2017 All-Area Boys' Golf: Player of the Year

2017 All-Area Boys' Golf: Player of the Year

CHAMPAIGN — All it took was one look, and Mike Osterbur knew he may have a star on his hands.

The realization was sudden, and it was significant. Justin McCoy stepped out of his parents' car on the Champaign Central boys' golf team's first day of summer practice, and Osterbur hardly recognized him. As a 5-foot-5 freshman a year earlier, McCoy made up for his lack of strength with a precise short game. In an offseason, that all changed.

"He stepped out of the SUV and I had to look and do a double-take and he said, 'Hey coach,' " Osterbur said. "I think he grew 5 inches, and his voice dropped a couple of octaves.

"I couldn't wait to get him out on the course to see what he could do."

He wasn't disappointed. At that point, the now 6-foot McCoy could drive the ball 20 yards farther than he could at the end of his freshman year. By the end of the year, he had added on another 20 yards.

All of a sudden, McCoy was equipped to compete with not only high school seniors, but some of the area's best adults. At the Twin City Championship in July, he was tied with local golf legend Tim Hoss at the end of the first round. Even though he fell off the second day, he won the junior championship at the meet to highlight a successful offseason in which he played in 20 tournaments.

Over the course of this past high school season, McCoy dropped his nine-hole average from 42.0 to 38.8, and he led Central to a Class 2A sectional title with a medalist-winning score of 67. For that, McCoy was named The News-Gazette's Boys' Golfer of the Year.

'I love this game'

As much as his longer drives helped vault him to another level this year, that was never the main focus for McCoy. Ever since he began playing in tournaments in the sixth grade, he took pains to develop his chips and putts.

"My dad always said, 'Chipping and putting, the short game, is the way to go,' " McCoy said. "He's always told me that I'll grow, I'll get bigger, I'll get stronger. All that will come, but you can't really grow into a short game. You've got to practice for it."

This year, McCoy stayed after practice every single day, moving close to the green so he could refine his short game.

"Coach would say, 'Practice is over,' " McCoy said. "I'd say, 'Not for me,' and I'd go out and practice more. I love this game so much, and if I'm going to love it, why not get better at it? That's what I always tell myself."

Throughout the season, McCoy progressed. At the Big 12 Conference Meet, he shot a 74 to take home medalist honors and lead the Maroons to a conference title. He shot a 78 as Central won a 2A regional title.

His best, though, was still ahead of him.

'I'm hungry for more'

The yellow bird emojis kept popping up on Brian McCoy's phone on Oct. 9, and he knew that was a good sign.

Because they have two kids who play golf, with state qualifier Mackenzie on Central's girls' team, Shawn and Brian McCoy would split up which child they'd watch. Shawn accompanied her son at the UI Orange Course in Savoy for the sectional round and Brian supported their daughter at Mackenzie's sectional round in Springfield. Each time one of the kids hits a birdie, they send the bird emoji.

As he watched Mackenzie shoot a career-best 78, his phone began lighting up.

"When I saw the birdies piling up, I knew it would be a good day," he said. "I didn't think it would be quite that good."

By his son's estimation, it should have been even better. He easily could have shaved a few strokes off his sectional title-winning 67 with a few more precise strokes. Still, he topped Illinois signee and Morton senior Tommy Kuhl, who went onto win the state championship, by 2 strokes.

"I had two holes that really hurt the round," McCoy said. "(Aside from that) everything went right. The swing was good, the putts went in, the chips were close. ... I know what I can do now, and that 67 just opened my eyes.

"It gave me the confidence to go into state and do what I did the first day."

The next week, McCoy ended the first round of the state tournament tied in fourth place after shooting a score of 71. Ultimately, he ended the season in slightly disappointing fashion, shooting an 83 on the second day of state to finish 28th. The Maroons finished fifth overall. "Putts weren't going in," McCoy said. "It put a fire in my belly. I'm hungry for more. The last day really left me wanting redemption, and I think I can get that."

This winter, McCoy will work on refining his swing with personal coach Tim Buscombe, but he won't forget about the pillar of his short game. His ever-improving mental game will likely also continue to grow. If he can improve his consistency, Osterbur thinks high-level college looks will come.

But this year's postseason proved to McCoy what he could do. He can look the top seniors in the state in the eye and compete with them.

Next year, he thinks he can beat them.

"I'm going for a state title these last two years," he said. "I don't see why I can't."

News-Gazette Boys’ Golfers of the Year

2017    Justin McCoy, Champ. Central

2016    Varun Chopra Uni High

2015    Varun Chopra, Uni High

2014    Chris Tate, St. Thomas More

2013    Andy Bott, Bismarck-H.

2012    Andy Bott, Bismarck-H.

2011    Andy Bott, Bismarck-H.

2010    Seth Trolia, Mahomet-S.

2009    David Keenan, Salt Fork

2008    Ryan Murphy, STM

2007    Joe Smith, Centennial

2006    Michael Davan, Bismarck-H.

2005    Joe Smith, Centennial

2004    Joe Smith, Centennial