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story.lead_photo.caption Graham Thomas/Siloam Sunday Siloam Springs senior Karson Clement lines up a putt during a match earlier this season at Siloam Springs Country Club.

By Graham Thomas

Staff Writer n gthomas@nwadg.com

Karson Clement is playing his best golf when it matters most.

Clement, a senior and four-year varsity player on the Siloam Springs golf team, turned in his three lowest scores of the year in three of the Panthers' final four regular season matches heading into the postseason.

Clement and his Panther teammates are scheduled to compete in the Class 5A Boys State Golf Tournament on Tuesday at Paragould Country Club. Clement will be joined by senior classmates Chase Beyer, Trey Jackson, Josh Johnson and junior Evan Sauer. A practice round is scheduled for Monday and the tournament begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

"I'm happy with the way I'm playing right now," Clement said. "I kind of wish I had started off a little better, but now I feel like I'm playing good. I just hope to keep it going."

Ironically, Clement's best golf has come on the heels of a left wrist injury suffered during basketball practice that forced him to miss a home match against Alma and Bentonville West on Aug. 27 and a road match at Rogers Heritage on Aug. 30.

"Man since he's come back, he's been great," SSHS golf coach Michael Robertson said of Clement. "I really think Paragould Country Club will set up great for him, and I think he'll play really well down there."

Clement injured his left wrist in basketball practice after getting tangled up with a teammate for a rebound.

"It didn't really hurt at first," Clement said. "But then it locked up."

Clement said there was some initial concern he had broken the wrist.

"As soon as it happened, my dad took me to get X-rays, because I've broken this wrist before," he said. "That whole day I was sweating. Man, I thought it was over. And then it wasn't broken. Thank God it wasn't broken."

Clement, who is actually right-handed, plays golf left-handed and his left hand is his top hand on the club and handles the bulk of the movement. The injury made it difficult to swing the club.

The other tough part was that at the time of the injury, Clement had just played his best round of the year to that point.

After shooting 81 and 85 in 18-hole matches at Mountain Home and Rogers, respectively, and back-to-back 41s in nine-hole matches against Springdale/Rogers Heritage and at Van Buren, Clement carded a 78 against Greenwood at Ben Geren Park.

Clement said he worked with Siloam Springs athletic trainer Brian Nitz twice a day to get his wrist back healthy. Meanwhile, he had to sit and watch his teammates through two matches.

He returned to action at Harrison on Sept. 4, where he shot an 86 in an 18-hole match, followed by a 44 in a nine-hole match against Bentonville at Bella Vista Country Club on Sept. 6.

"Watching the other guys for a week, I just wanted to be out there more," Clement said. "So when I got out there, I felt blessed to be able to play."

Things began to pick up for Clement after that though.

On Sept. 10, in the Panthers' final home match against Springdale Har-Ber and Van Buren, Clement shot an even par 35 at Siloam Springs Country Club.

On Sept. 13, he carded an 18-hole round of 72 against Alma at River Valley Golf Course and then shot 77 at Ben Geren on Sept. 17 in the 5A-West Conference Tournament.

"Thankfully, he just picked up where he left off and has kind of run with that," Robertson said.

On the season, Clement is averaging a nine-hole round of 40.05 and an 18-hole round of 80.1.

That's down from the nine-hole averages of 42.5 (85) as a junior, 42.57 (85.1) as a sophomore and 45.64 (91.28) as a freshman.

"My freshman year, I thought it was tough, but I felt like I played OK as a freshman," Clement said. "Sophomore year I thought I played really well as a sophomore, one stroke away from all state and all conference both days. I felt really good about that year."

Clement was not happy with his junior season.

"I felt like last year I wasn't where I wanted to be," he said. "I just don't think I was really focused and thinking every match. This year I'm thinking every match. This is it."

Clement said he continued to play golf throughout the offseason, including during basketball last winter, something he hasn't done before. He had a strong spring and summer as well.

The improvement he made in his game was evident when summer practices started.

"Karson's just steady," Robertson said. "He's really steady. He's really improved. He's gotten to where he's longer off the tee. He's improved his accuracy off the tee a lot. He keeps it in play. He's improved his putting, which is an area where he really needed to improve in."

Robertson also said Clement is a year older which makes a difference.

"He manages the course," Robertson said. "I've seen him do some things sometimes that he maybe wouldn't have done two years ago. He doesn't take a risk here when he doesn't need to, or he takes one here when he needs to."

Robertson said the biggest area of improvement for Clement his senior year has been his focus and dedication.

"He's been hooked up for the last year. He's come to practice every day," Robertson said. "He's been a great leader. He's worked his tail off. When we're not practicing, he's practicing (on his own). He's hitting balls. He's played events. He's been super-committed and has been really a great example to the other guys."

Sports on 09/30/2018

Print Headline: Clement peaking heading into state

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