By JESSE SMITHEY
On a day when WillowBrook Golf Course refused to yield scoring opportunities, Kaleb Wilson and the CAK boys’ golf team found a way to keep their wits and win.
Some 111 players teed off Tuesday in the Division II-A and Division II-AA state golf tournaments, boys and girls combined.
Only three of those 111 broke par.
Wilson, a junior at CAK, churned out a round of final-round, even-par 72 to claim the first TSSAA Division II-A individual championship of his promising career.
He had a brief stumble with a double-bogey 6 at the par-4 sixth — his 15th hole of the day — but answered back with a birdie at the seventh and another at the eighth to run away. He won by three strokes at 2-under 142.
“It was rainy, windy, cold, and we had to play the ball down the whole time,” Wilson said. “I just tried to stay in the moment the whole time and grind it out because I knew everyone would struggle and get bad breaks. So as long as I capitalized on the good then I felt like I would be gaining on the field.”
Meanwhile, the Warriors earned their fourth consecutive Division II-A team championship and seventh team title in program history with a 23-shot victory over Evangelical Christian School and 26 over Webb.
Wilson joined elite company with his individual title. Alabama’s Davis Shore and Tennessee’s Cade Russell were the only individual boys’ champions in CAK program history.
“It feels incredible that I have both now,” said Wilson of having team and individual titles. “It was a goal going into this year, and I m pretty proud to say that I did it.”
CAK golfers began their final rounds on the back nine at WillowBrook, and that is the more demanding of the two nines, placing a premium on accuracy. That isn’t always easy to do straight out of the shoot, and CAK stumbled to a 14-over start after the first six holes Tuesday. To put it into perspective, they shot 5-over 293 as a team on Monday.
The Warriors held a 16-shot lead entering the final round, and that was almost all but gone after about 90 minutes of play Tuesday.
But CAK made its charge on the front nine, as Wilson poured in a birdie at the par-5 second. Jackson Hughey birdied the par-4 first. John Meadows went 2 under on hole Nos. 1-7. And just like that, CAK pushed its lead to 20 strokes with roughly four holes to play.
“It was 52 degrees with a good north wind this morning, and it made playing conditions tough, especially starting on the back nine,” said CAK coach Donnie Cooper. “We struggled to control our ball on some of the tougher holes on the back, but we got some momentum on the front with a couple of birdies at 1. We ended up playing the second nine at 2 over.
”I think we settled down when we realized that scoring in general was high after nine holes, and we felt like we could take advantage of some holes on the front.”
CAK shot 23-over 311 Tuesday. Hughey shot 77 and finished tied for fourth at 4-over 148. Meadows shot 79 and tied for 11th (155).
Webb School of Knoxville took third place at 630. Webb senior Reece Britt improved on his fourth-place finish from 2019 by finishing third this week. Britt opened with 71 and was one shot back of Wilson. He made two birdies on his final nine Tuesday but a final-round 75 landed him at 2-over 146.
Cooper Hayes, a senior at Berean Christian, finished tied for ninth. The Lipscomb signee shot 74 Monday and 78 Tuesday. He shot 3 under on his final nine holes, recovering from a disastrous start on his opening nine.
Webb’s Sam King (81-78) and Eli Mayes (77-84) took 16th and 17th, respectively.
DIVISION II-A GIRLS
The CAK girls finished in fourth place on Tuesday. CAK freshman Malerie Taylor finished 12th with two rounds of 84. CAK senior Allie Cooper capped her prep career with a round of 89, that putting her in 14th place at 173.
Franklin Road Academy won the girls’ team competition at 14-over 302, good enough for a 10-shot win over first-round leader Northpoint. FRA’s Emily Wilson shot 1-under 71 Tuesday to win the individual tournament at 1-over 145.
DIVISION II-AA STATE TOURNAMENT
The Catholic girls’ program wanted its first state title in program history and was five shots back entering the final day’s play.
Catholic wound up in fourth place at 21-over 323, though, which was 21 shots back of state-champion Baylor (14-over 302).
Catholic senior Kennedy Noe, who was 2019 state runner-up, played solid all week and finished sixth. She followed her first-round, 3-over 75 with a final-round 83. Amelia Rechter complemented Noe’s play with rounds of 83 and 82 to finish 11th individually.
In the boys’ competition in Division II-AA, Catholic sophomore Harrison Thompson tried to join Clemson star Kyle Cottam as individual state golf champions in Catholic boys’ golf history.
Thompson gave chase with two birdies in his final five holes, but his final-round 72 placed him put him at 2-over 146 and solo third place.
Baylor’s Sheldon McKnight and First-round leader Riley Grindstaff (Father Ryan) tied at 2-under 142 for the individual lead. McKnight, a junior, won in the playoff.
Chase Fuller, also of Knoxville Catholic, qualified for state as an individual and shot 86-84.