However, he admits that he didn’t always take the season as seriously as he could have.
“I always thought of it as a warmup for the summer,” O’Kelley said. “I haven’t really done too much in my high school career as far as golfing accomplishments. I’ve done well through the summer, but not the school year.”
If this final high school season was another warmup, O’Kelley needs to get ready for a hot summer and perhaps a balmy fall.
He led his team to not only a Region 7AAAAA title, but the Cherokee County title as well. He won the individual title at both events, and the Grizzlies then went on to the Class AAAAA state tournament, where O’Kelley shot 76 to help the team to an eighth-place finish.
For his accomplishments this season, O’Kelley is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Golfer of the Year.
“It’s not something I expected,” he said. “The last thing I expected was to be player of the year, but it sure is an honor, especially with it being my last year. I’m really excited about that and looking forward to college and seeing what I can do there.”
O’Kelley attributed much of his success to an attitude change between his junior and senior seasons.
“I had a mentality change,” he said. “I was a bit more confident coming out of some good tournament finishes I had last fall and last summer. I spent a little bit more time out there on the putting green also, so I’m sure that didn’t hurt.”
Creekview coach Jimmy Thigpen couldn’t say enough good things about his top golfer.
“He is amazing on the course and off the course,” Thigpen said. “Coaching him for four years, I have never heard a teacher say a negative thing about him.”
When O’Kelley went out for the team as a freshman, Thigpen heard from several of the employees at Woodmont Golf Club, where the Grizzlies practice and O’Kelley lives, that he was a special young player. Thigpen didn’t think much of it at the time, but upon seeing O’Kelley in person, his opinion quickly changed.
“His ball-striking ability was outstanding,” Thigpen said. “You could just tell he was a special kid. He has made a name for himself out there. I think the sky is the limit for the kid, and I really look forward to seeing how he will do at the next level. I’m looking forward to keeping up with him and watching his career just blossom.”
In just a few short weeks, O’Kelley will join the team at the University of Cincinnati. Until then, he has a few things he is working on.
After meeting with the Bearcats’ coaches, O’Kelley has a list of short-game drills to practice. He also wants to increase his stamina.
“In college, it will be harder, faster courses that are going to require a sharp short game to play well,” O’Kelley said. “I’m really working on putting and chipping. I’m not hitting the ball as much as I used to.”
He has doubled his time on the putting green to two hours a day.
“Hopefully, that work will pay off when I get there,” O’Kelley said.
He will have to hit the ground swinging in Ohio as the team’s first tournament will take place a week after classes begin. On the plus side, it will be fall — O’Kelley’s favorite time of year to golf.
Over the summer, he plans to play in a few of his favorite junior events and a couple of qualifiers for larger events. How he does in the qualifiers will determine how much he actually plays.
Either way, O’Kelley said he’s scaling back his normally hectic summer, so that he doesn’t burn out before arriving at Cincinnati.
“It won’t be anywhere near as strenuous as my previous summers,” he said. “It will be more relaxed, and I will spend more time on the practice green.”
O’Kelley said the greatest adjustment will be accepting that he is no longer the No. 1 player on the team.
“It will take some getting used to,” he said. “The pressure of playing golf to go to college will be a lot more than high school golf. The coaches look at every single tournament score, and I think that will really prepare me for the next level.
“Hopefully, I will be able to do some things up there to give you something to write about.”