A year ago, Patrick Stephenson left after the final round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A State Boys Golf Championships with a simple goal: improve his finishing position by one spot a year from then.
The South Johnston 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’s Forestview High.
“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 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.
Putting became the story of the left-hander’s back nine. He needed just 14 putts over nine holes with five one-putts and four two-putts.
“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.
Lee had two in the top 10: Walter Brinker (T-7th, 3-over 147) and Dalton Mauldin (T-10th, 4-over 148)
Triton’s Nick Page finished at 8-over par and 17th individually.
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.”
Wilkes Central won the 2A title. Beddingfield’s Stephen Abrams was tied for third (6-over 150) and Carrboro’s Adam Alfieri was tied for ninth (152).
Mount Airy won the 1A title. Franklin Academy was seventh and Oxford Prep 11th.