ROCHELLE — Reese Kirk entered his sophomore year thinking he would compete for the top junior varsity spot on the Rochelle Township High School golf team. When the 2018 season started, Kirk was shocked to learn he would be the No. 3 varsity player behind only Sean Flanagan and IHSA State Championship qualifier Megan Thiravong.
Kirk spent his entire freshman season with the junior varsity team, shooting 9-hole scores that ranged from the upper-50s to the mid-60s. With several older players waiting their turn to earn varsity spots, Kirk was primed to spend another season on junior varsity. But the Hubs lost 11 players over the offseason including nine upperclassmen, and Kirk was tasked with stepping up and filling a significant role with the varsity team.
“I wasn’t sure what happened to everybody else,” Kirk said. “I was terrified when I played my first varsity match. I thought my opponents were going to crush me since it was my first match, but I shot 53 and they shot 49, so I knew I could stay with whoever I played against… I tried to be ready and I did my best to stay in the moment throughout the season.”
Kirk, Flanagan and Thiravong were primarily Rochelle’s only varsity players during the 2018 season, which made winning matches difficult. But the lack of team scoring didn’t prevent Kirk from making improvements to his game, and while roster numbers are once again minimal this fall, Kirk and his returning teammates still have plenty to play for.
“Coach [Glen] Mehrings never told us our team scores and that was good for us because we wouldn’t focus on where we were as a team,” Kirk said. “Our focus was on being team players and not counting up our scores too early because anything could happen. Coach Mehrings helped us learn how to avoid jumping ahead and how to just keep playing and make shots.”
Kirk and the Hubs teed off the 2019 season this week with their Interstate Eight Conference debut against Ottawa and a nonconference triangular meet with Dixon and Freeport. Kirk has moved up to the No. 2 varsity spot on the Rochelle roster, and after spending hours on the course this summer, recording 9-hole scores as low as 41, Kirk now has the physical build and the confidence to have a breakout season for the Hubs.
“I’ve really cut my scores down to where I think I had a bad day if I shot 50,” Kirk said. “I want to be in the 40s this season… I know I’ll be ready and I know how to play a lot of the courses on our schedule. I want to be a leader for the younger guys and I want to encourage them when they make good shots.”
Kirk has quickly surged up the Rochelle depth chart despite having almost no experience before high school. He said he chose to make the transition from football after Mehrings called his aunt and invited him to practice during the summer before his freshman season.
“I didn’t know what I was doing on the course,” Kirk said. “I had all drivers in my bag and I didn’t even have a putter, but I started practicing with coach Mehrings more often and I started playing more over the summer. When school started, everything started clicking for me, and the game started feeling natural to me.”