“I remember when I was nine-years-old and first started playing golf, I said I wanted to win the state junior one day,” said Ratliff.
That day was last Thursday. The dream was fulfilled and Ratliff, who will be a senior at Sullivan South this fall, captured the Tennessee State Junior Amateur at Cleveland Country Club.
PGA professional Euggie Jones, who has worked with Ratliff over the years, was one of the first people to receive a phone call from Ratliff.
“There were some tears shed over the phone when we talked,” said Ratliff. “He was so proud of what I’d accomplished.”
Like many junior golfers, Ratliff had the vision, he just had to put in into action.
Willing to test himself in state level tournaments, Ratliff took his lumps, but learned much along the way.
“Certainly I learned to put my emotions aside and try to stay in the moment,” said Ratliff. “You can’t get ahead of yourself and you really have to put the bad shots behind you.
“I used to over think things,” added Ratliff. “Now I wait till I’m over the ball and try to focus on that shot only.”
Those lessons came into play in this week’s state junior.
An opening round 1-under-par 69 left Ratliff one stroke out of the lead.
“I thought after that first round that if I could shoot another 69 I’d be close,” said Ratliff.
A second-straight 69 actually put Ratliff atop the leaderboard with a two-shot advantage going into the final round.
“The night before I just tried to relax,” Ratliff said. “We putted balls in the hallways of the motel and played golf with ping pong balls.”
Playing in the final group with Jack Smith from Knoxville and Mikey Feher of Signal Mountain, Ratliff knew what he had to do.
“It was all about hitting fairways and greens,” said Ratliff. “I wanted to limit my mistakes.”
Steady throughout his final round, Ratliff built his lead to three shots with 10 holes to play.
“My final nine holes were the definition of cruise control,” said Ratliff. “I made nine straight pars.”
Reaching the 18th green, Ratliff wanted to know where he stood against the field.
“I knew I was two strokes ahead of Smith, but didn’t know if anybody had gone low in another group,” said Ratliff. “I heard that 1-under was low in the clubhouse so I just needed to make par to win.”
And he did just that.
“I’m not sure that it has really hit me yet,” said Ratliff. “But winning something of this magnitude is a huge boost to my confidence.
“There are a lot of big names on that trophy,” added Ratliff. “And now mine is there too.”
Among the many perks for being state junior champion is an exemption into the upcoming Tennessee State Amateur.
“Not having to qualify is a relief,” said Ratliff. “That’s really nice.”
In spite of fulfilling a childhood dream, Ratliff knows there’s still room for improvement.
“I’ve got to continue to improve my short game,” said Ratliff. “You can never work too much on that aspect of your game.”
Staying in the moment is a big key to success on the golf course. And at this moment Cayman Ratliff is the definition of success, he is the Tennessee State Junior Amateur champion.