Head coach Mike Small has brought national recognition to the Illinois golf program in his decade-plus as head coach. The 2015 Dave Williams National Coach of the Year guided the Illini to five straight Big Ten championships from 2009-13 and has coached two NCAA individual champions in the past six years in Scott Langley (2010) and Thomas Pieters (2012). He also has coached four straight Big Ten Players of the Year in Luke Guthrie - a two-time individual Big Ten champion who held the program’s career stroke average record at the end of his career - Thomas Pieters - a two-time All-American who helped the Illini to an NCAA runner-up finish in 2013 - Brian Campbell, who broke Guthrie’s season stroke average an earned All-America honors in 2014 - and Thomas Detry who owns Illinois career stroke average record and has earned All-America honors twice in his career. That means Small has coached six Big Ten Players of the Year in addition to Scott Langley (2010) and James Lepp (2003).
The 2015 season was one of the strongest for the Illini to date as Small’s program continues to show consistency year after year. Illinois advanced to the semifinal round of match play at the 2015 NCAA Championships after earning both Big Ten Championship and NCAA Regional Championship titles. The Illini took home a school-record eight team tournament titles on the season, and saw each of its five starters earn medalist honors at least once throughout the year. Freshman Nick Hardy earned co-Medalist honors at the Big Ten Championships, and senior Brian Campbell earned his second-straight NCAA Regional title. Campell joined juniors Thomas Detry and Charlie Danielson as All-Americans.
Small led the Illini to another strong campaign in 2014, as the Orange and Blue qualified for the NCAA match-play finals for the third time in four years before falling to top-seeded Stanford in the day’s final pairing. Illinois extended its streak of reaching the NCAA Championships to seven straight seasons, equaling the fourth-longest string of appearances, and notched three more All-Americans as Campbell, Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry earned recognition. By tying for fifth place at the NCAA Championships, the Illini recorded their ninth top-25 finish in Small’s 14 years at the helm.
The Fighting Illini narrowly missed a magical finished in 2013, making a memorable run to an NCAA runner-up finish. Illinois qualified for the NCAA Championships for the sixth-straight year and reached the match-play finals for the second time in three years. After reaching the match-play portion, the Orange and Blue knocked off defending NCAA champion Texas in the quarterfinals and upset No. 1 California - dubbed by many as the greatest college golf team ever - in the semifinals when Thomas Pieters beat 2013 NCAA medalist Max Homa in 20 holes. But the Illini’s magic ran out against Alabama, with the Crimson Tide taking a 4-1 victory in the championship match.
In addition to the runner-up finish, Illinois captured its fifth-straight Big Ten championship with a nine-stroke victory over Minnesota and won the first NCAA Regional championship in program history with a three-stroke victory over host Arkansas at the Fayetteville Regional. In all, the Illini won six tournaments in 2012-13, second-most in school history.
Pieters and freshman Charlie Danielson earned honorable mention PING All-America honors, while Pieters was named Big Ten Player of the Year and Thomas Detry earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Pieters turned pro following the season and played a number of events on the European Tour and European Challenge Tour throughout the summer.
In 2012, Small guided his club to the NCAA Championships and in 2011, the Illini completed their best NCAA finish since 1941, finishing third in stroke play to reach the NCAA match play quarterfinals before tying for fifth overall.
Small has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year a conference-record seven times in his career (2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2002) after taking home the top honor for the fifth year in a row in 2013. He also has been named Midwest Regional Coach of the Year seven times in his career (2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2003), including four of the past five seasons. Under his direction, Illinois athletes have won 18 All-America honors and 34 All-Big Ten accolades.
Small’s players also have had individual success as well. Luke Guthrie and Scott Langley both retained their PGA Tour cards for 2013-14 after successful rookie campaigns on Tour. Along with Steve Stricker, D.A. Points and Joe Affrunti, Illinois has five alumni on the PGA Tour. Recent graduates Chris DeForest (2011), Langley (2010, ‘12 and ‘13) and Brian Campbell (2015) also have qualified for the U.S. Open, as did current Illini Nick Hardy in 2015.
Langley has been Illinois’ most visible player since Steve Stricker. His run to low amateur finisher at the 2010 U.S. Open came two weeks after winning the NCAA championship. Langley also won the clinching match at the Palmer Cup, reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Amateur and was one of three players on the United States team at the World Amateur Team Championships in Argentina.
Illinois’ most recent NCAA champion, Thomas Pieters, also helped Europe clinch the 2012 Palmer Cup by halving both of his singles matches in the event, while current Illini Thomas Detry went 3-1 in helping Europe to a 2014 Palmer Cup win. And two more of Small’s players, Zach Barlow (2008) and Luke Guthrie (2009), won Illinois State Amateur titles while playing at Illinois.
Pieters continued his success on the European Tour, winning back-to-back tournaments in 2015. His Czech Masters title marks his first victory on the Tour.
Small’s players also have had academic success and captured Big Ten Medal of Honor awards with Scott Langley in 2011 and Luke Guthrie in 2012. Small provides the Illini with the unique combination of a respected teacher/coach and a current playing professional wrapped up in one man that has lifted Illinois into national contender.
