Rochester golf aims for league crown, state berth

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published May 15, 2018

 Rochester High junior Tej Seth and senior James Choi pose together during a May 9 practice at Great Oaks Country Club. At press time, the Falcons were 5-1 overall.

Rochester High junior Tej Seth and senior James Choi pose together during a May 9 practice at Great Oaks Country Club. At press time, the Falcons were 5-1 overall.

Photo by Timothy Pontzer

ROCHESTER HILLS — A change in league standing served as a wake-up call for the Rochester High golf program.

After a less than-stellar-season, the Falcons were dropped from the top of the Oakland Activities Association, falling from the Red Division to the bottom tier in the Blue.

“We were moved down and it was definitely a wake-up call, but we’ve made the most of it,” Rochester coach Vance Kirkwood said during a May 9 practice at Great Oaks Country Club. “It was different playing a whole new slew of teams on new courses. But I preached that there’s good golf no matter where you play, especially in Oakland County. We just had to raise our level.”

Kirkwood’s players listened, as the Falcons held a 5-1 overall record at press time. The club was 3-1 in the Blue, citing chemistry as the catalyst for the change.

“We’re very organized now and our chemistry is very high,” said senior James Choi, a team captain. “If someone has a bad day, we pick each other up. It’s a big reason why we are doing well.”

Junior Tej Seth agreed.

“We’re very, very close as a team,” Seth said. “We all understand each other and help each other’s game.”

Also the head coach of the varsity boys basketball program at Rochester, Kirkwood said that thought process is a staple of his teaching.

“I like to build that chemistry and make sure that the guys really care for each other,” Kirkwood said. “It spills over from the basketball season. I want these guys to be there for each other and want to see one another succeed.”

Kirkwood said he sees team building take place every day in both practices and matches.

“Golf is a nice way to bond,” Kirkwood said. “I encourage communication. They can walk the course in practice and talk about school, sports, girls — whatever they want. In the matches, they’re obviously focused more on the game, but they still are there pushing and pulling for each other.”

The second-year golf coach praised the leadership of Choi.

“James is an amazing leader,” Kirkwood said. “He’s always encouraging, which is what I want the most from a captain. He doesn’t let the guys get down after a bad shot or round. He’s very quiet, but he knows exactly what to say and when to say it. It’s impactful.”

Kirkwood also gave high marks to JV coach Mike Santavicca, saying the program has supplied the varsity team with plenty of young talent. On a roster of nine, Kirkwood employs two seniors, four juniors and three sophomores.

Kirkwood called Rochester’s courses an advantage. The Falcons have two home courses, getting to choose between Great Oaks and Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township. The team hosts most home matches at Great Oaks, as it is located less than a mile from campus, but also frequently utilizes Twin Lakes for practice, as this year’s regional bracket will be held there.

“We don’t take it for granted,” Kirkwood explained. “I make sure they realize how much of a blessing these two courses are. It’s amazing. We’re not just here messing around. We’re out here at a private country club and get to play it every day. We also are very thankful to Twin Lakes, as they let us come out there and we have been taking advantage to prepare.”

Rochester will join Rochester Adams, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Troy High, Troy Athens, Lake Orion High, Bloomfield Hills High and a host of Macomb County schools at Twin Lakes May 30. Kirkwood said his group is drawing inspiration from the success of the Cougars last year.

“Only the top three make it out of there for states, and you basically have to have a perfect day,” Kirkwood said. “Everyone has to have one of their best days. There’s an incredible amount of pressure. Stoney made it last year even though they didn’t (think) they could. They had a great day, and that’s what I hope for us. We’re definitely aiming for states, and we know what it will take.”

Choi believes the group can place in that top three.

“We definitely have the potential and talent,” Choi said. “Under Coach Vance, we believe we can do it. We’ll be ready to do our best.”