Pineville senior Braxton Caldwell is the 2019 Region 10 golf champion. Caldwell defeated Clay County’s Justin Begley in the first hole of a sudden death playoff last week a Eagle’s Nest Country Club in Somerset.
“I don’t think anybody has ever done it from Pineville so it’s a good feeling,” Caldwell said of being the regional champion.
He shot a one-under-par 70 to finish tied with Begley after 18 holes. Gehrig Sexton of Wayne County placed third, one shot back, while two-time defending champion Reese Sexton of Wayne County and Clay County’s C.J. Corum both shot a 72.
Caldwell opened the championship with a bogey on number one, but later reeled off three straight birdies to take the lead and was up by four strokes at the turn.
He said he first felt like it was going be his day after making birdies on number five and number six.
“On the fifth hole I got a crazy up and down and the kid I was really competing against, Reese Sexton, I saw him starting to get frustrated. On the next hole he hit a bad shot and was starting to swing his club, he was getting mad,” Caldwell said. “I looked at CJ and I said I’m about to stick this and make this putt. I stuck it and made the putt for birdie and that’s when I knew I was looking good.”
Coach Matt Welch was impressed with how Caldwell stayed focused through some adversity on the back nine.
“He was minus three at one point and then he had a couple of unlucky breaks and fell back to minus one, but he held his composure really well,” Welch said. “Corum holed out for eagle and picked up two shots. Braxton bogeyed the next hole and C.J. got par to cut it down to one shot. Sometimes when you’re playing golf it’s easy to get frustrated and let it get away from you, but he hung in there.”
Caldwell had an 8-foot putt on 18 that would have given him the win in regulation.
“We didn’t tell him that because we didn’t want him to run it 20 feet past the hole. We just let him play his game the whole day because it was working,” Welch said.
Caldwell two-putted for par on 18 to finish ahead of Sexton, Corum and Somerset’s Kannon Tucker, the other favorites entering the tournament.
Begley managed to match Caldwell’s 70 to force the sudden death playoff, which started back on number one.
“He had played one bad hole the whole day and it was number one,” Welch said. “It’s the only hole that was a little bit nerve-wracking where you thought he might make a big number. If I was in his shoes that’s something I would have been thinking about.”
Instead, Caldwell approached the playoff hole with confidence.
“Eagles Nest, it’s got some quirky holes to it. On number one I hit a four-iron off the tee and you hit it straight down and to the left there’s a ravine. Then you go across the ravine up to the green. I didn’t hit my iron really good off the tee so I had 197 yards into the wind on my second shot,” Caldwell said.
“I was thinking ‘This is what you live for right here, shots like this.’ I was tree-hooked a little bit and I knew I had adrenaline pumping. Normally I wouldn’t hit a 6-iron 197 yards into the wind. But with that adrenaline I knew if I crushed a 5-iron I could hit it out of bounds or over the green. So I went with the 6-iron, played it aggressive and it paid off. I was able to two-putt for the win.”
Welch added that this year’s Region 10 featured strong competition.
“Clay County was ranked fifth in the state and Wayne County was ranked seventh. Braxton was going up against several Division I golfers. A few have committed to Division I colleges and there are a lot that already have Division II offers,” Welch said. “So it’s not like he caught everybody in a weak year and snuck up on them.”
Caldwell advances to the Leachman Buik/GMC/Cadilac KHSAA State Golf Championship. He scheduled to tee off at 8:48 a.m. on Friday on hole 10 at Bowling Green Country Club. You can follow Braxton’s scores live by going to the golf page on the KHSAA website and clicking on the link to live scores