Naperville North turns to KnollNaperville North's Raymond Knoll lines up at putt on the 11th green during the Vern McGonagle Memorial Golf Tournament at the Naperville Country Club in Naperville, Ill., on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011.
| Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 25, 2011 8:45PM
Conspicuously absent from the Illinois golf scene this summer, Naperville North junior Raymond Knoll wasn’t hiding from the public eye by relaxing on a private yacht named Privacy in the middle of some Caribbean sea.
He hasn’t been playing pickup basketball like years past — he broke his arm last year and had to sit out summer golf — or running around Chicagoland with his friends.
“I don’t think I’ve been on Facebook since last winter,” Knoll said. “I’ve been playing so much golf.”
Ah ha, so he hasn’t been letting his talent and skill go to waste. Quite the opposite actually.
Knoll’s name has been floating around golf circles for some time. He introduced himself to the IHSA as a freshman by finishing 13th overall at the state meet. Last year as a sophomore, he won DuPage Valley Conference and Naperville Sectional titles before going on to finish fifth at the state meet and lead the Huskies’ senior-laden team to a third-place finish.
There is a metamorphosis in Knoll’s approach this offseason following two stellar high school seasons. The previous two seasons he’s had close senior friends Nick Buege and Jon Mentgen to shoot low scores if he was off on a day. He had other seniors Dan and Dave Considine and Spencer Tanaka that could do the same. He was still “the guy,” but he didn’t have to be.
But this season is different. The all-smiles, soft-spoken yet well-spoken 16-year-old is expected to shoot in the low 70s and expected to lead a team of sophomores and juniors.
He’s expected to duplicate what he’s already done and top his highest state finish if not bring home a state title. The way the expectations have built, he’s practically expected to qualify for the U.S. Open as a senior, play on the 2012 Ryder Cup team at Medinah and become the first person to play 18 dusty holes on the Moon. At least it feels that way to him sometimes.
“I talked about it with (Waubonsie Valley’s) Alec Meyer on the course,” Knoll said following last week’s Naperville City Championship. “We were walking up the 13th fairway and we weren’t playing our best. I think he was 1-over and I was 3-over. I just said it’s kind of weird playing as a junior and knowing all that I’ve accomplished in my high school years already and having everyone expect me to go out and shoot 33 every single time. I mean, I feel like I should be shooting those scores, but the expectations are just a little high.”
Knoll is still trying to harness his potential and grow into a new role of increased leadership, while handling increasing exposure. This summer, he played at the Callaway Junior World Golf Championship at Torrey Pines in San Diego and tied for sixth in a Junior Golf tournament at TPC-Sawgrass in Jacksonville. And he held his own.
His tee shot to the world famous par-3 No. 17 island green at Sawgrass never went in the water four straight days and was within three feet for birdie each time. He did miss the putts each time, however. (We’ll get to that.)
“You just stand there and look at it and you think ‘This is unbelievable,’” Knoll said. “Your heart drops and then just starts pounding so hard.”
He’s drawing on the experience of playing the brutally tough courses across the country to make him better and ease his nerves when playing lesser courses in Illinois — similar to a baseball player swinging a bat with a doughnut in an on-deck circle and the bat feeling easier to swing once it comes off.
“It’s so helpful,” he said. “I mean, I played Torrey Pines at Junior World’s, a course like that under so much pressure. It’s like 7,700 yards. Just coming out and seeing a course like this (at Naperville Country Club), it’s not like it’s easy, but it’s not as challenging as you think it would be.”
Knoll shot a 4-over 40 over nine holes during the one-day competition. If people think something is off with his game, they’re sorely mistaken.
“I’m just going to go out and play,” Knoll said. “I shot 40 today and I’m not really mad at it. I’m not going to make up a bunch of excuses about why I didn’t play my best. I feel like I’m playing really well, I’m just not scoring very well. Other than that, these courses, I feel so confident on them. I’m rolling the ball well, it’s just not going in.”
The par-5 13th and par-4 14th were perfect examples of what he’s talking about. He laid up to 75 yards on the par-5 and stuck a pitching wedge within 10 feet. He missed the putt.
His drive on the next hole was to the right in the deep rough, but from 160 yards on a downhill approach landed safely on the green 12 feet above the hole. He missed the slippery putt.
“I had nice birdie opportunities, but they’re just not falling. I don’t know what it is,” Knoll explained, “But I’m giving myself opportunities and that’s all I can do. They’ll start falling at some point.”