A year ago, Patrick Stephenson left after the final round of the NCHSAA 3A State Boys Golf Championships with a simple goal: improve his finishing position by one spot a year from then.
The South Johnston High senior did just that Tuesday afternoon, winning the state individual championship with his second consecutive round of 1-under-par 71 at the Country Club of Whispering Pines. He finished at 2-under, two shots ahead of Tripp Summerlin of Rockingham County and Drew Jurs of Gastonia Forestview.
“It’s always something I’ve wanted to do,” Stephenson said. “It’s something you think about for years and work hard to achieve. Because a state championship is something your whole community can take pride in. Everybody wants to say their school has a state champion or won a state championship. It’s a wonderful feeling to be a part of doing that.”
Stephenson jumped to 2-under on his round with a birdie at the first hole Tuesday on the Whispering Pines’ Pines Course, but struggled to hit his irons accurately the rest of the front nine, going out in 1-over, 37. He pared the 10th, then lost his tee shot to the left in the hazard on the 11th hole. He was able to put his ball on the green in five, then drain a 6-footer for a bogey, leaving him at 1-over on the tournament.
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He sailed the green on the par-3 12th, but drained a long par putt, which South Johnston coach Daniel Benson called the shot of the round.
“I lost my swing for a while there,” Stephenson said. “It was just about being patient. I knew today wasn’t going to be a day where anybody went really low with the wind up.”
Stephenson dropped in a 10-footer for birdie on the next hole before facing another long par putt.
“The par putt on the 14th was a big one, too,” Stephenson said. “My approach was 35 feet away and I left myself like five feet. If that doesn’t go in?”
The East Carolina University recruit followed that up with a conventional birdie on the par-5 15th — solid drive, approach just short of the green, chip to five feet and make the putt — and drained a 12-footer for birdie on the 16th.
The final two holes were pretty uneventful, both pars. But uneventful only if you didn’t have the view Stephenson had of his lie after a perfect tee shot.
“I hit a really good approach shot,” he said. “But my ball ended up in the back of a deep divot and I really had to move the ball back in my swing. Just getting that on the green, I thought, was a great shot.”
He lipped the birdie putt from 25 feet out, then tapped in for par and a state championship.
“It’s been an unreal year,” Benson said. “Last year, he came from behind on the last day and we had no idea he’d end up finishing second. Since that point, it’s been all about winning everything for him. He helped us win our first team conference championship in school history; he became a four-time conference player of the year; he wanted a scoring average under 70 and he did it; he won the regional; he came here with two rounds between him and a state championship and he did it.
“Everything he could win, he won.”
Forestview was the team state champion by 14 shots over East Rowan at 601. Lee County took seventh, while Corinth Holders and C.B. Aycock were 10th and 11th, respectively.
Triton’s Nick Page finished at 8-over par and 17th individually.
Corinth Holders had a solid opening day with a team total of 333, but struggled in the higher winds during the second round, coming in at 353 for a total of 686.
Nick Routhier paced the Pirates with a two-day total of 167, including a 79 in the opening round.
Teammate Ian Asprey was in at 171 and 64th individually with an 85 in the final round, while Tanner Duncan and Jake Linker tied for 69th, both at 174. Jake Petrowski rounded out the Pirate scoring at 188 for 82nd place.
Cleveland had a pair of golfers finish in the top 20. Bryson Peter had a closing round 74 to tie for 18th with teammate Patrick Schweitz at 153 for the tournament. Schweitz had opened the tournament with a 74 on Monday.
“I’ve had some really high finishes in junior events, but I’ve never really won anything big until today,” said Stephenson, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur as a 16-year-old. “This is one of those achievements that people will always remember.”
Around the NCHSAA golf championships
• North Johnston’s JoJo Richardson posted his best of two rounds on the second day at the 2A state championships at Foxfire Resort with an 87. Richardson finished in a tie for 49th. Wilkes Central won the 2A team title.
• Alex Casatelli of Clayton finished 62nd in the 4A state championships at Pinehurst’s No. 8 course. The sophomore fired a round of 6-over, 78 in the final 18 holes of the championship. He posted a two-day total of 162.
Southern Pines Pinecrest won the team title and Leesville Road’s Doc Redman — won won the 4A Mideast Regional at The Neuse the previous week — won the state individual title with a 4-under-par total.
• In the 1A state golf championships at Longleaf Golf and Country Club, Princeton’s Codi Bryant finished 80th. Mount Airy won the state 1A team title.