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Millcreek Journal

Skyline Eagles soaring high after another dominating year of golf

May 24, 2021 02:51PM ● By Daniel Olsen

By Daniel Olsen | [email protected]

Nearly a year ago, the men’s golf team at Skyline High School made a statement by winning a national team championship. One boys state title and girls region title later, the program still looks like the team to beat in 5A. Coach Kenneth James was pleased overall with the performance of his teams this year at the state tournament in Rose Park in Salt Lake City. While there is always room for improvement, he felt they made good strides this year.

“The boys did well,” Coach James said. “The girls did well too. I would like to have performed better at state but they played well.”

The girls placed fourth overall at state this spring after winning a region title. James could be seen rocking Skyline colors in his Loudmouth John Daly outfit. The lucky clothes seemed to pay off for his team. 

James and the sport of golf have a long history.

“When I was a freshman in college, I took a golf course,” James said. “I then took an intermediate course and then an advanced one. It’s been non-stop ever since.”

This love for the game led James to eventually coach golf for both the girls team and eventually boys. He started coaching the girls team about 14 years ago when the sport was first introduced to the UHSAA. It’s played in the spring so he was able to coach girls golf as well as football in the fall. Eventually, James was offered a job to coach boys golf but turned it down at first since the football team was doing well. About a year and a half later, James realized he was getting a little burned out with football and went all in on coaching golf.

That decision has certainly paid off. The girls tied for fourth at state and are steadily improving. Skyline freshman Ashley Lam took third at state so she won first-team all-state honors. Gwen Poelman placed in the top 20 so she will likely take home an honorable mention when the awards are handed out. Other top performers on the girls team include Avery Kraatz and Tegan Halloran. Claire Keller and Laurel Iorg rounded out the varsity team.

“The strength of the girls golf team is the youth.” James said. “We had six freshman girls earn a varsity letter. Only one of the girls who graduated was on varsity. We hope to be good enough to give Timpview a challenge in the future.”

The Thunderbirds are the undisputed champions of 5A girls golf. They won the team state championship and nobody else was close. Three of their top golfers finished in the top four. It won’t be easy, but the future looks promising for the Lady Eagles golfers. 

Coaching the girls golf and boys golf each present different challenges. Throughout his tenure, James has learned to coach each group more effectively.

“The girls like to get their reps in,” James said. “The boys like to make everything a competition. We have chipping and putting competitions since that is what keeps them motivated.”

It is also important to build team chemistry. James admitted that the girls do better at that since they are more talkative on the course. The boys don’t talk as much out there. They are a little more stoic and not as chatty.

“The varsity golfers on the boys team are better golfers than I am,” James said. “With the boys I focus on helping them avoid mental mistakes. With the girls I focus more on strategy.”

The boys are mad when they shoot over par. That makes it even more imperative for James to follow up and ask where they are falling short if they don’t meet this challenging benchmark.

“It’s hard to be perfect,” James said. “The boys push each other and try to stay loose. This hopefully helps them handle pressure. The girls are also involved in so many things. They have hard classes along with jobs or internships. This makes it tricky in the spring with tests at the end of the year. The parental and community sport is important” 

While the Skyline golf program has plenty to be proud about to date, they aren’t satisfied. They are still looking to accomplish their team and individual goals. They always want to win region and state so they set benchmarks to get there.

“We try to do drills that simulate pressure,” James said. “Golf is all about pressure. They have to hit people watching, and make the four to six foot putts when it matters.”

Skyline also focuses a great amount on chipping. The main goal for them is to chip onto the green so they don’t waste too many strokes on that. Whether it’s a short or mid-range shot, it’s important to be able to master this.

“The boys go out and play all the time,” James said. “Getting girls to play more golf is the most important thing. In the offseason it’s important to get them to play on a regular basis.”

The golfers at Skyline are encouraged to get a card that allows them to play at just about any course in the state for just five dollars if they walk. This is also a great way to get some exercise.

The boys golf team traveled to Pinehurst last summer. Coaches were not allowed to attend, due to pandemic restrictions. Parents of these players accompanied them. Instead of focusing on individual success, their focus as a team is what helped them win the championship.

One of those top performers on the team is BYU commit Tyson Shelley. He set the all-time state record for the lowest score after two days. He also helped the team set a record for best combined score of -35. The other Division I commit is Simon Kwon. He has decided to continue his education and golf career at the University of California, Berkeley.

Some other golfers are good enough to play at the next level, but have decided to focus on the academic aspect of college. A great example of that is Joseph Kim. He is one of the more talented golfers on the team. However, he has an academic scholarship to Cal Poly he will focus on instead. Peter Kim, Joseph’s brother, is also a talented player for the Skyline team.

Shawn Lam is another talented varsity player who earned second team all-state honors. He finished with a -1 on the meet which was good enough to be tied for 10th on the day. He was among the top 15 best golfers in 5A.

It was a great year for both programs in the middle of the pandemic. As restrictions start to lift, the Eagles will hope to continue lifting their game. James has helped build a program with not only region aspirations, but state and possibly national aspirations as well.