Carly Whittington has one more shot to shine in high school golf before moving to Alabama

Carly Whittington has one more shot to shine in high school golf before moving to Alabama

Amateur

Carly Whittington has one more shot to shine in high school golf before moving to Alabama

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When Carly Whittington first told her mother, Tisha, that she wanted to quit softball — the sport she’d played since she was four — to take up golf competitively, Tisha Whittington was angry.

Softball, Carly’s mother said, is huge in the small town of Kinder, Louisiana. In middle school, though, after a fundraiser for her travel softball team at a golf course, Carly Whittington realized she had more fun pinging the smaller ball around than the big yellow softball. So Whittington finished the softball season, began transitioning to golf when her mother relented and found her niche.

Then in 2016, a year after starting golf full-time, Whittington brought home her first title: an eighth-grade state championship.

“I was like, ‘Holy crap, this kid’s actually freaking good,’” Tisha Whittington recalled. “The reality set in that, ‘Hey, we might have something here,’ when she won that eighth-grade championship.”

Since then, the accolades have continued. Carly Whittington helped Lacassine High School secure two Division II LHSAA team titles her freshman and sophomore years. And on April 30, Whittington finished with an even-par 148 to win an individual state championship.

Now, Whittington is forgoing her final year of high school to play for Alabama a year early and will compete at this week’s High School Golf National Invitational in Orlando, leaving little lingering doubts over whether a move from softball to golf was worth it. The invitational is run by the National High School Golf Association (NHSGA), a division of Nextgengolf, which was acquired by the PGA of America.

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“I had always tagged along with my grandpa. He would always bring me out to the course, and we’d have a fun time,” Whittington said. “But it was always softball. We had a fundraiser, we played, and I just fell in love with [golf] again.”

Once Whittington made the move to golf, her family reached out to longtime friend Ted Scott, who they knew through church. Scott, who is Bubba Watson’s caddie, used to text the Whittingtons to wish her good luck before softball tournaments.

But when he heard she was leaning toward a switch in sports, Scott took an even larger interest in Whittington’s athletic career.

“It’s been a great journey,” Scott said. “She’s one of the most enjoyable people that you could coach, you know? Because she’s very passionate about being competitive, and yet she’s also willing to listen.”

Between PGA tournaments with Watson, Scott found time to refine Carly Whittington’s swing and offer advice to build up the mental side of her game. And Scott was at the Louisiana state championship in April to watch Whittington shoot a 2-under 72 on the first day before sealing the title with a 76 on day two, capping her high school career on top.

He became a go-to source of knowledge for a family more familiar with softball. When coach Mic Potter opened Whittington’s transcript on the Alabama putting green during a visit and realized she only needed one more class to graduate, Whittington first asked her mother if she thought she should enroll with the Crimson Tide early, if she could pass the biology test to complete her requirements.

“You know what?” Tisha Whittington told her daughter, “I’m going to leave that between God, Ted Scott and you.”

And Ted Scott, at least, felt it was a no-brainer.

“The plan for them was for her to do that one class and play in as many tournaments as she could,” Scott said. “To me, I said, ‘If you’re trying to get tournament golf in, why not go play against the higher level?’ And college is obviously the next level up. It’d almost be like, ‘Hey, do you want to play on the Korn Ferry Tour one more year or do you want to go ahead and start competing against the PGA Tour guys?'”

So when Whittington passed the test three days before graduation, she had no doubt about her future. After two team titles and one individual championship in high school, she felt ready to make the jump to SEC golf.

Some colleges expressed concern that Whittington was a late bloomer in golf, Scott said. But to the coaches he spoke to, he pointed out her high club head speed and her confidence with a variety of shots.

Plus, Scott said, she doesn’t act like a 17-year-old might when the ball doesn’t fall easily.

“One of the things people constantly say to me about Carly is they can’t tell if she’s playing good or if she’s playing bad based on watching her,” Scott said. “That shows a mindset of maturity.”

On her way to the High School Golf National Invitational, which starts Thursday at Walt Disney World Resort, the Whittingtons stopped at Bubba Watson’s candy store in Pensacola, Florida. They took a photo and sent it to Scott, who is preparing for the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit with Watson, a two-time Masters champion.

A few minutes later, Carly Whittington’s phone buzzed. When she checked it, she saw a video from Watson himself, wishing her good luck at the high school tournament and congratulating her for committing to Alabama.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “Bubba Watson knows my name.”

Perhaps a few more years down the road, Bubba Watson won’t be the only one.

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