High School Sports

Simply the best: Edwardsville senior Justin Hemings goes out on top

Edwardsville's Justin Hemings watches his drive from the tee on hole 8 during the Class 3A golf regional at Oak Brook golf course in Edwardsville.
Edwardsville's Justin Hemings watches his drive from the tee on hole 8 during the Class 3A golf regional at Oak Brook golf course in Edwardsville. dholtmann@bnd.com

It took recent Edwardsville High School graduate Justin Hemings two days of near flawless play at the Den at Fox Creek Golf Course in Bloomington this fall to become the Tigers first state golf champion.

It took a little longer for the realization to set in for Hemings that he had indeed become a state champion.

“This may sound weird but in Edwardsville they put signs up honoring individuals or teams that win state championships. It wasn’t until I was driving around and saw the sign that said ‘Justin Hemings IHSA Class 3A State Golf Champion’ that it really hit me,’’ Hemings said. “That was the first time I realized that hey, I really did this. I won the state championship. What did I do to celebrate? Nothing really. I just went out and played more golf.’’

Hemings is still playing golf in December. The Belleville News-Democrat Class 3A Player of the Year for the second straight season, Hemings graduated from Edwardsville High School last week and is currently in Florida playing golf and will compete in a national tournament on Dec. 28.

Hemings will then begin classes at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where he will play collegiate golf during the next four years. Hemings plans to major in finance at NIU.

“Mike (Suhre) who is the head professional at Oak Brook Golf Course in Edwardsville, played at NIU and was nice enough to call the coach for me,” Hemings said. “I also looked at SIUE and the coach at Louisville and I exchangd a few emails but that’s about as far as that went. Looking back I started my recruiting process too late.

“But I really like Northern. I’ve been told that once you start visiting schools that you’ll know it when you find the right one and once I got to Northern I knew it. The facilities are great, the golf program is very good. They have won the MAC (Mid-American Conference) golf twice twice in the last few years and their athletic program is on the rise. Plus the coach seemed glad that I was there. I just feel this is the best choice for me.”

Hemings varsity career began as a freshman four years ago when he played in limited events. However one stands out as a memorable occurance in the golf career of Hemings.

“I didn’t play in many matches and the one tournament that I did play when I was a freshman I played horrible. It was right then and there I made the promise to myself that I would never play bad in another tournament in my high school career,” Hemings said. “I don’t know how much control I had in making that statement. But that was my mindset.”

Hemings kept his word. In his remaining three years as a Tiger, Hemings’ score counted in every tournament and match. Hemings won six tournaments during his final two years at Edwardsville — including a pair of Class 3A Regional titles.

Among the four championships this season was the regional title won at Oak Brook where he fired a 5-under par 67 in his last home event. The 67 was a sign of things to come for Hemings who shot a 76 at the Alton Sectional at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course then fired rounds of 74 and 71 at the state finals to post a two-stroke win over two strokes better then Ethan Farnam of (Crystal Lake) Prairie Ridge.

Hemings is the first male state champion from the metro-east since Althoff’s Tim Riley won the Class A state championship in 1996.

Still, ever the perfectionist, Hemings thought he could have played even better in Bloomington that weekend.

“I played good golf. But I think there were a lot of us who felt that we left some shots on the golf course that weekend,” Hemings said. “I was happy with how I played. But never satisfied. I could have played better.”

Hemings, who played several St. Louis Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association events during the summer, also credits Gateway National Links head professional Bob Tays for helping him with his game. Although, Hemings still plays a lot of golf and spends countless hours working on his game, he does it in a much more mature way.

“I went out to Gateway a few days ago and his some balls. I didn’t want to let a 60-degree day in December go wasted,” Hemings said. “When I was younger I would play seven days a week. Now there are weeks where I will play six days, but now I’ll go just hit balls and I’ll go workout more. I’m just using my time better then what I did a couple of years ago.”

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean