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Kansas Golf Associaition

High Plains Amateur Win Goes to Stevens (which one?)

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17-year old Sam Stevens had been having a great summer with his golf game, including a runner-up finish at the Kansas Amateur and a national title at the Big I.  With school back in session and the junior golf competition schedule complete, Charlie Stevens, Sam’s dad, was looking for a golf event to keep Sam sharp.

The KGA’s High Plains Amateur Championship at The Golf Club at Southwind in Garden City the last weekend of August was a good fit.  They could travel the few hours west from Wichita after school on Friday and be home on Sunday night for Sam’s senior classes at Kapaun High School the next morning.   And as long as he was driving, Charlie entered too.  Little did they know, the championship would be a “family affair” for Charlie and Sam Stevens.

143 golfers, a record number of entries for the High Plains Amateur, began play on a windyCharlie Stevens, 2013 High Plains Amateur champion Saturday.  Locals know that a strong south wind is typical and they are accustomed to playing in those conditions (there’s a reason the club has the name Southwind), but many of the players struggled, including five collegians from England who had recently enrolled at nearby junior colleges.

Only one player in the Open division managed to break par in the first round.  Wichitan Jack Courington played in the morning wave and was able to post a one-under par 70.  Three birdies and only two bogies made for a leading score.  Two strokes back at one-over par 72 were defending champion Grant Vollertsen of Garden City and father Stevens.  Both commented after the wind-blown opening round that conditions were very difficult and they felt great about their score and position on the leaderboard.

Four players, including collegians Shane Gilbert (Southwester) and Tyler Norris (K-State), Garden City high schooler Juan Ollarzabal and mid-amateur veteran Pete Krsnich  found themselves only four strokes out of the lead with three-over par 74s.  If the wind appears on Sunday for round two, any of these players would be in cWichita's Sam Stevensontention for the title.

Sam Stevens, the Oklahoma State prospect, struggled with a six-over par 77 that included two double bogeys.

As many as twelve players were in position to win the 19th High Plains Amateur title as Sunday dawned on another clear, but windy day.  The conditions could easily see a leader balloon to a higher score and someone who struggled on Saturday could bring a better game and post a score for others to beat.   Charlie Stevens, who thought he was just bringing Sam to Garden City for some good competition, knew he could win a tournament if he just stayed safe and consistent.  A two-Jack Couringtonshot advantage enjoyed by Courington could disappear in one hole.

As the three leaders made their way around the links lined with high, native grasses whipping in the wind, Sam Stevens was on a tear.  Four birdies, three of which were consecutive on holes 3-5, on the front nine tied Sam with his dad at two-over par and only two strokes behind leader Courington.   Grant Vollertsen lost two strokes on the leaders despite an eagle on the par five #3 hole.   Four holes into the back nine, just before the venue becomes its strongest test at hole #14, Sam Stevens had made another birdie on #12 and Courington bogeyed #13 putting the two in a tie for the lead and Charlie Stevens only one stroke back.

The final five holes at Southwind present an ultimate challenge for any golfer.  Not a single tree, only a handful of bunkers and three holes that usually play downwind, make it appear easy.  But turn up the wind, grow the native thick and high and add the pressure of competition and watch even the best players flounder and long for the safety of the clubhouse.

Masters Division champion Zac BurtonSam Stevens lost four strokes to par at holes 14, 15 and 16.  A birdie at #17 was too late but helped him turn in the lowest score of the day and the tournament at 2-under par 69.  He would have to wait at least an hour for his dad to finish before they could head for home.

Charlie Stevens was only two-over par for the day facing the final five holes so he was still two strokes behind leader Jack Courington who was also two-over par for the day.   The two playing together in the final group found themselves tied after Courington made bogey at #14 and Stevens made a birdie at #15.   They each bogeyed the par three #16 hole.  Courington’s birdie on the downwind par four #17 hole gave him a slim one-stroke margin and only the 18th hole to finish without an accident.

Courington had the honor on the 18th tee and selected a driver for the elevated tee shot on the downwind finishing hole.  The resulting stroke was surprisingly offline to the right.  Charlie Stevens then knew that getting his ball in theSenior Division champion Tracy Chamberlin fairway would give him a chance to tie or overtake Courington.  He chose a long iron and played his ball to the fairway.  By the time the two had finished the hole, a three-stroke swing had presented Charlie Stevens with the win.

Charlie’s first question at the scoring table was “what was low for the day”?  When he heard son Sam had shot 69 for a 144 total you could see an expression of surprise and pride.  When it sunk in that he had won the championship on the final hole, the expression turned to relief and humility.  He thought he was just bringing Sam out west for a competitive event – he didn’t figure on winning it and with Sam a close co-runner-up.   When these two find a way to play in the KGA Father-Son, they may be unbeatable!

In the Masters Division, Zac Burton posted a two-over par 144 to take a two stroke win over Southwind member Shawn Audrain.  The Senior Division winner was Tracy Chamberlin at even-par 142.