Let's begin the story of Baylor eighth-grade golf sensation Carlee Rogers on June 17, a Thursday. There she stood on the No. 2 tee box at Old Fort Golf Course in Murfreesboro, her fourth straight playoff hole in front of her as she attempted to qualify for the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, which starts Monday at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
She'd just shot a 72 over her first 18 holes that day to reach the playoff. Her first three extra holes had produced a par, a birdie and another par, an outstanding showing, especially given the pressure. Yet despite that impressive work, she still hadn't locked up the last of the three qualifying spots up for grabs at the Old Fort site. It was now down to Rogers and another girl for that final opening.
"I wasn't nervous, for some reason," Carlee recalled Friday as she, her father Chris and her grandmother "Nonna" Pickett made the 11-hour drive from Chattanooga to Chevy Chase. "I was just trying to hit my best tee shot."
That tee shot would lead to her using a No. 4 hybrid for her second shot on the par-5 hole, then a soft sand wedge into the green from 25 yards out. That wedge put her within three feet of the hole for a birdie opportunity, which she drained to win her way to the United States Golf Association national championship tournament for girls ages 18 and younger.
"I was super excited," she said. "My Nonna and a friend of hers and I went to Logan's to celebrate. I got baby back ribs. They're the best."
Carlee's father believed she could become one of the best females to ever play golf in Chattanooga when she shot a 4-under-par 32 for nine holes at Moccasin Bend as an 11-year-old.
"That's when I first thought she might be a special talent," Chris said. "Carlee has very calm mannerisms. She's kind of an old soul. She never gets rattled. She always looks like she's done this a million times."
Such poise and patience helped her finish eighth at the Tennessee Girls' Junior Championship in Memphis this past week. She once shot a 70 at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Invitational when she was 12.
"Carlee has an incredible golf swing, very natural," said Choo Choo Golf Academy's Thomas Smith, who has been her swing coach for the past five years. "Great work ethic. Very smart. Very mature for her age. And she's very competitive. She has a good chance to be the next Brooke Pancake."
For those with short memories, after a standout career at Baylor, Pancake led the Alabama Crimson Tide women's team to the 2012 national championship before joining the LPGA Tour.
If Rogers follows a similar path, her father deserves a good deal of credit for working with her at an early age. As an item that ran in this newspaper in April 2015 noted, Rogers was known to take Carlee to Moccasin Bend, where he would draw a three-foot circle around a hole and pay her $1 for every time she could lag putt inside the circle.
Said Rogers, who once played on Whitwell High School's team, in that article: "Every dollar she earns goes toward something at Build-A-Bear. She's going to get in my wallet anyway — I might as well make her earn it."
Now, more than six years later, she seems to be on the verge of earning a national reputation as one of the rising stars in her sport, at least partly because of the village of coaches she has guiding her to victory. In addition to Smith working with her swing, Kiel Alderink — the teaching director at Black Creek — is one of her performance coaches, the other being Joe Bosco from Charleston, South Carolina. Old Waverly's Tim Yelverton helps with her short game. Then, of course, there's Baylor's Gary Partrick to polish her overall game during the school year.
"I just enjoy playing," said Carlee, who will be playing against girls as many as four years older than her at the U.S. Girls' Junior. "I think I'm willing to work hard enough to be on the LPGA one day."
This is not to say she isn't also preparing herself for something else if her golf career falls short of professional success.
"I like science," she said. "I might want to go into the medical field."
But what she really wants is to play pro golf.
"That's the overall goal," said Carlee, who lists Lexi Thompson as her favorite LPGA player and Harris English as her favorite former Baylor golfer on the PGA Tour, calling him "a great role model."
Of course, Carlee may already be something of a role model for 2-year-old brother Collin, who's swinging a pretty mean plastic club at a plastic ball.
"I put a club in his hand as soon as he could stand up," Chris said. "He's a lefty right now. He can really hit it."
So maybe one day the LPGA and PGA will both have a Rogers sibling on their leaderboards. But for now, the primary focus is on Carlee, especially over the next few days in Maryland, where she hopes her pink Pinehurst ball marker brings her the same luck it did on those playoff holes at Old Fort.
"This is the biggest tournament I've ever played in," said Carlee, who will compete in stroke play Monday and Tuesday in hopes of making it to match play, which starts Wednesday with 64 players. "I've really been working on my short game, trying to save lots of strokes around the green. I'm just excited to compete against so many good players."
Smith believes there aren't many better players than Rogers when she is at her best.
"If she does her thing, if she stays in the moment," he said, "I wouldn't be surprised if she goes pretty far into it. She loves the game."
So far, it's loving her back.
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