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Weidman’s last supper

Brian Weidman (left) of Sauk Valley Media watches as Ember Schuldt hits her ball on the third hole at Deer Valley Country Club on Wednesday.
Brian Weidman (left) of Sauk Valley Media watches as Ember Schuldt hits her ball on the third hole at Deer Valley Country Club on Wednesday.

I'll have the crow, with a side of humble pie, thank you.

That's the order I'll be placing with my co-workers here in the Sauk Valley Media sports department after my latest Links With Locals adventure. It took me to Deer Valley Golf Club, just south of Rock Falls, where I played 18 holes on Wednesday afternoon with Ember Schuldt.

For years I had told the boys I could handle Ember, a former Sterling High School standout who now plays at Illinois, in a match. I inquired about playing numerous times in past years, but our schedules didn't jibe quite right.

"She's ducking me," I'd wail in the newsroom.

After the Women's Lincoln Highway Tournament last month in Rock Falls, I asked Ember if she'd be interested in playing as part of this series. She agreed, and off we went.

We matched each other par for par the first four holes, then Ember finally broke through with a birdie on the short par-4 fifth hole. She then seized control with routine pars the next three holes, while I went bogey, bogey, double to fall five strokes behind through eight holes.

I needed to fight back, and did so by making a 20-footer for birdie on the par-4 ninth hole, which was also the hole where Ember made her only really poor swing of the day. Her second shot went into a pond to the left of the green, but she got up and down for a bogey to only lose two shots.

On the back, I birdied the 11th to climb within two strokes, and it stayed that way through 15 holes. On the 16th, a 535-yard par 5, Ember's approach from about 100 yards left her some 25 feet short of the cup, while I had an easy-looking shot from about 40 yards.

"I sense an opening," I told her, and proceeded to hit the fattest chip shot of the day that traveled maybe halfway to the green. I made bogey, she parred, and the match was all but over.

When I 3-putted the last hole, it was mercifully over. I had 76, while Ember carded an even-par 72.

"It was a good match, and it was fun," she said. "I'm glad we finally got to play."

It was a learning experience for me, on many levels. First and foremost, Ember can play. I realize that might sound stupid, but she can really play.

Off the tee, she hits a controlled draw that didn't stray out of the fairway except for a few times, and even then, it wasn't by much. Her iron shots were low and piercing, the way good players hit it.

The short game, which was definitely not her strength when I watched her in high school, as well as in various Lincoln Highways, looks to be on the right track. Her chipping wasn't spectacular, but the putter bailed her out time and again. That's a good sign.

When Ember graduates from Illinois with a degree in sports management next spring, she hopes to make a run at a pro career. The first step will likely be mini tours in Florida, to see if she's got the goods.

Unfortunately, that may mean the end of her reign as the top dog in the Women's Lincoln Highway Tournament, which she has won eight consecutive times. Her lone defeat: as a 13-year-old at Sunset Golf Course in Mount Morris.

"I played with Ruth Heal and Salley Wessels," Ember said, "and I was shaking in my shoes I was so nervous."

Upon taking me down, I asked if she wanted the scorecard as a keepsake – a request that was rightfully met with a laugh. After all, she competed last week in the United States Women's Amateur in South Carolina, and made the round of 64. She competed in the U.S. Public Links in Oklahoma last month, and made the round of 16.

Before that, she made the semifinals of the Illinois State Amateur.

Those high finishes are no accident, as she works at her craft and is part of golf-mad family. She's been working at Deer Valley this summer, mowing fairways. When she's done, she practices and plays.

Her father, Don, is the head greenskeeper at Deer Valley, as well as Green River Country Club in Walnut. He works about 15 hours a day, every day, in the summer, to keep those courses in top shape.

Another tidbit about Don: He has not missed a single one of his daughter's college tournaments in 3 years at Illinois, traveling coast to coast to do so.

Ember's mother, Lou Ann, is a teacher and travels with Ember to her summer tournaments. She even caddied during the Public Links event in Oklahoma.

Ember's brother, Frank, caddied during the second round of this year's Lincoln Highway.


Well, that's all folks. The Links With Locals for the summer of 2013 has now come to an end, as yours truly will be busy tracking down high school stuff for the next 9 months or so.

It's been a blast going to different courses this summer, teeing it up with some old friends, as well as some new ones. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this little project, but the reaction I've gotten has been overwhelmingly positive, whether it be from phone calls, emails or just chit-chatting with somebody at the golf course, the gym or wherever.

The best part: I get to do it again next year. I'll try to crank it up a bit earlier, perhaps in late April or early May, to work in even more locals. Those of you I contacted but didn't make it happen this summer – practice up, because I'll be ready to roll next spring.

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