Cody Proveaux isn’t a prototypical AJGA All-American. He’s not a product of a golf academy; the nearest course is 25 miles from his home in Leesville, S.C. His swing is unorthodox, with an early wrist set, loopy move at the top and dramatic drop on the downswing. And his resume isn’t chock-full of junior and amateur victories, his only two titles coming in the past 11 months.
Yet Proveaux, 17, was named the AJGA Rolex Player of the Year on Wednesday, the culmination of his meteoric rise to national prominence.
“Just to know my name is up there with Phil and Tiger and Hunter Mahan, it hasn’t even completely sunk in yet,” Proveaux said by phone. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
When he received the call from an AJGA official at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Proveaux was in the locker room at Pelion High School, gathering his belongings after gym class. His buddies didn’t wait long to share the news with their fellow classmates — they started chanting “World champ!” down the hallway.
That Proveaux would be named Player of the Year was no guarantee. After poor finishes in the last two AJGA invitationals, he was concerned the award would go to Shun Yat Hak, a Georgia Tech commit who was No. 1 in the Polo Golf Rankings. Nevertheless, it’s the crowning achievement for a player who only began playing AJGA events last spring.
“It makes me feel really good about myself,” Proveaux said, “knowing that all the hard work and practice and all the drills kind of paid off.”
Last November, Proveaux thumped then-top-ranked Anthony Paolucci en route to winning the AJGA’s premier match-play event, the Polo Junior Classic, for his first national title. If nothing else, it helped change Proveaux’s mind-set when he entered tournaments. “I thought I was just an average golfer,” he said. “That changed everything. I knew I could win.”
The victory indeed seemed to propel him to a breakout year in 2011. He had runner-up finishes in three AJGA invitationals this season before finally getting it done in the final round of the Junior PGA Championship, where he holed a 15-foot putt on the 72nd hole to win by one.
Such a popular champion was Proveaux that a dozen of the AJGA’s best players hung around the 18th green to celebrate. After signing his card, he called his mother, Donna, back home in Leesville. The aw-shucks champion replied, “Yes, ma’am,” to her numerous questions and vowed to be grateful in addressing tournament officials and sponsors afterward.
“I don’t have the pressure on me anymore,” Proveaux said in August. “I know I’m a good player; I just need to put my mind to it and execute.”
His swing looks as if he spent hours watching tape of Jay Haas or Kenny Perry. It’s unconventional, to be sure, especially for a junior player. But when he’s on, when everything is in sync, he can go as low as anyone. For that you can credit his instructor, Mike Castelluzzi, who teaches at Windermere Club near Columbia, S.C.
“He doesn’t try to change me,” Proveaux said. “He knows what works for me. I know my swing isn’t perfect like an academy kid, so I’ve got to keep working at it.”
Proveaux understands that he’ll face increased scrutiny next year. It comes with the title. That’s why he will log long hours this offseason, then compete in not only elite junior events but amateur tournaments as well. Already he has committed to the Jones Cup in February, and says “it’s time to test my game against the big boys.”
Next fall, he will attend Clemson, about a 2 1/2-hour drive up Interstate 385. He plans to sign his national letter of intent on Nov. 9.
Said Proveaux: “I’ve already got my orange Clemson pants and purple tie ready.”
Another nice accessory: his new AJGA Player of the Year trophy.