It’s not everyday that one gets to learn from a professional golfer. It’s also a rare occasion that someone gets to compete with and against one.
But three McHenry High School golfers — A.J. Folino, Cameron Justen, and Nick Kosmalski — accomplished both of those tasks during the 2014 Rockford Pro/Am at the Forest Hill Country Club on Monday.
Taking lessons and competing with pros would be a full day for most, but that wasn’t all the day consisted of for Folino, Kosmalski, Cameron Justen, and his father, Kevin — who were paired with professional golfer Doug LaBelle II. Instead, their group almost won the event, falling one stroke short to tie for second.
“It’s awesome,” Cameron Justen said of playing with a pro golfer. “Being able to watch their shots and how they take on things. Being able to learn from what they do.”
With the foursomes playing 18 holes in best-ball handicapped format, and the pros playing straight up 18-hole scores, the group finished with a team score of 57 (-14), while LaBelle finished with a 70. Combined, those scores totaled to 15-under par.
Senior golfer Kenny Perry and his group won at 16-under.
The event featured 20 amateur foursomes paired with 20 professional golfers. And while winning would have made the day that much sweeter, the McHenry golfers all noted that simply playing a round with LaBelle should help them as they enter their senior year of high school.
“I would say attitude is definitely a big thing,” Kosmalski said. “I think when [LeBelle] started to play better, his attitude really didn’t change because he had good attitude the whole time, which was kind of cool to see instead of getting all aggravated.”
Every shot, no matter the result, LaBelle kept the same demeanor. With that in mind, it’s no mystery why LaBelle closed off his 18 holes stronger than how he began.
“It was cool seeing how he conducts himself, he’s very positive,” said Folino when asked what stood out from watching LaBelle up close.
Perhaps the turning point for LaBelle, and the best hole of the day for the group in general, occurred on the fourth hole, a fairly short par-3 hole. Of the five tee shots, four of them landed within 10 feet of the cup. The only golfer who didn’t do so was Folino, who made up for it by landing his next shot within five feet of the pin.
After that hole, the group seemed to gain some momentum heading in the final nine holes. But it was also clear that confidence was never lacking for the group, who competed last year as well — they beat their score from last year by one stroke this year.
“We were planning on winning,” said Kosmalski with a laugh. “Especially with my kind of handicap.”
Most of the amateur golfers on the course will never get to become professionals in the sport. But on certain holes, typically ones closest to the clubhouse, crowds of thirty plus people would gather to watch group after group approach the green and sink a putt, giving each golfer a small taste of what it might be like to be a professional golfer.
But for now, Folino, Kosmalski, and Cameron Justen have next season at McHenry on their mind, and maybe returning for next year’s Rockford ProAm. When asked if they’d consider coming back, Cameron Justen gave a simple answer.
“I hope so.”