It wasn't 'on my bucket list.' Meet Knox-Lombard Athletic Hall of Famer Mack Foster

Matthew Wheaton
Galesburg Register-Mail
Mack Foster watches a drive during the United States Amateur Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club in 2015.

GALESBURG — When his college golf career began, Mack Foster didn't set out to become a member of the Knox-Lombard Athletic Hall of Fame. 

But the 2002 ROWVA High School and 2006 Knox College grad is among those who make up the 2022 class of inductees. Along with Foster, they are: Lane Bridgford, Nathaniel Logie, Dorothy “DJ” (Ambrogi) Todt, and the 2016 Knox women’s soccer team. 

"To say I had aspirations of making the Hall of Fame was never on my bucket list. It sounds crazy to say that but it was never a focal point of my career," Foster said last Wednesday afternoon while sitting inside a booth at Lieber's Boxcar Express. "I just wanted to do what was best for my team and contribute in a good fashion.

"You know, I fought some injuries when I was there. I had really bad tendinitis in my elbow. I fought a bad wrist. I went through a few personal things," Foster added. "We had some coaching changes. I played for three different coaches in my four years."

Foster was twice named Knox's MVP

Foster overcame all that adversity, and he flourished while playing for the Prairie Fire. On two occasions, he was named Knox's team MVP. 

As a freshman, Foster tied for first at the 2003 Midwest Conference Golf Championships, but lost in a playoff to Lawrence's Joe Loehnis. Both Foster and Loehnis shot 148 over 36 holes. Foster did help lead the Prairie Fire to their 27th MWC championship crown, and he was also named the MVP of the golf program.

In 2004 and 2005, Knox placed second in the MWC Championships. Foster earned a fifth place individual finish in 2004, shooting a 158 in 36 holes. After the 2004 season, Foster was named team captain.

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As a senior, Foster earned medalist honors in the 2006 MWC Championships. He defeated Loehnis in a playoff after they both shot 148 again in regulation. Foster also helped lead the Prairie Fire to their 28th league title, and he picked up Ping All-Region and All-America honors in the process. His stroke average of 74.18 over 18 holes was the lowest in the region and earned him Team MVP honors again.

Foster was a five-time MWC Performer of the Week, including at least once in each of his four seasons. He was also a three-time All-MWC performer. For his college career, Foster averaged 74.6 strokes over 18 holes.

"I would say given all the aspects I felt like I was pretty successful. I didn't play my best golf from a maturation process until after college," Foster said. "There's things that I wish I could go back and do over again because some of the things I learned after college about course management I think could have affected my scores in great fashion.

"The individual aspect really wasn't that important to me," Foster added. "My goal was always to do what was best to help my team on that given day, and that's what I liked about the team aspect of golf. Keep in mind that I never had a taste of team golf until my senior year of high school."

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Foster repped Geese, Tigers in high school

While in high school, Foster donned a basketball uniform for the Tigers, and he hit the links for ROWVA as an individual his freshman through junior years. As a senior, Foster repped the ROWVA/Wethersfield Geese, as the school's once co-oped for boys golf. His brother, Preston Foster, was a sophomore member of the squad, which also included Mike McReynolds, Schuyler Patch, Ryan Sagmoen, and T.J. Swanson.

The Geese qualified for the Class A state meet, and they finished in a tie with Quincy Notre Dame for seventh place. Individually, Mack Foster — along with five others — finished in a tie for 15th place. 

"We made it to state but it was rain shortened," Foster said. "I shot 76 the first round and was 3-under par through nine on my second 18, and we got rained out."

Foster's won plenty of amateur crowns

In 2015, Foster qualified for the United States Amateur Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.

More:Golf Notebook: Mack Foster wins Knox County Amateur; Chris Watkins grabs Bunker club crown

The U.S. Amateur is the leading annual golf tournament in the United States for amateur golfers. It is organized by the United States Golf Association. 

"I qualified in 2015 at Olympia Fields and it was basically up until the day that I decided to go. It had rained and we were out in the field," Foster said. 

Foster has won the Galesburg Men's All-City a few times. In 2021, Foster was atop the field in the Knox County Amateur, which is held at Oak Run. 

