A bald eagle landed on the driving range at Sevierville Golf Club while Blades Brown was warming up for the state tournament last week.
The eagle held a fish in its talons and started devouring it on the driving range.
It remained there as Brown went through his normal warmup routine.
When Brown left for the first hole, the eagle flew up to a tree that is above the tee.
Brown, an eighth-grader who golfs on the Brentwood Academy Eagles’ team, took the first-round lead after closing his round by chipping in for an eagle from 20 yards out on the final hole.
When Brown returned for the second and final round Tuesday, the eagle flew over the driving range while he was warming up and went back to the same tree.
“As soon as I saw the eagle, I was like, that’s our mascot,” Brown said. “It’s a sign. And then when I chipped in, I was like, wow, it must have been the eagle.”
BA coach Mark Sutton was walking the course with Brown’s dad, Parke, a 1989 Eagle alum.
“Parke said to me, you know, in Native American culture bald eagles are a sign of big medicine,” Sutton said.
In many native cultures, eagles are thought to be medicine birds with magical powers, according to native-languages.org. They figure prominently in the mythology of many tribes.
A stone statue of an eagle greets visitors at the front entrance to BA.
Brown, 14, turned in a magical performance when he became one of the youngest golfers ever to win a state golf tournament.
He shot 11-under par for 36 holes to win the Division II-AA championship with rounds of 64 and 69.
The 133 total was the seventh-best score in DI-AA history.
Not bad for an eighth-grade Eagle.
Brown is surprisingly mature for his age, which probably helped him deal with the pressure.
“I’ve been playing with those guys all summer,” Brown said. “I tried to normalize the situation. It doesn’t even feel like I won a state championship. It just feels like a normal tournament to me.”
Four seniors, including 2020 champion Sheldon McKnight of Baylor, tied for second.
He called the older golfers in the field big role models. Brown golfs with many of them during the summer on the Sneds Tour, a junior circuit.
Brown recorded seven birdies during the first round, but it got off to a rocky start when his first shot went into the water.
“Well, Brandt Snedeker, when he shot a 59 he happened to bogey the first hole and so I was like Brandt Snedeker shot a 59 and he bogeyed the first hole. Why can’t I?” Brown said. “I didn’t let that get me down at all because I know that there was going to be a bogey somewhere.”
Brown rebounded quickly with a 10-foot bogey putt from a difficult uphill spot above the hole.
“That probably won me the tournament because it doesn’t feel good to start with a double-bogey,” Brown said. “For it to go in kind of gave me the extra momentum for the next hole. So I knew my putting was going to be surprisingly good that day.”
Brown heated up on the back nine, going 6-under. His 64 was the fourth lowest round in state tournament history.
Four days before Brown won the tournament, his older sister, Millie, was voted BA’s homecoming queen.
“It’s been awesome,” Brown said. “My sister was like, yo, homecoming queen/state champ. The best thing that could ever happen.”
Brown pretends he’s way over par after shooting under-par scores in the first round to keep himself aggressive on the course.
“That kind of eases the blood and you can be more aggressive,” Brown said. “(Otherwise), you’re kind of begging to get off the golf course because you want to keep this score as good as it is.”
By pretending he’s over par, Brown focuses on improving his score, not playing it safe.
It rained during most of the tournament, making Brown’s accomplishment even more impressive.
“Sometimes I would practice in the snow,” Brown said. “Sometimes I feel like I had frostbite, but the more you can push yourself the better you’ll do in those situations.”
Brown learned the game from his dad quickly. By age 13, he was already beating him.
He started playing when he was 9.
“He’s going to have his pick of schools across the country if he continues this work ethic and ascent that he is on,” Sutton said. “You won’t find a young man who works harder than he does. I mean, he lives at the golf course, he really does.”
Sutton has already talked to college coaches who believe he could help their team right now.
“I firmly believe he’ll play for money,” Sutton said. “There is no doubt in my mind. Now he has to stay healthy, the stars have to align, but he has the work ethic, the mentality and the God-given talent to do it.”
Brown earned a first-degree black belt in martial arts.
He believes the hand-eye coordination he learned from martial arts helps him in golf.
The sport also strengthened the lat muscles in his back and increased his flexibility, which was also beneficial to golf.
“Blades has a tremendous short game,” said Sutton, whose son, Eli, is a freshman left tackle at North Carolina who played at BA. “The thing that separates him is his scoring clubs, so 125 yards in, 100 yards in, he is extremely talented. He made putt after putt after putt in wet, rainy conditions and he does that a lot.”
Brown won the region tournament with a score of 5-under par.
He became the fourth BA golfer to win a state title and the first since Dylan Healy in 2009.
His mother, Rhonda, coaches the BA girls basketball team.
She played at Vanderbilt before becoming the first pick in the 1998 WNBA Draft.
Rhonda was a point guard as are Blades and Millie, a senior North Carolina-Asheville commit.
“We’re all point guards,” Rhonda said. “We’re tiny, so we didn’t have a lot of choice, right. Better learn how to handle the ball if you’re going to be small.”
Blades, who is 5-foot-6, is named after his mom’s maiden name. She’s watched his work ethic first-hand.
“He spends a ton of time on the golf course,” Rhonda said. “You win in the dark. We’ve got a little chipping thing in our backyard that he plays on all the time and he’s always hitting balls at the club, just working on his game. If he’s not, he’s watching film. He loves it.”