Once an outlet for Clay Carnes, golf has become his sole athletic pursuit after the Gallatin junior was diagnosed with a medical condition that ruled out his first love.
“I started playing football when I was 6,” said Carnes, who is getting ready for Monday’s District 9-AAA tournament at Country Hills in Hendersonville. “It’s been difficult. But I’m not on earth to follow my plan. I’m following God’s plan. I’ve got to trust God.
“I’ve come to peace with it from that angle. But from a human angle, it’s tough, seeing the guys wear their jerseys and hearing folks talk about the games. But I’m focusing on golf and trying to become the best golfer I can be.”
As a sophomore, Carnes was the Green Wave’s starting quarterback for most of the season and earned all-district honors.
But he learned in June that he had thoracic outlet syndrome — compression of nerves and blood vessels between the collarbone and the uppermost rib, resulting in numbness in the neck, shoulder and/or arm and fingers.
“To this day, I can’t throw a ball more than 10 or 15 yards,” said the 6-foot, 220-pounder.
The arm motion for swinging a golf club is completely different from throwing a pass, Carnes said.
“The golf swing, for a right-handed golfer, is so left side-dominant that the right arm is really just hanging there,” he said. “The overhand motion (for passing) really gets those nerves pinched. The golf swing, if anything, opens them up.”
Although he had been doing rehabilitation exercises in hopes of a possible return to football, Carnes said he has discontinued those.
“He kind of mentioned it about midway through the season,” Gallatin golf coach Mickey Armstrong said. “I told him, ‘We’ll talk about that when the season ends. Let’s focus on what we’ve got in front of us.’ “
The transition hasn’t been as smooth as Carnes or Armstrong would have hoped. Carnes said his best 18-hole score has been an 84. Gallatin is off to a 2-2 start in football.
“He can play golf,” Armstrong said. “He’s gone out with me on several occasions and … shot mid-, low-70s. He gets out on the course (during a match) and gets to thinking about things and it shows up in his playing.”
In the same district with two-time defending Class AAA champion Hendersonville, Carnes hasn’t had a chance to ease into competition.
“I think that’s been part of the problem as well,” Armstrong said. “He’s played with some very tough players, he’s very competitive and he doesn’t like losing. I think it’s been hard for him to take a step back and realize he’s the one that’s learning and playing against guys that have played all their lives.”
Austin Swafford, who has committed to UT Martin, has helped guide Carnes through the rough spots this season.
“He’d never played a competitive round until he played in these high school matches,” Swafford said. “But I can see some improvement. It’s a very difficult game, but he’s got a lot of power and a lot of passion for the game. I can definitely see him being a very good player.”
With the postseason looming, it might be tough for Carnes to improve in time to see a payoff this fall.
“I’ve got work to do in every area, but my iron play has been my best thing,” he said. “I’ve got to get my driver figured out.
“We’ve played at Country Hills four times already. So I know the course better than I did. I think if I can break 80, I can advance to the regional.”