This is one in a series of stories celebrating 100 years of the IHSA Boys Golf State Finals. Click here to view the other stories and here to order commemorative 100-year state final gear and pin flags.
IHSA Marks a Century of Boys Golf
By: Robert Pruter
High school golf in Illinois dates back to 1899, when two Chicago prep¬aratory schools — the Harvard School and University High School — met in a dual meet. The first big golf tournament in Illinois was the Western Interscholastic Golf Tournament sponsored by the Western Golf Association from 1903 to 1916. Although open to schools throughout the Midwest, mostly Illinois secondary schools participated. Hall of Fame golfer Chick Evans of Evanston Academy was a two-time winner of the tournament, 1907 and 1908.
When the University of Illinois inaugurated a state tournament in May of 1916, the school was expanding its weekend offerings for its other two events in the third week of May: the track and field meet begun in 1893 and the tennis meet begun in 1912. Like the tennis meet, the golf tournament provided for no team championship but only an individual medalist award. The first tournament was won by Walter Barndt of Hyde Park, who also won that year the last Western Interscholastic. At this time Chicago public schools were highly competitive in the tournament. Of the top fifteen finishers, eleven were from Chicago schools, three from suburban schools, and one was from downstate. In years hence, the field would grow geographically more diverse.
In 1926, the Illinois High School Athletic Association (as it was then called) arranged to co-sponsor the golf meet with the University of Illinois, making the tournament an official IHSA competition. By the early 1930s the tournament had become geographically broader. Of the top fifteen finishers in 1932, only three were from Chicago schools, five from the suburbs (including the Fox River schools), and seven from downstate schools. The tournament in 1934 for one year was held in the fall and at Peoria, instead of Champaign.
The best known golfer to come out of Illinois in this period was Jerry Barber. He is listed in the IHSA records as Jerome Barber of Jacksonville, the second place finisher in the spring 1934 state tournament. He became a seven-time PGA Tour winner, including the PGA Tournament of 1961.
In 1938, the state golf tournament came under the sole sponsorship of the IHSA, at which time it inaugurated a team championship. The tournament was also moved that year to Peoria and continued there through 1944. In 1945, the tournament returned to Champaign.
Peoria High won the first team competition, and in the 1940s and 1950s the schools of Highland Park (Deerfield-Shields), Hinsdale (Twp.), Winnetka (New Trier), and Rockford (East) were the dominant powers in the sport. These were schools that generally had golf courses in their communities, and families who could afford to play the sport.
The most prominent Illinois golfer to emerge from the state tournament in this period was Manuel de la Torre of Deerfield-Shields High School (now Highland Park). He led his school to the state title in 1940, subsequently took second in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, and became a renowned golf instructor and a member of the PGA Hall of Fame. Two other medalists in this period, Dean Lind of Rockford East, who won in 1948, and Emil Esposito of Leyden Twp., the individual winner in 1957, both went on to compete in the PGA Tour.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of many downstate schools to golf preeminence, notably Peoria Richwoods, Bloomington, Galesburg, Rockford Guilford, and Belleville West. After the IHSA introduced a two-class tournament for the 1975-76 school year, downstate Carmi took the first five titles in Class A. In 1974-75 season, the IHSA moved the boys’ golf tournament permanently from the spring to the fall. The following season, the IHSA introduced a girls’ golf tournament.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Illinois produced a number of top high school golfers — mostly from downstate — who went on to professional fame. Don “D. A.” Weibring of Quincy Notre Dame, state runner-up in 1970, became a five-time winner on the PGA tour. The 1972 state champion, Jay Haas from Belleville West, won the 1975 NCAA tournament and later the PGA Tour nine times. His brother, James Haas, the 1980 Class AA state champion, also played on the PGA Tour.
Gary Hallberg, 1974 state champion from Barrington, went on to win the 1979 NCAA title and became a three-time winner on the PGA. Dave Ogrin, Waukegan East, who won Class AA title the following year, played 16 years on the PGA Tour. The most recent Illinois high school golfer of note is D. A. Points, who while leading Pekin (H.S.) to the Class AA team title the fall of 1993, won the individual title. As of 2016 he was a two-time winner on the PGA Tour.
In 2016 the IHSA celebrates a century of bringing ever greater tournament participation and recognition to Illinois high school golfers. From what began as recognition of one individual medalist out of a field of a few dozen large school participants in 1916 in the Chicago area, the tournament has grown to encompass hundreds of golfers all around the state, awarding three medalists and three team champions representing three classes.