E.A. Sports Today

Comeback kid

Caleb McKinney, the youngest player in the field, wins final three holes to take County Match Play title

Caleb McKinney (L) and Kevin Daugherty go through the ground rules before embarking on their Calhoun County Match Play championship match Thursday.

Caleb McKinney (L) and Kevin Daugherty go through the ground rules before embarking on their Calhoun County Match Play championship match Thursday.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Caleb McKinney is living proof today that it’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.

McKinney won the Calhoun County Match Play Championship Thursday, winning the last three holes of the match to defeat former Anniston Country Club pro Kevin Daugherty 1 up at Cane Creek Golf Course.

McKinney, a 19-year-old Gadsden State student, the youngest player in the field, never led in the match until 18. He lost each of the first three holes, was 3 down at the turn and 2 down with four holes to play.

But Daugherty gave his opponent life when he lipped out a 2½-foot par putt on 15 after McKinney made an eight-footer for bogey. McKinney then won 16, 17 (to get the match all square) and 18 in the dark to claim victory.

Daugherty conceded the final hole after giving up the search for his second shot — a driver off the deck from 255 yards — that hit a tree and caromed to who-knows-where. McKinney finished the hole and made birdie.

“It’s definitely special being the youngest player to win it; I’m pretty excited,” McKinney said. “There was some pressure on the last three holes, for sure, but I knew they were tough holes and I knew if I played my game and hung in there I could pull it out. I kept reminding myself of that, and it happened.

“I just tried to hang in there. It’s never about the start. I’ve learned golf is 18 holes, not three, not four, not five; it’s 18 holes. He’s got to grind 18 holes and so do you.”

McKinney didn’t look like he was there early. His first drive slammed into the trees and landed on the forward tee. And even though he was the County Tour’s best scrambler this season he failed to get up and down on each of the first three holes and fell behind 3 down.

He won his first hole on 6. That didn’t turn the tide, he said, but “it got me going.” The turning point came on 15 when Daugherty had a chance to go 3 up with three to play with a short par putt, but it rimmed the hole and McKinney had life.

He took advantage of it by winning 16 with a conceded par after nearly chipping in from behind the green and 17 with a par to get all square.

Both players hit drives in the fairway on 18. Daugherty’s second shot started off on a nice line as best he could tell but slid into the trees. With the pressure off, McKinney hit a 5-iron from 232 yards just short of the green.

The players looked for Daugherty’s ball, but with no clear point of reference to start they soon gave up the search.

“It should’ve never come down to that,” said Daugherty, who had his amateur status restored just last Thursday. “I bogeyed 15, 16 and 17, so that was my fault. Caleb hung in there and played good. He was down all day and hung in there and stayed tough and then I made mistakes in the end.

“I was telling myself after I won the first three holes don’t get conservative, stay aggressive and keep playing, but I found myself falling into just trying to hit into the middle of the greens and just got too conservative, and then the last few holes, it caught up with me.

“That’s what cost me, not 18. It shouldn’t have come down to 18. I had plenty of chances on the back nine to end it and just couldn’t get it done.”

Even after the players shook hands, McKinney went back and completed the final hole. He found his ball in the dark, chipped up to six feet and made the birdie putt with his wedge.

“I didn’t want to feel like I won it just because he had a lost ball,” he said. “I hate that for him.”

McKinney def. Daugherty, 1 up

[table id=11 /]

Buddy Moore Bracket
Ty Cole (1) def. Daniel Black (16), WD
Billy Thompson (8) def. Ott Chandler (9), 3&2
Caleb McKinney (5) def. Andrew Brooks (12), 2 up
Dalton Chandler (4) def. Lance Evans (13), 4&2
Chris Banister Bracket
Jeremy McGatha (3) def. Jake Goggans (14), 21 holes
Kevin Daugherty (6) def. Matt Rogers (11), 5&4
Clay Calkins (7) def. Adrian Geeting (10), 5&3
Gary Wigington (2) def. Dan Griffin (15), 6&4

Second round matches
Thompson def. Cole, WD
McKinney def. D. Chandler, 5&4
Daugherty def. McGatha, 3&2
Wigington def. Calkins, 4&3

McKinney def. Thompson, 7&6
Daugherty def. Wigington, 2 up

McKinney def. Daugherty, 1 up

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