JACKSONVILLE — Caleb McKinney got smarter between his junior and senior years and, in turn, achieved a goal of his before graduating from Jacksonville Christian last month.
“Back in my junior year and before that, I would just try to play my game and not worry about what the course was set up for,” he said. “I would try to birdie every hole or pull off miracle shots from the trees and just stuff that could get you in a lot of trouble. This year, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot smarter on the course, laying up when I need to or taking a bogey rather than trying to make a shot from nowhere and end up doubling or tripling.
“I talk with my dad all the time, and the worst thing I want to do is bogey. If I’m in a bad situation off the tee or whatever, I tell myself the worst thing that can come out of the hole is a bogey. That’s all I want, I’m not going to push to try to create a miracle.”
McKinney tied for second at the Calhoun County golf tournament and tied for 10th at the Class 1A-2A state tournament. He is the Calhoun County boys golfer of the year.
Even though his senior season ended on a high note, there’s still a “what if” curiosity there after McKinney played in the state tournament with bronchitis.
“It was very frustrating to be sick in the tournament. It was a dream of mine to play in state and then when I get there I’m all of a sudden sick,” McKinney said. “I’d been dealing with bronchitis a little bit before, but the day before we left for the tournament I could feel it coming back up. It was frustrating but, at the same time, there was nothing I could do about it except play golf and try to finish.”
McKinney decided to fight through the illness and play the tournament because “what I love to do is play golf.”
“It was really tough mentally and physically. I was drained by the end of it,” he said. “I just tried to play through it. I had a lot of support down there and had people taking time to make sure that I was OK. I just tried to do what I could and that’s something I’m proud of.”
Before reaching state, McKinney continued his tradition of being a one-person team, which transitioned over from Faith Christian the season before.
While McKinney said he would have loved to be part of a team, it wasn’t all bad. He only had to worry about how he played and he also loved the people at JCA.
“Everyone always says that your senior year is your toughest year and you’re trying to make decisions about college and everything, but I tried to have a good time and enjoy the year,” McKinney said. “I felt like coming to JCA was a good thing for me. I like the people there and they’re really nice and supportive of me and golf. It was a great situation for me.
“I had a lot of help as far as getting my matches in. Sacred Heart’s coach, coach (Curtis) Hill, and all the coaches around the county were always telling me that if I needed anything to call them and they’d set up a match if I needed them to. I thought that was really nice of them, and I want to thank everybody for that.”
McKinney’s career may not be over. The recent graduate said there are several schools that have offered him, but he’s currently trying to decide where he wants to go to college.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.