During the college golf season, GolfChannel.com will check in weekly to update what’s happening in the world of college golf. This week's college notebook reflects on Herb Page's legendary 41-year career at Kent State, highlights Florida State's super frosh and remembers Francesco Molinari's "college days."
Last summer, Herb Page set off on a recruiting trip to Canada. He flew from Cleveland to Calgary, connecting through Toronto. Upon landing, he rented a car and headed off for Medicine Hat, Alberta.
At some point during the three-hour trek, every bit as tiring as it is beautiful, the 67-year-old Kent State head coach had an epiphany.
“I thought to myself, maybe it’s finally time to let a younger guy do this,” Page said.
Last Thursday, Page announced he would retire at the end of this season, signaling the end of a 41-year career leading the Golden Flashes program. Jon Mills, one of 28 All-Americans to play under Page at Kent State, is set to take over.
“My grandson is a big LeBron James fan and before my press conference he wanted me to say, ‘I’m taking my talents to South Beach,’” Page quipped. “But I didn’t have the stomach.”
It was one of the few times Page backed down from a challenge. For as much as the Markham, Ontario native was short in stature, he made up for it with his competitiveness.
Page was a three-sport athlete at Kent State, playing golf, ice hockey and football. He was the kicker on the Golden Flashes’ 1972 Mid-American Conference Championship team, earning his first of 43 MAC Championship rings (the other 42 he earned as a golf coach, 22 leading the men’s team and 20 overseeing the women’s program). One of his football teammates, under legendary coach Don James, was current Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
“The only mistake I made was Nick went into football and I went into golf,” Page quipped.
Page arguably has been more impactful on Kent State than Saban has for the Tide. Sure, Saban has the national titles, but he inherited a well-established program. Page built Kent State’s golf program from nothing. His first team didn’t even have golf balls, let alone uniforms. And when bigger programs were competing with four or five scholarships, for the longest time Page was working with two.
Now, Page has raised nearly $2 million for the golf program through fund raising and in 2007 opened the Ferrara and Page Golf Training and Learning Center. The women’s program, founded by Page in 1998, has made match play at each of the past two NCAA Championships.
“His competitiveness and wanting to be the best has driven him to succeed,” Mills said. “He basically had a dream of building this program and he did it.”
Page was Kent State’s Little Engine That Could. His men’s teams won 89 times, including three NCAA regionals, and qualified for 17 NCAA Championships, finishing in the top 10 four times.
For a mid-major, that’s unheard of.
Page’s best finish at nationals came in 2012 at Riviera Country Club. Page still vividly remembers that eerie morning when Kent State faced Florida State, which boasted the likes of Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, in a playoff for the final match-play berth.
“My guys were white as a ghost standing on that 18th tee,” Page said. “And somehow my guy made a birdie and we won. That was a real moment. … Of course, we then had to go up against Justin Thomas and Alabama, but my guys put up a good fight.
“That was the epitome of our guys, showing a lot of courage.”
They learned it from their coach. Mills recalls one tournament where he struggled through 36 holes. When he walked off the golf course, Page got in his face.
“He was trying to fire me up,” Mills said. “He told me to show some heart, show some emotion. I came back the next day and played really well. I really fed off of that.”
Said Page: “Somebody once said I was too competitive. And what a great compliment that was.”
That fired showed a few years ago when Page’s “Circle of Trust” recommended he step down after Kent State placed a disappointing fifth at the 2015 MAC Championship. Page responded, “You sons of (expletive), it ain’t time.”
But now, it is. He’s not as spry as he once was – Page underwent knee-replacement surgery last year, almost two years after undergoing a quintuple bypass. But Page still has some left in the tank, and he’s prepared to use it all this spring.
"I'm about to go out the door and I'm going to try and make these young men I've got now better," said Page, whose team is ranked 60th by Golfstat this season. "We haven't had a great start, but we'll have a great finish."
Once his coaching clock reaches empty, Page plans to stay in Kent, Ohio, and continue to serve in other areas. He’ll still be around both golf teams, but he’ll increase focus on his charity efforts with the United Way and the foundation of his most prominent former player, Ben Curtis.
“Obviously, I feel Herb is the best coach in America,” said Curtis, a four-time PGA Tour winner who captured the 2003 Open Championship. “The record shows that, but the support he provides to all former players is phenomenal, no matter what the player moves onto after graduation. I would not have had the success that I’ve had without his coaching, guidance, support and friendship.”
Page isn’t much for reflection, but the legacy he’ll leave behind is hard to ignore.
“I never like to look back,” Page said, but when I do, I’m amazed by what we’ve done here.”
Said another former Kent State player turned Tour pro, Mackenzie Hughes: “Kent State golf wouldn’t be where it is without Coach Page, and neither would I.”
PASSING THE TEST
Florida State women’s coach Amy Bond wasn’t sure how much her Swedish freshman, Frida Kinhult, had listened to country singer Darius Rucker growing up.
