The Grizzlies brought home the county championship for the first time in the school’s seven-year history Wednesday, and coach Jimmy Thigpen said they had to make great strides to get there.
“We have gone from not very competitive and the laughing stock of the county, for sure, to progressive and getting better,” he said. “We have a junior program here at (Woodmont Golf Club), which has been helpful. I used to have to take kids from other sports just to make a team, and now I actually have full-time golfers. We are certainly getting more respect and getting invites to tournaments that are big for us. Certainly, the perception of Creekview golf has changed.”
Thigpen said that when the program started, it was composed primarily of football and basketball players, who had nothing better to do and often played using borrowed or hand-me-down clubs.
“They were basically looking to come out and hit a few free balls,” Thigpen said. “Now, when people ask where we are from, and we say ‘Creekview,’ we get a different reaction.”
When senior Jared O’Kelly, who won the individual county championship, entered the program as a freshman, he said that Creekview wasn’t respected at all. But he and fellow senior Damon Powers worked hard to change that perception, and the addition of young talent such as sophomore Kip Denison has only helped.
The trio has been a core part of Creekview’s scorecard this season, and while the fourth golfer has often rotated, Kelly, Powers and Denison have been solid.
“We have progressively gotten better,” O’Kelly said. “We have added kids, who were in middle school, like Kip. He has been a big part of it. Damon has gotten a lot better. Really, we are a completely different team. It definitely takes hard work to get here and we have worked hard.”
Powers agreed with the assessment, saying that even other students at the school considered the golf team a joke a few years ago.
“We weren’t like an actual team, but now we are more like a force in the county,” said Powers, who is looking into playing in college. “I started off in freshman year and was really, really bad, but have come along and actually led the team in scoring as a junior.”
Denison began playing with the varsity team as a freshman last year. As a sophomore, he has given Thigpen reason to believe this won’t be a fluke season as far as success is concerned.
“I just try to help out my boys, Jared and Damon, here and try to make the best team we can before they leave,” Denison said. “I’ve really tried to practice and work for that. We have come from nowhere and built a program.”
Denison, who began playing golf six or seven years ago with his father, said he makes the most of the home-course advantage whenever he can. He is very familiar with Woodmont and lives in a house near hole No. 10.
“Home court is always the best in any sport, but in golf, I think it serves its purpose the most when you can know everything about it.”
O’Kelly, who recently accepted a scholarship offer to play at the University of Cincinnati, said he had perhaps his best day putting during the county championship, and that his play improved as the weather improved Wednesday. The county championship was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, but poor course condition pushed the start back a day.
O’Kelly said he didn’t mind the wait. But with snow flurries still in the air Tuesday, the golfers had to adjust to swinging in multiple layers of clothing.
“It was horrible Monday and I didn’t want to go out there,” O’Kelly said. “The cold was definitely something to work around with a swing restriction, but I putted ridiculously. I have never putted that good in my life.”
He joked that, given that he will soon be playing at a college in Ohio, it might not be such a bad thing that he can putt in cold weather.
“Maybe I will play better with all those clothes on,” O’Kelly said.
Winning the county championship certainly gives Creekview some momentum and confidence going into the Region 7AAAAA tournament, which will be held April 19 at Eagle Watch Golf Club in Towne Lake.
“When you win something like that for the first time, it’s always a big confidence-booster,” Powers said. “Hopefully, it will give us momentum in region and state.”
The Grizzlies will be in action often in the next week. They face Cherokee on Monday, Sequoyah on Tuesday and Pickens on Thursday.