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Practice routines lead St. Charles North boys golfer Shepherd to memorable season

St. Charles North senior Dan Shepherd is the Kane County Chronicle's 2012 Boys Golfer of the Year.
St. Charles North senior Dan Shepherd is the Kane County Chronicle's 2012 Boys Golfer of the Year.

St. Charles North senior Dan Shepherd repeated the phrase “taking it seriously” a handful of times while recently assessing his final high school golf season.

Although he’s played just one recreational round since competing at the IHSA Class 3A state tournament Oct. 12, the hiatus accounts for an intense past few months. Shepherd, the Kane County Chronicle Boys Golfer of the Year, certainly was no slouch then.

“It’s a good kind of drain,” he said, “but at the end you just want to take some time off because you are going every day, six days a week.”

Talking by phone from his home – where a practice net in the basement collected rare cobwebs – Shepherd still spoke lively about resuming his routines. That and a challenging summer tournament schedule are part of what “taking it seriously” means, along with what most would call recreation.

A day before tying his personal best with a 69 at St. Andrews in West Chicago – a course he’s admittedly lukewarm about – Shepherd attended Ryder Cup practice events at Medinah Country Club.

He drew inspiration from the atmosphere and players, and especially was impressed with the head-down approach of American Jason Dufner.

Shepherd focused on matching that style en route to a medalist round at the Upstate Eight Conference River Division meet the following day. Call it a familiar blueprint.

“The thing that’s impressive about Dan is he had talent coming into our program as a freshman, and then he really worked at it,” North Stars coach Rob Prentiss said. “Not everybody has that kind of commitment to making themselves reach their full potential. And he doesn’t make a big deal about it. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, look at me. I do this.’ He quietly has gone about his business making himself a better player. We’ve been very fortunate to have him.”

Balancing visits for golf lessons, personal training sessions and sports psychologist consultations seemed farfetched to Shepherd until he began “taking it seriously” upon entering high school.

He embraced a busier slate on the summer junior tournament circuit. He studied courses more diligently. He embraced a new philosophy on practice time.

Shepherd now spends more hours on the range than the course. That includes his 9x9x9-foot basement practice net, which he received as a gift a few Christmases ago. Shepherd occasionally mixes in offseason trips to nearby golf domes – it’s better for tracking ball flight – but has found improvement can be had simply by walking down the stairs.

Walking back up and down the next day truly spurred his development.

“It wasn’t one snap and then I got better. It’s just been progressive,” Shepherd said. “It’s just a trend I’m trying to continue. Definitely once I started taking it seriously, I definitely got a whole lot better.”

North junior Raghav Cherala also has a net in his basement. He’s seen it help him lower his averages year-to-year, mirroring Shepherd’s path.

While Shepherd, Cherala and seniors Ryan Dal Degan and Jason McAleese helped North to team titles at the UEC River tournament and Larkin Regional, Shepherd was North’s lone entrant downstate.

Inclement weather shortened his weekend at The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington, where Shepherd shot 86 in his lone round. The scored tied Marmion’s Liam Creamer of Geneva for the lead among Chronicle-area 3A golfers.

“Dan played great all year,” Cherala said. “He’s just very consistent. Played good every summer, played good all during high school. Just a good guy and a good guy to to be out there with.”

Shepherd parred his first hole as play began Saturday, but left his marker on the next green as he sized up a 7-foot putt for birdie. Players once again were called off the course because of the weather. They didn’t return.

St. Charles East coach John Stock said “the Disney version” would have involved Shepherd and Saints senior Max Kelly rebounding from rough Friday rounds to shoot well on Saturday.

Shepherd could be spared the rosy end credits.

“Even though the score was high, I had to end knowing that I made it to sate and I gave it my best shot,” he said.

As usual, he was serious.

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