The Illinois men’s golf team is making its 12th consecutive appearance in the NCAA championships. The tournament starts today at Blessing Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark., and concludes next Wednesday. Before the Illini departed Champaign, staff writer BOB ASMUSSEN caught up with coach Mike Small:
How do you prepare your team for potentially seven rounds of golf in a six-day span?
"You’ve got to condense it into small little pods, little pockets of play. When you coach golf, everyone’s an individual. They all have their little nuances. You try to keep them fresh, you try to keep them positive. But you’ve got to stay on the day you’re on, the hole you are on and the shot you are on. The way the courses are set up at the national championship, if you get ahead of yourself, you’re making a double, triple bogey. This is the hardest course we’ve played all year."
Your team has won back-to-back tournaments, first at the Big Ten championships and then at the NCAA regionals. What does it mean for you and the guys?
"It gives me more confidence. When you play golf in the northern part of the country, it’s kind of hard to win tournaments in February, March and April. That’s just the reality of it. Our progress and our results usually come later in the spring than most national programs, which is OK with us. That’s kind of how we’ve built this thing."
Does the team’s tradition of playing well in the NCAA championships have an impact this year?
"I’d like to think it’s a big deal. I think it was a big deal last week at regionals. We’ve won regionals five of the last seven years. It’s something that’s been bred into this program. That’s something you want the younger kids to adopt and to grow with. Hopefully, it applies to this week, too. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from things you do differently. We’ve done a lot of things well."