Madison Caldwell has been blessed with an ability to play golf well and she's not about to take it for granted. With a long windup and smooth follow through, she's developed a rare ability to blast a golf ball off the tee with driver in hands well in excess of 250 yards.
In addition to that, she's got a consistent short game and can make putts under pressure.
This season, Caldwell, a Dawson County High sophomore, shot 74 to win the Region 7-AAA meet, averaged 76 over 18 holes and placed fifth overall at the Class AAA state meet at 81.
"She's an amazing player," said her brother Zach Caldwell, a rising sophomore that plays for the University of North Georgia. "It's always been a natural talent.
"If she continues to play like she has, the sky's the limit."
For her efforts, she's The Times' Girls Golfer of the Year.
Caldwell's plan in life is to turn this talent, which first manifested at age 8 with an estimated 100-yard drive straight down the middle the first time she swung a club, into a professional career.
To make that happen she wants to earn a scholarship to play at the Division-I level. However, first she wants to make a run at the state title with two years remaining in a promising high school career.
After just one year working with his standout golfer, Lady Tigers coach Wes Greer is a believer.
"Everyone said when I arrived that she's the real deal," Greer said. "I can say now she's the best I've ever seen.
"She has great ball-striking ability and a lot of confidence in her swing."
Caldwell's ticket to winning the Region 7-AAA meet at Scales Country Club in Homer was making consistent pars and a couple outstanding tees shots on par 3s. She hit the flag off the tee on one hole, then had a phenomenal backspin another time on a par 3 that left a short tap-in for birdie.
Following a birdie on No. 17, she salvaged par on No. 18 after a wayward fairway approach on the par-5 hole.
"At the region meet, it just all came together," Greer added. "She was on target all day."
Even though fifth place at state is quite an accomplishment for a young standout, shooting an 81 left a bad taste in Caldwell's mouth but served as great motivation for the years to come.
She followed up the state performance with a 73 just one week later on the same course at Chateau Elan.
And Caldwell's results in 2013 were clearly not just a flash in the pan. She's shot a 5-under previously playing from the back tees at the Achasta Golf Club in Dahlonega, while finishing every meet her freshman season - except the one she missed with shoulder pain - under par.
Caldwell says too that the key to her success is in the swing.
"I have a long, flowing swing," Caldwell said. "I take the club so far back and past parallel (to the ground).
"I've never followed any technique with my swing."
Greer says the key to Caldwell's big swing rests in her mechanics. Dawson County's coach says she almost always hits the ball square.
"She's got a lot of torque in the swing," Greer added. "And on the backswing, she follows all the way through."
While Caldwell freely admits she's not the physically strongest, she knows how to use her understanding of the swing mechanics to her advantage. And her brother Zach says when she's on the driving range smashing golf balls, it's a sight folks will just stop to watch, not believing that a female golfer can hit the ball so far on a regular basis.
"To watch Madison hit the golf ball kind of takes your breath away," her brother said. "When she's hitting, me and my dad will just kind of look at each other."
Golf has always been a family affair for Madison. Her brother started playing at a young age, and their father Dave is also an avid golfer. Mom Ann also played when she was younger, and even served as Madison's caddie for her first junior tournament at age 9.
The first time Madison tried a swing in the third grade was one she'll never forget. At the time, her brother recently decided he was tired of playing baseball and wanted to take up golf.
At their urging while at one of the local courses near where they lived at the time in Cumming, the 8-year-old Madison took a swing with unforgettable results: A straight shot right down the middle with no previous training or instruction.
"I had the ability to mimic what I saw with the golf swing," Caldwell said. "It just came natural."
Not long after Madison took her first swing, the family knew they were on to something special. Her first competition was in kids tournaments.
The progression in Madison's scores coming down was also easy to track. She was shooting in the low 90's often by the time she turned 10, and improved to where she was steadily in the 70s by the eighth grade.
Greer says that Caldwell has all the ability and love of the game to become the state's best high school player by the time she's done.
"Not only does she hit the ball a long way, but she chips around the green well and reads greens well," Greer said. "She's got as good of a short game as she does a long game."