Crystal Lake South's Will Stewart had a summer to remember.
First, the sweet-swinging senior was runner-up in the 41st annual Chick Evans Junior Amateur Championship at Itsaca Country Club in July.
But the highlight of Stewart's memorable summer wouldn't come until two weeks later, when he played against some of the state's top golfers in the Illinois Open Championship at White Eagle in Naperville.
Stewart played in the same group as Patrick Flaven, who is currently on the Korn Ferry Tour, a developmental tour for the PGA Tour.
"That was one of the best experiences of my career," said Stewart, who missed the third-round cut. "That atmosphere, just being with a bunch of guys who you know could kill you, I felt like a dwarf out there."
Stewart's successful summer has carried over to the high school season, which looks a lot different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Gators completed back-to-back perfect seasons in the Fox Valley Conference and were hoping for a return trip to the Class 2A state tournament after making it in each of the past two years. However, those hopes were dashed when the IHSA announced a modified postseason, eliminating the state series.
For now, teams will compete in their COVID-19 regions for an end-of-season tournament during the final week of Oct. 19-25. For teams in the Northwest Herald coverage area, that means they can play against schools in McHenry and Lake counties.
Stewart is hoping the IHSA will reconsider bringing back a state series.
"For the top tournament of the year to get knocked out, that's pretty disappointing," Stewart said. "Hopefully they'll reconsider. It's golf. We're pretty socially distanced out there already. If I had to make one pitch, that's it. We're socially distanced by default."
South graduated a couple of its best players from last season, including John Lishchynsky, the Northwest Herald Boys Golfer of the Year. Stewart's younger brother, sophomore Nate Stewart, is one of the newer faces, along with junior Bryce Sturm.
Seniors Ricky Falbo, Tanner Coakley and Spencer Shireman all returned.
"We're finding our way," Stewart said. "Over the past few years, we've had a lot of guys graduate, so we've got to have guys step up, and those guys are learning. You get into a varsity match, and I remember my first one, my legs were shaking like crazy."
Stewart has developed a competitive rivalry with Crystal Lake Central's Eric Klutke, with the two going head-to-head in two tournaments already. Klutke beat Stewart by one shot in the teams' season-opening tournament at Boulder Ridge in Lake in the Hills, while Stewart bested Klutke with a 3-under par 69 at Pinecrest in Huntley.
"He hits the ball a freakin' mile," Stewart said. "It's unreal. We have different playing styles, yet we both go out there and we shoot a lot of the same scores. It's fun to see a guy out there like that."
Stewart is hoping to play golf at the next level and will forgo Saturday's Cary-Grove Invite at Foxford Hills so he can compete in an American Junior Golf Association tournament in Georgia. Without a state series this year, Stewart said he needed to find a couple of bigger events to get more college exposure.
Still, nothing beats the high school experience, Stewart said.
"High school golf is the most fun season I've ever been a part of, in any sport," Stewart said. "The way you get to hang around your team all the time. And I love coach (Curt Wadlington) and (Brian) Adcock. There's just something about the golf season. It goes by so fast, but it's so much fun."
Streaking Skyhawks: Johnsburg's girls golf team set a program record for lowest 18-hole score earlier this season, shooting a 367 at Spring Valley in Salem, Wisconsin. That beat the team's previous best 18-hole score (376) by nine shots, which was set two years ago at the Class 1A regionals.
Johnsburg has high aspirations this season. It would like to win the Kishwaukee River Conference for the first time. So far, the Skyhawks are 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the KRC.
They defeated last year's KRC champion, Harvard, 196-199, in their first meeting Aug. 20. The KRC favorites will meet for a second time Tuesday, and again at the KRC Tournament on Sept. 30 at Blackstone in Marengo.
Johnsburg coach Chris O'Niel said the team isn't taking the season for granted.
"The girls are focused," O'Niel said. "They're disappointed in the change in the state series, but they haven't really brought it up. It's kind of neat; they have to be online all day, so it's a way for them to connect. They get to go out and play everyday. That's the best way to look at it."
Johnsburg felt like it had a good chance to qualify for state this season, led by senior Ellie Johnson, the defending KRC individual champion and two-time state qualifier. She recorded the lowest state score in program history last season with a 78 on Day 1 of the 1A state tournament.
Johnson shot a 79 earlier this season.
"I think she's got more in her," O'Niel said. "I think she's going to throw out a lower score at some point."
After the KRC Tournament, the Skyhawks will host the end-of-season regional meet at Boone Creek. The teams participating in that still need to be decided, O'Niel said. Johnsburg's focus now is chasing the Hornets for the KRC title.
"I think we would have had a shot at state," O'Niel said. "But you change your goals and focus on what you can control. That's trying to win our first conference championship. Harvard has almost everyone back and the match next week is big. Last year, they had the best of us most matches."
FVC frontrunners: Huntley's girls golf team has now gone 11-1 in its last 12 FVC duals going back to last season, moving to 5-0 in conference play after Wednesday's 170-245 victory over Dundee-Crown at Bonnie Dundee in Carpentersville.
Senior Lorelei Oomens shot a 38 and has earned medalist honors in four of five FVC duals for Huntley (Molly Baker earned medalist honors in the other). She also finished first in her team's season-opening tournament victory at Pinecrest.
With duals left against Jacobs, Crystal Lake Central co-op and Hampshire, the Raiders are on pace to complete their first perfect conference season in program history. Huntley captured its first FVC title a year ago, ending Central co-op's streak of six consecutive titles.
Unfortunately, the Raiders won't get a chance to repeat as McHenry County Tournament champions. The tournament, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was canceled at the start of the season.
The FVC is only allowing meets among teams in the conference because of COVID-19. The McHenry County Tournament includes teams outside the FVC, including Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo, Marian Central and Richmond-Burton. Huntley stopped Central co-op's string of 10 straight county titles last year.
Rolling Thunder: Nobody in the KRC has been able to stop Woodstock North co-op's boys golf team, as the defending KRC champions are off to a 6-0 start with two duals left against R-B and Marengo before the KRC tournament Sept. 29 at Blackstone.
North co-op has gotten contributions up and down its lineup, with Brady Heeren, Luke Trewyn, Aidan Sivore, Jake Murray, Sam Berry and Brad Arnold have all contributing top scores for the Thunder during the team's perfect start.
North co-op won last year's KRC Tournament by 16 shots over runner-up Richmond-Burton. This year, the Thunder have won by an average of 22 shots.