McKinney, who recently finished his first season as the girls golf coach at Etowah, wasn’t a part of a golf team in high school or college. In fact, he didn’t really get into the game until he was a student at Georgia and had the chance to play some discounted rounds at local courses.
“I didn’t play the game when I was young,” McKinney said. “I was finishing up my degree at the University of Georgia and went to work at the Athens Country Club. Those two years that I spent there is really when I started playing golf on a regular basis.”
As a student living a couple of miles from the University of Georgia Golf Course, McKinney was able to play rounds there for a discount. That helped McKinney became quite skilled in the game.
After college, McKinney went on to work at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta and had the chance to watch a few stars of the Georgia Tech golf team — Matt Kuchar, Bryce Molder and Wes Latimer — play every day.
“I got to check out the habits of highly successful golfers,” he said.
McKinney eventually went into education and became a golf coach while at Kell High School in east Cobb. When McKinney moved to Etowah, he wasn’t able to continue coaching golf as both positions were filled, but he played with several of the school’s administrators.
When the girls team’s position opened up prior to the season, McKinney made a pitch for the job and got it.
Under McKinney’s guidance, the Lady Eagles captured the Cherokee County and Region 5AAAAAA championships. Bypassing the sectional round, Etowah went directly to the Class AAAAAA state tournament and placed fourth, the best finish at a state tournament in school history.
For guiding the team to unprecedented success this year, McKinney is the 2014 Cherokee Tribune Girls Golf Coach of the Year.
“I am very appreciative of the honor of being selected coach of the year,” McKinney said. “A coach’s success in this sport is dependent on talent, and our team had a lot of talent. They also had a willingness to learn and work hard. I enjoyed the season very much as they made great progress and were therefore very successful.”
McKinney, who recently accepted a position as an assistant principal at adjacent E.T. Booth Middle School that forced him to resign his coaching position at Etowah, said he will miss being a part of the team, but he won’t be giving up golf.
“I firmly believe that, in my 11 years of coaching, this was my proudest moment,” McKinney said. “I inherited a group of young ladies who already knew how to hit the ball, but, more importantly, they were both coachable and accepting of the message I offered about believing in one’s self.”
McKinney said that in golf, as in life, it can be hard not to listen to voices of doubt that exist.
“Don’t swing unless you believe it,” McKinney said. “If you don’t believe it, back off. Coach yourself a little bit and get down to the business of doing what you’re supposed to do.”
McKinney said it didn’t take long for his golfers to overcome the voices of doubt and start believing in themselves. All four of the Etowah players who competed in the Region 5AAAAAA meet and at state had played at the varsity level together for the past three seasons.
“Witnessing young people set a goal and reach their potential is a reminder to young and old alike that we all have unlimited potential,” McKinney said. “I’m proud to be a part of what these girls were able to accomplish, and I’ll never forget their progression in such a short period of time.”
Working in administration has been a longtime goal for McKinney, who has three advanced degrees in education. When the school district called upon him to move up at the end of April, he said it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
McKinney’s players were second only to his family on the notification list.
“As soon as it became official, we stopped what we were doing for the day as the golf team,” McKinney said. “We all discussed what it meant. This was just a couple of days prior to the region tournament and I didn’t feel it was right to keep it from them. We talked about it right then and there, what it meant, and it didn’t change any of our goals for the season. As disappointed as they might have been, they went out and played some of their best golf the season a few days later. It was a great group of kids.”
While twin sisters Ashley and Taylor Anthony have graduated and will be playing at Berry College next year, Tyler Dawson and Melanie Talbott with both return for another season at Etowah.
“Basically, Etowah has one of the best 1-2 punches in the state,” McKinney said of Dawson and Talbott. “They are going to be something to see next year.”