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Making better decisions on the golf course is the primary goal this year for all of the members of the Evanston boys squad in what could be classified as a rebuilding season after the graduation of five seniors from last year’s team.

And thanks to a rule change that took effect last year, they can get a little help from the coaching staff during the actual competition.

The dynamic of that rule put into place by the Illinois High School Association for the 2014 season that allows coaches to actually walk the course with their players and offer advice during tournaments and dual meets is still a work in progress, according to veteran Evanston coach Jed Curtis.

The Wildkits opened their season last week with a 10th place finish at the 22-team Raider Invitational in Bloomington and also participated in last Saturday’s Central Suburban League Showcase event, helping the South division to a victory over the North. Evanston’s first dual meet is Wednesday against Wheeling.

The ability to pick the right club and make the right decisions on the course is just as important to success in golf as the ability to hit the ball 300 yards off the tee. That’s a lesson that can take a lifetime to learn, but the rule change means that now Curtis and his fellow coaches can do more teaching in the heat of the moment.

“We’re making a point of it this year, that from a team perspective our course management has to get better,” said Curtis. “We need to play a little more strategic golf, maybe hit a 4-iron or a 5-iron off the tee instead of a driver.

“When the rule changed last year and allowed us to walk the course with the kids, it really opened up my eyes to the lack of good decision-making out there by every team, and not knowing how to hit trouble shots, how to get into position instead of just blasting through openings that really aren’t there.

“Now the players are a little more used to the coaches giving advice. I always say you don’t have players say to the football coach no, I’ve got my own play, but some golfers don’t know how to accept the coaching yet. I think of it more like a player/caddie relationship (in professional golf), where you’re able to make a team decision.”

Led by sophomore Matt Barbato and returning seniors Nick Lydon, Ethan Stein and Dylan Thompson, the Wildkits don’t lack varsity experience. Also challenging to make their scores count on a match-by-match basis are seniors Nicholas O’Brien, Rob James, Charlie Evans and Ethan Hedman, plus juniors Jordan Wallace, Theron Walker, Daniel Nortz and Josh Shawver-Weiner.

“What I like about this team is that this is a very coachable group, with a lot of upside for growth,” Curtis said. “Sometimes what you start out with is pretty much what you get by the end of the year, but I really feel that with this group, they can all shave some strokes because they’re great kids who really work hard.”

Barbato’s varsity debut — he was actually in the mix for a spot on the varsity postseason roster last

fall — was notable when the Wildkits made their annual season-opening trek to Bloomington and posted a team score of 331. Competing on The Den course that annually serves as the host for the Illinois High School Association state tournament, the steady sophomore carded a 74 and tied for 5th place as an individual.

He was the lone ETHS golfer to break 80 as Lydon fired an 83 and Wallace and Stein added 87s.

“We always make that trip. It’s a nice trip that the kids really look forward to, and we feel like as a team we’re gonna start the season where we want to finish it,” Curtis explained.

“Matthew has really been coming on strong for us. He had some rounds like that last year, but not in tournaments and not on the state tournament course. And tournament golf is so different from playing with your friends somewhere. He’s gained a lot of length from last year and he has a really good short game, too. He’s so precise and he didn’t miss a green from 100 feet in. He’s also very confident with his driver and he’ll hit fairway after fairway, too.”

Both Barbato (42-39) and Lydon (40-41) showed the way with 81s for the Kits at Saturday’s CSL event at Lake Bluff Golf Course, in a format where individual 9-hole scores were counted. Next best for ETHS were James (40-44) and Thompson (42-42).

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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