Christian Academy of Knoxville senior Cade Russell was still practicing his putting on the practice green at WillowBrook on Tuesday afternoon, no more than an hour after he had finished off a final-round, 5-under-par 67 that helped him rally to win a state championship.
He made seven birdies Tuesday, including three in a row midway through his round and two on his final three holes.
He knew his stroke wasn’t right and was bound to fix it.
“Really, it’s my speed,” he said. “I watched a lot of putts this week either just miss on the low edge because I didn’t hit it hard enough — or I watched a lot go 3 or 4 inches past the hole and be dead center and miss on the high side because I hit it too hard.
“I didn’t match up line and speed very often this week.”
That type of self awareness is why he’s heading to play for the University of Tennessee next fall.
Still, his game was good enough for a four-shot victory — and his two-day of 5-under 139 helped CAK win a Division II-A team championship for a second consecutive season.
The Warriors wound up at 27-over 603 across two days for a 28-shot victory. Christ Presbyterian Academy was second in the six-team field at 631 and Franklin Road Academy third at 638.
CAK got to Manchester, Tenn., on Friday. Those extra days of preparation paid off.
“We usually come in a couple days early and get our strategy down,” said CAK coach Hank Fennell. “That’s so huge for us. You can’t come to a place like WillowBrook and just kind of get lucky. You got to be prepared.”
Russell began the day two shots back of Clarksville Academy’s Patton Samuels (70-73–143) and started on the back nine for the second day in a row. On Monday, Russell had two bogeys and seven pars on his first nine holes. But this time around, Russell ate the back nine up. He birdied the par-3 11th. After a bogey at 14, Russell reeled off birdies at Nos. 16-18 to propel himself up the leaderboard.
He added a birdie at the par-5 second to build a three-shot lead. Russell didn’t falter after a brief slip, a bogey at the par-4 sixth. Rather, he sank birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 to cement his place in school lore. He joined Davis Shore, who’s now a standout at Alabama, as the only boys’ golfers to win individual titles at CAK.
“I knew exactly what was going on (with the tournament scoring) pretty much the entire round,” said Russell. “I knew where I stood for all 18 holes. On the last five (holes), I just hit a bad shot on 6 and was able to bounce back (with birdies) on 7 and 8 with a couple of good shots there.
“The individual (title) is something I’ll enjoy for a couple of days. Individually, I have a lot of work to do. Next year at UT, we’re going to have 16 golfers, and all 16 are great golfers. So, I got some work to do to get some playing time. But as for the team (title), that’s what meant the most to me.”
The CAK team won its fifth state title, having won Division II-A last season and Class A/A in 2009, 2010 and 2015. Mitchell Deeson bounced back in a major way, shaving six shots off his first-round score (80) to shoot a 74 Tuesday. Aaron Frazer carded his second 76 of the tournament, and sophomore John Meadows contributed an 82 to round out the team total. Freshman Kaleb Wilson had an 84 on Day 2, but his timely 76 on Monday helped the cause.
“We kind of started off shaky yesterday with the wind and the rains. It was a little bit windier than we expected it to be,” said Fennell. “But this team has a lot of fight in them.
“Whenever we start off poorly, we always hold our ground and just gut it out and fight really hard.”
The CAK girls’ team trimmed 10 shots off their first-round score. The Lady Warriors finished fifth in the six-team field at 78-over 366. Franklin Road Academy (306) won the event by 30 shots over Boyd-Buchanan.
Kate Faulkner (93-86–179) finished 12th for CAK. Kennedy Smith (189) and Allie Cooper (192) were tied for 14th and solo 16th, respectively.
Grace Christian’s Virginia Pirkle (86-87 — 173) tied for eighth, playing as an individual.
Webb School’s Eli Mayes finished 11th in the boys’ tournament with two rounds of 78.