Despite not seriously playing the sport until he entered high school, the junior has shined on the course this year. For example, he had a remarkable showing at the Calhoun County golf tournament earlier this month, tying for fourth.
“There’s just something about when I step on a golf course,” he said. “It’s the place I want to be. Nothing gives me that kind of adrenaline rush than playing golf.”
But while McKenney is a member on the first-year team, he actually is the entire team as he prepares for Monday’s sectional at Highland Park in Birmingham.
“We had a schedule in place for the four boys that showed interest in golf, but three of them play other sports,” Faith athletics director Betty Palmer said. “When you take the golf schedule and lay it on top of soccer, tennis and baseball, it couldn’t happen.
“Under a team scenario, you have to play seven matches, and that created a major problem.”
Along with scheduling complications that left McKenney as the lone team member, there was a miscommunication between the AHSAA and Faith. The seven-tournament regulation did not apply to McKenney in his bid to reach sectionals, because he plays as an individual.
“His mother and a couple of the local club pros that were interested in Caleb called the state,” Faith headmaster Bob Phillips said. “The only problem was we wish they would have called us first, but we’re not upset or anything because we know they were just looking out for Caleb’s best interest.”
According to the AHSAA, there is no rule that says an individual has to play in a set number of tournaments to qualify. Palmer said it’s a misunderstanding of rules “on more than one occasion.”
With the open schedule, McKenney has spent most of his time since last fall competing in the Alabama Junior Golf Association, playing in Birmingham, Oneonta and at Silver Lakes in Glencoe, where he won.
“It’s helped mostly through tournament experience,” McKenney said. “I’ve only been in four tournaments, but I had to withdraw from one.”
Throughout his short golf career, McKenney has established a 3-handicap after he compared his game to former U.S. and British Open champion John Daly’s as a rookie.
“My backswing was way too far back, and everything was out of control,” McKenney said. “I was just always trying to hit the long ball and didn’t care about around the greens. For a long time that was me, but I’ve tried to tone down my swing some and look up to some of the golfers with a good swing.”
Now he tries to keep his swing similar to that of professionals Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. But McKenney will want to play like his favorite golfer, Tiger Woods, at sectionals next week if he wants to reach sub-state in early May. And the preparation for the tournament has already begun.
“I feel pretty good and I’ve played pretty well this week thus far,” McKenney said. “I’ve been playing out at Cane Creek and played nine holes Monday and Tuesday. I’ve heard Highland Park, where I’ll be playing, is tight, so I’ve been working on hitting fairways.”
In those two rounds, he shot 2- and 3-over par from the blue tees, which are the farthest back and where the professionals play. McKenny also has the confidence of Palmer, who is a former golf coach for 17 years at Alabama and will coach the sport at Birmingham-Southern next year.
“Caleb is a good golfer. He has a pure heart for it and just wants to play,” Palmer said. “He’d play golf 24/7 if fishing didn’t get in the way. But he’s a good player and he’s getting better every day. The best thing is we’re giving him that opportunity. I don’t think there’s any question he’ll advance to sub-state.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.