Smoky Hill’s Chris Kennedy on Aug. 7, 2018, at Meadow Hills Golf Course. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel)

Jim Riesenman went to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in June just to watch the world’s best golfers up close.

Little did the Smoky Hill boys golf coach know that a month later, he’d be inside the ropes at one of the biggest events on the U.S. Golf Association’s schedule.

Riesenman got the “chance of a lifetime” when senior Chris Kennedy asked him to caddy for him in the prestigious U.S. Junior Amateur at venerable Balustrol Golf Club in Springfield Township, New Jersey.

“It was really meaningful for me,” Riesenman said. “I felt very honored that Chris wanted to share that experience with me. He’s such a great kid who I enjoy being around and his family has been great. So for them to include me in that was really special, no doubt.”

Kennedy, a three-time Class 5A boys state golf tournament qualifier under Riesenman at Smoky Hill, earned his way into the field of 156 of the best golfers in the world under the age of 18 with his performance at a qualifier June 28 at Buffalo Run Golf Course in Commerce City.

He eagled his final hole to finish with a 4-under-par 68 that tied him with Fossil Ridge star Dillon Stewart for top honors and punched his ticket to the U.S. Junior Am.

The tournament was set at Baltusrol, which opened in 1895 and has hosted 15 previous USGA Championship events — including seven U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships — and is a National Historic Landmark.

For a golf junkie like Riesenman, who has played and visited many courses nationwide, it was like traveling to Shangri-La.

Kennedy relished the simple luxuries of the tournament — such as a lavish breakfast before his round and a fancy locker — and the treatment as one of the country’s top talents.

“It was an awesome experience,” Kennedy said. “I had definitely never experienced anything like that.”

During his time there, Kennedy met 81-year-old Jim Noonan, who played against legendary Jack Nicklaus in match play at the U.S. Junior Championship back in 1954 at the Los Angeles Country Club.

Noonan, a member at Baltusrol for 32 years, had some words of advice for Kennedy.

“He told me to have a lot of fun and take advantage of it,” Kennedy said. “‘Even if you don’t make the cut, it’s still an experience. It will definitely be an experience you will not forget.'”

Kennedy in fact did not make the cut when the field was pared down to 64 players after two rounds of stroke play — as he was submarined by struggles on just four holes— but shot respectable rounds of 76 and 79 and looked every bit the part of player in an elite field.

“He belonged there in terms of ability, he could play with those kids and that’s one thing he got from the tournament,” Riesenman said. “He figured out ‘I’m as good as these kids.'”

Having his coach with him gave Kennedy a bit of comfort.

“It was really special for him to be there,” Kennedy said.

As a caddy, Riesenman knew he didn’t have to do anything special with Kennedy, whose even keel demeanor has been one of the major reasons why he is a three-time state qualifier and able to perform well in big tournaments.

“I was a caddy in the sense that I carried his bag, but he knows his game better than I do,” Riesenman said. “I just tried to encourage him, but he never gets down, so I didn’t have to pick him up by his bootstraps.”

Kennedy now has a big senior year in front of him. He is the second-highest placing Aurora golfer returning, as he was 15th a year ago. Cherokee Trail junior Supawich “Beam” Boonta, his state playing partner, took sixth.

With the graduation of Centennial League champion Davis Bryant of Eaglecrest — who coincidentally played in the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2016 and 2017 — Kennedy could be in the mix for the league title and a run at the top spot in state in Riesenman’s mind.

In other Aurora storylines going into the 2018 boys golf season, Regis Jesuit takes aim at its eighth 5A state championship in nine years, but coach Craig Rogers has fewer known quantities than ever before.

Only senior Walker Fuller returns from the Raiders’ title-winning team last fall.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports