The word coach Jimmy Thigpen liked to use was “outstanding.”
The Grizzlies went undefeated in match play, won their first Cherokee County championship, claimed their first Region 7AAAAA title and went on to finish eighth in the Class AAAAA state tournament.
“There were a lot of firsts for our program this year,” Thigpen said. “It was a real special season. A couple of these guys are seniors, so they have been with me for all four years.”
Thigpen said the success in the county and region tournaments were unexpected.
“Every year, we make it a goal to win county, and this year, it finally happened,” he said. “We went into the region meet just looking for a top-three finish to go to state and ended up playing really well and had another first winning the region tournament, which was real special for this group of kids.”
For leading Creekview to its unprecedented success, Thigpen is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Golf Coach of the Year.
Thigpen, who has been at the program’s helm since the school opened in 2006, has witnessed a lot of changes during his time at Creekview. He said many of those changes may not have happened without some of the players who were a part of the team this year.
Among those instrumental to the team were seniors Jared O’Kelley and Damon Powers, both of whom are going on to play at Cincinnati and Lander University, respectively. Sophomore Kip Denison provided another boost when he joined the team a year ago.
Over the years, Thigpen went from begging students to join the golf team with the promise of free rounds, to building a group of young golfers who play year-round and are receiving scholarship offers.
“It’s completely different than what I was accustomed to,” Thigpen said. “It’s been fun. These boys make it fun.”
Thigpen said the team received its final boost with a change in administration at Creekview.
“(Principal Adrian) Thomason and (Kevin) Higgins, our athletic director, really supported these boys and kind of made golf a big deal this year,” Thigpen said. “It was a great year.”
Because the players all got along well and enjoyed playing together so much, Thigpen said it didn’t take much effort to get them to practice. In fact, most of the team lives around Woodmont Golf Club, where the team plays its home matches.
“We are very fortunate to get to play and practice at Woodmont,” Thigpen said. “We probably have the best facilities in the county. It’s really been something for the kids to learn that course. (Woodmont) is very good to us because they really go out of their way to help us out and help the junior golf program. If you have to be outside, going at Woodmont is a nice place to go. It’s like home. It’s like the backyard to most of our guys, so even when I’m not there, they are out there playing. I can always find, if not my whole team, at least half my team out there every day.”
The highlight of Thigpen’s season was returning to Jekyll Island for the state tournament. He had not been there since he made the trip while a member of the team at Sequoyah High School.
“It was my first time back, and there was some reminiscing of the stuff that we did went I was in high school,” Thigpen said.
All of the players on the Grizzlies’ roster made the trip, even those who were not playing. Thigpen said it was a good experience to share as a team, and he hopes it will encourage younger members of the team to earn their way back next season.
Thigpen, who is also an assistant boys basketball coach at Creekview, said it’s always nice to get out of the gym and onto the course. But as far as coaching is concerned, there aren’t too many similarities between the two sports.
“Golf is really a head game,” Thigpen said. “There isn’t much I can say to these guys as far as coaching is concerned. They put in the time and effort with their swings. The biggest thing I do as a coach is like a shrink almost. It’s keeping their heads in the game and calming them down after a bad shot. I motivate them to play well and help them keep their head on straight. There isn’t a lot of coaching. It’s more of being an in-between-the-ears coach — keep them positive during the round and hope they listen.”
In addition to Denison, Jon Moyer, Marshall Richard and Austin Currie will be back with the team next season. While Thigpen said it will be hard to replace O’Kelley and Powers, he’s confident that the program will continue to grow.
“We’ll be back next year,” Thigpen said. “We have a couple of titles to defend.”