Small has the distinction of playing on a Big Ten championship team and coaching six. As a former full-time professional, he can share with aspiring tour players what it takes to play at the next level. As someone who still competes and succeeds at a handful of high-profile events each year, he has had a chance to rub elbows with the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The Illini won a school-record eight tournament titles during the 2014-15 season, and each of the Illini starters took home an individual medal. Illinois earned the No. 1 seed at the 2015 NCAA Championships heading into match play, after winning both the Big Ten Championship and the 2015 NCAA Noblesville Regional titles. The Illini advanced to the semifinal round of the NCAA Championships, and saw Brian Campbell, Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry earn All-America honors once again. The Illini swept the Big Ten yearly honors as freshman Nick Hardy also earned co-Medalist honors at the Championships.
Illinois tied for fifth at the 2014 NCAA Championships, reaching the match-play finals for the second-straight season and third time in the last four campaigns in 2014. The Illini won their second-straight NCAA Regional title and four total tournaments. Brian Campbell was a second-team All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year and broke the school single-season scoring record. Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry both were honorable mention All-Americans.
In 2012-13, the Illini stunned the world of college golf, finishing as the NCAA runner-up after winning their first NCAA Regional title and fifth-straight Big Ten championship. Thomas Pieters was an honorable mention All-American, Big Ten individual champion and Player of the Year, and Charlie Danielson was an honorable mention All-American.
In 2011-12, Illinois continued its winning tradition, adding another NCAA and Big Ten individual champion to the record books along with a fourth-consecutive Big Ten team title and fifth-straight trip to the NCAA Championships.
In 2010-11, the Illini completed their best NCAA finish since 1941, reaching the NCAA match play quaterfinals and tying for fifth overall. Over the past four years, Illinois has consistently been ranked in the top 10 in the country, finishing seventh in the 2011 Golfweek computer rankings.
In 2009-10, Scott Langley won the NCAA title while the Illini advanced to the NCAA for the third straight year. The Illini ended the season ranked in the top 10 after its second straight Big Ten crown.
In 2008-09, Illinois won the Big Ten championship, advanced to the NCAA finals and claimed titles in seven tournaments overall, including the prestigious Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational.
During the 2007-08 season, Illinois recorded the lowest individual (63, Chris DeForest) and team (272) round in school history. The Illini advanced to the NCAA Championships, finishing 17th. Scott Langley was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
In 2006-07, senior Kyle Hosick placed 10th at the Big Ten Championships and was named a Cleveland Golf All-America Scholar.
Small directed a young Illinois team to a solid year in 2005-06. The Illini recorded four top-five finishes as six different players in the lineup combined for a total of 11 individual top-10 finishes. Patrick Nagle earned All-Region and All-Big Ten honors while Mark Ogren also earned all-conference accolades.
He led his squad to four top-three finishes in 2004-05, including runner-up honors at the Bruce Fossum/TaylorMade Invitational, a tournament that featured nine Big Ten teams.
During the 2003-04 season, Illinois finished runner-up at the Big Ten Championships for the third-straight year and made its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Central Regional.
In 2002-03, the Illini recorded the lowest 72-hole team score in school history, finishing runner-up at the Big Ten Championships for the second year in a row. Illinois went on to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Central Regional, marking the UI's best performance ever at regionals. Small was recognized for Illinois' stellar season by being named the Eaton Golf Pride Midwest Region Coach of the Year.
In 2001-02, he directed the resurgence of the Illinois program and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year. The Illini finished as Big Ten runner-up and placed fourth at NCAA Regionals. Illinois qualified for the NCAA Championships, finishing 18th.
Playing Career Highlights
When Mike Small returned to Champaign, Ill., in June of 2000 to take over as head coach, it came following a decade of golfing professionally, including five years spent on the PGA Tour and what is now the Web.com Tour. Small continues to compete on a limited basis in PGA tour events. Although not playing full time, he does so with some impressive results. When he competes, he shows off his Illinois colors and attracts many proud alumni in the gallery.
Small was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in October 2013. Considered by many to be the greatest golfer the state of Illinois has ever produced, Small became the youngest man to ever be enshrined in the hall of fame.
The summer of 2007 saw arguably the biggest of those successes when he won the low club professional at the 2007 PGA Championship and shared the award stand with its champion Tiger Woods on national television. Four years later, he again earned low club professional honors at the 2011 PGA Championship, where he has honored alongside PGA champion Keegan Bradley on CBS.
Playing Career Synopsis
2013: Inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in October as the hall's youngest member. Qualified for his ninth PGA Championship and 12th career major. Also won his record 10th Illinois PGA championship and will compete as part of the United States team at the PGA Cup in September.
2012: Qualified for his eighth PGA Championship, the 11th major of his career.
2011: Earned low club professional honors for the second time at the PGA Championship, which he played for the seventh time in his career.
