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Golfing phenom stays on course

Rising Hinsdale Central freshman Thornton is having a sizzling summer


Last updated 7/29/2019 at 3:11pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

Sarah Thornton, 14, needs a large table to hold all of the trophies she's won in just the last three years playing youth golf, including the 13 first-place prizes she's collected this season alone. Her 5,012.5 Player of the Year points are the most earned in her age category since 2011. And with several tournaments still ahead, Thornton is all but assured of setting a new record total. (Jim Slonoff photo)

Hinsdale's Sarah Thornton was surprised to capture victory at her first golf tournament of the Illinois Junior Golf Association season back in mid-April. The cold and windy conditions were not ideal, but her score of 85 was the best among the eight girls ages 14-15 competing at Old Oak Country Club in Homer Glen.

Thornton's next match was May 11 at Deerfield Golf Club, where she triumphed again. And again June 11 at Maple Meadows Golf Club in Wood Dale. And again the next day at Buffalo Grove Golf Club. And so on until she had reeled off eight victories in a row. The eighth was actually back at Old Oak, where she earned the win by shaving seven strokes off her April total.

The 14-year-old said following her process has led to the prize bounty.

"I just want to stay in my routine and just do the best that I can," Thornton said. "I'm not really worried about getting the ball in the hole. And it usually works out."

Thornton's torrid streak was finally interrupted July 1 with a runner-up result at Cress Creek in Naperville. She converted her disappointment into motivation two days later at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, posting her first sub-par score of the season in a dominant performance. Her 2-under 70 was 12 strokes clear of the next closest player.

"That was really fun," she said of her round that featured four birdies. "Before that I wasn't really making a lot of birdies, but then I started practicing my putting a lot more."

Last year playing in the 12-13 age division, Thornton displayed her considerable talent by collecting five wins and finishing fifth or better in 19 tournaments. She was second in the Player of the Year points race.

Those were nine-hole competitions, though, and there were question marks about Thornton's prospects playing 18 at the next level. After all, she'd only been playing since age 11.

Those questions have been definitively put to rest, as has the Player of the Year contest. She's won four more tournaments since Cog Hill (and two second places), giving her a point total at the start of this week of 5,012.5. Her closest rival sits at 2,875. But Thornton's keeping an even keel.

"I can't get too excited about my good rounds because there's always going to be bad rounds," she said.

Her coach, Cog Hill pro Kevin Weeks, said Thornton is a star pupil.

"What she's done is amazing," he said. "She does what she's supposed to do, and she practices the right way."

Success can often breed a contented complacency, Weeks remarked. Not with Thornton.

"Especially for a 14-year-old that doesn't have a lot of experience, she's been really good sticking with her process," he said.

They've focused particularly on honing her approach shots into the green to yield shorter putts. And Weeks also has impressed upon her to concentrate on executing each shot and not get caught up in leaderboard watching.

"Don't look at the scoreboard," he instructs. I'm proud of how she sticks with her process and does what she's supposed to do."

Thornton said her drives usually end up in the fairway, which helps put her in good position.

"I'm just working on hitting it straight, and I'm trying to get a lot better around the greens," she said. "I've been trying to forget about my bad shots and kind of just move on."

Thornton's 13th title came July 17 at Deerfield Golf Club, which was also the site of her second title. Just as she lowered her score in the two Old Oak tournaments, she improved her 6-over 78 in May to a 1-under 71. On July 19, she shot 74 in the weather-shortened IJGA-CDGA Junior Amateur, tying for fourth place despite being one of the youngest players in the field.

"I just try to learn from each tournament and get better," she said. "I like getting more course experience. When I play in different tournaments, it helps me get used to different greens and different places."

Expanding her network of friends among the relatively small community of IJGA regulars has been an ancillary reward.

"It's been really fun getting to know people who have played in those tournaments," Thornton said.

Thornton will soon begin her studies at Hinsdale Central High School, where she also aspires to play for the highly decorated girls golf program. She has visions of playing at the college level beyond that. But there's more development needed before that can become reality, Thornton remarked.

"I'm still working on a lot of things with my swing and around the green. Once I get consistent enough, I think it'll be easier," she said.

Not easier for her competitors, that's for sure.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 630-323-4422, ext 103


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