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Caden Clark used golf as outlet for mental health struggle

Tribune - 9/21/2022

Sep. 19—Hamilton junior Caden Clark was at his lowest point on May 9.

For some time, he had self-harmed. The marks are still visible on his arms. But on that day, he hit an all-time low.

He drove to a secluded area in the East Valley and tried to cut the two main arteries in either leg. He then phoned his best friend, John, for help, who told him to notify his parents. Sometime later, Caden was in the hospital and officially began a road to recovery.

"I was feeling very alone and dissatisfied with my life and with golf," Caden said. "After it happened, I thought there was a missing link in the chain somewhere. There's some sort of problem. It almost felt like I had to talk about it.

"Now, I feel more comfortable in my own skin."

It was still a struggle. But he finally began to see a future in July when his father, Dave, notified him one morning that he was selected to play this week in the 2022 PURE Insurance Championship, a PGA Tour event taking place at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course and airing live on the Golf Channel.

It gave him purpose. It gave him drive. He began spending three to four days at a time at Lone Tree Golf Club in Chandler, where he now works and practices with the Hamilton golf team. It helped him fight through the emotions he was feeling just months prior when he was at his lowest point.

Now, as he is just days away from beginning the event on Sept. 20, he is proud of how far he has come.

"It really means a lot," Caden said. "Within the past few months, I went through a lot of struggles. So, it really means a lot to me to say that I will have at least done this. I had fallen out of love with golf for a long time because of the state I was in. This reinvigorated me."

Caden was selected for the event through the First Tee program, a life skills development program that teaches kids character through the game of golf.

He started with the program when he was 8 years old. Dave recognized some of the building blocks and character pillars involved with the program and wanted both Caden and his older brother, Mac, to be involved.

About a year after joining, Caden began to take golf seriously. He went from practicing at a leisurely pace to several days a week to better prepare himself for competition. It paid off.

Caden quickly became one of the top golfers in the state. And now, he has something to truly show for it with a state championship with the Huskies and playing on national television alongside a professional. There's a long list of names Caden hopes to play with, including Kirk Triplett, Freddie Couples and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

He'll find out who he is paired with on Tuesday night, just before the start of the event.

"Kirk Triplett's son went to Brophy, Freddie Couples ... his golf swing is iconic when you think of vintage golf swings," Caden said. "Miguel is just, like, he's a personality like me. I think we would have a good time."

Caden's selection to the event was based off of his personal golf resume, which included history with the game, his community service hours and his own personal growth and development. He described it as "selling himself" to the selection committee.

He was one of 78 players selected and one of four from Arizona — Millennium senior Isabelle Junio, Dream City Christian senior golfer Jack Layman and Xavier junior Lena Durette were also selected.

As special of an opportunity it is, Dave wants his son to not look ahead. He wants him to enjoy the moment, enjoy the spotlight. Scores won't matter to him or the rest of his family.

As long as Caden is having a good time, that's all that matters to them.

"I'm excited for Caden," Dave said. "I would just like to see him enjoy the experience, not let the pressure get to him and enjoy it.

"I'm proud of him."

Caden is the next in a long line of Hamilton players to excel on the golf course.

The team as a whole has won several state titles under coach Steve Kanner, and many have gone on to play in college and beyond. Kanner referred to Caden as one of the team's many "stars."

Caden's teammates don't walk circles around him and what he went through at the start of the summer. He doesn't want them to.

He's open about his mental health struggles, that's one of the reasons he chooses not to wear long sleeves to cover his arms. The team has been there as a support system when needed. When Caden was at his lowest point, he confided in First Tee coaches and Kanner.

To see how far he has come is special.

"I'm proud of Caden and I think a lot of it is due to the support from his family and his internal desire," Kanner said. "I'm glad to see he has come a long way. I was surprised and saddened he was experiencing that. I'm glad he was able to get the help he needed and to me, that takes courage."

When Caden returns in a week, he will dive right back into the high school season with the Huskies, who once again figure to be the favorite to win a team title in Division I this season.

Whether Caden continues with golf after high school still remains to be seen, according to Dave. But that doesn't matter to them.

For now, Caden is living in the moment of all he has accomplished as a 16-year-old high school student. And he hopes to set an example for others battling mental health issues that it's ok to seek help.

He did. Even if it was at a critical time.

"I didn't want to be just another statistic," Caden said. "Being able to say that I've been in that place and that I can use my story as sort of a platform to say things can get better, it's something that feels like a blessing."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.


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