High school golfers glad to be back on course
After 165 days, it sure felt good to be back.
I'm not talking about the high school golfers who gathered at St. Andrews Golf Course in West Chicago on Saturday for a seven-team invitational that included Benet, Carmel and St. Viator.
I'm talking about me.
When I walked out of South Elgin's gym back on March 2 after covering the Lake Park girls basketball team beating Dundee-Crown in front of a nearly standing room only crowd, never could I have imagined it would be more than five months until I covered another high school event.
After 25 years of covering high school sports for the Daily Herald, I don't think I've ever gone more than 60 days without being at a high school game, and that only comes in the break between the end of the high school season in early June and the summer state baseball tournament in late July. Usually I'm at three or four games a week throughout the year.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has upended high school sports as we knew it along with nearly everything else. So if I ever took for granted how great it is to cover sports for a living, I sure don't now.
And that's even while noticing all the changes as I did Saturday, which started even before I got to the first tee. You see it in the parking lot, with a big yellow school bus that Carmel took to the invite for six golfers to better social distance instead of a mini-bus.
"Transportation is a problem," Carmel coach James Nolan said. "We haven't sorted that out yet. Still a few bugs in the system but we'll figure it out."
At both the putting green and on the first tee, players and coaches alike wore masks.
This week the Illinois Department of Health came out with an added safety precaution, instructing players to wear masks every time they aren't taking a shot. That means wearing a mask walking up a 540-yard par 5 when they are far away from their group along with every other moment -- a change from the original rule that players didn't need to put their masks back on until they finished their round.
Benet coach Marty Gaughan said there's hope the IHSA amends the rule this week. But even if they don't, the players will do what is asked.
"All the kids would probably agree they don't like it, it's uncomfortable, but if it means they can still play, that's basically the approach everyone is taking," Gaughan said. "If you want to play you have to comply with what they want us to do."
Before teeing off, the starter announced, "Play safe, play well." On the course it felt like golf again. Players hit some bombs off the tee, stuck shots within a couple feet on their approaches, all glad to be wearing their school colors again.
The difference came in the reaction to those great shots. A lot of "nice up and down" or "good putt" from their coaches and playing partners. No high-fives. No fist-bumps.
Which is just fine with St. Viator coach Jack Halpin.
"The main thing today, we're just thrilled to have an opportunity to play," Halpin said. "This is going to be a year like we haven't had before. We have to have an attitude we are just thrilled to be playing. To try to compare it to a normal year is a waste of your time. Our goal this year is every kid, every player in our program becomes a better golfer. It has nothing to do with wins or losses."
Compared to the alternative of no sports at all which we suffered through last spring, that sounds like an excellent goal to me.