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August 11, 2009

Mike Small


KELLY ELBIN: Mike Small, the 2009 PGA Professional National Champion joining us at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club, golf coach at the University of Illinois and he won his second National Championship in June in New Mexico.
Mike, if you would, talk a little bit about winning that championship and how your game is coming in here to this being your fifth PGA Championship.
MIKE SMALL: Well, thanks. It was, for every professional PGA professional, it was a big deal for us. It's an accomplishment I take strongly and a lot of pride in. I was lucky enough to have it be my second. But it was just as good as the first, really.
For all PGA pros, it's our major. All four majors wrapped into one for us. It means a lot. It gives us a lot of confidence and nice thoughts heading into this week that we can represent the PGA.
KELLY ELBIN: Talk about the golf course here, just in practice rounds, you've played obviously very long. Anything else stand out in particular from what you've seen.
MIKE SMALL: It is long. I haven't played in a lot of majors. I think this is my eighth one. Compared to a lot of guys out here it's not a great deal. But I've been around enough to know I've seen different kinds of courses and this played the longest of all of them I've seen, yesterday.
But it's going to dry out. I think when it's going to dry out it's going to add a little more shot-making demand, ability to control the distance of your ball and the flight of it.
Because yesterday and this morning it was just hit it, and it hits pretty good and stops, and softening; it's soft. But it's firming up a little bit. By the end of the week it will be an unbelievable test, I think.

Q. Down in New Mexico you talked after you won about how you were a little surprised because you had been struggling with your game a little bit. Have you gotten a lot of confidence off of that win coming into this week, and do you feel any better about your game now than you did going into New Mexico?
MIKE SMALL: Yeah, I did. And I hadn't played in a really multi-day event since November before that event. I played in two stroke-plays I think in our section. One pro-pro and the U.S. Open local that I played.
So to go there and do that was a surprise. I mean, I knew I could win it because I've won it before and I've been competitive every year. But it was neat to have the breaks go my way and coming down the stretch I didn't cost myself or anything. I played solid. I actually won it in a backwards way.
But it gives me a lot of confidence. I'm playing better. I prepared more and my health is better I have instances when it's not very good flashes that I need to tidy up, some mental, some physical.
But I'm anxious to play. I've never really done great in these things but I made a couple of cuts -- I think the last three times I played in the PGA, I made two cuts; I missed the other by a shot. I've been competitive. So I've got to make the cut again as the first course of business but then I'd like to be more competitive on the weekend than I have been.
I think personally I think I deserve that, and I think I need to push myself into believing that I need to play a little better on the weekend and I can play a little better.
KELLY ELBIN: Mike was the low PGA Club Professional in 2007 when Tiger won at Southern Hills. You had an interesting week that week going back and forth from Illinois. Can you talk a little bit about playing the practice rounds and going to Illinois and coming back and playing in the championship?
MIKE SMALL: Yeah, I was on the range there hitting balls in tight, you know all the players are practicing. And I'm think Southern Hills it was a lot easier than this; I had the course to myself for three days. It was actually kind of pleasant.
I'm an outward person. I like to see the guys and talk to them, but it was nice having the whole course and practice facilities for myself on that Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then I flew back for the Illinois Open Monday, Tuesday Wednesday. So I missed all this, all the excitement. It's fun to be around. It's fun to be a part of it and see the best players and to hit balls next to them.
But at the same point in time, it's kind of hard to focus for somebody like me because you're used to being the only person on the back of the range by yourself. And now you have got a bunch of people watching you and people practicing.
But I've played enough on TOUR enough to know how to do it. But it's not as peaceful as it was at Southern Hills.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record Mike won the Illinois Open that week.

