The Vernon Hills boys golf team accomplished everything it set out to do this fall.
“We wanted to win the Prairie Division,” coach Shawn Healey said. “We exceeded [by winning] the North Suburban Conference [tournament]. We won our regional and qualified a team to go downstate. We hit all of our goals.”
A third-place team finish at the Class 2A Grayslake Central Sectional earned the Cougars a berth in Friday and Saturday’s state tournament at Weibring Golf Club in Normal. There, Vernon Hills — led by Justin Park’s 21st-place finish with a two-day total of 155 — finished in ninth place.
Windy, damp conditions for Friday’s opening round made for higher scores. Senior Ricky Schmidt’s round of 80 was the Cougars’ best.
“We started on the back nine and when we got to the front nine, we had to play with a few extra clubs,” said senior Bo Manso, who carded an 88 and a two-day total of 174. “The course is tight with a lot of trees.”
The wind calmed down by Saturday. Park’s tee time was scheduled for 9:06 a.m. When the team arrived at the course at 7:30 a.m., he immediately went to the driving range. After 30 minutes, he switched his attention to the putting green.
Unhappy with his short game during his Friday round of 84, Park stepped onto the 10th tee box to begin his Saturday round in a better frame of mind.
“After practicing, I got more confident with what I had to do around the greens,” Park said.
Pars on holes 10 and 11 were followed by a bogey on the par- 4 12th hole. Then Park got his game in gear. After a par on 13, Park rolled a 10-foot chip within an inch of the hole on the par-4 14th. On 15, another par 4, he drained a 15-yard chip from the second cut for a birdie.
“I said, ‘Oh, man, my short game is really going on,’ ” Park said. “After that I just kept it going.”
By the time Park walked off his final hole his score sheet was so clean it sparkled. His even-par round of 71 included 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey. As for his short game, Park two-putted six greens. Of the other 12, he got up and down 11 times and chipped in once. For the round, he attempted just 23 putts.
It was a remarkable display around the greens.
“Saturday he had one of the most incredible short rounds I’ve ever seen,” Healey said. “It all came together.”
So did the Vernon Hills golf team in 2014. All goals were completed, including a team top-10 finish at the state tournament. Park can return in 2015 along with freshmen Ethan Lee and Brian Favia, both of whom were in the state lineup.
“We had a lot of connections with the seniors and we will miss them,” Park said of Manso, Schmidt and Stephen Levine. “The next two years, I hope [Lee and Favia] grow stronger with me.”