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St. Charles East

Johnson roars to smoking start at St. Charles Junior Tournament

Colin Johnson hits from a fairway during the St. Charles Junior Golf Tournament at Pottawatomie Golf Course in St. Charles Wednesday morning.
Colin Johnson hits from a fairway during the St. Charles Junior Golf Tournament at Pottawatomie Golf Course in St. Charles Wednesday morning.

ST. CHARLES – Recreational rounds resumed at Pottawatomie Golf Course Wednesday morning shortly after the last of 23 players boomed their opening tee shots to begin the St. Charles Junior Tournament.

Among the sights and sounds that immediately followed were the hum of the course's golf carts, which surely enticed incoming St. Charles East freshman Grace Westerhoff.

Westerhoff admits golf's allure at first amounted simply to driving without a club. One wayward shot from her dad later, she experienced a disappointing taste.

“I kind of went two feet, you know. Rebel," Westerhoff said. "But I don’t play to drive the golf cart anymore.”

Westerhoff joined much of the field in praising golf's risk-reward nature after nine holes on a picturesque morning. It wasn't for them to say why a few more contemporaries didn't register to compete. Enjoying their surroundings was fulfilling on its own.

“If anyone was looking to play golf, you should try it," St. Charles North sophomore Marisa Kuchta said, "because it is actually really fun, and it’s fun to be out there.”

If his score is any indication, East senior Colin Johnson enjoyed himself most, carding a 1-under par 34 to take a seven-stroke lead into today's final round of the Boys 16 and 17 competition.

That mark is five strokes better than Johnson's opening round in 2013, when he stumbled on the second day and fell short of the title. His edge against Daniel Haugen and Luke Spencer, who had separate 41s, contrasts with Connor King's advantage in Boys 14 and 15 play.

An incoming freshman and the younger brother of Saints senior Gary King, who is playing in an IJGA event this week, Connor King's 44 is one stroke clear of Charlie Downing among a crowded pack.

“I just hope I can pull out the win tomorrow," King said. "I was hitting my drives today, hitting some fairways. It was good.”

Friend and classmate Jason Kuta is among those on King's heels, hoping to capitalize on his familarity with a course that also will host East tryouts next month.

“Just this year, I started really getting into golf. And then I got the summer pass here, you know, so I’ve just been coming all the time," Kuta said.

Girls competition was consolidated into one foursome after Westerhoff was the only athlete to register in the 11-14 group. She joined Kuchta as well as defending overall medalist Gianna Furrie, a North sophomore who leads the field with a 44, three strokes ahead of Saints sophomore Kacie Gaffney.

Gaffney navigated through a disastrous nine on No. 3 to remain in contention for another duel against Furrie. Still, she's just as excited about another day of playing and getting acquainted with Westerhoff and Kuchta.

Westerhoff is a soon-to-be teammate. Kuchta is someone Gaffney had no experience with before this week.

"She was really fun to get to know," Gaffney said of Kuchta. "She was really quiet, though. But definitely playing with new people. Because I know Gianna and we have been going at it for like, five years. Playing with other people, too, is fun."

Organizers hoped to spread that notion's wealth this summer, opening competition to those from outside St. Charles for the first time as a way to allay declining participation numbers.

While the junior core largely represents the Pride of the Fox, a few out-of-towners are expected among the 60-member field for the St. Charles Men's Tournament, which was similarly reconstructed and opens this weekend.

Kuchta (66) stands in fourth in the girls race, but has a reasonable, friendly target in Westerhoff (62). Both golfers' optimism provides an important backdrop not only to this event, but to those beyond.

“I didn’t do as good as I wanted to," Kuchta said, "but there’s always tomorrow.”

It's a tomorrow without golf carts, but at least there's golf.

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