“She might know a few songs,” Bond guessed.
Somewhat surprisingly, Kinhult very much enjoyed Rucker’s private concert for competitors before last weekend’s Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. And yes, she was able to sing along at times.
“It was a great way to start the tournament,” Kinhult said.
Of course, Kinhult experienced an even better finish Sunday at Long Cove Club in Hilton Head Island, S.C. She shot 9 under and dominated one of the deepest fields in women’s college golf. She beat runner-up Jennifer Kupcho, the reigning NCAA individual champ and world No. 1 amateur out of Wake Forest, by six shots. She was 14 clear of Alabama’s Jiwon Jeon, the third-ranked amateur, 15 better than No. 9 Maria Fassi of Arkansas, and 20 ahead of UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit, ranked fourth.
“It’s always great fun to win,” said the seventh-ranked Kinhult, “but especially when you beat such great players. What a confidence boost.”
Kinhult arguably was the most talented player in the field. In six starts this season, Kinhult has yet to finish worse than T-10 as she’s racked up two wins and compiled a 69.29 scoring average, which leads the nation. She is ranked fourth by Golfstat.
Bond already calls her the best to ever come through the Florida State program.
“She’s going to be a good one,” Bond said. “She’s the most prepared kid I’ve ever been around. She has everything mapped out.”
It helps that Kinhult’s brother already has navigated his way from amateur to pro golf. Marcus Kinhult, who skipped college, is ranked 177th in the world and plays on the European Tour.
“I learned from him what to do and what not to do,” Kinhult said.
Which is why Kinhult decided it better to come to Florida State rather than trying her luck at Ladies European Tour Q-School. Kinhult, who had been home-schooled her entire life, adjusted to college seemingly instantly. As a teenager, she’d spend the winters studying in Spain, where she could plan her coursework and practice time around the weather. She's now learned to dread afternoon thunderstorms.
She doesn’t know how long she’ll stay in school and plans to compete in LPGA Q-School at the end of the year. If she doesn’t earn her card, she’d like to compete in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which she had to turn down this year in order to play the ANA Inspiration. (She also will miss a college tournament and was forced to decline an LET invite, too.) But if she does, she’ll make the jump, she'll have full support.
“If I get two years out of her, that’ll be great, but anything after that I’m asking for a miracle,” Bond said. “If she gets to the top 5 [and is exempt into final stage], we’ve already told her you’re crazy not to go and test the waters. But if she does leave, we won’t be able to replace her. She’s that good.”
Francesco Molinari won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday at Bay Hill, but it wasn’t the first time the Italian golfer had won a tournament with Palmer’s name on it.
Fifteen years ago, Molinari was part of the eight-man European team that won the 2004 Palmer Cup in Ireland.
Molinari attended the University of Turin at the time and earned a special invite into the team match-play event, which annually pits collegians from the U.S. and Europe (and now International) against each other. He was joined on the team by future European Tour winners Alex Noren, Alejandro Canizares, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Rhys Davies, and faced a U.S. squad highlighted by Ryan Moore, Billy Hurley III and Matt Every.
Molinari went 1-2-1 in the four sessions, earning a point by teaming with South Carolina’s Martin Rominger to beat Florida’s Every and Arizona’s Chris Nallen in foursomes, 1 up. The Europeans won the cup by five points, 14 ½ to 9 ½.
“The Palmer Cup was an amazing experience at the time,” Molinari said. “I made a few very good friends that are out on tour with me now and we managed to beat the Americans, so it was kind of the perfect week."
Later that year, Molinari turned pro and earned his European Tour card via Q-School that winter. But he almost ended up playing college golf in the U.S., at Augusta State.
“My golf was kind of getting better and I started to get in touch with some of the colleges over here, and in the end of 2004 it was really between going to Augusta State or turning pro,” said Molinari, who would’ve been a junior for the Jaguars that fall.
“I made the decision to go to [European Tour Q-School] and fortunately managed to go through Stage I, Stage II and [final stage], and went on tour and never looked back.”
Oklahoma State hung another national-championship banner in the rafters of Gallagher-Iba Arena last week while honoring last season’s Cowboys men’s golf team. Say hello, folks, to No. 52.
Another PGA Tour exemption will be on the line Sunday-Tuesday at The Floridian as top-ranked Oklahoma State headlines a stacked Valspar Collegiate field. The Cowboys will again be without Viktor Hovland, who earned an exemption into next week’s Valspar Championship courtesy of his win last year in Palm City. The Cowboys won last week’s Querencia Cabo Collegiate without Hovland, who was competing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he made the cut. On the women’s side, Forest Hills in Augusta, Ga., will host its first of two events when it holds the Valspar Augusta Invitational this weekend. The Augusta Haskins Award Invitational, a men’s event, will take place next month.