"I won the All-City I think two times but I finished second like 11 times," Foster said. "The Knox County Amateur I've won it every year I've played in it except one. I won my first one in 2011 and have probably played in it 15 years.

"I've probably won 14 Knox County Amateurs. I don't know to be honest."

Foster doesn't golf much anymore

These days, Foster, 38, resides in Brimfield, and he doesn't golf much.

"I play maybe 10 rounds a year. I play in a member-guest down in Pekin," Foster said. "I've done occasional US Amateur qualifiers but the stage of life I'm in right now with three kids who are all involved in sports — and my business is high hours, high intensity — I don't have the time.

"I've played one time so far this year, and I pick it up and it's kind of like riding a bike," Foster added. "Anytime I play in events as long as I can go out the day before and hit golf balls on the driving range for 15 minutes I pick it up fairly quickly.

"I've been pretty fortunate to be competitive no matter where I was at even if I didn't have my best game that day and so much of that was grit."

All about family for Foster

Golf has taken a back burner for Foster, because he's all about life as a husband and father.

Foster and his wife, Amber, who have been married since 2008, have two daughters — Dakota, 11, and Nora, 6 — and a 4 year old son, Bennett.

"I would say everybody takes something from their parents growing up. The biggest thing I took away from both of my parents is they never missed a sports event," Foster said. "They drove me anywhere I needed to go and those things are very important to me. 

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"My dad (Terry Foster) worked at IDOT and he'd make it a point to at least stop if he was out plowing in the winter time and I had basketball games. Sometimes it was only for a quarter, sometimes it was only for a minute, but if we had a bad snow storm, and he was out plowing snow I would see him in the corner of the gymnasium," Foster added. "I remember how special that was to be able to see and have that kind of support. That's something I'll always remember, and I want my kids to know that very thing. I'm always in their corner.

"I've always been one to try to be there for my children. I've always been one to try to provide for my children."

Foster's 'passion is agronomy'

Upon his graduation from Knox, Foster, who majored in economics and minored in business management, held a few jobs before being hired by Pioneer. Today, he owns Stark Seed and Service, and co-owns, M&L AgriServices.

"I left the corporate side of Pioneer as a district sales manager in 2014 and opened up my own business (Stark Seed)," Foster said. "I love what I do. My passion is agronomy. I've tried to take the things that I've learned through networking, and I feel like I'm a gifted networker. I feel like I have the ability to communicate with anybody. In this business, I found my calling because it's a relationship driven business and relationships are something I hold very near and dear.

"In the spring time, it's not out of the ordinary to have weeks where I'm working 18 to 20 hour days seven days a week. You're always on call but I love what I do," Foster added. "The industry has changed so much. The operations are changing so much. Technology advancements are crazy. We're trying to produce a world-wide food supply with fewer acres as the population increases. You have acres that are becoming commercial real estate."

His golfing background has helped Foster, as a seed salesman.

"Golf has opened so many doors even in my own customer base. I've developed a lot of relationships through my ability to play golf that I feel like otherwise wouldn't have happened," he said. "I'm going to say in 2002, I was playing with a big CPA from Utah and another guy that owned a bunch of properties on Times Square. Both of those guys made the comment that 90% of their business dealings are done on a golf course."

Former Bunker pro helped Foster

Greg Merrill, who died in November 2015 at the age of 63, served as a mentor for Foster. 

Merrill, whose nickname was "Mudd," was hired as the golf pro at Bunker Links Golf Course in 1987 and retired in December 2014.

"I hold Greg Merrill in very high standards. I was very very close to Greg. He did a lot of stuff for me," said Foster, while trying to hold back tears. "I owe a lot of my success on the golf course to that man and the opportunities he gave me. He took me under his wing when I was young and fighting through some tough times.

"He gave me a job," Foster added. "I didn't come from money. I got discounts on golf clubs and a lot of that stuff I worked off. Both my brother and I did. 

"Greg was a father figure. He was special, and I owe a lot of my success both in the business climate, as well as my golf career, to him."

Matthew Wheaton can be reached at (309) 315-6073 or at mwheaton@register-mail.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewlwheaton