By A.J. Kaufman
As the calendar year closes, Science Hill is the proud home of the Big 9 Conference’s male and female golfers of the year.
Senior John Cheek and Junior Rachel Smith captured the awards when announced earlier this month.
This honor was based on merit, rather than a vote. Points are earned via strong performances on the course at the conference and district tournaments.
Cheek, a four-year varsity letterman, is an individual conference and district champion, while Smith posted a conference championship and district runner-up.
As a group this autumn, the boys varsity team of seven ended as conference, district and region champions, then placed fourth in the state competition.
The girls’ squad of five were conference, district and region runners up. It was first time the team earned back-to-back region berths for the first time since 2014.
Science Hill golf coach Kevin Vannoy, who’s been at the team’s helm since 2011 and also teaches 11th-grade U.S. history, is proud of the duo.
“Both of them have earned all the awards they’re achieving this year,” he said. “They have great attitudes and a great work ethic, but while I’m proud of their success, I am more proud of how they handle themselves on and off the course, just being good students and representing our school.”
Vannoy says Cheek and Smith could both play golf in college. He’s coached at least a half-dozen Division 1 players during his tenure and several others played at various college levels.
Cheek played other sports when he was younger and his dad introduced him to golf.
“When I got old enough, he would take me to play golf after he finished work at different courses around the area,” he said. “The more I played, the more I enjoyed the game and wanted to get better and better.”
He ran cross country too, but eventually chose golf and started playing in local tournaments before competing in larger and statewide tournaments.
Cheek says there are many things that have helped him along the way, from swing coaches to fitness training, but the biggest learning curve for him involved the mental aspect.
“It was easy for me to practice and improve since I enjoyed the game so much, but learning how to control my thoughts and how I am able to affect my own mindset through positive self talk was the most important thing I learned,” Cheek said.
On the individual side this season, he averaged a sparkling 18-hole round of 73, best on the Science Hill team the last two years.
Cheek also excels in the classroom, earning a near-perfect score on his ACT. He has been in orchestra since 6th grade and enjoys playing and watching other sports in his free time.
Smith started golfing at camp when she was 5, before becoming serious about the game at age 11, playing junior golf and on the Liberty Bell Middle School’s golf team.
Vannoy said Smith has played her best the last few years, likely helped by summer tournaments to get her score down into the mid 70s. Smith said a main reason for her improvement is a better short game.
“I learned how important a short game is in the First Tee (youth golf program) when my coach explained it to me and again in the recent years,” she explained. “Practicing my short game more gave me confidence that even when I missed a green, I could still save my score.”
When not playing golf, Smith says she watches anime and listens to music.