Special to the Journal
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – River Pointe Golf Club pro Sonny Skinner of Sylvester and Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., longtime friends and competitive rivals who posted some of the most dominant performances in recent years, grabbed the respective 2010 Senior PGA Professional and Professional Player of the Year awards.
Skinner, who turned 50 in August, finished runner-up to Small in the National Championship and became the first player in PGA of America history to win both PGA Professional Player of the Year (2008) and a Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year award. It was the third national award for Small, 44, whose campaign included winning a record-tying third PGA Professional National Championship.
The final Player of the Year standings were determined based on a point system involving both national and PGA Section competitions from Jan. 1 through Dec. 20, 2010. Small, who has served as the University of Illinois men’s coach since 2000 and guided a second consecutive Big Ten Conference Championship team, won his third PGA Professional National Championship last June in French Lick, Ind., matching the mark of the late Larry Gilbert. Small accomplished his feat by overcoming a bout with tendinitis in a surgically repaired right elbow that struck him two days before the opening round. He earned 1,452.67 overall points, including 527.67 for his performance in six PGA Tour events, and finished with 212 more points than Skinner (1,240.5), who dueled Small throughout the final round of the National Championship and was the first to greet the Champion when he left the 18th green. Small added his national award to those he won in 2006 and ’07.
Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn., was third with 1157.5 points, followed by Danny Balin of Greenwich, Conn., who had 790 and David Hutsell of Baltimore, Md., with 780.
Skinner, a PGA teaching professional at River Pointe, finished with 1,642.33 points to cruise to the Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year honors. Three-time award winner Chris Starkjohann of Oceanside, Calif., was next with 915.5, followed by Mark Faulkner of Marion, Ill., with 771.
Skinner opened his 2010 season by winning the Taylormade-adidas Golf PGA Senior-Junior and Match Play Championships. He added his National Championship runner-up performance with a share of sixth in the Senior PGA Professional National Championship in October, and capped the year by finishing runner-up on the PGA Tournament Series money list in December.
Small’s march to a third PGA Professional Player of the Year award included his continuing his dominance in the Illinois PGA Section, where he won a ninth Section Championship, and made his appearance in seven PGA Tour events fruitful in the spring by finishing tied for 17th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico.
“I’m honored to win this award for a third time, and I count myself very fortunate for lucky timing when it came to getting past injury to just be able to compete [in last June’s National Championship],” said Small. “Playing professionally for 10 years, I had learned a lot about dealing with injury, and yet I was blessed at the right time. There are no guarantees in golf; I learned that a long time ago. It is great to still be a player and someone who can help educate younger players to go out and enjoy success on the course.”
SKINNER MADE the most of his first venture into the 50-and-older ranks, and just missed earning a Champions Tour full-time playing privileges during last fall’s Qualifying School. He added 225 points as the Georgia PGA Senior Champion; and added 219 more in three Champions Tour events and 115.5 through seven Nationwide Tour outings.
“I am fortunate to have a club that encourages me to play,” said Skinner, who joined River Pointe Golf Club in 2006. “And, I am thankful that The PGA provides the opportunities it does for its members to play in great events. It was a good year, and a pleasant surprise that I could go on to earn this award after turning 50. I enjoyed the competition, and certainly the battle with Mike [Small] at the National Championship. Mike and I have been good friends for 15 years. I have a lot of respect for Mike and what it takes for anyone to win a golf tournament.”
The PGA Professional Player of the Year award began in 1984, while the Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year honor made its debut in 1995. Small and Skinner are the only representatives of their respective PGA Sections to earn the national award.