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Weekend Chit-chat with ... Geneva boys golf coach Bill Koehn

Bill Koehn wrapped up his 30-year run coaching the Geneva boys golf program earlier this week, including a three-year run coaching both the Vikings boys and girls. The Vikings gave Koehn a strong swan song, winning the UEC River championship this fall. In this week’s Weekend Chit-chat with Chronicle sports editor Jay Schwab, Koehn reflects on his decades mentoring the Vikings. The following is an edited transcript:

How has the sport changed the most in your 30 years?

Well, I think mostly it’s the improvement in equipment and then the popularity of just golf in general. I mean, when I first started, we didn’t get many kids coming out. Gosh, you were lucky if you had enough kids to field the team, and then with the onset of Tiger Woods, [the game] really took off. … All the sudden, I had 50, 60 kids showing up for tryouts.

In what ways did you change as a coach during these decades?

I don’t know – it’s kind of funny, we were joking about it the other day, I was telling one of the assistants, when I first started coaching, there weren’t too many kids who could beat me playing golf, and now, if they can’t beat me, I cut them. … The caliber of the kids playing golf today is so much better.

But in terms of working with the kids, has your approach been similar?

I’ve tried to stay pretty much the same. Obviously, I’ve learned a lot over the years about dealing with kids, and just being a teacher, it seems every year you get a little better at doing things.

Have you kept a lot of memorabilia, or are you not much of a pack rat?

Oh no, I’ve got some files. I know we won 10 conference titles in 30 years. We finished first place 10 times, we finished second place 10 times, and then third place, we finished five times … Career dual meets, we were 239 wins and 86 losses. Conference dual record, it was 145-48, and in the home course record for all dual meets played on our home course – and we played on four home courses over the years (Mill Creek, Geneva Golf Club, Eaglebrook and Prairie Landing) – was 141-18. We lost only 18 home matches in 30 years, and at Mill Creek we were 73 wins and 6 losses, and at Geneva Golf Club, we were 57 wins, 11 losses.

Is there a clear-cut best player from all those years?

Oh, clear-cut, no. You’d probably look back and statistically probably look at Mike O’Neal being one of the top kids. Mike went on to play in the Canadian PGA. I’ve got some other kids out there, I had two state runner-up individuals. Back in 1986, a young guy by name of Kevin Kros, he finished second down at Arrowhead Country Club in Chillicothe, and then in 1989, a young man by the name of Mike Vegeler finished second place the year we were there as a team and finished fifth.

How emotional was this last year for you?

You’ve been doing something for such a long time, it’s really hard to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made. I’ve made many good friends over the years, coaches, and I was really fortunate this year. I had two former players come back and volunteer to be assistants with me this year, and that really made it special for me, plus we were honoring the memory of a former teammate (Raymond Kaligian) who passed away. Bryan Knapp, who came back and was an assistant this year, was Ray’s teammate, so that really made it special, and I totally enjoyed this year. It was a lot of fun, and Grant Douglas was the 2008 graduate who came back, Grant just came out of PGA school and was looking to get some experience, and really helped Tim Pease at the sophomore level.

What kind of shape is the program in for the next few years?

Well, we were pretty senior-heavy this year. We had four pretty good seniors that really [contributed] this year but the three juniors out there were an important part of the team, and then we had a sophomore, Mac Feehan, and then what can you say about (freshman) Graham Lillibridge that hasn’t been said already. He just has so much potential as a golfer, and hopefully he’s going to be around to help these guys out in the future. Graham is really focusing on hockey but he has a lot of potential on the golf course, too.

You mentioned you’d like to stay around game. At the high school level or otherwise?

You know, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s out there. I know that I had some people talk to me about [being an assistant], and I’m going to take some time away. I’m going to stay away awhile but I’m going to be popping into tournaments just to say, ‘Hi.’ Like I said, I made a lot of friends in high school golf in the area and I want to follow up with what they’re doing. I don’t know. Something might come along.

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