Living in Chicago, the high school golfers refer to “going downstate” as one of the, crowning achievement for a golf team, because you have to be there to win the state championship. Well, this year my son John, who is in his senior year at Loyola Academy, played well enough to make the team and the team qualified for the state championship at an Arnold Palmer course named The Den, in Bloomington, Illinois. This experience of going downstate with my son was my first real experience with John as a young adult, where the state championship meant something of great importance to him.
As I walked the course following John, I couldn’t help but reflect back on my time at the state championship in North Carolina at Findley golf course in Chapel Hill. Our tournament played in the spring was warm and the course was fairly predictable. I noticed that The Den was not long, however very difficult around the greens due to the hard surfaces that were running very fast- probable around 10 or 11 on the stemp meter. I told John that I hadn’t seen conditions where the wind was blowing and gusting at around 30 miles per hour, along with cold temperatures in the low 40’s, at a course as difficult as The Den until I played on tour. We never had weather that tough in our tournaments in North Carolina. John said last year the guys played in sleet and wind, which is usually present in mid October. Also the guys mentioned that they were so lucky, because this year during the whole season they really had great weather. Which reminds me of one of their earlier matches where three boys lost clubs in the water due to their hands freezing and not being able to hold the club. So you can only imagine how tough golf is in Illinois at the change of seasons, players learn to play in just about every bad weather condition under the sun. The Den required more strategy off the tee and into the greens than most of the youngsters were capable of understanding and respecting so early in their lives. For instance, you could truly tell that most players had never played so many penal situations, sometimes on one hole. Therefore, I watched them hit the driver- blasting away.
The winning individual score was 74- 74, while one of the leaders from day one shot 83 after a 1 under on the first day. The conditions were very tough on Friday all day, while the conditions were cold but mild for a few hours on Saturday. One thing very noticeable, was that the IHSGA gave the boys no easy pins, and placed the hole locations in probably the sloppiest parts of the greens. They showed them no mercy, which was the thing to do to find the most mature player in the field. The player that won had to have many skills to handle the tough conditions that sometimes not one player would hit the green in regulation unless he drove the green. The 18 hole was like this on the final round. The one thing that the boys didn’t realize is that even the pro’s would have a hard time stopping their wedges with a 30 mile per hour wind directly behind them to a very sloppy front hole location. Frustration abounded along with high scores. So you get the situation, driving home after the matches John started to reflect; how his high school golf career was over, when he qualified at Foss Park his freshman year, his friends that made the team and the ones that missed each year, also recounting so many great experiences that made his time so memorable. The part that stuck with me was how last year he qualified for the team but got the shanks and didn’t play a match until the last day of the season where he shot a 74. I told John that was the greatest 74 he ever shot because he overcame one of, if not the most difficult problem in golf-the shanks. At the state championships on Friday, John played probably the highest score in his career, but was capable of not throwing in the towel, crying, making a fool of himself, etc. we have all been there and done that, if not seen it. On Saturday, he followed up the highest score on the team with the lowest score for the final round. I asked John how he was able to make so many clutch six foot putts after leaving his putts so short or long, he commented that he just imagined that he was putting for a birdie to get back to even par, which was the “mecca” for the week. I thought of all the times in my professional career I wish I would have had the presence of mind, when all the pressure was on, to come up with a working strategy that kept me from losing my cool and blowing up. John had done it, and I was truly proud of his accomplishments, because I told him that the toughest lessons are learned through experience, and that he had overcome his difficulties to reach a higher form of character and personal development. Most importantly, that these lessons were more significant than if he had actually won the tournament, because, he overcame the difficulties while teammates and coaches depended on him. Also, that these types of personal problems a lot of people never experience until they are much older, so, John, learning them while in high school will serve him very well in the future, helping him make really sound decisions that will have major ramifications on his life. So congratulations to John and his team for a season well worth all the struggle and challenges. Friday night at the team dinner, I congratulated Coach Kane for helping John mature through all the golf experiences over the past four years, and that he had truly been a great part of his high school years. Coach Kane has helped the boys grow and develop as members of his team, and should be proud of all their accomplishments. The Loyola Academy teaches their players to be true gentlemen on and off the course. It is so wonderful to meet a coach that truly wants his young men to grow and develop into better individuals through their high school and golf experiences. I’m so thankful to have been downstate with the Loyola Academy, and I won’t forget the experience for many a year. I’m truly proud of all the players, but especially my son and Coach Kane. Thank you Coach Kane for encouraging parents to follow the team, I had an experience of a lifetime. Keep the faith and I’ll blog next week about my experiences in Houston at the Administaff tournament.