Dawson County senior Madison Caldwell realized a life-long dream when she fought through the elements and slow play on Monday, May 18 to become the GHSA AAA State Golf Champion.
Caldwell shot an amazing one-over par 73 at Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell to beat Sonoravilles Clara Hulsey by five shots. While that may look like a dominant win on paper, the tension in the clubhouse as the competitors awaited results was not only palpable, but nearly unbearable for Caldwell.
Caldwell had already fought through two long weather delays, standing water, heat and humidity, and fog. Known as a fast player, she didnt let any of the issues get into her head and played a great round of golf. It was also the longest round Caldwells ever played tee time was at 10:50 a.m. and finish at 8:50 p.m.
Unlike PGA Tour and LPGA events, there was no live leaderboard, making it nearly impossible to know how Caldwells competition faired. She also struggled a bit over the last couple holes, adding drama and tension. Heres how the day went down.
Caldwell bogeyed the first hole, but got back to even par with a birdie on the sixth after making a great sand save on the second and a string of pars. She was at even par after eight holes when the first of two lengthy weather delays occurred.
After a power nap during the 1.5 hour delay, Caldwell easily hit the par-5 ninth green in two shots and lined up a makeable eagle putt. It was on line, but came up just short, and she then missed the short birdie putt and had to settle for par. But instead of letting that get her down, she promptly went out and birdied both 10 and 11, pumping her fist and putting her at two-under par with seven holes to play. Even without knowing where her competition stood, this was starting to feel like Maddies day.
After making a great par save at 12 with a long putt, a huge storm rolled in and caused another delay, this one just less than three hours. At that point, it started to seem unlikely the match would be completed on Monday, meaning schedules would have to be rearranged and the competitors would have to reconvene on Tuesday morning.
However, the staff at Horseshoe Bend and the event organizers from Blessed Trinity did a fantastic job of getting the golfers back on the course at 7 p.m., giving Caldwells final group about an hour and 40 minutes of daylight to finish their final six holes.
The delays and soggy conditions appeared to wear on Caldwell as she three-putted number 13 to fall to one-under par. Fog began to roll in off the river with the sun beginning to set on the 14th hole, but she was able to hit a three-footer to save par. She then crushed her drive on 15, but had to play through a tree on her approach. She still put it on the putting surface and then hit a gutsy eight-footer to save another par. And another fist pump followed.
Caldwell not only wanted to win State, but also had a goal of shooting under par, and she sat at one-under with three to play. Just as she had throughout the day, she made another clutch five-footer to save par on 16. The par-3 17th brought some trouble though, as she mishit her tee shot and came up short of the green. Unable to get up and down, she settled for bogey and was at level par entering the final hole.
With darkness quickly approaching, Caldwell had to sit and watch for a few minutes on the 18th tee. And if youve ever played competitive golf, you know this was not an ideal situation. Additionally, Coach Wes Greer realized his time was up with his senior star. This is the last hole shell ever play for me, he whispered to this sports reporter. I cant believe it.
Nevertheless, Caldwell absolutely mashed her drive right down the center on the final hole a very tough and long par five with water in front of the elevated green and to the right. While the best play would probably have been to lay up, Caldwell decided to go for broke in an attempt to get back under par. She hit a booming fairway wood safely to the left of the green, but also left herself with a lightning-quick downhill chip over sand, with water on the other side of the green. She smartly hit it short, taking the water risk out of play, and ended up taking a bogey out of the sand, finishing her round at one-over par and a stellar 73.
With the final results now out of her hands, Caldwell and her entourage had an unsettling experience while trying to get to the clubhouse. Her top competition, Hulsey, drained a long eagle putt on the ninth hole (her last).
Players waited about 20 minutes to find out Hulseys final score, and when the officials finally posted her 78 in the packed clubhouse, Caldwell exhaled, shed a few tears, and melted into a long embrace with Coach Wes Greer.
Caldwell accepted her hardware, posed for photos and hugged fans and family. Winning State means so much to me, especially since it was my last year to get it done and my teammates were here with me, she said.