There was a time not too long ago the closest James Huffstutler would get to a Lincoln Highway golf tournament would be to clean the clubs of Timber Creek players.
This weekend, he'll be in the thick of the action.
Huffstutler, 22, will be in the Timber Creek lineup when the 92nd tourney begins Saturday at Indian Oaks Golf Course in Shabbona. It's heady stuff for a relative newcomer to the sport. Growing up, he played golf once or twice a year with his father, Roy.
At Dixon High School, Huffstutler played 4 years of tennis, but only 1 year of golf, as a senior in the fall of 2009. He didn't crack the varsity lineup, and averaged about 45 strokes per nine holes for the JV squad.
"I'm a competitive person by nature," Huffstutler said. "I like to do as best as I can at things, and a 45 wasn't really near my best. I just wanted to practice and get better."
The summer after graduating from high school, Huffstutler began working at Timber Creek, as a clubhouse attendant. He was around the game a lot more than he had been, and he liked it.
He took lessons from his former golf coach at Dixon, Pat Lessner, and his performance improved. Tennis, once the center of his sports world, faded into the background.
"Tennis used to be more fun, but golf has become more fun for me over the years," Huffstutler said. "Tennis is more work now. Golf is more fun."
Huffstutler tried out for the Timber Creek Lincoln Highway team in 2012, and was the second alternate. In 2013, he worked his way up to first alternate.
At this year's 54-hole qualifier, held June 21-22, Huffstutler carded rounds of 78, 74 and 74. His best-against-bogey score was +8, earning him the sixth, and final, spot on the team.
"I was comfortable with my swing, and where I was with my golf game," Huffstutler said. "On one of the nines, I only had nine putts, so that certainly helps. That's usually how my game goes – if I'm putting good, I'm playing good."
Timber Creek won the team title a year ago, but just two players, Ryan Harrison and Joel Kipping, from that squad return to this year's lineup. The team this year includes Bob Venier, Scott Hargrave, Matt Rosquist and Huffstutler.
Huffstutler said he has not received any pep talks or speeches from his teammates about the importance of doing his part for this year's team.
"I play a lot of golf with these guys," he said, "and I know about the history and tradition of the tournament. I can't wait to get out there and get going."
High school: Dixon, class of 2010
College: Southern Illinois
FYI: First-time qualifier for Timber Creek's Lincoln Highway team. ... Focused on tennis in high school, instead of golf. ... Studying aviation at SIU, with plans to become a corporate pilot.