Q. How do you mentally make the transition from something like the PGA National Professional Championship to the PGA Championship? You're on a much larger stage now, and I know this is your eighth major. You've played in other majors, and you've played a lot of golf. But how difficult is it to compete against these guys who are playing the TOUR on a full-time basis where you are not?
MIKE SMALL: It is tough. But you've got to believe in yourself. I talk to my players all the time: If you don't believe in what you're doing, who is going to believe in you? So that's why I think I've gotten more better and competitive the last four or five of these things because I believe I'm more mature and more confident in myself and where my life and path is going, and I think it leads me to be more confident in my game. And having played out here, I've played -- had my card before. So I know what it's all like. It's not a big shock to me.
You have to convince yourself you can play, and you have to convince yourself that the hole doesn't know who -- the ball doesn't know who you are, and you have to take advantage of the opportunity. And I think when I was younger, I didn't do a very good job of that. Even when I was a rookie on TOUR, I probably didn't do a good job at that.
But like I said, I'm more confident and more at peace with myself. And you trust yourself, but you have to have the knowledge and experience to know what to work on, too. I know when was younger, I'd peak on a Monday or Tuesday at a major then be tired the last of the week. I think the last three or four of them where I played well I seem to try to peak later in the week on Thursday, Friday, and that's been good. I've played competitive. I've been in the top 25 or 30 guys after Friday, I think, at a couple majors. So I competed well there. I just need to get that mind-set for the weekend.
For somebody who doesn't play as often like these guys, I don't look at it as an excuse at all. That's the way it is and that's what I chose to do it and how to support my family and my career path, and that's something I have to accept and do. And the pros that make excuses of that, even the professionals at our tournaments where they complain they don't play as much as other pros, you know, that just gets in your head; that's a negative way of thinking.
I think if these guys out here can play as much as they do, more power to them. I mean, wouldn't we all want to play that much? So the club pros that do get to play a little bit more, more power to them. And don't ever look at that or a negative or a disadvantage, because I think it works negatively against you.

Q. Are we close enough to Champagne, Illinois where you'll have a little contingent up here?
MIKE SMALL: A couple "Oskee Wow-Wows" but a lot of Gophers and a lot of Badgers. But when they want an autograph or something, they say "Go Illini," but then I sign it and they say, "Go Gophers." Happens three or four times a day.
I've had a few -- signed autographs and they say, "Thanks, Tom." I get confused with Tom Lehman a little bit. I had a "Thanks, Stewart Cink" today, too. I look like two major winners, I guess.

Q. Slow play has been such a big play lately with Tiger and Harrington and all that. What do you tell your players about pace of play, and what's your philosophy on that?
MIKE SMALL: That's a big issue with college golf. All of our coaches meetings we talk about that, because college golf takes a minimum of five hours to play a round of golf and it's really bad. I think our coaches association is going in the wrong direction the way they monitor play and try to penalize it. I think it's the responsibility of the player.
And I think if a player is taking over 40 seconds on a shot, then they should get a warning and they should get a penalty shot. So play is -- it hurts the enjoyment of the game. I think it hurts the game in the long run. I don't think it's devastating. It's not going to kill it, but it does hurt it and it takes away the fun out of it.
I believe you should play quickly and be ready to hit when it's your shot. Our association, we're following -- like the USGA has a new way where they're going to penalize the whole group for a slow player and they're expecting you to monitor your group, and that's in front of the Golf Coaches Association now. That's way it was this year at the NCAAs and it was a bad, bad deal.
I think it's the responsibility of the player. I think we're all enough adults and big enough guys, in college and obviously out here, where you take it upon yourself.
If you're slow, you should get a penalty shot. It used to be fines. When I was on TOUR, I think it was fines or something. Fines don't do anything to these guys. I think it has to be penalty shots. It's enough time to play.
And I think the rules officials, once they're timing you, they're smart enough to use their discretion on what situations need more. Like last Sunday, I'm not privy to what happened there. I heard some stories. But that had to be all for TV I think. I mean, you're trying to win a championship.
It is slow play. But I think the reason there was because they wanted to make their TV deadline, I would think. But you shouldn't get out of turn. You should just play your shot. That's part of the talent, part of the skill you practice and you should hit it in 40 seconds, I think.

