week. Small and French are both exempt into the PGA Professional Championship and did not count against the nine spots.
Joining Small and French at PGA Frisco next April will be Kellen, Mickelson, Donovan, Rion, Billiter, Chris Green (Glen View Club) who also carded a 4-under-par 68 in the final round, Brian Carroll (The Hawk Country Club), John Varner (Beverly Country Club), and Steve Orrick, Jr. (Bloomington Country Club).
The Illinois PGA Section would like to thank long-term partner Nadler Golf Cars for their continued support of the Illinois PGA Section and the Illinois PGA Professional Championship. The Illinois PGA will now return to running Section events every Monday through September. The final Illinois PGA Major of the year will take place on October 9-10 as the Illinois PGA Players Championship will be contested at Twin Orchard Country Club.
About the Illinois PGA/Illinois PGA Foundation
The Illinois Section of the PGA of America is a professional organization serving the men and women golf professionals in northern and central Illinois who are the recognized experts in growing, teaching and managing the game of golf. The Illinois PGA is responsible for the administration of competitive golf tournaments, educational opportunities, support programs and growth of the game initiatives. With over 840 members and associates, the Illinois PGA is one of the 41 regional Sections that comprise the PGA of America. The Illinois PGA Foundation focuses its community efforts on promoting the goodwill and growth of the game with an emphasis on activities that benefit youth. Foundation initiatives include: GolfWorks Illinois, Youth-based Scholarship Funds and the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. For more information about the Illinois PGA and the Illinois PGA Foundation, please visit www.ipga.com and join us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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Illinois PGA Communications