RANTOUL — Putting is an element of golf that frustrates even the most seasoned competitors.
Trey VanWinkle is not one of those athletes.
The Paxton-Buckley-Loda senior admits he picked up on putting right away, after jumping into golf in his pre-teen years.
“I’ve spent a lot of time practicing putting,” VanWinkle said. “I’ve got a putting green in my room. So I’m always putting.”
No better example may exist of how that’s paid off than what VanWinkle accomplished one day at Willow Pond Golf Course in Rantoul.
On the par-3 seventh hole, VanWinkle found himself in a bunker off the back of the green.
Most wouldn’t turn to their putter while stuck in the sand.
VanWinkle isn’t most golfers.
“There was no lip, so I just decided to go putter because it was pretty hard that day — hadn’t gotten rain in a while,” VanWinkle said. “I hit the putter and it went in.”
The Rantoul/PBL golf cooperative wouldn’t mind more efforts like that after the Eagles graduated three players — including two of their three Class 2A sectional qualifiers in Noah Shields and Chase Moore — from last year’s team.
The third of that group is VanWinkle, who posted the best regional score of the crop with an 80.
“I want to make it to state this year,” VanWinkle said. “I also want to become more consistent this year. Like scores around the same point, not up and down.”
Even if VanWinkle experienced some bumps in the road as a junior, he still mustered the area’s ninth-best nine-hole stroke average at 39.9.
His first chance to improve upon that number is Friday when the Eagles are slated to open the season at the Ron Schaede Memorial tournament at the University of Illinois Course in Savoy.
Those closest to VanWinkle probably could have seen this sort of success coming.
After all, the three-sport athlete — he also thrives in boys’ basketball and baseball at PBL — won the first golf tournament he ever signed up for.
“I was 12, 11 probably,” VanWinkle said. “That was at Gibson City. (I shot an) 88. I had no idea what to expect. ... I just went out there and had fun.”
By the time VanWinkle arrived in the high school ranks, he hadn’t fleshed out any major missions on the golf course.
“My goal was to eventually get to college and play,” said VanWinkle, who added he’d like to wind up at the University of Tampa in Florida.
VanWinkle admits he might not be in position to think that high if it wasn’t for an adjustment — not in any sort of swing, but in his mindset.
“My attitude has gotten a lot better,” VanWinkle said. “I used to get very upset when I’d hit a bad shot, and I’m very glad that I worked on that because it’s made a huge difference.”
VanWinkle will put that on display as the bona fide leader of this Eagles outfit.
He’s already developed one practice for doing well by his teammates.
No surprise: It revolves around putting.
“I always set up little drills out here that people can decide to do if they want,” VanWinkle said. “They don’t have to, (but) I just like to help when I can.”