Golfers drive to tune up their games this summer
With July nearing a close and summer already two months deep, Jillian Barend has played in a golf tournament nearly every week, looking to improve her game amongst her female peers before rejoining the North Attleborough boys’ team in the fall.
“The last . . . tournament, I shot a 75 the first day and won,” Barend said.
Barend, 15, is the driving force for why she’s been able to participate in so many events with her female peers throughout the summer.
Barend knew most high schools in eastern Massachusetts lack girls’ teams, so when she was around 10 years old, she decided to start the Girls Independent Golf League. It’s a team-oriented league, with each team regionally based and competing in the same style as boys’ high school golf.
“To be on a team with all girls is great,” Barend said. “They’re all playing as a team and that is what I wanted.”
Barend, a 2017 Globe All-Scholastic, has a win, a runner-up, and a fifth-place finish on the girls’ summer New England PGA Junior Tour.
The rising sophomore said she fits in with the boys on the high school team. “Playing with the boys is fun,” Barend said. “There are a lot of similarities [between playing with girls and boys].”
Barend isn’t the only local golfer working on her game this summer. Mike Simonelli, a rising senior at Austin Prep in Reading, has been working hard this summer to achieve his goal of playing in college.
The 17-year-old North Reading resident has been playing golf almost daily, either participating in an event or practicing at his home course, the Kernwood Country Club in Salem. By the time the summer is over, Simonelli thinks he’ll have played in 10 events during the summer.
“Ten is maybe on the higher side,” Simonelli said. “But I’m looking to play in college and take that next step, and playing a lot of events is necessary to show where you stand.”
On a humid, rainy Monday morning, Simonelli’s competitive focus hadn’t wavered a single bit. Prepping for his one-day event at Quail Ridge Country Club in Acton, which he won with an 8-over-par 78, Simonelli knew to treat the dreary morning round just like he would any other.
“I just want to grind through and keep the same mindset,” Simonelli said. “A lot of the other kids maybe don’t want to be out there in the rain, hopefully I can use that as an advantage. I still have to treat [the round] as if it was 75 degrees and sunny.”
Two others, Clare Sobolewski, a rising junior on the Dover-Sherborn High School co-ed team, and Erik Wahlstrom, a 2018 graduate of Rockland Senior High School who will be playing at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, treat the summer as preparation for the upcoming fall season.
“I definitely use the summer season to prepare for high school,” said Sobolewski, 15. “I use the tournaments as a learning experience. During the summer, I take time to develop the mental side of my game. The summer tournaments are 18 holes while the school tournaments are nine.”
Sobolewski said she plans on playing eight tournaments by the end of summer, and she is taking lessons from Jimmy Noris, the pro at Dedham Country and Polo Club.
Wahlstrom already has played in seven tournaments this summer. In addition, he participates in a golf league that plays every Thursday night. Although he may occasionally cross paths with former high school rivals, he knows it is time to look ahead.
“[Playing against kids from high school] is always fun,” Wahlstrom said. “But we put high school aside for these events.”