(Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 edition)
After being the first Rhea County High School boy golfer to win the District 5-AAA individual tournament in 15 years, at Chatata Valley Golf Club on Sept. 20, Matthew Rothwell became the first Eagle golfer to win the Region 3-AAA tournament in 37 years, which punched his ticket to the TSSAA State Golf Tournament next week at the Sevierville Golf Club.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, at the region tourney, played at the Cleveland Country Club, Rothwell shot a 1-over-par 73 to best the field of hopefuls, edging out the second place player from East Hamilton by only one stroke.
Along with being a part of RCHS history of good golfers, Rothwell made his own history by being the only golfer in school history to win the district and region in the same season.
Rothwell’s state tourney qualifying round on Tuesday also marked the first trip back to state for an Eagle golfer since 2010. Zach Madewell made it that year. The last Lady Eagle to qualify for state was Julie Keener in 2011.
After winning Tuesday’s region tournament, Rothwell, who is only a sophomore, described his thoughts on his win, especially after finishing up on the 18th hole and having to wait an hour before knowing he had won.
“It didn’t feel that good on the 18th hole, because as soon as I come off the 18th green, I went to the scorer’s table, and I just decided that I knew that it was kind of close and so I went to hit balls and work on my swing,” explained Rothwell. “I didn’t want to go into a playoff, and ended up not having to.
“[…] I didn’t know I had won until about an hour after I finished 18,” continued Rothwell. “I was just really trying to fix my golf swing; it wasn’t good at all. I was trying to fix it to where I could go out there and play the best golf I could play.”
Eagle head golf coach, Nathan Talley lauded Rothwell on his accomplishment and credited his vast tournament experience as an advantage.
“Matthew won the district last week in the rain and it’s one of those things, where he is young and just a sophomore, but he has so much tournament experience as a young golfer,” explained Talley. “He’s competed in tournaments in several other states and he has the experience. Out of all of the years I’ve been coaching, he’s come in and helped out right away. But, this past week for him and for us has been real exciting. He rises to the occasion, especially at well-manicured courses, where they’re in real good shape.
“Cleveland Country Club is one of the hardest and challenging places we see throughout the season, and we’re just excited for what Matthew has accomplished,” added Talley.
Rothwell sustained a hand injury the first week of September at the City Prep Invite at Harrison Bay, which caused concern as to the severity of his injury to Talley and the team.
“He loves the game and he goes after it hard, and we were concerned as to how his injury would affect him the rest of the season,” Talley explained. “But, he was determined to finish strong and he did. […] He had five birdies and eight pars in his region win and was right around the lead the whole day. He could sense that and was playing with the first group.
“The last five holes, he went 1-under-par, so when the pressure was on, he came through,” continued Talley. “Matthew scrambled all day long. If he did hit a bad shot, he would find the best avenue to hit his next shot to be in a position he needed to be. If he did make a bogie, he would come right back and make a birdie. He didn’t let it get him down. He was just mentally focused all day long. His short game was absolutely terrific.”
The aforementioned reference to the last Rhea boy golfer to win region was David Beard, as he captured the title in 1984, which qualified him for the state tournament. Coach Ray Talley, coach Nathan Talley’s father, who led the RCHS golf team for 16 seasons, coached Beard. Nathan shared what it meant for him to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I called him last night and told him, ‘It’s an honor to have a region medalist. You were the last one to have one,’” said Nathan Talley. “He’s been a tremendous ambassador for golf in general for Rhea County, as he has put many years into golf, and with him starting the junior golf camp at the Dayton Golf and Country Club.
“I just told him I was thrilled to carry this on and excited that we have our next region champion,” continued Nathan Talley. “It’s just an honor for me because he’s meant so much to Rhea County High School and to the golfing community.”
Also competing at Tuesday’s region tournament were all three Lady Eagle golfers, which included Becca Rogers, Lillee Hunt and Nikkita Pilcher.
Rogers finished 16th on the day, followed by Hunt, who tied for 18th place and Pilcher came in 21st place.
Coach Talley lauded the Rhea girls’ region tourney and season effort, as it came to a close on Tuesday.
“To advance from the district to the region tournament is a big accomplishment for the ladies, so I’m proud of them,” said Talley. “Rebecca Rogers is a senior, so this was her last tournament, as she made it to region all four years. She’s put in a good four years for us.
“Lillee Hunt is a junior and this was her second year to make region,” continued Talley. “Nikkita Pilcher is a freshman and it was her first year to qualify to region. She made it to region in middle school this past spring. I’m proud of these ladies and the effort they’ve put in this year.”
To view the full video interview with Coach Talley and Rothwell, visit The Herald-News YouTube channel or our Facebook page.