Dawson County’s Madison Caldwell did just as much worrying as she did playing golf on the day of the state championship meet.
The ultra-talented junior shot a 76 despite being physically ill during the round at the Waynesboro Country Club, but was nervous as one of the first players to hit the clubhouse as to whether it would be enough to meet her expectation of a state title.
“I was there waiting on edge for four hours,” said Caldwell, who maintained a 37 nine-hole average in 2014. “I went out and put my feet in the pool, went to Subway, whatever I could do to clear my mind while waiting.”
On that particular day, her round of 4-over par wasn’t enough. She lost by one to Blessed Trinity’s Gracie Henderson, who had a double bogey on the first hole No. 10 but compensated with three birdies before completing the front nine.
Still, it was another dominating season for Caldwell, who won the Region 7-AAA championship at Royal Lakes with an even-par 72 thanks to back-to-back birdies on the final two holes.
For her efforts, Caldwell is The Times Girls Golfer of the Year.
“Madison has so many talents as a golfer,” said Dawson County coach Wes Greer, who has coached Caldwell the past two seasons. “And I’ve seen her mature as an individual.
“She’s driven and very determined.”
Losing out on a state championship by a stroke didn’t derail Caldwell’s ambition. It only made her even more determined to carry home the title as a senior, knowing she has made strides since an 81 at state as a sophomore.
When the final groups were coming in, Caldwell was hoping that her score could carry the win — or maybe force a playoff.
However, Henderson played her final nine holes at 1-over for a winning score of 75. Caldwell was admittedly emotional about losing, even though it was a sinus infection and whooping cough that made it nearly impossible to keep the ball in the fairway.
Once the sting of losing set in, she made a clear declaration that Greer believes will ring true.
“She looked at me when it was over and said, ‘I’m winning the state title next year,’” said Greer. “And I have no doubt she’s going to win it by many shots.”
Playing in the first group at state, Caldwell struggled with her upper body the entire day, according to Greer, specifically pulling the ball to her left. Still, she was so sharp on the greens, needing only 27 putts, that Caldwell was right on the cusp of winning the state title she wanted so badly.
“I had so many bad holes at the state meet this year,” said Caldwell, who shot a season-best 34 in a tri-match against Buford and Fannin County this season at Crystal Falls.
According to Greer, it was the first time he’d seen Caldwell struggle as her coach. Even though it was an up-and-down day for Caldwell at state, she managed to sink a 20-footer for par on 17 to set the early pace for the day.
Now that Caldwell has a second-place finish at state out of the way, she’s set on winning it ‘by a landslide’ next season.
Even at region, Caldwell was frustrated by inconsistencies, despite an 11-stroke victory. She played the front nine holes at Royal Lakes at even par, but put the ball in the creek short of the green on the par-3 16th to force a drop and penalty stroke.
She wound up double-bogeying the 16th, but rallied with a four-foot putt for birdie on No. 17 and then a nice short chip shot for a birdie again on No. 18.
“I thought she was in control that entire round,” said Greer.
Caldwell, who is verbally committed to Western Carolina University, said her entire summer will be focused on eliminating any erratic shots. Despite her success and domination against Class AAA competition in Northeast Georgia, Caldwell will only describe 2014 as a ‘mediocre year.’
She played a practice round earlier this week that makes her point. Caldwell said she had five birdies and an eagle on the front nine, but finished with five bogeys and a double bogey on the backside.
“I just have to eliminate the stupid mistakes,” said Caldwell.