Kapaun golf coach Corey Novascone has seen a lot of great golf in his career, which includes playing at Wichita State for four seasons and touring professionally for five. But there are moments when he watches Crusaders senior Sam Stevens play a shot and he shakes his head.
“He hits shots that, I never thought to hit that shot,” Novascone said of Stevens, who has signed to play at Oklahoma State. “He thinks very outside of the box when it comes to either hitting a bump and run, running it on the green or flopping it a certain way. He’s very creative around the green.
“I’ve played golf for a long time, and I’ve seen him hit shots that I didn’t think were possible or could be pulled off. He does it easily.”
Stevens is a two-time defending Class 5A individual champion and has helped lead Kapaun to two straight 5A team titles. He set a state record by shooting a 62 on Monday in a City League tournament at Auburn Hills.
He won the Big I tournament in North Carolina last summer and finished second in the Kansas Amateur. He finished second to his dad, Charlie, at the High Plains Amateur, as well.
And he comes from a family known for its golf.
There’s Annie (great grandmother), Johnny (grandfather), Charlie, Jack (uncle) and Cathy (aunt) — all among the who’s who in Wichita and Kansas golf.
One could chalk up Sam Stevens’ success to good genes, but that’s the easy explanation.
Stevens’ golf game is his own, developed through hours of work and constant teaching from his dad and grandfather.
“I’m lucky to have people like my dad and grandpa, who know so much about the game and can help me a lot,” Stevens said. “ If I win, they’re happy with me. If I don’t, they’re there to give me advice.
“As you get older, you start to realize how much they actually know. From a young age, I knew they knew what they were talking about. My dad taught me how to play the game. I was always getting advice from him.”
Stevens has a naturally sweet swing, so he gets pointers but no wholesale changes are suggested. Instead, Charlie Stevens’ advice tends toward the technical, similar to what he received from his own father, and the mental.
“I was always pretty technical with him when he was getting started,” Charlie Stevens said. “Get the fundamentals down and teach him how to play. In that regard, he still has quite a bit of room to grow, just recognizing certain sitautions and how to react instead of just going out and playing.
“That’s been a good and bad part of his game — he’s going out and having fun, which is great. But sometimes he’s naturally good at it, so he doesn’t think as much as he needs to. I’ve tried to teach him how to think his way around the golf course.”
As Novascone analyzed Sam Stevens’ golf game, he broke out his three best areas — driver, short game and mental strength.
Stevens has no fear with his driver, which is rare among high school athletes because they’re scared of making a critical mistake off the tee. Not only does Stevens not fear mistakes, his drives have gotten longer over the past year.
Then there’s his short game, especially his putting, that can save any error he might have made off the tee.
But the mental game, that’s where Novascone lauds Stevens.
“I’d probably rank that as his best part of his game,” Novascone said. “He’s like a 30-year-old trapped in an 18-year-old’s body. He knows stuff that I know after 15 or 16 years of experience. I can’t wait until he goes to Oklahoma State and beyond.”
Neither can Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton.
“I’m just really excited that he’s a Cowboy,” Bratton said. “ Just the potential. He comes from a long line of golfers. He has good size. He just looks like he’s always been surrounded by golf and good golfers. He has a great demeanor for the game and looks like he’ll be something down the road.”
Stevens focuses on his on-course attitude because it’s one of the few areas of golf he can control. He has played hundreds of rounds of golf, so he learned long ago that if he hits a bad shot, he might be irked, but he must shrug it off.
During his record round on Monday, Stevens hit a shot on No. 15 and nearly went out of bounds. But he hit a tough shot out of the thick rough, parred the hole and saved the round.
Novascone was impressed.
“His dad or grandpa has taken him to Wichita Country Club or Flinthills National, taken him out to Mac (MacDonald) Park, so he’s playing against older guys, and there’s a lot of pressure on him. He’s been doing that for a long time,” Novascone said. “That’s definitely where he gets his mental toughness and ability to go out and play and not worry about anything.”
And Stevens has learned from watching his dad and grandfather play.
“It’s the attitude and intensity that my dad and grandpa bring to the golf course every time,” Stevens said. “Growing up, seeing that on a daily basis. It’s something you see and incorporate it into your own game.”
Stevens is also pushed during every practice round with his team that is the favorite to win its third straight 5A title. He does not want to lose to his teammates.
As for his dad, Stevens regularly lost to Charlie Stevens until he was 13. Sam Stevens’ win came on Charlie’s 40th birthday.
It was a day both had been waiting for, and one Charlie was ecstastic to see.
“I was pulling for him for a long time until he finally got it done,” Charlie Stevens said. “I was excited for him. Now it’s a regular occurrence.”
The Stevens Family Golf File
Two Kansas State senior titles
One Wichita City championship
One Kansas State Senior title
One Wichita City championship
Kansas high school ndividual title 1960
Five Wichita City championships
PGA Tour in 1968 and 1969, top 10 finishes at Buick and Canadian Opens
Kansas Senior Amateur 2008, 1993, 1996
Kansas Four-Ball 1997, 1993
Low Amateur at USGA Senior Open 1994
Kansas State Amateur Match 1960, 1961
Kansas State Junior 1960
Kansas State Amateur 1974
Kansas Amateur title 2010
Kansas State Junior title 1986
Class 6-5A individual titles 1985, 1984, 1983
Kansas State Amateur titles 1997, 1996, 1991, 1987
Nine Wichita City championships
Class 5A individual titles 2013, 2012