Asmussen | It takes a village to raise ... Mike Small
May 26—The making of a winning golfer — or successful golf coach for that matter — requires multiple contributors.
For Illinois' Mike Small, the athleticism came from dad Bill, a former Illini basketball standout.
The interest in the game started with Mike's grandpa George Small, who took him to a course at age 4.
And his knowledge and skill got a huge boost from long-time Danville Country Club pro Neil Moore.
What about mom Kay? She played a vital role away from the course.
"My mom's got a toughness to her that I have," Small said this week before taking his team to the NCAA Championships, which tee off on Friday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. "She had a lot of pride and believed in what she was doing. She has a lot of conviction in what she says."
Mike Small has followed her example while building the Illinois program into a national power. Don't complain about what you don't have. Put your head down, go to work and make it happen. Mike is the most accomplished golf coach in Illinois history. And one of the best in the country.
"We're very proud of him obviously and we're very proud of the way he handles himself out in public," Kay and Bill both echoed.
Bill said a decision Mike made in his first year as coach put him in position for the success that was to follow. Mike booted the team's best player for not following his rules.
"That set the tone for what you see now," Bill said.
"He's a disciplinarian," Kay added.
Kay also sees Mike's personality reflected in relationships he has formed to help the program.
"He is kind and welcoming to them," Kay said, "and they want to do something for him."
Was Mike's mom ever helpful on the course? Not so much.
"She would say she is not an athlete," Mike said.
Kay tried golf one summer. Her family gave her a new set of clubs and new shoes. She looked the part.
But it didn't take.
"I can't hit the ball," Kay said.
Her sons encouraged her to keep trying.
"I finally said, 'Guys, I'm going to ride in the cart and try to identify trees and look at the houses,'" she said. "And they played."
Kay and Bill have two childre. Mike is 3 years older than brother Andy.
Born in Aurora, Mike and Andy were raised in Danville after Bill took a job at Lauhoff Grain Company.
Kay was in charge at home of all items related to school. If it was sports-related, Bill stepped in.
"I was basically the disciplinarian," Kay said, "and Bill was the one who always had a joke to make my seriousness about a problem a little more light-hearted.
"I was pretty tough."
Mike and Kay had their moments. But never too contentious.
"He always toed the line," Kay said.
"We were fortunate with both our boys that we didn't have any major problems," Bill added.
"The Lord blessed us with two good kids that were easily molded," Kay said.
No calls from the principal or police.
"Heaven's no," Kay said. "Plus, they were always very busy with sports. They didn't have time to fool around."
It paid off for both. Mike was a top golfer at Illinois. Andy was a standout athlete at Danville High School who also played baseball at Illinois.
Kay always made sure Mike and Andy got to games and practices. This was pre-cell phone days, so a bit more coordination was needed than today.
One time, Mike wasn't home after school as expected. On a snowy day, Kay got in the car and checked different spots. Mike had gone to the high school for a basketball practice that was moved up.
"He didn't leave a note," Kay said. "Since that incident in high school, he's always let us know where he is."
Mike showed leadership skills in sports.
"In basketball, he questioned the coach several times with some things he was doing because he didn't think that was right," Bill said. "And (Mike) was right. He had enough chutzpah to question the coach."
"We had to calm him down a little bit," Kay said. "We said, 'You have to do that very politely.'"
Bill, 81, and Kay, 80, are coming up on their 60th wedding anniversary this summer.
They used to make frequent trips from their Danville home to see Mike, his wife Ann and grandkids Will and Wyatt. Finally, at Mike's urging, they moved to Champaign in 2005.
"We thought, 'Why are we in Danville? We could just as easily live in Champaign,'" Kay said.
Mike is happy to have them nearby. He visited his parents before the team went to Arizona. They go to dinner and lunch together frequently.
"I owe a lot to my parents," Mike said. "You probably don't tell them that enough, but I think they know that."