GODFREY – Joe Schwartz played his first round of golf at age 11.
An uncle from Peoria – “He’s really good,” Schwartz says — taught him the basics and a 12-year-old Schwartz was playing competitively in Gateway Junior PGA events while maintaining status as a baseball player.
Joe Schwartz stayed good at baseball. He got great at golf.
“Joe is probably the best golfer to come out of Alton High School,” Redbirds coach Mike Hudock has said.
He certainly is among the list of contenders after a senior season that earned Schwartz honors as 2013 Telegraph Boys Golfer of the Year.
“I had a fantastic golf career, I really enjoyed getting to play the sport I love,” Schwartz said. “I pretty much did everything I wanted from it.”
The obvious omission was a state tournament trip that eluded Schwartz after qualifying for sectional play three times in four seasons in the Redbirds varsity lineup. He was the only freshman to advance out of the regional in 2010 and his final shot at state ended one stroke off the cut of 79 last fall at Lick Creek in Pekin.
“That would have been icing on the cake,” Schwartz said of getting to state as a senior. “Other than that, it was a great high school career. I did a lot of great things, met some great people, won a couple of tournaments – it was good.”
Among the great things was a Southwestern Conference Tournament championship earned with a round of 5-under par 67 at Belk Park as a senior. Collinsville’s Keenai Sampson was one shot back at 68 with no other golfer matching par.
“Winning it this year was an absolute thrill,” Schwartz said of the SWC title. “I played out of my mind that day, had one of those crazy days where everything just falls into place. Got some birdies going and suddenly I was on top of the leaderboard. … It’s tough competition, so to come out on top was really cool.”
It was the second SWC Tourney celebration for Schwartz, whose 77 as a sophomore in 2011 helped the Redbirds win the conference tourney for the first time since 1974. “We had a great group of guys,” Schwartz said.
That group included seniors Ray Stanard and Evan Franklin and junior Brandon Farrell. They set an example Schwartz looked to follow as a senior leader for the Redbirds.
“I looked up to those guys and watched the way they acted, how they presented themselves and helped the younger kids,” Schwartz said. “I kind of took after them and tried to be as good a leader as I could.”
A two-time first-team All-SWC pick, Schwartz averaged 36.8 strokes per nine-hole round and 76.9 for 18 as a senior. He shot 73 to tie for second at the Dick Gerber Invitational in Edwardsville and had a 75 at the Quincy Invite to tie for ninth.
The game born with instruction from an uncle from Peoria grew under the tutelage of former Alton golf coach and PGA pro Todd Cress.
“I got a lot of help from Todd Cress,” Schwartz said. “I credit him with shaping my swing and helping me with mental aspects of the game. Anything little thing to help my swing, short game, he was the guy I went to.”
Now, Schwartz is ready to move on from competitive golf. He will bypass college golf opportunities to focus on studies at the University of Illinois. Schwartz, who graduated from AHS with a 4.73 gpa and scored 28 on the ACT, will attend business school in Champaign and pursue a career in accounting.
The goal is CPA, not PGA.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Schwartz said. “But I knew I had good enough grades to attend U of I and get a degree. Golf was really fun, I’ve had a lot of fun this summer just playing with my buddies with the pressure off and not having to push myself to shoot a score. It’s a game that enjoy playing. I’ll miss the competitive side, but I think I made the right decision.”
And those missed sectional opportunities that denied Schwartz a trip to state are sources for little remorse.
“We played really tough courses, I played my heart out,” Schwartz said. “And sometimes you don’t always get what you want.”