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Caldwell overcame to earn coveted AAA state title
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As Madison Caldwell walked the fairway at Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell, the Dawson County senior doubled over in the pain that she was feeling in the right side of her stomach, taking the breath out of her lungs for a second or two.

It didn't help when she was forced to wait out two prolonged rain delays, following a strong first few holes at the Class AAA state championships this May.

This wasn't the way the Dawson County senior was hoping to finish off her high school career.

"It was hard," she said. "I've had pressure before, but I've never played the whole day with that lingering pressure on me. It was horrible, but now I know that I can handle myself in that situation."

Caldwell spent the majority of her senior year dealing with a consistent, aching pain in the right side of her stomach as the result of a prolonged battle with kidney stones. She described the intermittent pain she felt on the golf course during the state championships "like giving birth."

Since shooting a 1-over par 73 at Horseshoe Bend to win the school's first individual golf state title, thinking about golf has been a luxury lately for the Western Carolina University signee.

She's had to contend with painful soreness in her abdomen as the result of three surgeries over the past five years to deal with what began as kidney stones and what has turned into a stressful search for relief as Caldwell heads to the college ranks this fall.

It's a long road, involving numerous doctors and hospital visits, and has her father David concerned for his daughter's future in golf.

"We keep eliminating things that it might be, but we haven't found the cause," said David. "If we don't get something figured out, it will definitely affect her ability to play at the level she's capable of."

Doctors were able to pinpoint Madison's issues as far back as eighth grade after she had to withdraw from a tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. Following two surgeries over the next seven years, Madison underwent a third operation to clear blockage in her kidneys just 12 days before her team began play in the Region 7-AAA championships.

All the while, Madison needed to defend her back-to-back Region 7-AAA titles with a strong showing in April against fellow competitor Lumpkin County.

The recovery was rough, but losing in her senior year was going to be a lot tougher for Madison to swallow.

"We had bad, bad weather during the whole day that day," said her coach, Wes Greer. "When we got back from a weather delay, she started duffing her shot, and ended up double-bogeying a hole. She was sore, but the adrenaline was still flowing. It was one of the worst rounds I've seen her play, but she still won it."

Greer was named All-Area Golf Coach of the Year.

As Madison's game matures, the pain occasionally gets worse. She constantly uses her midsection to create the twisting torque her body needs for a strong shot, which has put more stress on her hips and abdomen.

Throughout her high school career, Madison has played in the spotlight. She finished fifth at the state championships in her sophomore year, was runner-up last year, and made it her mission to finish her senior year as a state champion.

"When I was playing all day, I had never been so nervous in my life," she said. "It was basically an ultimatum, being my senior year. I had to get it done. I had to take a deep breath before every shot."

Madison got off to a hot pace in Roswell before a 90-minute rain delay stopped her at 2-under par. Later, a three-and-a-half hour delay pushed play back even further.

Madison decided to take a nap.

"She was knocked out in the grill area where everyone was sitting, just taking a nap on the table," said David. "It was close to darkness when we started playing again, and she had about an hour and a half to play six holes."

But Madison's strong start was enough to close out the round and an emotional win that still resonates with the Class AAA Player of the Year today. She thinks about getting back to the golf course just as much as she wishes to be rid of the gnawing pain in her abdomen.

Sometimes, she can relieve the pressure by massaging the area, while other times she feels better exercising her back and hips. She's hoping to start physical therapy at a treatment facility in Midtown Atlanta.

It's been a rough road with no satisfying answers for the Caldwell family, but Madison has found ways to cope. She likes to relax with books and CDs to keep her mind off of what she calls "distractions."

She's hoping to apply that same even-keeled approach to her collegiate career.

Madison said she often speaks with Western Carolina coach Mallory Hetzel, who has encouraged her incoming freshman to stay strong through her recovery.

"It definitely wasn't one of my better years," said Madison, despite going out a state champion. "But I'm happy because my game was good. I wasn't happy with the medical side of things, but that's just life and I'll live forward and play college golf even better."