2012 Junior Player of the Year
The Stevens family’s place in Kansas Golf Association history is secure. Wichita’s Johnny Stevens won Kansas Amateur titles in 1960 and 1961. His son, Charlie, joined him on the champion’s roster with his victory in 2010 at Prairie Dunes Country Club. Johnny’s younger brother, Jack, won his Kansas Amateur title in 1974.
Now a third generation is making noise. Sixteen-year-old Sam Stevens has joined his father and now they’re the only father/son tandem to become KGA Junior Player of the Year. Charlie was the Association’s first Junior POY back in 1987.
Sam qualified for two key national junior competitions this past summer as he amassed 828.5 points over the last year to earn the 2012 honor and join his dad, granddad and great uncle in the KGA record books.
“It’s awesome to win a title like this,” said Sam, now a junior at Kapaun Mt. Carmel in Wichita. “…my dad won it when he was a kid. It’s cool to be in the same realm he is and hopefully I can end up winning the KGA Junior (Amateur) and maybe the State Am next year. It’s awesome to win a big deal like this and hopefully I can do it again the next couple of years.”
Tonganoxie’s Colby Yates placed second in the standings with 722 points. Yates won a Junior Section Team Championship in 2012, won a Metro Section event in Overland Park, tied for first among juniors at The Railer at Newton’s Sand Creek Station and was runner-up at the Junior Match Play Championship at Emporia Municipal.
Dodge City’s Zach Kirby was third at 690.67 points. Kirby won three West Section events outright and tied for the top spot in a fourth. He was the low junior during stroke-play qualifying and then won two matches during July’s Kansas Amateur Championship at Sand Creek Station before falling to eventual runner-up and 2012 KGA Player of the Year Ben Juffer.
Stevens builds on solid week at Junior Am
Stevens played solid golf all week during the 53rd Junior Amateur Championship at Buffalo Dunes near Garden City in June. With no one finishing in red figures after three rounds in the gusty conditions, Overland Park’s Travis Mays had rounds of 75, 71 and 72 giving him a three-day total of 2-over 218 and a one-shot victory over Stevens. But Stevens’ 73-74-72--219 bested the 15-year-olds’ division by seven shots.
Stevens made a late rally during the final round but came up just short. The then 15-year-old, who won his first state high school championship this spring at Alvamar Golf Club with a 71 as the Crusaders captured a team title, had birdies on three of his last six holes on the back nine to shoot a 1-under 35 on that side and finished the day with an even-par 72.
“He eagled No. 13 to go up four with five (to play),” recalled Stevens, who finished sixth at state as a freshman. “He had a pretty big lead but I knew that I could come back if I did something good. I was just telling my self ‘Try to get to even par.’ I was 2-over at that point. I did what I wanted to do. He played well coming down the stretch. I don’t know if I realistically could have caught him if I’d known he was going to play the last five holes in just 1-over par.”
With two more cracks at the event, Stevens says he was pleased with his performance this year at Buffalo Dunes and looks forward to playing in the Junior Am again.
“I felt like I played really well this year and Travis, obviously, played a little bit better,” said Stevens, who qualified for the USGA’s Junior Amateur Championship the following week from the 36-hole qualifier at Milburn Country Club. “But I’m happy with how I played and I can’t complain. I told the reporter in Garden City ‘I didn’t beat myself. He beat me.’ I’ll look at this week overall how I played. The next couple years I don’t know if there will be any more pressure or not. I’m just going to have to go out there like I did (at the Junior Am) and be solid and not make too many mistakes, just keep myself in contention and give myself a couple more chances to win.”
Later, Stevens enjoyed two fine weeks at KGA events held at Newton’s Sand Creek Station. He was third among juniors at The Railer, Stroke Play Championship of Kansas and then qualified for match play at the 102nd Kansas Amateur Championship. He won a first-round match 5 and 4 before falling to Juffer, the eventual runner-up and a Kansas State golfer, 3 and 2 in the second round.
