If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that Jim Spencer is prepared.
Spencer, 46, has been the radio voice of Sterling High School athletics for going on 20 years. Those duties now fall under the umbrella of his job as Executive Director of the Sterling Schools Foundation, a position he has held since 2005.
When the Golden Warriors have played a football, basketball, softball or baseball game, chances are Spencer's voice could be heard over the airwaves giving play-by-play. Whenever I am assigned a Sterling game, I generally try to grab a seat close to Spencer, as I invariably pick up some interesting tidbit I can insert into my game story somewhere.
Thus, it came as no surprise late Tuesday morning when I arrived at Emerald Hill in Sterling for the first installment of this summer's Links With Locals series. I pulled into the parking lot at 11:45 p.m. for a noon tee time, and Spencer was already out on the range, preparing for his round.
We were soon joined by a pair of ex-Sterling Golden Warriors, Josh Kunde and Alex Hesser, and away we went.
I was eager to play Emerald Hill for the first time this year, as I had heard some horror stories about the condition it was in after a harsh winter. Driving by it all spring and seeing a temporary green on No. 17 didn't help, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The greens were aerated just that day, but they were pretty good. I would guess with another week or two of healing, they'll be smooth as glass.
As for the golf, well, it wasn't pretty early on. I had a 3-putt green on No. 2 and – egads!! – a 4-putt on No. 3. Mental note – stay below the cups on those holes, because nothing good is likely to happen from above.
Spencer was in the same boat, as he hit the ball pretty solid, but the short game kept him from scoring too low. Honestly, he seemed OK with that.
When it comes to golf, his goal is modest. He wants to keep his score around bogey, which at Emerald Hill would put him at 90. He ended up at 95, with a few ill-timed triple bogeys contributing to that score.
He was more concerned with lining up a golf lesson for his daughter, Rachel, than worrying about a few wayward shots.
Our conversation during the round, to the surprise of nobody, gravitated toward sports. Spencer pointed out watching Tiger Woods win a U.S. Open by eight strokes was great television, but watching Martin Kaymer do the same thing – not so much. I agreed.
We talked about the Bulls, and what they should do in the offseason. We talked about the World Cup – for about 10 seconds.
And, of course, we talked about Sterling sports. I asked Spencer what were the greatest Golden Warrior games he had called.
He mentioned a 1995 football game in which Doug Densmore rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns the first three times he touched the ball. He mentioned the 2007 girls basketball game in which Jackie Howze went coast-to-coast to score the game-tying basket in a sectional game against Freeport. She added a free throw to win it.
He mentioned the softball team's miracle sectional win against Marengo in the run to the 2013 state tournament.
I brought up a few of my favorites I had covered. There was a boys basketball game from the 1993-94 season in which Abram Olson hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off a great Geneseo squad.
There was the triple overtime loss to Kaneland in the 2006 Class 5A playoff quarterfinals – a game that was a newspaper nightmare for me. I was supposed to have my story done by 10 p.m. that evening, and the game didn't get done until 10:15.
Spencer lamented a near pass breakup by former Golden Warrior standout Joe Schneiderbauer that could have won that game. It didn't meet Spencer's criteria, anyway.
"Jerry Binder and I agree," he said. "Sterling has to win the game for it to be one of our all-time greats."
A ghastly start (5-over-par through four holes) ensured my round of golf would not be among my all-time greats, but I did rebound to go 3 under the rest of the way for a respectable 2-over-par 73. That was two strokes behind Kunde, a quiet sort who lets his clubs do his talking.
With a long-overdue vacation planned to begin on June 28, I'll be looking for something to fill the golf column the following week. So, I have a little project for area golfers.
Who would fill out your dream foursome? Would it be a group of pros, like Tiger, Phil and Jack, or perhaps family members and/or friends? How about somebody who taught you the game?
Send me your responses, along with a few sentences why you chose who you did, no later than Friday, June 27. I'll put them together and they'll be published in the Thursday, July 3 newspaper.
Let's have some fun with this. Send me your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop a note by the paper.