October 6th, 2011
Stallings Captures Individual Golf Title
St. Xavier junior caps amazing run with tournament victory
And that's why they play the games.
After St. Xavier High School golfer Stephen Stallings fired a team-low score of 82 during regional qualifying a week ago, most wrote off the junior linkster and assumed he would be the Tiger least likely to contribute during Tuesday and Wednesday's Leachman Buick-GMC-Cadillac/Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) boys state golf tournament.
But after firing an even-par 72 during the state tourney's opening round and taking his unlikely individual lead to the clubhouse, Stallings (72-74 - 146) capped his wire-to-wire run at the individual state championship during second-round play on Wednesday with a 74, and eventually hung on for a two-stroke victory over West Jessamine sophomore Fred Allen Meyer (73-75 - 148).
"I played well all summer, but I've been struggling the past month," said Stallings. "I did put it as one of my goals - to win individual state at the beginning of the high school season, and I'm just excited that it came true."
St. Xavier head golf coach Dan Utley says he wasn't surprised by Stallings' performance at the Bowling Green Country Club.
"He perservered and had confidence in his game," said Utley. "It's not a surprise by any stretch of the imagination. Stephen's an excellent player who had really good numbers this summer. He just had to kind of find his mojo. This week he found it and he found it at the right time. And that's what good players do."
"As a coach, as a program, we really don't put much into which position you're playing. One, two, three, four, five - you're still a part of the team.
As a collective unit, the Tigers finished with a two-day combined score of 317-309 - 626 and wound up in third place overall, 12 strokes behind the now two-time defending state champion squad from Lexington Christian. Tigers sophomore Brendon Doyle (78-78 - 156), junior Cooper Musselman (84-75 - 159), junior Ben Sullivan (83-82 - 165) and junior Lucas Jones (89-86 - 175) contribued to the aggregate score.
But it was Stallings who stole the show on all levels. His win continues a long line of success from St. X golfers winning individual title. Stallings is the 13th Tiger to ever capture the coveted championship and is the 3rd in the past four seasons.
"It means a lot - the tradition - and to think that my name's getting put up on that wall with so many great players. Guys like Justin Thomas who won it two years ago" said Stallings. "It's just an honor to be mentioned with those names."
Stallings, who is a transfer from Trinity High School, bogeyed the first and fourth holes on Wednesday and had to work quickly to regain his focus, which he did with a key birdie on the 545-yard, par-5 5th hole. He eventually finished his front nine +1 and bogeyed again to start the back nine. Stallings would bogey a total of five times during second-round play after going par or better on 17 of 18 holes on Tuesday.
But he said he didn't let those moments get to him.
"It was a little bit of a roller coaster, because it seemed like I would make a bogey, then I would make a birdie. But I just knew there were going to be bogeys out there and if I kept making pars, it'd be good," said Stallings. "I knew that way I'd always have a shot."
Utley, who shadowed Stallings during the entire round and offered a slew of vocal guidance at each hole, agreed.
"He didn't hit bad golf shots when he made bogeys, and he just had to remind himself of that," said Utley. "We punched out once or twice, but that was about it. We wanted him to stay out of trouble. Our goal was to make things stress-free."
Stallings, who said it was "all about the placement" when carrying out his game plan, played with a more conservative approach than he's used to during the state tournament - a change in style that was encouraged and requested by Utley to Stallings.
"(Utley) convinced me during the practice rounds and I just stuck to it, and kept hitting to the front of the greens," said Stallings. "It was hard all week, but I was just imagining that the pin wasn't even in (the hole) and then would just hit to the front of the green."
The plan worked and came to complete fruition at hole No. 16 on Wednesday when Stallings played the 413-yarder methodically, reached the green in two shots and sunk a crucial 14-foot putt for birdie.
"It felt real good," said a smiling Stallings of his birdie at No. 16. "I just wish I could have capitalized on it the next two holes....but it was good enough to get the win."
With Stallings' threesome going out relatively early on Wednesday morning, the St. X lefty had to wait nearly two hours after tapping a par putt on No. 18 to close out his round. Behind him was the only real threat remaining in the field - West Jessamine's Meyer who was square with Stallings at +2 for much of the afternoon.
"I was pretty nervous. I didn't know what was going on," said Stallings. "(Utley) took me to the range and we were just hitting balls. And eventually we came up (to the practice green) to putt, just trying to take my mind off what was going on on the golf course."
But Stallings wouldn't have to wait much longer.
After Meyer hit bogey on his 16th hole - a 158-yard par-3 - he fell behind Stallings by a shot and was forced to play the final hole aggressively, leading to Meyer's fourth hole over par during the back nine and a championship victory for Stallings.
With many of the contending teams from the 2011 tournament losing a high volume of seniors, the St. Xavier contingent was already excited thinking about 2012.
"I'm ecstatic with what we have coming back next year, but we've got a lot of work to do. And they understand that," said Utley. "We're going to go out in the offseason and work hard and try and get better, and come back and win (a team state title) next year. And we certainly have a chance."
The now-defending individual state golf champion, Stallings, concurred.
"I'm looking forward to celebrating (the win) with my teammates," said Stallings. "I wish we could have done a little better as a team, but we've got next year. We don't lose (any seniors) so we're pretty ecstatic about next season."
Former St. Xavier individual state champions
- 1953: Bobby Nichols
- 1954: Bobby Nichols
- 1957: Frank Beard
- 1958: Eddie Schnurr
- 1966: Mike Zimmerer
- 1991: Pat Vadden
- 1999: Brandon Waldrop
- 2001: Robby Shaw
- 2002: Jessie Mudd
- 2004: Matt Savage
- 2008: David Payne
- 2009: Justin Thomas
- 2011: Stephen Stallings