2010: Won his record tying third PGA Professional National Championship and second in a row. He also claimed his record ninth Illinois PGA title and eighth straight with a convincing 11-stroke victory at Olympia Fields. Small also earned his third PGA Professional Player of the Year honor.
2009: Small won the PGA Professional National Championship for the second time in his career. He made the cut in the 2005 and 2007 PGA and missed the cut by a stroke in 2006.
2008: The summer of 2008 saw Small win the Illinois PGA title for the sixth straight year and seventh overall, both event records.
2007: Small won the PGA Professional of the Year award for the second straight year and was honored as the low club professional at the PGA Championship. He claimed the Illinois PGA championship for a record sixth time and fifth in a row, and won his fourth straight Illinois Open. He also won the Illinois Match Play Championship and qualified for his third U.S. Open.
2006: Small was named the PGA Professional Player of the Year by the PGA of America after another brilliant summer. He made the cut in five of nine PGA Tour events, highlighted by a season-high finish of 38th at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. He also finished fourth at the PGA Professional National Championship, earning a berth to his third consecutive PGA Championship. In addition to his success nationally, Small also won Illinois Open and Illinois PGA titles for the second straight year. He remains the only golfer ever to win both titles in the same year, a feat he has now achieved four times. It was his third Illinois Open victory and fourth consecutive IPGA title, as well as his fifth all-time.
2005: The summer proved to be one of the most spectacular in Small's professional career. In June, he won the PGA Professional National Championship, held at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., earning an exemption for the second consecutive year to the PGA Championship, as well as earning six exemptions for PGA Tour events in 2006.
Small then reached a professional pinnacle in August when he made the cut at the PGA Championship at historic Baltusrol in Springfield N.J., marking the first time in four career tries that he advanced to the weekend in a major.
Small continued his summer run by winning his third consecutive Illinois PGA Championship, marking the second time in three years that he won both Illinois Open and IPGA titles in the same year. His dramatic run concluded in September when he led a 10-member U.S. team across the Atlantic to compete against Great Britain and Ireland in the 22nd PGA Cup, a club professional version of the Ryder Cup.
Following the national club pro title, Small made the cut at the PGA Tour's Western Open for the third straight year. He then won his second Illinois Open Championship, storming back from a five-shot deficit to win the title on the strength of a final-round 67.
2004: Small repeated as the Illinois PGA Champion, claiming his third IPGA title in four years. Small finished 7-under par at Royal Melbourne and broke the course record with a 65 during round two. He then went on to take runner-up honors at the PGA Professional National Championship, missing medalist honors by just one stroke after shooting 11-under par at the Longaberger Course in Nashport, Ohio.
For the second straight summer, Small made the cut at the PGA Tour's Western Open. He tallied three straight rounds under par at Cog Hill's Dubsdread Course, and had a hole-in-one during the second round of play when he aced the 180-yard hole No. 2. Small was listed on the leaderboard entering Sunday's final round, in sixth place, before finishing tied for 27th.
Small's memorable summer culminated in August when he traveled to Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., to compete in his first-ever PGA Championship, which also marked his third career appearance in a major.
2003: Small made an amazing return to competitive golf in the spring of 2003 after an arm injury and subsequent rehabilitation kept him from playing for nearly a year. He won the 2003 Illinois PGA and Illinois Open titles, becoming the first golfer ever to win both tournaments in the same year. His win at the Illinois PGA qualified him for the Western Open. Small made the cut at the prestigious PGA Tour event, finishing in 43rd place at 3-under par. He also finished fourth at the 2003 Northern Club Pro to qualify for the 2004 PGA Professional National Championship.
2001 & 2002: In the summer of 2002, he finished second at the Illinois PGA Championship. In the summer of 2001, Small won the Illinois PGA title, placed second in regional qualifying for the 2002 PGA Professional National Championship and set the course record at Stone Creek, carding an 8-under-par 64.
Small was a letterwinner on the Illinois squad from 1985-88. He was a member of the 1988 Big Ten Championship team and finished second individually in that tournament behind teammate and current PGA Tour member Steve Stricker. Small was named to the All-Big Ten squad and earned first-team NCAA Region IV honors. He earned medalist honors in two tournaments during his senior year at Illinois, winning both the Butler National Intercollegiate and the Michigan State Spartan Classic. Small joined the professional ranks in 1990.
A native of Danville, Ill., Small has returned to the area where he grew up. Small was a standout at Danville High School where he won four letters in golf and two in basketball. Before becoming an Illini, Small won the Junior Masters in 1984. He went on to have a successful career for the Fighting Illini before receiving his bachelor's degree in business administration from Illinois in 1988.
Small's father, Bill, was the captain of the 1963 Big Ten Champion Fighting Illini basketball team. Bill earned All-Big Ten accolades and won three varsity letters during his Illini career, which spanned from 1961-63.
Small's brother, Andy, also was an award-winning Fighting Illini athlete. Andy was a member of the 1990 Big Ten Champion Illinois baseball squad. He won four varsity letters as an infielder.
Small, his wife, Ann, and their two sons, Will and Wyatt, reside in Champaign.