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Emerald Hill’s Kunde is ready for the Lincoln Highway

Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:59 p.m. CDT
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(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Emerald's Hill Josh Kunde prepares for the upcoming Lincoln Highway Golf Tournament.

With more and more attention being paid to specialized training for sports, offseason work and individual coaching sessions, Josh Kunde is rare in the modern world of sports.

Kunde, who will be competing in his 5th Lincoln Highway Tournament on Saturday and Sunday, is a self-made golfer. The 23-year-old has never had a formal lesson on how to play the game of golf.

No one sitting on an overturned bucket analyzing his swing and no one to stamp out bad habits. Instead, Kunde made sure to pay attention to what his two grandfathers, Dick Kunde and Jack Lyon, did on the course.

"These days I would say it's pretty rare to not have a lesson of some sort," he said before hitting range balls at Emerald Hill Wednesday afternoon. "I learned everything from my two grandpas."

Both of Kunde's grandfathers played golf often, and when he wanted to start playing the game like they did, he relied on his imagination and large backyard.

He grew up on a large swath of land and, as a child, Kunde would drag his golf clubs out to his backyard and would scan the area, creating a make-shift course in his mind. Trees or large sticks became holes, bushes or tall grass became hazards.

He would whack his ball around the yard in an attempt to get as close to his targets as possible.

"Sometimes, it would end up being just 20- or 70-yard shots, and it was something to get me started," Kunde said.

He continued this type of play until he graduated seventh grade, when he started taking the sport seriously. He would play with Lyon and his friends, and remembered constantly losing.

"It was a lot of fun playing with them," Kunde said. "Most of the time the 70-year-old men would be beating me, and it really pushed me to compete and get better."

Kunde will play for Emerald Hill in this weekend's 92nd annual Lincoln Highway Tournament at Indian Oaks in Shabbona. He placed second during Emerald Hill's club championship in June and will play in the second flight.

Nathan Blackburn won the championship and will play in Emerald Hill's top flight.

Kunde, who has played in nearly every flight for the club, including the sixth and final flight after barely making the team one year, has come a long way since taking primitive whacks in his backyard.

He has taught himself how to swing and control the flight of his ball, with a knack for knowing when his swing has gone awry and how to make adjustments. He has also worked on his mental game, which he believes is the quickest route to success. He is usually the most calm player on the course, and it has helped him coach others on how to handle shortcomings.

Kunde acted as an assistant coach for Sterling's girls and boys golf teams during the fall last year. During his time with the kids, he noticed that one of the most important aspects to the game was to be able to keep the mental game in check.

"One of my strengths in my game is my mental game," Kunde said. "I try to teach them that. For the younger kids, it's more about the swing and getting the basics down, but for the older kids and varsity players it switches.

"They're at the point where they can hit the ball well, but it's about them being able to recover when they hit a bad shot or have a bad hole."

When Kunde was starting out, he would throw his clubs and slam them to the ground after frustrating holes or shots. But once he grew older, he learned to handle the mental aspect of the frustrating nature of the game.

"When I did that stuff when I played with my grandpa, he would just shake his head and laugh it off," Kunde said. "I learned to handle everything better because you realize what it looks like once you see someone else do it.

"You see others throw and slam clubs and you realize how much of an idiot you look like on the course."

Kunde often plays with friends, but even when he can't gather a group to play, he still makes his way to the course.

"I try to go every day," he said. "The last couple weeks leading up to this tournament, I've been out here just about every day trying to get ready."

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