He finally broke through right before the start of his senior season and once he did there seemed to be no stopping him.
Chandler was regularly Alexandria’s best stick this season. He won the Calhoun County boys high school title in a playoff, shot one of the best rounds in the sloppiest of conditions at the state sectionals and followed it with his crowning round, a 2-under-par 70 to win medalist honors in the 4A sub-state.
It all added up to a season worthy of being the Calhoun County boys golfer of the year.
Chandler’s shot-making and ball-striking have been improving steadily, the product of regular rounds with his father Ott and the top players on the Calhoun County Golf Tour, but now he has put the mental game to go with it.
“I finally got past that point mentally where I could shoot under par,” he said. “Every golf course is hard, but it’s just so hard to get past that one level of shooting even par and under par. This year I was finally able to get the mindset to keep making birdies. If I made five, make six, instead of trying to say, ‘Don’t mess up, don’t make a bogey.’ Keep going.”
The place it clicked for him was a Southeastern Junior Golf Tour event in which he was 7-over and got back to even par.
“Going from 90 to 80 is a lot easier than going from 80 to 70,” Chandler said.
“Going from 72 to 65 is as tough as it is,” Chandler added. “When you shoot 75 and 70, you don’t play much different, you just play smarter.”
Chandler made all the right moves in his biggest tournaments this season.
He won the county tournament on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff with Oxford’s Chandler Allen. His mental toughness was tested in miserable conditions at the sectionals, and he held it together to shoot an 80 at Limestone Springs that wasn’t as bad as it seemed given the conditions. It culminated with the 70 at Timber Creek in which he drove it “good” and putted “amazing.”
“I knew I could do it, if I played like I’m supposed to,” he said. “The county gave me the experience in winning a pretty big tournament. I knew once I got to the sub-state I had to play really good because all the really good teams came from the South. Winning that was like winning state. I thought it’d be easier to win the state after I won the sub-state.”
But there was a disconnect at The Shoals, especially on the back nine in the second round. He shot rounds of 80 and 84 to finish tied for 17th.
“I was disappointed with the state,” Chandler said. “I played good in the practice round, but (the course) just didn’t set up good for me. It was a lay-up course and I don’t like to do that. Up to then (the season) was great.”
He won the playoff in the county tournament with a par on the par-5 18th at Pine Hill Country Club. The nerve is what helped him through the season.
“I didn’t hit the ball that much different (than last year),” he said. “But I was a lot better mentally. I grew up a lot.”
And now he’ll take that patience to the next level.
A late starter to the recruiting game, he plans to attend Jacksonville State next year to advance his academic footing and then look for a collegiate playing opportunity.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.