With no golf course in his county and no swing coach attached to his success, Will McDowell surpassed objectives most would have never expected.
But the Houston County senior was ranked among the state’s top junior golfers during the state’s summer junior tour, and earned a distinction of being among the state’s top prep golfers during the high school season.
On Monday during the Region 5A-AA tournament at Montgomery Bell, McDowell topped all of his prior achievements.
Over the past four years, KayCee Lindberg has ranked among the top junior players in the area, and the Montgomery Central senior validated a remarkable career on the same course McDowell tamed.
McDowell became the first golfer from Houston County to win the boys individual regional title when he shot a 1-under 70 on a day when the tournament was put in a holding pattern for an hour because of an afternoon thunderstorm, and a steady rain that never relented left casual water, running water and unpredictable greens at every turn.
Lindberg also made history when she shot an 81 and won the girls individual title, holding off Clarksville Academy’s AnnaMichelle Moore and Macon County’s Lauren Gammons by one stroke. Lindberg became the first girl in Greg Lyle’s 14 years as Lady Indians coach to win a regional title.
“It’s very humbling to have a girl that can play golf and do what she’s done,” Lyle said. “She has worked very hard all summer long. The big goal was to win the district golf title and the regional title and she got one of them today.”
Lindberg is making yet another trip to the Class A-AA state golf tournament at WillowBrook Golf Club in Manchester, while McDowell is making his first.
“I really wanted to go out and have a win for once. There was a lot of tough competition out here with AnnaMichelle (Moore) and Clarksville Academy and Macon County,” Lindberg said. “They were tough competition, but I wanted to keep my head straight and play the game, play the course.”
For McDowell, capturing the regional title erased the pain from last season’s regional when he was leading after 11 holes before a run of bogeys forced him into a dubious position of missing the state tournament by one stroke.
“It’s a great achievement for himself, especially for our school,” Houston County coach Sam Young said. “As far as I know, we’ve never had an individual go to the state tournament. Not only to go to state, but to be medalist in the region tournament. … it’s just a great accomplishment in itself.”
Macon County, which has held its grip on the district for the past few years, captured the boys and girls regional titles. Macon County boys won by 10 strokes over Lipscomb Academy, while its girls’ team was seven shots better than Clarksville Academy.
Four local golfers qualified for the state tournament. Along with McDowell and Lindberg, Moore and Clarksville Academy teammate Bailey Foote qualified after grabbing one of the individual berths. Moore shot an 82 and Foote a 90.
A couple of hours before McDowell’s tee time, rain was already turning Montgomery Bell into a soggy course to navigate. By the time he stepped on the No. 16 green in the late afternoon, most of the bunkers were filled with several inches of water and casual water was a common sight around the greens.
“I’ve worked four years for this and unfortunately it came on a bad (weather) day, but I was able to fight through it and be patient and get the lowest score you could,” McDowell said. “Last year we had the same kind of conditions and I started good and then I let it go and missed qualifying for state by one.”
On Monday, McDowell went to 1 under when he made a birdie on the No. 5, par 5 hole. McDowell was sitting at 1 under and looking at a birdie putt attempt at No. 11 when rain and lightning sent the field scrambling for the clubhouse.
“Getting off to a good start is always key,” McDowell said. “Once I got to 11 I knew I was doing pretty good. I knew par was going to be a good score coming in and I was able to pretty much do that.”
Once he returned to No. 11, McDowell sank a par putt, then made the biggest shot of his round at No. 12 when he chipped in from the front of the green for birdie.
“That was probably one of the toughest short shots that I’ve had in a long time,” McDowell said. “I almost debated on putting, but I took a pitching wedge back in my stance and let it land on the fringe and maybe I would have a shot at it and it went in.”
McDowell played par golf until No. 17 when his tee shot landed in a bunker along the left side of the fairway. Opting to play it safe, McDowell punched out of the wet sand into the fairway and later two-putted for bogey.
His tee shot at 18 sailed through a couple of trees along the right side of the fairway, but didn’t catch any limbs. McDowell finished off a par putt, and after shaken hands with the other three golfers in his group, celebrated the title with his dad on the green.
“When I got into the bunker, the lip was possibly going to be in the way and I knew it wasn’t worth risking it, so I played up to my yardage,” McDowell said. “On 18 when I heard it go through the trees, as long as I didn’t hear it hit any limbs I didn’t get too frustrated. That was a scary shot.”
Because of the conditions Lindberg was already anticipating higher than normal scores, and expected a low 80 would be good enough to take the title.
“The regionals, almost every year it’s been like this,” Lindberg said. “You just have to play through it and keep your hands and your grips and your clubs dry. You have to deal with what is given to you.
“I figured if I shot in the low 80s I would be pretty well set,” Lindberg added “I knew out there it was going to be tough. I knew there was going to be some higher scores today and I knew some girls, it doesn’t matter what it is like out there, they will play good. I tried to keep it straight, get on the greens and and try to two putt.”
Putting proved to be a challenge, but Lindberg made a clutch putt before the turn that proved to be the difference. Lindberg’s lone birdie came at the No. 8, par 4 hole. Her birdie putt from eight-feet was the longest one she made and proved to be the difference.
“If that putt hadn’t dropped I would have shot an 82 and been in a playoff with them,” Lindberg said. “I am glad that putt fell, that was my saving grace.”
Deason falls in four playoff holes
Houston County came within a shot of sending two golfers to the state golf tournament when Zach Deason, who shot a 5-over 76, played a four-hole playoff with Lipscomb Academy’s Logan Matthews into near darkness. The two were playing for the region’s final automatic berth and matched each other with pars over the first three holes.
Barely able to see their shots, Deason and Matthews stepped to the par 3, No. 4 hole where Matthew’s tee shot landed within a few feet of the hole, while Deason was well above the pin. Deason missed a birdie putt from 30 feet and Matthews sank his birdie putt inside five feet.