Season gets off to strange start for 2 of Chicago's top golfers

  • Mike Small tees off on the 9th hole during the first round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in 2018. Small didn't compete much in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, but he's on the comeback trail now.

    Mike Small tees off on the 9th hole during the first round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in 2018. Small didn't compete much in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, but he's on the comeback trail now. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 1/18/2020 6:59 AM

This was a weird first tournament week of the season for two of Chicago's most prominent golfers. Both Mike Small and Dylan Wu blew 7-stroke leads in their 2020 tournament debuts but still finished as runners-up in their events.

Small, the University of Illinois men's coach who owns 12 wins in the Illinois PGA Championship and four titles in the Illinois Open, didn't compete much in 2019. There was a good reason for that. A shoulder injury that required extensive rehab limited his tournament play, but Small is on the comeback trail now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This week he competed in the PGA Winter Series for the first time and opened 65-66 in the PGA's Senior Stroke Play Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The hot start gave Small a 7-stroke lead in the 54-hole event for players from across the nation in the 50-59 age group.

The 76 he shot in Tuesday's final round cost him the championship but was hardly deflating. Small finished a stroke behind New York teaching pro Frank Esposito.

"I just came down here to see how the shoulder was," Small said. "I had no expectations and was thrilled to be 13-under and make eight birdies in the first two rounds. I showed some resiliency."

Gainey's day:

Wu, a 23-year old former Northwestern star, was seven ahead after two rounds in the first tournament of the Korn Ferry Tour season but he couldn't hold his lead in the opener of the PGA Tour's alternate circuit.

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After opening 67-66 Wu slumped to 76-72 in the final two rounds and wound up in a tie for second, four strokes behind champion Tommy Gainey in the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. It was Wu's second runner-up finish on the Korn Ferry circuit, the first coming in the Lincoln Land Classic in Springfield last year.

Andy Pope of Glen Ellyn, back on the Korn Ferry Tour for the first time since 2012, tied for 44th in the season opener while the Korn Ferry's other two Illinois players, Vince India and Nick Hardy, missed the 36-hole cut. They'll be back in action quickly, as the second tournament -- also in the Bahamas -- tees off on Sunday.

Closings:

Chicago's local golf media contingent took a big hit this week when two longtime outlets announced their closings on the same day. Chicagoland Golf had published for 31 years as an in-season print publication, and The Scorecard on the Score was featured on WSCR 670-AM Radio for 10. Both closed up shop in Monday and will be missed once the next season kicks in.

Chicagoland Golf was founded by the late Phil Kosin in 1989, and publisher Val Russell took it over following Kosin's death in 2009. Russell directed the operation for 11 years. Ed Sherman and Steve Olken were co-hosts of The Scorecard, a popular weekend show throughout the local golf season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Here and there:

Kevin Buggy, a seven-time club champion at Park Ridge Country Club, is the new chairman of the Western Golf Association. The 68th chairman in WGA history, Buggy succeeds Glen View's Frank Morley.

Batavia-based Tour Edge has renewed its endorsement contracts with PGA Champions Tour stars Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Tom Petrovic and Duffy Waldorf.

Andy Micheli has left Cantigny as the Wheaton facility's sales manager to become assistant general manager at Butler National in Oak Brook.

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