Q. It's safe to say that you've got to be one of the best playing coaches in the country. And you've had a great success over the years. What do you take from your experiences with your good players and how you adapt that and bring it to your own game? Because you've been able to come from basically not playing at all and playing terrifically and you said sometimes that you feed off what you see and the great talent you have.
MIKE SMALL: Yeah, that's the advantage I have over the other PGA professionals, I think, is that number one, I've played a lot in the past. I was on TOUR. When I was on TOUR and played for eight or nine years, not all on TOUR, but when I overseas and on mini-tours, I practiced a lot. I put a lot of time in then, than I do now. I don't practice a lot now. I don't play a lot. Like I said this is my third tournament since November. But I'm around good players.
I'm in talking with the best players in college golf. And I'm watching them play. I'm walking with them down the fairway. I'm working on their game trying to improve their scores. I mean, that's my job as a coach is to make them better players. It's not a golf academy where you teach them to swing better. It's to score better; be better tournament players. So I'm in that realm; I'm in that mind-set all year.
I think that's my advantage. I can come out and actually play better sometimes where I've not played, because even though I'm not swinging the clubs, I'm still -- the mind is in the game working with them, seeing the shots go and working on the visualization with them and different shots around the green, and so I'm never so far away from tournament golf.
See, my job isn't tournament golf. That's the advantage I have, I think.

Q. How do you balance, because I know for a fact you were at the Junior Amateur looking at kids. I know you were at the Junior PGA Championship walking, your time on the golf course seems to be walking following other guys. How do you balance that with being out on the range here, and still being competitive? How do you find that balance?
MIKE SMALL: That's the tough part. I think I've done a good job at that, because my game hasn't really suffered. My game's actually probably gotten better. I've made the higher percentage of cuts on the PGA TOUR than I did when I was on the PGA TOUR. But like you said, I'm not practicing as much; I'm out recruiting.
When I'm out recruiting I have faith and rely on myself that it's going to turn out okay. It's really, it's not life or death anymore. I'm watching other kids play, recruiting all the time, developing relationships with kids and their parents, which I enjoy doing. I enjoy promoting the University of Illinois, and I'm working my own players.
My interest is on them, making them better. And I think in a roundabout way, that diffuses my tension and my anxiety on making my game better and it's more free-flowing.
When I was playing on TOUR full time, it was my game, my life, 24 hours a day; my game. And now -- it consumed me, and it had a negative effect I think. My patience was shorter.
Now I'm a little more patient and mature, and now I'm working on other guys' games, and I think it just relaxes you more and I'm in their games.
I'm watching juniors play, and I'm watching how they hit it and evaluate it, but at the same point in time, I'm just thinking, what would I do there. So I'm a lot more visualization, a lot more imagination, I think, than I used to have.

Q. You talked about how you wanted to make the third and fourth rounds if you made the cut a lot better. What's going to be the difference this time mentally for you? I know you talked about watching your kids play, but for you, if you are able to make the cut, how important is it to be in the third or fourth round mentally?
MIKE SMALL: That's my goal for the week. I've been working with some sports psychologists. They work with the team and I work with the team.
And when I make that cut on Friday, I'm going to have to -- my goal isn't satisfied. My goal in the past has been to make the cut, and I think subconsciously maybe it's been satisfied. I know at Baltusrol I was inside the top 30 going into the weekend; I think at Southern Hills, I birdied the first hole the third round and I was in the top 20; if I play solid. My expectation level, I got ahead of myself. And I think maybe I just kind of laid down a little bit.
So my goal is to tee off after noon on Sunday. That's my goal. If tee times are -- the last tee time is 3:00, that's fine; 1:00. My goal is to tee off after noon on Sunday this week. I have to have that, come Saturday morning after I make the cut, I need to have that mind-set when I'm teeing off that my job isn't done yet. I have to just take another notch, I think. I have to be stronger. I have to be more positive, more ready to compete instead of thinking that my job is done for the week.
KELLY ELBIN: Mike Small, thank you very much for your time.

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