“Obviously Sand Creek is a really tough course but a lot of fun too. I played really well there and if I remember right the conditions were really difficult (Railer week)…I think I finished 15th overall. That was a good field so it was good, to not necessarily contend, but to at least have a good week,” Wichita Country Club’s Stevens said. “I played pretty well in my first round (of stroke play qualifying at the Kansas Amateur), but the second round I shot like a 40 on my back nine. It was windy, tough conditions. I got the 34 seed. In my first match I played really well, made some nice putts and was able to close it out early which was fun and a relatively stress-free round. I got Ben Juffer in the next round…a tough draw. I played pretty good on the front nine. I think we were all square at the turn, but I had a couple three-putts on the back nine.”
National competitions give valuable experience
Stevens was among 28 young men who started the day June 20 at Prairie Village’s Milburn Country Club with the hopes of advancing to Stratham, N.H. for the United States Junior Amateur Championship. After 36 holes in difficult and windy conditions, he was one of two players who punched their tickets to the national championship.
Eric Ricard of Shreveport, La., grabbed medalist honors with a 70-75--145 over the two rounds of play. Ricard is one of the highest ranked junior players in the country. Stevens fired rounds of 71 and 75 to finish at 146 and grab the other qualifying slot.
“That was awesome…Milburn Country Club is a really good course and it was really windy there too, it was blowing about 25 or 30 the entire day. I played really good,” Stevens said. “It’s awesome getting to go to that tournament. It’s a pretty big deal with (college) coaches...”
Stevens played solid golf during his two stroke-play qualifying rounds at the Junior Amateur Championship at The Golf Club of New England in Stratham. But a few bogeys late in his second round caused him to just miss match play.
“That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had a golf tournament even though I didn’t play that well,” Stevens said. “There were a ton of big names and great players. The course was unbelievable, really difficult but really fun. I was a couple shots inside the cut line with nine holes to go but made a few bogeys and missed it by three. I didn’t make the cut but I had a good time. It was kind of cool seeing a lot of the players out there like (2012 U.S. Open contender) Beau Hossler, out on the putting green and different guys you’ve heard about but never seen in person.”
In July, Stevens shot a second-round 67 at Prairie Dunes and won a state title at the Trusted Choice® Big “I” Junior Classic by three shots with a two-day total of 3-under 140. The victory qualified him for the national championships later in the summer in Texas.
“That was really hard, but it was really fun. It rained the entire first day and then a little bit of the second day,” Stevens said. “The scores were pretty high but I played really well the second round there. That tournament is always fun. I think there were 100 kids in that qualifier. There were a lot of good players there...”
At the Trusted Choice® Big “I” National Championship at the University of Texas Golf Club in Austin, Stevens turned in rounds of 74-74-76-72 for a total of 296 and tied for 22nd in the boys division.
Southern Methodist University signee Austin Smotherman of Loomis, Calif., ran away with the Robert Trent Jones Trophy at the 44th annual championship, winning by seven strokes and finishing at 10-under-par 274 for the tournament. The boys played to a par 71 at 7,031 yards and a course rating of 75.0.
“I went with Seth Bryan of Winfield and we had a really good time,” Stevens said. “It was fun. I’d played in it the last couple years before this one. There were a few big names down there. They might have beaten me but it was fun to be in the same tournament with them. I played all right down there. It was a really tough course. I was happy with a top-25 finish. Hopefully I can make it back next year and do a little better.”
Consistency key in big summer of ‘12
Stevens did not point to one particular facet of his game leading to his Junior POY run this year. He said consistency, keeping the ball in front of him and staying away from the big number allowed him to gather so many high tourney finishes.
“I think overall I was just consistent. I don’t think there was any major part of my game that really helped,” Stevens said. “I never really put myself behind the eight ball by driving it really bad and was always making a few putts here and there. I think my consistency is was what kept me in there because I never played myself out of contention.”
Stevens won KJGA South Central Section events at Wellington Golf Club and at L.W. Clapp in Wichita. He’d also won the Collegiate Preview Series event held at Lawrence Country Club last year and turned in a seventh-place finish at the annual High Plains Amateur this August at The Golf Club at Southwind in Garden City to add to his points tally.
“Those (sectional events) were really good with a lot of good players in them. I played really well in both of them…one was in Wellington and I only won by one and only won by one at Clapp as well. They’re always good competition and it felt pretty good to win both of those,” Stevens said. “The (CPS) events are always good because you get kids from Nebraska and Missouri so there’s always a lot of competition there. It was fun to win that one. It was pretty close coming down the stretch there. It was fun to pull out the victory there.”