Golfers hope summer season isn't washed out
While Illinois golf courses reopened May 1, there's still a long way to go before top high school players return to competition.
Many of the summer tournaments teenage golfers join have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally a great opportunity for golfers to not only improve their games in pressure-packed situations but also generate interest from college coaches, the best area players are adjusting to a new reality.
"It's a little scary because this would be my junior summer and that's when I can start talking to (college) coaches and coaches can talk to me," said St. Charles North's Catie Nekola, who helped the North Stars win the Class 2A state title as a freshman.
"This is a time I'm missing out on that. I love playing in tournaments like this so it's upsetting. It's just a lot of hoping and praying that nothing else gets canceled and hoping we can just postpone it a bit. It's kind of nerve-wracking honestly."
Nekola said she's missing out on playing in the Western Women's Amateur and Western Women's Junior this summer.
Summer status in doubt
Matt Wennmaker, the executive director of the Illinois Junior Golf Association, has been busy trying to figure out what -- if any -- of a normally packed schedule of spring and summer tournaments can be held.
Currently all IJGA events are canceled through May 31st. Wennmaker said the prospects of holding events in June and July are up in the air.
"It comes down to what the Governor decides for June and we will base our decisions off his restrictions," Wennmaker said. "We are currently working on safe guards to be put in place when we are able to run tournaments."
Ben Klimenko will be a senior this fall at Wheaton Warrenville South. He's waiting on the decision of those IJGA tournaments plus a few AJGA events.
Klimenko said he and a couple friends missed golf so much in April while Illinois courses were closed that they drove to Indiana to play. They returned to golf in Illinois on Saturday at Prairie Landing in West Chicago.
"We thought it was long overdue," said Klimenko, who shot 75 last fall to lead the Tigers to a 1 shot win at the Class 3A Oswego East regional. "It was almost impossible to find a tee time. Being off that long wanting to go back out and play, being out on the course was fun to see. It was almost like nothing happened, we were out there playing golf again, not having to worry about what's going on."
Klimenko said the first possible summer tournament he's scheduled to play in is a IJGA junior PGA qualifier at Royal Hawk in June. He's also got AJGA events scheduled in Indiana and Michigan.
"I feel the best way to improve my game is these competitions," Klimenko said. "I try to play as much as I can. It helps me a ton but this year is just unknown when. It's an important summer. It's kind of hard to see it might not happen."
Adjusting in April
Before the golf courses and driving ranges opened, players were finding different ways to work on their games in April.
"Typically in April I'm out there every day after school essentially playing until dark," Hersey senior-to-be Henry Quinn said. "(Now) I'm trying to find different ways, putting a net up in my backyard, putting in my basement. I've just come up with different stuff to do, staying sharp. I can work on my swing, get better. I've made a few small adjustments and have really been able to hammer that down without the pressure of any competition."
Nekola said she can hit about a 45-yard wedge shot in her backyard. Her short game improved despite the courses being closed.
"If there's any pros to this it's that I've really been dialing in my pitch shots," Nekola said. "I've got a putting green in my basement, I'm very fortunate for that. I'm working a lot on my game and hopefully that shows."
Quinn, who shot 69 last fall to win a regional title, carded a 75 at sectional to qualify for state and then tied for 35th at the Class 3A state tournament with a 76-82, said his goal is to play Division I golf.
This summer is a key time to make that happen.
"I'll just have to wait and see," Quinn said. "Everyone is going through the same thing. They are trying to find ways to keep their game up and I just have to be ready whenever that time comes. The summer tournaments mean a lot and it's unfortunate I won't be able to play some of them but hopefully I'll be able to get a few in before the high school season starts."