Dawson County Senior Madison Caldwell went into Monday's state championship golf match with nerves of steel, an unmatched mental focus and a drive to achieve the goal she set for herself four years ago.
"I read mental books and one of the things I read one time was to embrace your nerves instead of trying to keep them inside," she said. "So I tried to just control them and use them to my advantage and be excited about it."
Caldwell was a freshman when she vowed to become the school's first state champion golfer. Monday night, she claimed that title as low medalist in the state AAA championship match at Horseshow Bend in Roswell.
"When I went out, I had a goal and it was to play my best and keep my head together, and I did that as well as I could," she said. "And at the end of the day, when I won, it felt amazing.
"It means a lot to me because it was my final year and I had to win, and my team was there with me, boys and girls, so it felt really good."
Coach Wes Greer said Caldwell is the first golfer from Dawson County to win the title.
"She was so ready for [Monday]. She had in her mind what she wanted to shoot and went out there and did it," he said. "Her focus was amazing all day. I am so proud of her and all that she has accomplished at Dawson County."
While Caldwell consistently was able to win the region championship three years running, the elusive state title continued to haunt her.
"Last year was awful," she said. "I went to state and had whooping cough, so I ended up being the first girl to go out that day and I was the first tee time. I had waited for four hours after I got finished for the last girl to come in. The last girl beat me by one [stroke]."
More determined than ever, the reigning region champion was not going to see her dream shattered, despite torrential downpours and thunderstorms that halted play twice and sent Monday's championship match into the night.
She took a nap during the first hour and a half delay, returning to play with a par on the ninth hole, followed by birdies on the 10th and 11th. Then the clouds started to roll in again causing a nearly three hour delay.
It was dark by the time she finished and carded a 73, five below second place.
"I was two under at one point so I was really nervous that I might lose by one again this year," she said.
Fear rushed to her again as a roar from the crowd erupted as a competitor sunk a putt for eagle on her last hole.
"I thought, ‘Oh, God, my dreams are crushed,'" she said. "They wrote my score down and then the last girl's score down and I just started crying because I won. It felt so good to finally get that under my belt."
The Western Carolina University signee is still celebrating the victory, but now with a shift in focus to her college career.
"I have a lot of goals. I want to play well and do well for myself and for the coach, because I know she believes in me and I want her to have a reason to," she said.