Boys Golfer of the Year: Yorkville’s Justin Goebel was cool under pressure, returned to state

Foxes’ senior finished second at conference, made state on sectional playoff

Justin Goebel isn’t used to golfing in front of a bunch of spectators.

The Yorkville senior had no other choice on Oct. 2 when he fired a 2-over par 73 at Whitetail Ridge Golf Club yet found himself in a three-way tie, and fighting to advance to the state finals for the second straight season.

“There were like 70 to 80 people [watching] which was all different for me,” he said. “I had never been in a playoff before other than that and the most people I’ve seen watching me has maybe been six or seven people and it’s usually the parents of other golfers. It was a new experience and it was somewhat nerve-wracking on that first tee.”

Winning a playoff was yet another new experience. Yet another one is the announcement that Goebel has been named the 2023 Record Newspapers Boys Golfer of the Year.

“I think the goal coming into the season was to get to state since I made it junior year,” he said. “My dad would say once you go to state or break par you’ve proved to yourself that you are able to do that again. Those were my goals. I tried to keep most of my rounds in the 70s and a personal goal I always have is making sure I have no double bogeys. They add up your score.”

An all-conference selection for the second straight season, Goebel had one of his best rounds of the fall at Blackberry Oaks Golf Course in Bristol during the Southwest Prairie Conference meet on Sept. 20. He finished in second place that day with a 1-over 73 to tie Minooka’s Brett Widlowski for second place. He also finished in second place overall in the conference, falling a point short of first place twice the past two seasons.

“I think that my best ball striking was at conference and then my best round overall and most memorable was probably the sectional to get to state,” he said. “The cut line was +2 the whole day and obviously you’re not supposed to look at the scoreboard, you’ve got to be able to just go out there and shoot.”

West Aurora sophomore Jake Anderson had birdied the ninth hole during the sectional, which was also the final hole of his round. Anderson had done seemingly everything possible to force the playoff, including acing the 175-yard 17th hole, a feat that Goebel witnessed.

Anderson, Goebel and Glenbard West senior Grant Roscich, who tied for seventh in the state last season, each finished with a 73 but only two could advance to state. Shortly after finishing their 18th hole of the day, the three golfers headed back to No. 1 where they were joined by a gallery consisting of a mix of golfers from the teams that qualified, including Geneva, Hinsdale Central and Wheaton Warrenville South, as well as coaches, parents and site officials for the playoff.

After surviving the first playoff hole by matching Anderson and Roscich’s pars with a par of his own, Goebel pushed his drive into the other fairway on the 557-yard par 5 second hole.

“It was not ideal, but as I started walking, I knew there were trees over there and whatnot, but the lie was perfect, a little uphill, too, but perfect for a long iron,” he said. “There was a kind of small little fescue area, so I had to lay up and I took a 5-iron and hit one of the best shots I’ve ever hit, I smoked it. I was just trying to hit it 200 [yards] and then have 120 in and I ended up smoking it to 10 yards out in front of the green.”

Using Anderson’s bunker shot into the middle of the green to help gauge his own upcoming shot, Goebel placed his chip about a dozen feet short of the hole, setting himself up for the uphill birdie putt he desired.

“I made a confident stroke, and like Tiger Woods’ said, even if you miss it, you have to hold your head up high that you made a confident stroke,” he said. “I did and I was able to make it to state.”

Roscich, a two-time Illinois State Junior Amateur champion who is going to be like Mike and play at the University of North Carolina, took a par to join Goebel at state while Anderson’s impressive day came to an end with a bogey.

“It’s funny because Justin is such a consistent golfer who can hit 300-plus drives and that kid pulls out a 4-iron and hits it 285 on the first tee box,” Foxes coach Cody Wyeth said. “On the second hole he hit a 3-iron 300-plus and outdrove Justin who hit a driver. On my end, you’re watching and thinking you just have to score, and in reality, Justin put himself in a good spot to do that. I told him ‘I’m proud of you.’ The way he persevered was really impressive.”

At state, Goebel finished in a tie for 40th place with a 160 after shooting rounds of 77 and 83.

After playing on the JV squad for the majority of his freshman season, Goebel was a varsity fixture the past three seasons.

“I’ve certainly grown and I’m not just hitting it farther and straighter, but I’m learning more about my strengths and weaknesses,” Goebel said. “I think I’ve really collected knowledge over the years in getting to know the courses I’m playing and putting the ball in the right spots.”

As the team’s top scorer, he led by example, but also was the guy pushing his teammates through positive feedback and motivation.

“We had four seniors, five juniors and a sophomore on the team and he was a big reason we made a push,” Wyeth said. “He’s not super loud, but reiterated all the important points to the kids, letting them know that it’s your game so play each shot, but also reminding them that you’re also playing to help the team.”

Being in control of your round is something Goebbel truly enjoys about this game that’s been around for hundreds of years and continues to entice new young players.

“Something that caught my eye ever since I started playing golf is that you kind of control everything about your game,” he said. “I played baseball and basketball in middle school, and to win, your whole team had to be playing well. And while you can help your teammates in golf, you can only control what you can do yourself out on the course.”

Goebel was pretty much on his own during the sectional since the lone other Yorkville golfer competing was junior Evan Peterson, a first-year player.

“While trying to split time with the two, there was only so much I could do and I was pretty confident in Justin’s ability to shoot,” Wyeth said. “Since this was all brand-new for Evan, I wanted to spend more time with him. Once we got to the playoff I was able to walk through those two holes with [Justin] and talk him through shots and club selection and where do you want to play the ball, but all else was on him.”

What Goebel wants to do next with his golf game has yet to be determined, but he’s definitely interested in playing at the next level.

“I’ve gone on some visits and talked with some coaches and colleges so the goal is to play,” he said. “I haven’t determined what I want to do so I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. I’m going to play IGA events over the summer.”

If he’s so blessed, he’ll also be playing for years alongside his father.

“My dad has always been a big golfer his whole life,” he said. “He’s the one who got me started.”

And Justin was the one who finished his high school career better than anyone in the area, as the area’s lone state qualifier is also the 2023 Record Newspapers Boys Golfer of the Year.