Ben Curtis fills in for Kent State's Herb Page, who recovers from heart surgery

Ben Curtis fills in for Kent State's Herb Page, who recovers from heart surgery

College

Ben Curtis fills in for Kent State's Herb Page, who recovers from heart surgery

While Kent State’s men compete in the Gopher Invitational this week and the Maui Jim Intercollegiate in two weeks, Herb Page will be sitting at his kitchen table, hitting the refresh button on  Golfstat.com.

It’s not the way the long-time coach of the Golden Flash prefers to follow his golf team, but Page is only three weeks removed from quintuple-bypass surgery.

Besides, his team is in good hands. Two of Page’s star pupils have been left in charge of the team as he recovers. Jon Mills, who is in his first season as associate head coach, has assumed the roll of head coach, while alumnus Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open winner, has stepped in as a volunteer coach during Page’s recovery.

“I may never be back in the coaching ranks after this,” Page said. “If these kids play well, they might not let me back. I might be stuck behind a desk doing paperwork from now on.”

Mills and Curtis were teammates for three years under Page, from 1997 to 2000. Mills, a two-time winner on what is now the Web.com Tour, played two seasons on the PGA Tour. Curtis, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, has amassed $13.78 million in career earnings.

He offered to help, I didn’t ask. I would never ask someone to make that commitment. I think that just shows his loyalty to the program and to me. And that, that’s a special thing.

Curtis and Mills stayed in touch over the years, having dinner on occasion as Mills made his way through the professional ranks. But Page remained a close confidant to Curtis. Curtis ranks Page among the most influential people in his golf career, behind his parents and grandfather. Curtis and Page teamed to build the golf facility at Kent State that Page has termed “the house that Ben built.” So when Curtis heard that Page was facing heart surgery, he eagerly volunteered to help.

“When surgery was over, he was right there and said, ‘I’m here for whatever you need,’ ” Page said. “He offered to help; I didn’t ask. I would never ask someone to make that commitment. I think that just shows his loyalty to the program and to me. And that, that’s a special thing.”

Curtis won’t be with the team at the Maui Jim Intercollegiate later this month. His wife and son have birthdays that week, so he will celebrate with them. But he’ll still be around the team for most of the season.

Curtis is still acclimating to his role this week at the Gopher Invitational, but Page said he is serving in an official capacity and the program had to fill out necessary paperwork to meet NCAA standards.

“I’m not going to give these kids any swing advice or technique advice,” Curtis said. “These kids are all good and know how to play golf.”

Having a major champion walk the course with the team ensures some advantages, Page said.

“The guys probably all hit it farther than Ben Curtis,” Page said. “They might even hit it better than Ben Curtis. But Ben’s golf IQ is so high, and his course management is so good, I’m thinking that can rub off on them.”

Mills is still acclimating to the role in his own right. He just got the job with Kent State in February, and now is having to handle all of the paperwork and head coaching duties. At the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, he will be responsible for handling the entire the team on his own.

“The real superstar in all of this has been Jon Mills,” Page said. “He’s still a rookie, but he’s the real deal. He just loves the game of golf ,and he has been fantastic through this.”

Page, who holds two degrees from Kent State, has coached the Golden Flashes since 1978. Though his surgery was intensive, he likely won’t be out for much longer. Page already was back on the course for the first time Friday to talk with his players who didn’t travel to the Gopher Invitational. On Thursday night, he went on a walk with his wife, Paula, and their dog. Three weeks removed from open-heart surgery, he walked one mile.

Barring any setbacks, he anticipates being back in October.

“The doctors say I’m doing great,” Page said. “I don’t know I’ve never been through this kind of thing before. I’m supposed to start cardiac therapy Sept. 23. If all goes well, I think October (is realistic).”

Curtis, 39, has struggled during the past two years, making just four cuts in 19 starts on Tour. He has earned less money during the past two seasons combined than he has made in any year since joining the Tour in 2003.

“I haven’t played well in a while, so I had the time. I wasn’t doing much,” Curtis said with a chuckle.

Since losing fully exempt status on Tour, he concedes that the thought of coaching has crossed his mind recently. Now he can see whether it might appeal to him. Curtis, who divides his time between Ohio and Florida, is at a crossroads.

“I could see Ben Curtis doing just about anything he wants in golf,” Page said. “So do I think he could succeed as a coach? Absolutely. But I hope we don’t see Ben Curtis coaching any time soon. I think Ben Curtis has a lot of good golf left to play. Now he has a big decision to make this year: if he wants to play in fewer Tour events and try to play a little better or go to the Web.com Tour and try to earn full status back. But I hope we will see Ben Curtis playing a lot of good golf the next few years.”

Whatever happens, the bond that he shares with Page and Kent State will only strengthen.

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