By Tim Chambers
ELIZABETHTON– When God made golfers he knew what he was doing when he made Isaiah Penley. The senior standout earned a trip to the Region 1A/AA tournament on Monday at the Elizabethton Golf Course.
It’s not surprising that Penley made the cut considering he’s been playing well in recent weeks. It is how he made it that every young athlete needs to take note of.
Penley had a nightmarish start on the first three holes and was reeling at seven over par. For a golfer, it’s like starting a football game down three touchdowns after turnovers.
But the talented senior bounced back in super-ball fashion. It was a bizarre event on the first hole that got him behind the eight ball.
“I started out in the sand and had to call a two stroke penalty on me,” said Penley. “I had a triple bogey on the first hole and double bogeys on the next two. I wasn’t sure if I could play my way back into contention. You can’t get all that back at once. I started focusing on making up ground one hole at a time. If it wasn’t for the good Lord I might have quit then. He helped get me through it. I couldn’t have accomplished this without Him.”
Penley thought he had hit a good shot off the first tee but he missed the fairway by less than a foot.
“I hit the ball well but I pulled it just a hair left and went in the bunker,” added Penley. “I then took my back swing but hit the sand with my club while doing so. It is a two-stroke penalty when you do that. I had no doubt in my mind what I had done. I had to call it on myself. It was the right thing to do.”
His honesty didn’t surprise head coach Matt Bray.
“I’ve coached Isaiah before and have seen him in some adverse situations,” said Bray. “He did what all great athletes do. When times got tough, he squared his chin and went head on into it and played really well. He didn’t have to call that penalty on himself but he chose to. Nobody saw it but Isaiah. I think that played a big part in why he did so well. He does everything right as a student athlete. He’s the type of kid that we all dream about coaching.”
Penley’s dream of making the regional was all but shattered at that point. But the senior standout dug deep and played lights out over the final 15 holes.
“I knew after the third hole that I had to gain some ground but I couldn’t get it all back at once,” said Penley. “I had to keep grinding it out. I felt like I was making up some ground on the back nine so I wanted to finish strong at the end. I didn’t make mistakes like I did early and I played well on 17 and 18. It was a wait and see thing after that.”
Bray loved Penley’s modesty but said the way he played the last two holes was nothing but remarkable.
“He made two unbelievable shots when everything was on the line,” said Bray. “He sank a 40-foot putt on 18 after hitting a 15-footer on 17. He birdied both those holes. He’s got a shot at making the state tournament if he can play like he did over the final 15 holes. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”