Standing in the sun on the first tee box at Balmoral Woods Country Club, sophomore Matt Juskie is all smiles. It's his second varsity boys golf dual, but nerves don't seem to be getting to him one bit. As he gets ready to address his ball, Juskie takes a minute to talk with family friend Mark Poncer about how the hole looks.
Normally, talking to Poncer about a hole would be a violation of IHSA rules, but for Juskie it's par for the course. That's because Juskie can't see the hole. He's legally blind. Poncer is acting as his spotter, helping him see a the fairway, green and pin.
“You have to be able to paint the picture that other golfers can see,” Poncer said. “He has to be able to visualize what everybody else sees. Once Matt's going to take his shot, we have to make sure he's aligned and going where he wants to be.”
So, how does Juskie play a game predicated on sight lines, distance and ball placement? Very carefully and with lots of practice.
“From when I was 3 (years old) through eighth grade, I just played recreationally, I played just for fun,” he said. “Then, when that summer after eighth grade hit, I said, 'You know what, I want to make the golf team.' And I knew what was needed was to just pound balls.
“That summer alone I had to hit at least 3,000 or 4,000 balls. In my life, I'm just going to make it easy and say maybe 50,000 (balls). I do drills and other stuff too, but just making contact with a ball, probably 50,000.”
Juskie said that during a given hole, he and his spotter, typically his father but on occasion Poncer, stand in the tee box and discuss the hole: where the bunkers are, if there's water, distance to the pin and pretty much every minute detail the spotter can see. From there, it's all Juskie and the club.
In the fairway, it's more of the same, as the spotter gives Juskie his distance and a description of where his ball is in relation to the pin. But, when Juskie gets close to the pin—within chipping distance usually—the routine changes, and he takes control and walks the flight path of his ball from where it lies to the pin.
“Because my depth perception is not the best, so I walk it off and I've practiced that so I know by each pace how much (I need),” Juskie said. “Then, I can also get the contour of the green, so I know if it's breaking to the left, sloping back, sloping front, things like that … If I can bring the world to me, it's much easier for me.”
Juskie Cards 4-over 40 at Balmoral Woods
Making their way around the course, Juskie and Poncer worked like a well-oiled machine. Poncer called distances while Juskie pulled his club, a quick conversation about the perils ahead should Juskie's swing go awry, and then boom, club head to ball and takeoff.
At the end of his nine-hole round at Balmoral on Aug. 31 in a match against Thornton Fractional South, Juskie found himself in unfamiliar territory. With his 4-over-par 40, he took home medalist honors. Not bad for a kid with 20/200 vision.
“This feels great after the first start on varsity not going so well,” Juskie said. “This feels real great.”
To Lincoln-Way North coach Jim Nair and his teammates, Juskie is one of the guys, a golfer trying to help his team earn a victory, which he did as the Phoenix beat T.F. South 166-208.
“To tell you the truth, you don't even really notice (his vision), because he is such a good golfer,” Nair said. “He makes such good contact, he has a good swing, you forget about it. Until you stop and think about what he's doing, you realize how special, how unique it is.”
“He's the nicest kid, he never complains about anything,” said Jack Misheck, a senior on the Phoenix team. “I've played with him a couple times, and he doesn't get mad, always smiling, always laughing, having a good time. He works hard, too.
"I see him during the week, I go up to (Frankfort) Square Links, he's there hitting a large bucket, putting for an hour, he's a hard worker. He's going to be a good player.”
As for what Juskie wants to do after he graduates from North, he's already got a plan in mind.
“I want to get a scholarship of some sort, if not getting a scholarship, if not playing for a team, which is my main goal, I want to major in business and do something in golf,” he said. “Either become a teacher, run a golf course, helping younger kids play the game, something like that. Something toward helping younger kids play the game.”