Even with a final round 65, Patrick Stephenson (as hopeful as he was) knew it probably wasn’t going to be enough to make up 18 spots on the leaderboard at the NCHSAA 3A Boys Golf State Championships Tuesday.
The South Johnston junior’s blazing round made up all but one of those positions on the leaderboard. His 6-under round with six birdies and no bogeys earned him a second-place finish, even with an opening day 75.
Stephenson came in at 2-under for the 36-hole tournament on a 6,513-yard Longleaf Golf and Country Club layout. Nick Lyerly of team runner-up East Rowan had a 67 on Tuesday to come in at 4-under and take the state championship.
“There were too many good players out here for it to hold up,” Stephenson said of his score, which was posted more than two hours before Lyerly finished his round. “I knew I gave it away yesterday.”
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Stephenson said the key to his round on Tuesday was wedge play. He spent Monday afternoon at the Pinehurst practice facilities working on his wedge game for a few hours.
His round of 75 on Monday included a triple bogey after he hit his tee shot out of bounds on the 180-yard, par-3 13th and a pair of uncharacteristic bogeys.
“I made two bogeys from the middle of the fairway with a wedge in my hand,” Stephenson said. “But the work I did on the range paid off today.”
He got a lucky break on the 17th hole when his tee shot sailed wide of the fairway, took a bounce off of the cart path and came to rest just a few inches from the out of bounds line. After chipping out and hitting his third shot on the par-5 to 20 feet, he just missed a birdie putt.
“I had a lot of opportunities today with wedges from the fairway, really hit my driver well both days,” Stephenson said. “Anything within 10 feet or so, I was really on putting, made a lot of those-length birdie putts.”
The East Carolina University recruit posted four straight pars to open his round Tuesday, then birdied the two par 5s on the front. He birdied 10 and 13 to get to even par and birdies on the 16th and 18th got him under par for the tournament.
“Patrick had a totally different demeanor today than he did yesterday,” said South Johnston coach Daniel Benson. “He made great wedge shots, the shots he didn’t hit in the first round. He rolled in a couple of 20-foot par putts, which make a huge difference. He played a lot more aggressive today at the right times.”
Stephenson came up one finish short of his win the conference, win the regional and win states goal list for the season. But he leaves with the lowest round of competitive golf he’s ever played on his resume.
“I knew if I played well this year, I would have the chance to win the conference, win the regional and win the state championship,” Stephenson said. “I was able to do two of those and almost three. My goal coming in here was definitely to win it.”
Gastonia Forestview shot 290 on Tuesday to take the team championship by five strokes over East Rowan (585-590). Marvin Ridge (594) was third.
Corinth Holders recorded its third straight top-six finish in the state, tying Rockingham County for sixth at 620. Continuing the consistency-above-all-else theme of the Pirates’ season, they posted 310s on both days.
“We were hoping for a little bit better finish, but we just didn’t have those great couple of rounds we needed each day,” said Pirates coach Theresa Gale. “We’re proud, but you know it just could have been a little better.”
Sam Baxter led Corinth Holders with a 5-over-par total of 147, while Kellen LaBonte came in at 13-over and Monty Fields was 14-over.
Baxter tied for 13th in the state individually. He had a 73 in the opening round and a 74 on Tuesday.
“Sam played phenomenal golf over the past two days,” Gale said. “Our main issue was that we just could never get these greens figured out. We were always a bit too long or a bit too short on our putts in general.”
LaBonte tied for 34th and Fields tied for 36th.
Corinth Holders was just four strokes above its season 18-hole scoring average both days on a championship stage where team scores typically trend higher than normal.
Nick Routhier finished at 20-over for Corinth Holders, while Grayson Adams had rounds of 89 and 84.
The Pirates will lose Baxter, Fields and LaBonte to graduation.