ROCKFORD (WREX) — Going for the gold, that's what Olympians are doing in Tokyo right now. But here in Rockford, people are watching the games because they feel a universal connection to sports. For golfers that connection is knowing Olympians started at courses just like the ones found in Rockford.
Golf returned to the Olympic Games just five years ago in Rio. This year players in the Forest City are getting excited to see what talent emerges on the global stage.
Once called the Holy City, Rockford is home to more than eight golf courses both public and private.
"Rockford has been focused on golf for a long long time," said Aldeen Golf Club General Manager and Golf Professional Duncan Geddes. "Rockford was ranked the number one mid-sized community in the country, this is back in the 90s by the National Golf Foundation, for golf because we did have so many courses both public and private, quality, the price range. Rockford has always been a very affordable golf community."
Geddes started playing golf at a young age and is now at Aldeen for his 30th season. He says during that time, there's been a large pool of talent he's come to know.
"On the women's side you look at Sally Wessels and Kay Rossmiller and players like that who have gone on to compete statewide for sure and nationally in some occasions. On the men's side, Brad Benjamin probably is the most acclaimed because he won a national title, the U.S. Public Links Championship," said Geddes.
"Played here in Illinois in the IL PGA events and then improved and got better and so qualified to play on bigger tours in Latin America, played a little bit in Asia," said Aldeen Golf Club Assistant Golf Professional Chris French.
French says playing on the international level was about seeing how far he can take his skills. He says he admires the universal love of the game and is excited to see that passion in Tokyo and right here at home.
"I think now that the juniors see us playing and competing and winning events, it kind of drives them to see 'hey, how far can we take the game,'" said French.
"Having access to facilities like this and the talent pool of professionals certainly makes it a better avenue for kids to get a leg up," said Geddes.
All the makings to become the next U.S. Golf Olympic Champion can start right in Rockford.
"It's fun to see and look at groups and think, 'okay, who might be the one' and we have had kids that really surprise us," said Geddes.
The Tokyo 2020 golf championship for Men's Individual Stroke Play is this Sunday. You can watch it on 13 WREX.