By Andrew Stark
Like many freshmen preparing to play for their high school team for the first time, Independence’s Jonathan Brightwell was anxious entering the season.
Those apprehensions, however, were short-lived as Brightwell quickly made a name for himself as the Patriots’ top golfer in his first season competing in the golf-rich Southwestern 4A conference.
“There were a lot of really good golfers in the conference,” Brightwell said. “I’ve been playing in tournaments since I was 6 or 7, so I was prepared to do it. But it was a little different, especially at first.”
While Brightwell began the season as a relative unknown to his competitors, he ended it as one of the conference’s best by firing a 69 at the Southwestern 4A conference tournament, tying him for fourth place.
In addition, Brightwell was voted to the all-conference team while helping lead the Patriots to the Class 4A Western Regional tournament, where he shot a team-low 79 and paced his team to a seventh-place tie.
On the heels of those performances, along with a season-long nine-hole average which hovered below 38 strokes, Brightwell has earned another distinction: Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2013 Matthews-Mint Hill Golfer of the Year.
But to Independence coach Bradley Gibson, Brightwell’s opening act just scratched the surface of his star pupil’s potential.
“He’s an awesome freshman that will dominate the conference for the next few years,” Gibson said. “(He’s a) very humble and teachable student (and) brings others around him to a higher level of golf.
“(Plus,) he’s unflappable under pressure.”
Not only was that resolve displayed on some of the season’s biggest stages, it also has the Patriots’ youthful roster primed to ascend to even greater heights, Brightwell said.
“I think I did well,” he said. “It feels good, like I’m right on track (individually), but I’m most happy with our team. We did really well. We have a real young team, and that makes us look forward to next year.”
Brightwell said he plans on playing a number of tournaments this summer in order to bring his game – and the Patriots’ fortunes – up a notch.
“I’m trying to get better every day,” Brightwell said. “I’ve been worrying about my short game, because if you miss the green you have to make sure you can get up and down (and save par). I know there’s a lot that I can improve on, but I think it was a good year and I’m happy how it played out.
“I feel like it’s a good start for me and for the team.”