CHAMPAIGN — It’d be tough to know Justin McCoy was struggling.
Results didn’t really suggest the Champaign Central senior golfer wasn’t feeling right. That he’d discovered a hitch in his swing in the summer leading up to his final high school season.
McCoy still was among the best nine-hole scorers locally. He still was at or near the top of tournament leaderboards, along with Maroons freshman sensation Wade Schacht.
But until Central began its Class 2A postseason run in early October, McCoy didn’t feel like he was obtaining maximum potential from his driver or irons — especially his driver.
It says a lot about McCoy’s capabilities, then, that he still managed to rack up his third consecutive News-Gazette All-Area boys’ golf Player of the Year honor.
A recent commit to the Division III Webster University men’s golf program in St. Louis, McCoy was shooting 39.2 strokes per nine entering the postseason. That’s when he turned up the heat, securing regional medalist honors, placing 11th at his sectional and notching 13th at the 2A state tournament in his fourth and final appearance representing the Maroons on the biggest stage prep golfers can.
“Just the way I worked my way up to getting to that position made it feel 10 times better,” said McCoy, who shared 12th place at state as a junior. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, and being able to say I made it to state even though I had a rough time or rough regular season was huge. It showed I didn’t give up.”
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McCoy even today isn’t quite sure how to describe just what went wrong with his swing.
Looking over video with his father, Brian, offered McCoy an indication that something didn’t look right. He’d physically felt it as well, acknowledging a minor offseason growth spurt may have played a role.
“I was seeing the ball go places I never thought I could put the ball,” McCoy said. “I started playing competitively probably fifth grade, and all those years I know where my ball’s going to go when I miss.”
During one of his summer tournaments, McCoy compiled three consecutive drives that didn’t hit their intended mark. The third went soaring out of bounds.
“I was like, ‘Your best club in the bag’s not working. It hasn’t been working for a couple tournaments in a row,’” McCoy said. “Maybe it’s time we need to sit down and discuss a swing thought or a swing fix.”
So that’s what McCoy and his dad got to work on.
Brian’s first concern was for his son’s mental fortitude.
“Many athletes, they lose confidence or they lose the strive to be great, and they just kind of quit,” McCoy said. “But, me, I knew it wasn’t a confidence thing. It was truly a swing thing.”
With that identified, the duo turned to basic swing mechanics. As McCoy describes it, “some of the greatest lessons (in golf) are only like a second long.”
One such practice has Brian standing a short distance behind McCoy. If McCoy’s backswing — not at full velocity, of course — has the club making contact with Brian, McCoy’s swing is operating as intended.
About a year prior, McCoy was in the midst of an outstanding summer before his junior year.
Now, he found himself trying to regain the magic that led him to N-G Player of the Year status in back-to-back campaigns.
“Golf’s a game of honor and knowing you have a problem and fixing it,” McCoy said. “It only helped me. It humbled me.”
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Central put together a steady group performance throughout the regular season, including a victory at a stacked Champaign County Invitational.
McCoy was at the forefront during all of those efforts, even without the satisfaction of knowing his swing was back where it previously was.
“There were days where I felt extremely accomplished, and there were days where I felt, ‘What did I do? I’m not this type of golfer,’” McCoy said. “Being with a great group of guys made me forget about all the problems I was having with the swing. It let me focus on why I play this game — because I love it, and I was just having fun.”
What made golf even more enjoyable for McCoy late in his last prep go-round: hitting his stride with his team’s postseason life on the line.
Throughout McCoy’s final run with the Maroons, though, there always was something else at stake.
McCoy wasn’t worried that his swing slip-up might dent his chances of drawing eyes from specific colleges. He possessed interest from institutions at numerous levels, including Division I, before the issue surfaced.
When the topic of Webster University comes up, McCoy actually apologizes as frequent grinning interrupts his words.
“I love that place,” McCoy said. “That place just makes me so happy.”
McCoy actually spent some of his elementary school years living in the St. Louis area, making him familiar with Webster before ever getting connected on a college recruitment basis.
And he was interested in returning to the region — if not for higher education, then at least afterward to start his full-time career.
“I knew (Webster) had a great finance program, and they were just all around a great campus and a great place to be,” McCoy said. “I got to meet the teachers when I went down to visit Webster, which was huge for me.”
Under coach Andrew Belsky, Webster currently is slotted 20th in the D-III Golfstat.com team rankings.
It was actually McCoy who first struck up conversation with Belsky. McCoy estimates it took Belsky maybe 10 minutes to reply to McCoy’s initial email.
And it took Belsky just a week and a half to make a trip north, witnessing McCoy in action at a tournament in Mattoon.
This, certainly, would be the worst possible time for McCoy’s swing trouble to flare up.
“You get nervous (with) coaches watching you,” McCoy said. “But he came up to me and was like, ‘Don’t be nervous, man. I’m just here to support you.’ And that calmed me down. Shot a nice 1-under (par).”
McCoy aspires to be a business lawyer or chief financial officer of a company someday, something he can jumpstart at Webster.
Golf can help with that as well.
“I played in the (Lincolnshire Fields) club championship or I played in the Twin City Championship, and all the guys I played with were either financial consultants (or) investment bankers,” McCoy said. “They say you can close a lot of deals on the golf course.”
Regardless of what happens at Webster and beyond, McCoy can say he successfully closed his high school golf career.
That he wrote a strong final chapter to a flourish-filled book. And that he did so despite not always being at his best.
“I fought hard all the way to the end,” McCoy said. “That was the biggest thing I could’ve taken out of this year was my strive for greatness was still there.”
Honor Roll: Past News-Gazette All-Area boys’ Golfers of the Year
YEAR ATHLETE SCHOOL
2019 Justin McCoy Champaign Central
2018 Justin McCoy Champaign Central
2017 Justin McCoy Champaign Central
2016 Varun Chopra Uni High
2015 Varun Chopra Uni High
2014 Chris Tate St. Thomas More
2013 Andy Bott Bismarck-Henning
2012 Andy Bott Bismarck-Henning
2011 Andy Bott Bismarck-Henning
2010 Seth Trolia Mahomet-Seymour
2009 David Keenan Salt Fork
2008 Ryan Murphy St. Thomas More
2007 Joe Smith Centennial
2006 Michael Davan Bismarck-Henning
2005 Joe Smith Centennial
2004 Joe Smith Centennial