Lavner: Proveaux takes rural route to No. 1

Reigning AJGA Player of the Year Cody Proveaux.

Reigning AJGA Player of the Year Cody Proveaux.

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Editor's note: This column appeared in the April 20 issue of Golfweek.

• • • 

LEESVILLE, S.C. - The sign near his home reads “FAIRVIEW: POP. 273,” though that number may actually refer to the number of deer in town, not people. We’re nowhere near anything. Need a quick run to the grocery store? Fifteen miles. Want to grab the area’s best barbecue, at Shealy’s? Go 20 miles east. Got a movie you want to see? Better carve out a few hours – the theater is 30 miles away. Describing this as a one-stoplight town wouldn’t be accurate. There isn’t one – just a single yellow blinking light.

But Cody Proveaux lives here, in this outpost between Columbia and Augusta, Ga. The 18-year-old, who is the AJGA’s reigning Player of the Year, is signed to play at Clemson, a Tour-player factory, starting next fall.

Yes, small-town kids can make it big in junior golf. It just takes a little improvisation.

“It’s kind of surreal because I never knew that I’d be here today,” he said as we drive through the countryside in his mud-splashed Toyota Tacoma, a jar of pickle juice and a fountain drink from Bojangles’ in the cupholder. “Not having the best facilities, it didn’t stop me. I didn’t know what people came from. I just played for me.”

Because Proveaux’s home course, Ponderosa Country Club, is about 25 miles away, his family built a practice facility in the backyard. So behind the family’s two-story brick house is a Medicus training device, impact bag, swing arc, two wooden beams holding up a net, overgrown bunker, remnants of a failed green complex and, most impressive, a 20-foot-by-30-foot synthetic green (12 on the stimpmeter!) and three mats from which to hit.

It wasn’t always this way, having to use a makeshift practice area a few times per week. Proveaux and his family used to play at Cooper’s Creek, a 6,300-yard track about three miles away. But the owner sold the property a few years ago, turning the course into a half-hunting lodge, half-nine-hole course for him and his buddies.

Proveaux has good memories there. He won the first of two club championships when he was 14, the same year he won 13 junior events in a row in the Southeast. The same year he shot 59 with the greenkeeper. The same year his father would give him $10 to take to the course and he’d “work with that,” making bets, hustling the locals. The kid is legendary: A shrine to Proveaux hangs on the wall in Sonny’s Restaurant, and his Sports-front story in The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper is proudly displayed in Ponderosa’s clubhouse.

Proveaux’s father, Charles, was a strong player in his own right, a “weekend warrior,” but now spends more time running the family’s six chicken houses. Cody’s mother, Donna, works in a nuclear power plant in Aiken. And his younger brother Caleb, 14, is such a tantalizing prospect that when he was hitting balls on the range last year at an AJGA event, a head coach from a major NCAA Division I program approached, extended his business card and offered the then-seventh-grader a full ride, right there on the spot. “His swing just attracts people,” Cody said.

Proveaux’s swing is attention-grabbing too, though it draws more comparisons to Kenny Perry’s than Rory McIlroy’s. What began as a simple drill – early wrist set, turn behind the ball, swing under the plane – eventually became integrated into Proveaux’s full swing.

Clemson coach Larry Penley recalls seeing Proveaux for the first time in 2004, at his camp on campus. Cody was 10 at the time, a “little old, bitty, dumpy kid,” but he showed potential, even with that homemade swing. At his signing seven years later, Proveaux wore orange pants and a purple tie. A Tiger since he was a cub.

“His upbringing has been great in a way because he’s so appreciative of everything,” Penley said. “It’s not the success stories of today when kids grow up at country clubs and see their teachers every day. That’s not been the case at all. He’s earned and worked hard for everything he’s got.”

During Thanksgiving week in 2010, Proveaux won arguably the AJGA’s most grueling test, the Polo Junior Classic, a six-round match-play event at PGA National. A two-time state champion for Pelion High School, he also posted three runner-up finishes in AJGA invitationals last year before finally breaking through at the Junior PGA Championship, where he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole to win by one.

“He just has the heart and soul it takes,” said Proveaux’s swing coach of five years, Mike Castelluzzi. “Some people say, ‘Yeah, I can do it,’ and try to convince themselves. Cody can’t convince himself that he can’t do it. He has that belief.”

Having risen to national prominence from tiny Fairview, wouldn’t you?

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