Flanked by his brother, Gage, and his parents, Jennifer and Jay, Polk County senior Avery Harden signed a letter-of-intent Wednesday to continue his golf career at Mars Hill University. Also present, back row from left, were PCHS Principal Michelle Bean, Noah Harden (brother), head golf coach Pat McCool and athletic director DeShane Briscoe (photo courtesy PCHS Athletics)

Avery Harden bet on himself and will get to continue his golf career as a result.

Earlier this year, the Polk County senior reached out to Mars Hill University head coach Kenneth Dixon, expressing his interest in the college and joining the Lions program. The two began talking, and the interest soon became mutual.

That led to Wednesday afternoon, when Harden signed a letter-of-intent with the Mars Hill program in a ceremony in the Polk County High School auditorium.

To say the Wolverine senior is excited about the opportunity might be a bit of an understatement.

“Obviously,” he laughed. “I get to play four more years of golf.”

Harden has long held a dream of being a college athlete, but he set that goal as a baseball player. When he decided to make golf his primary sport, the vision merely shifted rather than going away. Mars Hill made it a reality.

“When I switched to golf, that was the new thought, being a competitor,” Harden said. “But (playing in college) has always been a thought, probably since seventh grade.

“It’s a beautiful campus. I’m a small town kind of guy. I don’t really want to be around 30,000 people, so 1,400 kids for me is enough. It’s almost like a big high school.”

Harden steadily improved throughout his Polk County career, which ended earlier this week with a top-12 finish at the 1A state tournament. He finished the season with the third-lowest composite individual score in Mountain Foothills 7 Conference matches and set a nine-hole scoring record for the program with his 3-under-par 33 at Forest City Municipal Golf Course in March.

Having only recently made golf his primary focus, Harden thinks there is ample opportunity for his skills to continue to progress.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “I’ve just to keep working, keep putting in the time and effort. Obviously, state didn’t work out for me too well. I still placed OK, but I didn’t play to the best of my abilities.

“Everything’s just got to line up for me. I’ve just got to put in the time.”

That work will begin this summer with plans that Polk County head coach Pat McCool will no doubt also salute.

“I’m going to try to get registered for a couple of events and see what’s going on,” Harden said. “I’m definitely going to try to get my guys out there that are still in high school and get them working. I want to get them up to state again next year.”