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Athens High’s Joe Higginbotham finished second in the Class 5A state championship golf tournament to help him earn the title of The Decatur Daily’s boys golfer of the year. He will be attending Alabama in the fall.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Athens High’s Joe Higginbotham finished second in the Class 5A state championship golf tournament to help him earn the title of The Decatur Daily’s boys golfer of the year. He will be attending Alabama in the fall.

He’s no average Joe
Athens’ Higginbotham is selected Daily’s boys golfer of the year

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

If Athens High graduate Joe Higginbotham’s golf career ended at the Class 5A 2007 state tournament at Grand National Golf Course in Opelika, he would be more than happy.

A second-place finish against future collegiate players put Higginbotham in a pantheon of local golfers.

He shot a 74 and a career-best, 1-under 71 in his final round as a high school golfer.

Higginbotham is going to Alabama in the fall, where he will not play in 2007-08. But his stick play at the state tournament gave him more than enough capital if he wants to walk on the following season.

For his performance in the state tournament and his stellar play throughout the season (a 74.7 scoring average), Higginbotham is The Decatur Daily’s boys golfer of the year. It is the ninth time a golfer from Athens High has won since the award’s inception in 1994.

“I have gradually gotten better every year since my freshman year at high school,” Higginbotham said. “I think my mental game is a lot better this year than it has been the past couple of years. I have been working on my swing pretty hard to get consistent.”

Higginbotham’s mental game was tested often at the state tournament. He made double bogeys on early holes in both rounds, but found a way to bounce back. That is the norm, though, for the even-keeled Higginbotham, who says he seldom gets rattled or thrown off his game.

When he was about 11 years old at his home course, Canebrake in Athens, Joe’s father Keith saw that his son had the skill to compete at a higher level.

Joe would hit the ball straight and where he wanted it to go.

There was only one problem. He couldn’t hit the ball as far as some of the older youngsters. At one point he turned to his father and said, “I need another 10 or 20 yards.” He said his dad told him to “just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Now Joe has the extra yardage, but he even admits that is not the best asset of his game. His strength of mind is what he feels can give him an edge on competitors.

His ability to improvise on the course helps as well. He says his favorite golfer is Phil Mickelson, who is known to alter his shots when needed.

“(Joe) has good distance, he has good control, and on the course, he is all business,” said Athens High golf coach Don Bowling. “He stays focused and locked in. That is one of the things the coaches talked about with him.”

The final image of Higginbotham playing competitively could be him sinking his final putt at Grand National. He got letters from South Alabama and Spring Hill College in Mobile, but isn’t considering them.

The studious Higginbotham, who was a member of the National Honor Society at Athens High, where he graduated last month, is adamant about his desire to be a student first, then possibly an athlete later.

He said a lot of his friends are going to Tuscaloosa, and he wants to partake in the collegiate experience, at least for the first year. There is the school aspect, but there are the extracurricular activities as well, especially following college football.

An Alabama football fan, Higginbotham has been going to Tide games since he was a child.

But he won’t rule out playing competitively past his freshman year. He recently talked to Tide coach Jay Seawell, who told Higginbotham he could possibly walk on in the 2008-09 season.

“I am certainly proud of (Joe),” Keith Higginbotham said. “It shows that with all the years of hard work, and if you apply yourself that you can usually get the awards that come with it.”

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