Tyler Thomas didn’t use the pandemic as a vacation.
When schools and businesses shut down, the Homewood-Flossmoor senior golfer found himself with a lot of extra time. So he and his dad, Chucky, started going every day to Jackson Park Golf Course in Chicago. He’d spend up to 12 hours hitting balls alone or with a private coach with no specific aim except to improve.
“I had a goal in mind to make varsity,” Thomas said. “People started telling me I had a good swing and I could be great. That’s when I put that into my mind and pursued it.”
It worked. Thomas was shooting in the 130s last summer. This year, he usually turns in a scorecard closer to the low- to mid-80s. His best rounds are even better.
“The biggest jump I’ve made in my game is my mindset, understanding that you don’t have to hit it perfect in order to score the ball. It’s just about controlling your mind for four or five hours for a tournament,” Thomas said. “Just playing the game every day, trying to muscle the ball throughout the course, I learned that’s not what works.”
Baseball was Thomas’s primary sport growing up. He didn’t make the H-F team as a freshman, though, so he went out for golf. It wasn’t serious, at first.
In fact, Thomas was on the practice squad as a ninth grader. He played junior varsity as a sophomore. Coach Chris Siglic said it’s his work ethic that made him the rare golfer who moves from the practice squad to the No. 2 spot.
Thomas will sometimes hit balls for hours after a tournament. He often gets in some extra putting or chipping after a practice round.
“He’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had in the program. His preparation and time commitment to the game is incredible. It’s pretty much all he does,” Siglic said. “Other kids, if I tell them they’ll do it. Tyler is just driven to do it.”
Thomas said he’s always thinking about the sport, whether that’s analyzing his last round or thinking about his swing or watching golf videos at lunch or after class or after practice. The only videos he doesn’t like are ones of his pre-pandemic swing, which he now finds cringeworthy.
“Golf is me,” he said. “I’ve felt like that since last summer.”
Thomas wants to play on the PGA tour someday. A college golf scholarship is a real possibility now. He’s heard from a few schools and will know more about his chances in a few months. Thomas is thinking of majoring in accounting or economics.
“I understand that I need to be at that level way further than I am right now, so I try to make an effort to improve every single day,” he said. “Even if it’s just a small thing, I try to get better every day.”
The Vikings play in the regional Wednesday at Balmoral Woods. They won’t be favored to advance as a team in a regional with Lockport, Lincoln Way East and Lincoln Way Central. The top three teams and top 10 individuals move on to the sectional. Thomas believes there’s a chance, though.
“We have potential for four or five to score well. We just haven’t put that together, yet,” Siglic said. “If we play our best, it’s possible we could sneak out of there. I preach to them that if we play our best, scores will happen and you never know.”