Matt Eilrich’s last round of his junior season was one of his worst of the year.
“I shot a 99,” Eilrich said of his regional score in 2012, shot at Old Orchard Country Club in Mount Prospect. “It brought me down. I knew I could do better.”
So he set his sights on doing just that. When snow hit, he hit buckets of balls at the Buffalo Grove Golf Dome. When the snow melted, he bought a season pass at Buffalo Grove Golf Club. He played dozens of practice rounds with Bison teammates Brandon Matchen and Matt Froemming. He entered district tournaments, playing on courses such as Fox Run in Elk Grove and Hilldale in Hoffman Estates. His chipping and putting improved, but he needed to get better in another area: length off the tee.
Drive lengths of 220 yards were making it challenging for Eilrich to score birdies or pars on long par 4s. Standing 6-foot and weighing 220 pounds, Eilrich possesses the size to stroke the ball further. So working with Glenview Park Golf Club pro Mike Stone, he learned how to use his body type to his advantage.
“I worked a lot with (Stone) on putting my weight through the ball. I picked up 30-plus yards on my drives,” said Eilrich, a senior. “It gets me closer to the hole. I don’t have to use long irons as much. I’m more consistent with my short irons.”
During all those practice rounds at Buffalo Grove Golf Club, Eilrich refined the stroke he was being taught. This bled into the fall high school conference season, culminating with a round of 80 at the Mid-Suburban League tournament Sept. 30.
“He became a longer and straighter hitter, more consistent with the putter,” coach Peter Duffer said. “But the biggest thing is wanting to play. Instruction is a small piece.”
At the Class 3A Prospect Regional at Mount Prospect Golf Club Oct. 8, Eilrich started out slow. He was 9-over par through seven holes, heading toward another punch to the gut end to his season and career. But a par on the ninth hole calmed his nerves. He was steady over the back nine, playing even over the final three holes.
His round of 80 was just inside the sectional-qualifying cut line of 81.
Eilrich did not advance to state out of Monday’s Huntley Sectional, where the highest qualifying score was 76.
It was a little over a year since his disastrous round of 99 from 2012. But after making it further than he ever had in his high school career, that day last year is nothing but a distant memory.
“(One of my) goals for this year was to get past regionals,” Eilrich said after the regional. “That gave me a sense of achievement.”