The Chicago District Golf Association has honored Players of the Year since 1993 and the Senior Player of the Year has been designated since 1995. Those so honored have earned a cherished place in golf history, and some have taken the honor to even greater heights.
Joel Hirsch was the first CDGA superstar, winning the first two Player of the Year awards in 1993 and 1994, and he was also the first to win the Senior Player of the Year honors three times (1996, 1998 and 2001). Hirsch’s accomplishments gave way to Dave Ryan, who won Senior honors seven times between 2009 and 2016, and no golfer has topped the four Player of the Year awards accumulated by Todd Mitchell (2006, 2008, 2013 and 2016).
This year’s honorees are special, as well. One picked up his coveted honor without winning tournament that offered Player of the Year points during the 2018 season and the other rose to prominence after having serious doubts that he’d even be able to play this season.
Let’s meet this terrific twosome:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Trent Wallace, Joliet.
For three years Wallace has been playing in the shadow of three of the all-time great amateurs in the history of Chicago golf. Doug Ghim (2014), Nick Hardy (2015) and Patrick Flavin (2017) were the best in those years and have continued to do big things both locally and nationally. That made the award all the more special for Wallace, who is a senior at Illinois State.
“It’s a great honor to be in the same category of great players, especially those who have won recently,’’ said Wallace. “I had always been a streaky player, but this season I was in contention every week. My forte is to grind.’’
Grind it out, he did. Though he didn’t have a victory Wallace piled up points by tying fourth in the Illinois State Amateur (his third straight top-five finish in that event), finishing as the runner-up in the CDGA Amateur and tying for seventh in the Illinois Open.
In the CDGA Amateur Wallace lost the title to ISU teammate David Perkins, of East Peoria, in a match that went 23 holes. As a college player Wallace was medalist in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He also helped the Redbirds win the Wisconsin Badgers Invitational this fall.
“My coach (Ray Kralis) said it was the best win in school history,’’ said Wallace. “Coach Ray was the only Division I coach to offer me a scholarship. I jumped at it, and I’ve never looked back. Every year the program has gotten better, and this year we’re in line to do something special.’’
When the ISU season is over that’ll also be the end of Wallace’s days as an amateur golfer.
“I haven’t been able to get into the Western Amateur for whatever reason, and if I can’t get into events like that I don’t see staying an amateur doing me any good,’’ he said. “The State Amateur is a nice tournament, but I’ve got bigger and better things to worry about. I’m looking forward to turning pro.’’
Wallace started playing golf when he was 3 years old and developed through the junior programs at the Inwood public course in Joliet before playing high school golf for Joliet West. Now he’s ready to take his game beyond the Illinois borders.
He plans to head for Florida, where his father lives, after his college eligibility is over and try the mini-tours, Web.com Tour qualifying school and the PGA Latinoamerica Tour.
SENIOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Tim Sheppard, East Peoria.
Sheppard didn’t let understandable frustration get the better of him. That’s why he is the CDGA Senior Player of the Year.
Sheppard had been the CDGA’s Central Illinois Player of the Year in 2002. That award was discontinued after being handed out from 1995 through 2013, and Sheppard had a great chance to win the overall Senior honor in 2016.
“I had a good year, but Dave passed me because he won the U.S. Senior Amateur,’’ said Sheppard. “Dave beat me only once in 2016, and I’ve been wanting to win a CDGA event for some time. That put added pressure on me.’’
Sheppard had another problem as well. He started feeling pain in his left elbow in June of 2017, and that severely limited his tournament play. He underwent surgery, but that didn’t solve the problem. He switched doctors and had a stem cell injection in November of 2017. That helped somewhat when the 2018 schedule started.
“I didn’t play for two weeks, and then the pain was tolerable,’’ he said. “But then the pain started going into my hand. I changed my golf swing. In 2015 and 2016 I was playing the best golf of my life, then this nerve issue put a halt to my playing for almost a year.’’
More surgery was scheduled, then postponed. Sheppard still sees it in his future, but he did get his game in order for a late-season run that landed him his Player of the Year award.
In September he won the Illinois State Senior Amateur – his first individual title in a state/CDGA event. In October he teamed with Tom Kearfott to win the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball for the second time.
Sheppard also reached the semifinals of the CDGA Senior Amateur and qualified the match play portion of the U.S. Senior Amateur.
Now 57, Sheppard owns an insurance agency in Peoria, Married to Michelle and the father of two children, Sheppard plays out of Lick Creek in Pekin. He didn’t play college golf and his main sport was softball until he was 34 years old. He didn’t get into serious golf competitions until his mid-thirties.