Lincoln-Way West’s Kaylee Dwyer is the 2023 Herald-News Girls Golfer of the Year

Senior won Class 2A state championship

Lincoln-Way West’s Kaylee Dwyer drives on No. 11 in the Class 2A Bradley Regional at the Green Garden Country Club in Frankfort on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Kaylee Dwyer’s family has a tradition of going to watch the IHSA state basketball finals.

Dwyer, now a senior at Lincoln-Way West, grew up dreaming about excelling in her own state tournament. She has a photo to prove it.

“I actually have a picture of me from one of those basketball state finals when I was 7 years old, and I’m wearing a shirt that said, ‘This is what a future all-stater looks like,’ ” Dwyer said. “Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be an all-stater or a state champion.”

Dwyer made that dream come true in October when she won the Class 2A girls golf state championship. She now has added another accomplishment, being named the 2023 Herald-News Girls Golfer of the Year.

Now that she’s had time to sit back and reflect on all she did this fall, it’s still a bit hard for Dwyer to believe.

“Every time someone says that I’m a state champ, I just immediately smile, and I think about the whole thing again,” Dwyer said. “It’s just awesome. It’s kind of hard to process still. Every time I think about it, I’m like, ‘How did I do that?’ But it’s kind of settled in now.”

So, how did Dwyer do it?

“I think it was just staying consistent the whole weekend,” Dwyer said of the state finals. “The fact that my team was there helped a lot. Instead of thinking about golf the whole time, I was kind of relaxed with my team.

“I really like that course [Hickory Point in Decatur]. I think the experience of being there my sophomore and junior year really helped. It makes that finishing stretch easier.”

“I think it was just staying consistent the whole weekend. The fact that my team was there helped a lot. Instead of thinking about golf the whole time, I was kind of relaxed with my team.”

—  Kaylee Dwyer, the 2023 Herald-News Girls Golfer of the Year

Dwyer shot back-to-back rounds of even-par 72 for a finishing score of 144, two strokes better than the runner-up, Bent’s Jenna Shilts.

Dwyer thus finished her high school career on top, just like all the basketball teams she’s watched win championships and just like Lincoln-Way West coach Tim Daly always believed she would.

“I just felt like she was kind of destined to do well at the state finals,” Daly said. “When she went down as a sophomore, they have the course layout booklet that they give us, and I wrote in there, ‘You’re the best player down here.’

“She’s kept that, and she showed it to me before the tournament this year, and I was like, ‘That’s it. You’re the best player, and you’re going to prove it.’

“It was kind of fate.”

It was not all a fairy-tale journey, however. A state championship did not seem like it would be in the cards for Dwyer after she shot a 77 at the Normal West Sectional. That was still good enough to tie for fourth on a tough day for the whole field, but Dwyer certainly was not happy.

“She didn’t really play well, at least by her standards,” Daly said. “She wasn’t in a great state of mind for that whole round.”

Dwyer went back to work and had her confidence back by the time she teed off at state.

“I had a lesson with my coach the next day, and that really helped me,” Dwyer said. “I fixed my swing a little bit, and I felt more confident. I wasn’t as nervous going downstate. I think my practice round at state helped me a lot, too.”

Dwyer is the first golf state champion in Lincoln-Way West history and the third individual champion in any sport for the school, joining bowlers Morgan Flaherty and Josh Glover.

She has made quite an impact on the Warriors, Daly said.

“I credit her for really taking the girls golf program here to a different level,” he said. “She’s set the tone for the girls working hard over the summer and the winter, playing in tournaments. Her leadership is going to be a big loss.”

Dwyer is set to continue her golf career at Western Kentucky.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I have a lot to do to prepare for that, but I think it’s going to be really fun. When I went on my visit, I really liked it, and ever since the visit I was like, ‘I really want to go there.’ ”

Beyond that, Dwyer has set some big goals for herself. Being a state champion has given her some extra belief that big things are possible.

“I really do want to play on the LPGA Tour,” she said. “I know that’s kind of crazy, but that’s my biggest goal. I think you just have to take it one step at a time.”

Lincoln-Way West’s Kaylee Dwyer tees off in the Class 2A Girls Golf Joliet Township Regional. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Joliet.