Golf: Rule puts problem-solving to test

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Southridge’s Brayden Wibbeler watched his shot from the fairway when the Raiders played at Sultan’s Run Golf Club last month, and the Raiders will converge on Sultan’s Run again Friday for the sectional, which will tee off at 11 a.m. Jasper will be pursuing its state-best 10th straight sectional crown, while last year’s runner-up Heritage Hills will also be looking to reach the regional for a fourth straight year and Forest Park has its sights set on advancing to the regional for the first time in program history.


Brayden Wibbeler is ready for some peace and quiet. After a season’s worth of listening to other coaches give advice to players he’s paired with, the Southridge senior can’t help but be excited about Friday’s sectional at Sultan’s Run Golf Club in Jasper because of a rule that comes attached to postseason golf.


Once sectional play launches, interaction between players and coaches is only allowed from the time a golfer leaves the green to when he tees off on the next hole.

“I just like to play golf smoothly, get in a flow and play my own game,” Wibbeler said. “When other people are talking, I can’t focus by myself.”

Most coaches try and limit interactions during holes in preparation for sectional, which ultimately leads to shorter rounds and a quicker pace throughout, but there are some who wish the rule was eradicated. These are high school kids, after all.

“I’ve never understood it,” Heritage Hills coach Marc Schum said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. It changes a lot because especially with high school kids, you would think you’d want to coach them a little more than college kids.”

Plus, what the rule restricts high school coaches from doing is permitted in collegiate golf. Forest Park coach Chris Tretter said he’s been watching the NCAA Championships recently and couldn’t help but notice coaches right alongside golfers in the fairways, the rough and even on the green, where interaction is never allowed no matter the time of year in high school.

Sometimes, it’s possible to watch a whole round blow up in the matter of a couple shots, Schum said.

“You can see a high school kid becoming unglued and it can all happen on one hole really quickly,” Schum said. “Making bad decisions and things, and you’re wanting them to grow up while they’re out there, but at the same time you have young kids especially with a year of experience and it makes it tougher. It makes it harder, but as we say it’s the same thing everybody has going on so we just have to deal with it.”

Illegal coaching in sectional comes with a two-stroke penalty, so for better or worse, coaches have altered their styles. When Schum first started coaching seven years ago, he was always present to offer words of encouragement or a tip on how to approach a hole. Now, because of the rule, he keeps his distance.

As a first-year coach, Northeast Dubois’ Billy Stubbs has followed the only-between-holes coaching rule throughout the year to prepare himself and his team for sectional. That leaves the onus on the golfer.

“Once we’re out in the round usually it’s kind of up to the player to try and figure out their own game,” Forest Park senior Zach Wendholt said. “In between some holes if (coach Chris Tretter) sees some things he can fix he’ll help us out between the holes.”

Wibbeler relishes that type of freedom. For better or worse, he likes to make decisions regarding club selection and strategy. Any dissenting opinion causes distractions and extra noise as he’s trying to focus. In short, “the players are playing not the coach,” Wibbeler said. “The players should determine what they want to do.”

His coach Brock Matthews also likes the rule, and even said he wished it applied to the regular season as well.

“It speeds play up a bit, which I don’t see as a problem much, but you don’t have the problem with coaches talking to their players all the time and slowing play down,” Matthews said. “This helps keeps the pace of play up so you’re not playing six-hour rounds.”

Even in that walk from the last green to the next hole, the extent of Matthews’ coaching is usually trying to boost morale and maintain the right frame of mind for his players. That’s also the thrust for Stubbs.

“Typically I can’t watch every player for every hole, I’m going back between each one, so I’m asking them how the hole went and making sure they’re not down on themselves,” Stubbs said. “Just keeping their confidence up and making little slight adjustments that might improve their swing.”

For Jasper coach Steve Milligan, there’s a lot he can accomplish during that brief walk.

“I really feel like there’s enough time in that minute or two to calm that kid down and tell him what he’s doing wrong,” Milligan said. “It’s too bad they put that rule in, because this is the only sport you can’t talk to a kid all the way through a tournament, all the way through a game. That’s the rule and we have to follow the rules they give us.”

Still, Jasper senior Carson Pierce thinks the Wildcats are better equipped to handle the change than most teams in the sectional field. After all, if anyone’s able to navigate the rigors of Sultan’s Run without any outside help, it should be the host Wildcats. It also helps that Milligan said his style isn’t to coach much during the round anyway.

“Every other school is going to have to do it, too, and I think we’re at the most advantage with this rule change because going into some of these big tournaments there are some coaches that stick with their kid throughout the entire tournament and give them advice on every single hole,” Pierce said. “I think we’ll have a leg up on some of the kids that do that.”

If the Wildcats capture Friday’s title, it’ll be their 10th straight sectional crown — they’ve already got the state’s longest active sectional streak at nine consecutive.

Forest Park will be gunning for a different sort of breakthrough. After returning every golfer that helped Forest Park to a sixth-place sectional finish last year, Tretter thinks the Rangers are past a midseason slump and back to posting scores strong enough to secure its first regional appearance.

“Our expectations are high,” Tretter said. “We feel that we’ve put ourselves in a position this year to do some things that haven’t happened in Forest Park golf history. Definitely looking for a top-three finish and hopefully we’re able to stretch ourselves and finish a little better than that, even.”

More on