WARREN, Mich. — The De La Salle Collegiate golf team wrapped up its regular season Tuesday afternoon at The Orchards Golf Club.
And the Pilots did pretty well, capturing yet another Macomb County Championship.
Well, that's what could have happened had the whole COVID-19 situation not derailed all the plans DLS head coach Doug McKay had for his very-promising 2020 squad.
Instead, the Pilots could only dream of the possibilities. And that's exactly what McKay did.
"One day, as I was daydreaming, I kept thinking, 'How can I keep these kids involved?' McKay said. "I mean, they're not at school. They can't play golf. This is a pretty close team. We had really high expectations. How do we keep them bonded as a team?"
One idea was to keep the team engaged mentally. Keep them thinking about the game of golf while thinking the game through. The season schedule had already been set. So McKay turned it into a virtual schedule. His thought was to have the boys play out the season schedule in their minds — one tournament at a time.
"Many of them know the golf courses, so they go through and they play a round of golf," said McKay, who set a lineup for each tournament. "The kids then give me their score and what they did right or wrong."
Almost like a homework assignment, players must turn in their virtual scores the same day the tournament was scheduled to be played, hours after it would have concluded.
"They'll come back to me afterward and tell me, 'Coach, I shot a 77. I hit the driver good. I had some trouble on the greens,' " he said.
He then gets his five scores and takes the four best, tabulating what place the team would have virtually finished in.
"Knowing our opponents and how we would have been this year compared to those teams in that particular tournament, I figure out where we would have placed," said McKay, who estimated his team shot a 298 at Tuesday's county tournament. "That was one of the team's goals, to win another county title, as well as the Catholic League and a regional — to make it back to states."
Entering this spring, De La Salle was ranked among the top five teams in Division 1 and had won six consecutive Macomb County Tournaments. Last year, the team routed the field, winning by 23 shots. Five Pilots finished among the top eight, including four players back this season. Senior Christopher Comito was the tournament medalist, firing a 71 on the Timberwood Golf Club course. Juniors Ethan Tran and Adam Burghardt were second and fourth, respectively, with their scores of 73 and 74. And junior Avery Petri had a 77, which was good enough for eighth overall.
All four of those golfers are back this year, and the team is rounded out by senior Rocco Stroker and juniors Nicholas Iafrate, Lorance Morrison and Seth Waters. The team is deep with a lot of top-end talent. McKay had projected three tournament wins and three more top-three finishes — to date.
"As much as this (virtual golf) was for this year, it was really in preparation for next year because we play the same courses for the same tournaments from year to year," McKay said. "Golf has become all mental. These kids are so talented nowadays. If there's a weakness in a golf program, it's not physical. All these kids — all these juniors — were working out at Lifetime Fitness before all this stay at home started. This is a talented group."
This would have been Comito's fourth year on varsity. The decorated senior was presented with video tributes by his teammates. McKay is devastated for all his players, but has a special place in his heart for the seniors.
"I take this to heart," he said. "This was hard on me too. My heart goes out to Comito, to Stroker and to those juniors. There's no more important year to a golfer than their junior year — to get recruited by a college. That's their make-it or break-it year."