TOM WILKS guided three boys’ golfers out of a 2019 Class 2A regional and helped one of them to a state appearance. The Willow Pond Golf Course general manager talks about his upcoming fourth season leading the Eagles:
Even though all of your 2019 sectional qualifiers are graduating, how did that outcome affect your hopes for 2020?
I had about five seniors, so I’m losing them and I’m looking at now ... I don’t believe I even have any seniors this year. I’m going to really do some rebuilding right now with some swings. With this going on, I’m such a hands-on (coach) giving lessons, it’s hard for me. We’re stuck right now getting these kids out and getting them excited for the year coming up. We don’t know where we’re going with this (pandemic). I sure hope it plays out where we can have a season, but when you’re looking at the golf course I run, the outings are going to be probably gone this year. And what are we going to do with the invitationals that’ll be held for the high schools? It’s going to be tough. But I’ve got some good, young kids. I think Trey (VanWinkle) and Casey (Dillman) and Jalen (Childs) and Eli (Remington) all left a good mark (with) their work ethics and showing that getting Trey to state is something big. It doesn’t happen too often.
Do you feel your roster might grow because of what those outgoing kids accomplished?
Yeah, I sure hope so. This will be my fourth year. I started with that bunch and built a pretty strong team up in the last few years, so it’s exciting. And then getting this younger bunch following them, putting the time into this game is what they have to do. ... Now it’s my job as the coach getting involved and breaking their swings down and doing what I did with the past (players). I’m excited. I just hope we can move on here in the next month and I can get the team together a little bit.
Does the current suspension of summer contact days worry you?
It’s tough for me. To give lessons from how I do it, I’m so involved on hands-on with getting the position of the club repetitively and doing it all the time. When they can do it on their own, it’ll be easier and then they can start taking it to the golf course. It takes time, and just me watching them and staying 6 feet apart is tough. This COVID pandemic right now, I hope this gets relaxed and I can get back to doing my job and getting these kids excited. I had a lot of them excited about getting into junior golf tournaments. You have to start before the preseason and play in events and get you ready for high school. Hopefully that can still be happening, but the way everything’s panning out with everything getting canceled, it’s really going to be a tough year this year.
Does the fact local golf courses have reopened help offset some of those concerns?
Yeah, it’s a positive. I’ve seen the boys come out. But, again, for them just going out and me trying to break them down and get them in the right swing frame so they can take it to the golf course is tough. We’ve got to get them at the range. Then they can go out to the golf course and start learning from that. It’s tough, but it’s exciting to see them out.
What has it been like to work with the cooperative between Rantoul and Paxton-Buckley-Loda?
The one thing about it is the kids from each school, they become friends. It’s funny, they all play different sports — basketball, baseball — and then when they go into the other sports to play against each other, there’s that little rivalry. But it’s a fun rivalry. We have so much fun when we go on our trips. They’ve made friendships throughout the rest of the year with this golf co-op. It’s been a great experience for me, and just working with those schools and having the opportunity to build a team has been great.
What’ll it mean to you to be working with the boys again, whenever you’re able to do so?
Getting them all together, start playing together early in the year ... they feed off each other. Once we’re working with more than one of them and they’re all doing the same thing, they all catch something that I’ve talked about to them. That way they can help each other, and we just build.