Decision to play golf pays off for Bolton

By Steve Williams

Drew Bolton grew up in a “baseball family,” but decided to take a different path in athletics after his 7th grade year at Gresham Middle School.

It ended up being a great decision, as the Central High senior signed his National Letter of Intent on Nov. 13 to play golf at Tennessee Tech University.

Drew had been playing basketball and baseball at Gresham.

“He didn’t see himself with the potential in those two sports to be able to play much at Central,” recalled Andy Bolton, his father.

Andy and his wife Kathy “supported his decision and encouraged him to be the best golfer that he could be if that is what he wanted to do.”

At the signing, Andy credited Jim Bush, a friend of the family and a UT golfer in the mid-1950s, with “lighting the fire for Drew” in golf when as a 14-year-old he made a hole-in-one at Cherokee Country Club, where Bush is a member.

Drew’s progress in high school was slow but steady. His scores were in the low 90s at the end of his freshman season, low to mid 80s his sophomore year, mid to high 70s as a junior and low to mid 70s by the time he was a senior.

“Drew has a great teacher in Brad Rose (Director of Instruction at Willow Creek) along with a wonderful golf mentor and family friend, Ryan Greer,” said Andy, whose son started by working “tirelessly” at Beaver Brook and then at Holston Hills, a longer course, the past four years.

“It has been very rewarding for Kathy and me to see Drew set lofty goals for himself and achieve those goals through hard work and perseverance,” added Andy.

Drew, a slender 6-1 who turned 18 this past Saturday, admitted there were “times when I asked myself, ‘Do I want to stay with this?’”

But he always had his family’s support, he said, “whether he was shooting in the 90s or 60s.

“I love this game,” added Drew. “It’s great to get to play another four years.”

Drew, who also is the Central High Student Body President, said the turnout “meant a lot.” Among those in attendance was his brother Ryan, who signed with Carson-Newman University two years ago as a punter and also played in the outfield with the baseball team last spring.

During his four seasons at Central, Drew shaved 17 strokes off his scoring average. He also was a four-time qualifier for the region tournament.

As a senior, Bolton posted three individual wins, as well as a runner-up showing, and scored 75 or under in 18 out of 23 rounds. He produced a stroke average of 74.0 for the season and ranked 14th in the state.

“I would say that his strength was his consistency on his tee shots,” said Central Coach Luke Ladd. “He kept it in play off the tee very well.”

In 2023, Bolton had a trio of top-three finishes on the Sneds Tour, including a pair of medalist finishes, and was the Tri-Star Match Play champion.

Other honors for Bolton include being a two-time State Junior Amateur qualifier and a State Amateur qualifier.

Tennessee Tech Coach Polk Brown has been impressed with Bolton. “Drew has shown so much growth in his game over the last 12 to 16 months,” he said. “From where he started as a freshman in high school to where he is now is extraordinary and a testament to his hard work and determination, which will serve him well when he gets here. He will be a fantastic student-athlete in every sense of the word and we are excited to have him be a part of this program.”

Drew said he will major in Finance.

“I had some interest from other schools around here, but I knew if Tennessee Tech was going to offer me, I was going to go there,” he said. “That’s where I wanted to go. I love what Coach Brown is doing up there. I think the program is going in a great direction and I really like the location. Cookeville is a great spot. It feels like home, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Drew said he started playing competitive golf in 2020.

“Ever since then, it’s been something I’ve been chasing after,” he said. “It’s my passion. I wasn’t very good then, but I’ve always had this dream and to see it come true is really surreal.

“I learned how to play when I was four, but it always took a backseat to basketball and baseball and it wasn’t until about 8th grade I decided I wanted to focus on golf. I’m not a big fan of running, so golf is a perfect sport.”

Coach Ladd seems to think Bolton has the right mindset for golf, which can be very frustrating at times.

“Well, I’ve had many setbacks in the last four years and many times where it takes a lot of mental strength,” said Bolton. “For instance, this year I missed going to the state tournament by one shot. Stuff like that, you can either let it break you down and not want to play again or it can be what motivates you to keep moving forward. My goal is just be the best golfer I can be, so even though I have setbacks, that’s part of golf.”