Nations Number One 13-year-old Golfer
Don’t tell Canon Claycomb he isn’t old enough to drive. He’ll tell you there’s not a thing wrong with his driving, or his chipping and putting either.
Claycomb is just about the biggest name in high school golf in Southcentral Kentucky, and he hasn’t started high school yet. That’s a scary thought, considering what the Drakes Creek Middle School eighth grader is doing as a member of the Greenwood High School golf team and what he has accomplished in summer and winter tournaments.
For starters, Claycomb is No. 1 among 13-year-old golfers. In the nation. That’s right, Junior Golf Scoreboard has Claycomb at the top of its leaderboard for his age. And he has earned that ranking. Claycomb’s play in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events has been so impressive that he is one of only 10 male golfers in the nation selected for the AJGA Junior All-Star Team that is made up of golfers aged 12 to 15. Those 10 are invited to play in the Junior All-Star Invitational at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Oregon October 9-12.
But first Claycomb must pack his clubs for another trip, this one to Evian-les-Baines, France. He is one of two boys selected to represent the United States in the 2015 Evian Championship Juniors Cup, to be held September 15-16. Among the alumni of this prestigious event: 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth.
Heady stuff, but Claycomb seems to be handling it as gracefully as he handles a 9-iron.
“Canon is further along at his age than any golfer I’ve ever seen, much less coached,” says Greenwood boys’ golf coach Mike Newton. “His greatest attribute is his mind. He makes outstanding decisions and works his way around the golf course like a professional. He is extremely athletic, but I would say his mind is the thing that impresses me the most. His composure and maturity far exceed his age.”
Claycomb, 5-foot-9 and sturdily built, comes by that maturity honestly. Though still a middle schooler, he has been playing for the GHS team since the fourth grade.
“My parents giving me the chance to play on the high school team in the fourth grade was huge,” Claycomb says. “A lot of parents might have said no to that. It really helped my maturity level. Being around juniors and seniors when I was in fourth grade taught me how to be mature and respect others.”
Although he was playing for the high school team in fourth grade, Claycomb didn’t specialize in golf for another couple of years. He played basketball and baseball in youth leagues and even played for the Bearcats travel baseball team until sixth grade, when he had an epiphany of sorts.
“In the sixth grade I played on a Kentucky local tour and was undefeated in 10 tournaments,” Claycomb recalls. “I thought: ‘You can accomplish your dream, if you keep working harder and harder’. That winter I hit hundreds of balls into a net in our attic, just trying to get better. That’s when I knew I could be pretty good.”
If being pretty good was the goal, Claycomb set the bar way too low. Taking his game on the road, Claycomb has sought out the best competition and excelled throughout the past several months. With help from parents Ericah and Jason Claycomb and grandfather Eddie Claycomb, Canon spent a lot of time in Florida during the winter, playing in a number of high-caliber tournaments.
And winning a bunch of them. After winning Miami’s Doral Junior International Tournament in December, Canon finished atop the leaderboard in both the Junior Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens and the US Kids/Teen Copperhead Classic in Tampa during January. Other victories or strong showings followed, getting the attention of AJGA and earning Canon a spot on the Junior All-Star Team.
Both his father and grandfather believe the wintertime golfing has helped Canon take his game up a few notches.
“I definitely think it helped him to not take time off in the winter,” says Jason Claycomb. “When he won at Doral in December, that was kind of a shock. After that, he continued to play well in AJGA events, and that put him at the top of the list (for his age).”
Jason Claycomb says his son benefitted from playing against good competition during the winter and also got some top-notch instruction. He worked with Gregor Jamieson, director of golf at Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. It was a great complement to the instruction he has been getting from Matt Killen at Warren County’s Old Stone Golf Club.
The instruction, along with playing with and against many older players, is paying dividends, says grandfather Eddie Claycomb.
“When he was younger, he would just go to the golf course and have some fun,” Eddie Claycomb says. “Now he’s really mature, and he’s a competitor. He’s very consistent. I don’t think he has shot over 76 all year.”
The wintertime competition and instruction has contributed to that consistency, Canon Claycomb says. “Playing through the winter helped a bunch,” he explains. “I got four or five shots better over the winter. The tougher competition really helped.”
And that’s good news for the Greenwood golf team, considered one of the favorites in the region this season. With Claycomb, Chris Agro, Andrew Buff and Triston Wheeler, Greenwood has the nucleus for a team that could advance to the state tournament.
“We have a good team this year,” says Canon. “I think we’ll have a good chance at winning the region. We all have the goal of winning the region at Crosswinds (golf course). We’re all aware of the goal.”
If the Gator golfers can advance to state, that will only add to the big-stage exposure Claycomb has been getting. Despite his youth, Claycomb is already getting attention from college golf programs.
“I’ve been getting letters from colleges,” he says. “I definitely want to go to a Division One college and play golf, get a good education and try to go pro.”
That he can even entertain such goals, Claycomb realizes, is a tribute to parents and grandparents who have supported his sports ambitions.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have parents who have allowed me to play and allowed me to travel,” he says. “I think one day I will be able to pay them back.”