U.S. Open qualifying not highest priority for Small

Illinois' Thomas Pieters hits his tee shot at No. 15 during the Round 1 of the 2013 NCAA Championship at Capital City Club Crabapple Course.

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MILTON, Ga. -- Illinois coach Mike Small and two of his players -- Alex Burge and Thomas Pieters -- had some thinking and possible planning to do on the eve of this year’s NCAA Championship finals title match at Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple course.

All three advanced through local qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open and are scheduled to compete in Sectional qualifying on Monday, the day after the Fighting Illini take on Alabama to decide the national collegiate champion.

Small, an accomplished player in his own right who has played in three previous U.S. Opens, and Burge, a sophomore, are scheduled to attempt qualifying in St. Louis, Mo., while Pieters, a junior from Belgium and 2012 NCAA champ, is on tap for Springfield, Ohio.

“We’re going to have to really think about that Monday qualifying,” Small said shortly after his Illini stunned top-ranked California 3 and 2 in the semifinals. “We haven’t crossed that bridge just yet. We’ll talk about it tonight and come to some conclusion tomorrow.”

One good thing for the threesome, due to possible weather issues moving into the area, the starting time for Sunday’s title match was bumped up two hours to 8 a.m. (EDT).

“That should help, but we’ll just have to see how things unfold tomorrow,” Small said. “I know the qualifying is very important to Alex and Thomas, but the bottom line and our top priority is our match with Alabama and trying to win a national championship.”

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