Any coach would like to have the problem Lake Forest golf coach Jim Matheson faces each time he chooses a lineup.
The coach of the defending state champions can pick only six competitors for any one meet. Seven different Scouts have shot par or under during the season. Against Vernon Hills on Sept. 14, the Scouts averaged under par and no one was over.
So far this season, they are unbeaten in dual meets, and last weekend they defeated state contenders New Trier, Loyola and Highland Park in a quad meet at the Northmoor Country Club course
“It’s a good problem to have,” Matheson said. “All 14 are good golfers. All of them could probably play in the final six guys" at the state meet.
Who He Chooses From
Joe Willis, who finished ninth in last year’s state tournament, has played four rounds under par this season and shot even par once. Charlie Marshall placed 14th at state a year ago. He has recorded an even round par this year.
Sophomore Drew Takacs was not part of the state champions in 2010, but so far this season he has handed in a pair of rounds below par — along with another unofficial one — and one par outing.
Others who have matched or broken par this year are Ian Mankoff, Mac Mardjetko, Chad Williams and Nick Steffens. Except for Takacs, the others were part of the state championship team, as were Corbon Heizer and John Hermes.
Matheson considers a number of factors when choosing the lineup. Course conditions and the level of play are important.
“I’ll look at how they’re playing at this point in the season and their confidence level,” Matheson said. “I want to know how confident is this guy. How well can he handle pressure?"
Accustomed to Pressure
Pressure is something most of the Scouts handle playing junior golf over the summer when tournaments are three-day, 54-hole events. The state meet lasts two days and is 36 holes. The road to the finals consists of two 18-hole tourneys.
“When you’re used to playing for three straight days, and then you play for two days, it is easier,” Marshall said. “You train your mind to stay on task. It’s just one shot at a time.”
The Lake Forest trio of Marshall, Willis and Mankoff competed in July at the American Junior Golf Association Legends Tournament at Bristlecone in Wisconsin. Willis finished third in the national event.
Depth Instills Competition, Camaraderie
While only six players can compete in any given high school event, the golfers like the depth. It gives them a comfort level if there is an errant shot even though they want to play for the Scouts as well as themselves.
“It’s awesome,” Willis said. “It’s great it’s so competitive. You are competing with your teammates and yourself. Everyone roots for each other to do the best they can do. That’s what’s important.”
Though Mankoff always pushes himself to play as well as he can, he believes he plays better with all the Scouts pushing each other. He also sees less stress for the team overall.
“It’s a good thing,” Mankoff said. “We all push each other. It takes the pressure off. Everybody is there for each other. We’re all friends.”
That friendship is cemented by the bond that comes with winning and now defending a state championship. As relaxed as they may feel by their teammates’ talent, it adds a different kind of expectation.
“During the summer, it’s all in your hands, it is all on you,” Willis said. “There is even more pressure now because you don’t want to let your team down. It pushes you to do better.”
Final Cuts Coming Soon
When the Regional begins Oct. 4 at Steeplechase Golf Course in Mundelein, Matheson will have to make some choices. He does not have to take the same six players to the sectional on Oct. 10 at Hilldale Club in Hoffman Estates or the state meet on Oct. 14-15 at the Den in Bloomington.
“We can mix it up,” Matheson said, noting the Scouts have played Steeplechase before, but not Hilldale. Lake Forest saw the Den a year ago and came away champions.