MUNDELEIN — Last year, eight seniors led the Vernon Hills boys golf team to a Class 2A regional championship.
This year, freshman Justin Park is leading the way for an inexperienced squad.
“He’s very mature for a freshman,” Vernon Hills coach Shawn Healey said. “He’s friendly and outgoing and has a lot of confidence. He’s going to do well on and off the golf course.”
In his debut season, Park has fired a couple of rounds in the high 70s in 18-hole tournaments as well as rounds in the 30s for weekly nine-hole meets.
“Usually kids go through a slump because of coming into a new school and the 8-hour day, and you sort of see an ebb and flow,” Healey said. “Some of those scores in the 70s turn into 81-82s and the 38s become 40-41s. Justin’s done some of that, but he had a fantastic summer, even shooting par and 1 under, so we know he can get back to doing that.”
Park said his dad fell in love with golf in his mid-20s and wanted to give his son a much earlier start.
“When he first took me out, I was 4 years old,” Park said. “He just took me to the range and wanted me to hit the balls and stuff. He kept bringing me back for fun and he realized how good I was at hitting the balls, so we kept going more and more.”
While he was introduced to other sports, including baseball, basketball and soccer, Park’s true love has been golf and he plans to focus solely on it during high school.
“My main focus is to golf right now,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to try anything else, at least not this year.”
At just 14 and still getting used to his new school, Park is now the scoring leader on a team made up mostly of juniors and seniors with driver’s licenses and college plans. It presents a unique situation for new friendships.
“They graduated all but one person, so we’re all new to the team except for (senior) Ricky Schmidt,” Park said. “I like the guys on the team. They talk to me like I’m kind of like their brother.”
Park focuses on greens in regulation and pars.
“My irons are very good, so I’m really concentrating on getting on the greens in regulation,” he said. “Once I get on, I’m just thinking about two putts. Sometimes birdies can come from that, and most other times, it’s a par.”
Even when he comes up short, he’s having a good time.
“I’ve gotten to play on a lot of different courses this season already and you just have to enjoy those opportunities,” Park said. “Even when I don’t play well I make sure to enjoy the course and to enjoy the game of golf.”