5Having spent 17 years as the head coach of Alabama men’s golf, Jay Seawell has seen a lot – two national championship wins, two national runner-up finishes, four SEC Championship titles, 52 tournament wins and 33 of his players being named All-Americans.
But until this January, there was one thing he had never had at Alabama: an early enrollee who played right away.
Now Canon Claycomb is the first.
Not only is Claycomb, who was a top-five junior player in the country for the last two years, playing, but he’s contending. He has finished T13 and T7 in his first two collegiate tournaments in Puerto Rico and Mexico, respectively.
“It’s definitely not surprising,” Claycomb said. “I mean, that was a goal. You want to come in and play good immediately.”
In his college debut in Puerto Rico in February, Claycomb made 18 birdies over three rounds, the most in a 75-player field that included the five starters for No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 7 Georgia Tech.
He recorded five consecutive birdies in his second round and was 6-under par through 10 holes, but lost two tee shots on his 14th hole of the day and made a quadruple-bogey 8. He still carded a 3-under-par 69 the next day to finish five shots behind the eventual winner.
Without the 8 in the second round, he would have been one shot back (assuming he made par).
Last week, in Los Cabos, Mexico, he again got to 6-under during his second round and again hit a tee shot out of bounds to halt the momentum. But he rebounded with two birdies in his next four holes to shoot a 66, tying the team’s lowest individual round this year. He entered the final round one shot behind the leader and finished tied for seventh.
“I think I get a little out of my routine and make a wild swing every once in a while,” Claycomb said. “I’m encouraged that I’m 6-under through 8, 6-under through 10, that kinda stuff. I can figure out how to limit damage control, but you can’t really teach making birdies, so I’m excited about that.”
The first thing Seawell said when asked about the 18-year-old prodigy was “He’s a scorer.”
“He can still have good scores no matter how he’s hitting it, instead of only playing well when he’s swinging well or his mechanics are good,” Seawell said.
When Claycomb arrived in Tuscaloosa in January, he asked assistant coach Jon Howell for help with his putting. Howell helped him tweak his setup to have his eyes directly over the ball, and Claycomb switched to a new putter with a larger head before heading to Puerto Rico. The results showed.
“[I] started getting the strike down, and then it started rolling better and [I] got a little more confident and started making everything I looked at,” Claycomb said.
He also said he was “terrible” with his wedges before coming to college, but Seawell and Howell have helped him learn a wider variety of shots. On the 12th hole of the second round in Puerto Rico, he had about 90 yards to the hole, which was located near the back of the green, and he was hitting into the wind.
Before college, he would have hit the ball hard and high with a lot of spin, which would give him less control over the shot and send the ball farther from the hole. But on this shot, he used his 50-degree wedge – normally a 120-yard club – and took a shorter swing to keep the ball lower with less spin. It ended up 2 feet from the hole, and he tapped in for the second of his five straight birdies.
“Making the most birdies out of the field in Puerto Rico, that was kind of like an eye-opener,” Claycomb said. “Like my wedges and my putting are, like, good now.”
Seawell knew about Claycomb’s talent ever since he watched him play as a high school freshman, but the coach especially liked his affinity for team golf. The proudest moment of Claycomb’s career was representing the United States in the Junior Ryder Cup in France and the Junior Presidents Cup in New Jersey and Australia, with the U.S. winning all three times. He also played in the Wyndham Cup, a prestigious junior event, three times, with his East Team going 2-1.
Claycomb’s experience with team golf was part of why Seawell felt he was well-equipped to enroll early.
“He thrives in it. … I knew that would be easy for him,” Seawell said. “Team golf can be suffocating in an individual game sometimes. You gotta really understand the concept of it, and you gotta embrace it. And I knew he would, and he has.”
The additional depth has made a noticeable difference for the Crimson Tide so far this spring. Over its nine rounds in the fall, the team’s average fourth score – that is, the highest individual score that counted toward the team score – was 75.3. With Claycomb in the lineup, it has dropped to 73.5. The team has risen to No. 34 in the Golfstat rankings after beginning the spring season outside the top 50.
“[Having Claycomb] has changed our program,” Seawell said. “Any time you add a quality player, a quality score, to a starting lineup, it just changes the dynamic of the team.”
Claycomb joining the team was especially timely since junior Davis Shore is still working back to 100% health after a setback in his recovery from hip surgery. With Shore back in the lineup in Cabo and Claycomb playing like he is, the freshman likes where the team is headed.
“It’s been surreal and been a lot of fun, and I’m enjoying every part of it,” Claycomb said. “It’s been kind of a dream come true.”