Sam Stevens needed a phone.
The Kapaun Mount Carmel sophomore had just won in a playoff to become golf champion of Class 5A, yet the only thought in his head was making that phone call.
Once he was handed a phone and heard the voice of his father, Charlie, on the other end, then the celebration could begin.
“I could hear it in his voice how elated he was,” said Charlie Stevens, who was in Wichita. “When I was playing junior golf, my dad rarely followed me either. It’s always a special deal to be able to call him up and tell him how well you did. This is just a neat time for Sam. Once you’re a state champion, you’re always a state champion.”
Stevens’ 1-under round of 71 at Alvamar Country Club in Lawrence tied with Salina South’s Ben Hargrave, but it also lifted Kapaun to its 24th team championship on Monday.
“I really wanted to win today because I knew I had a good shot,” Stevens said. “I’m not so much proud of myself, I’m just happy I was able to grind it out.”
Kapaun proved why age in golf isn’t important. Although the Crusaders brought four sophomores and two freshmen to state, all six had experience playing in high-pressure tournaments during the summer.
“Experience helps you out, but golf is a completely mental game,” Kapaun’s Nick Auer said. “You have to be able to keep your composure throughout the round and not give away any strokes.”
Alvamar has a reputation to grind players down, but it was a surprise to everyone how much it did on Monday. Only 11 of the 96 players were able to break 80.
“I thought maybe top 20, if I was lucky,” Kapaun’s Matt Gilbaugh, who tied for 12th with his score of 80. “It was tough out here today. The greens were really fast and it’s an extremely tight course that forces you to play a lot of tricky shots.”
Stevens has improved greatly in his sophomore season with his composure. He was put to the ultimate test after No. 14, when his tee shot hit a tree branch and mysteriously disappeared into the forest.
After taking a drop, Stevens took a triple-bogey. That would be enough to set Stevens off previously, but he proved to himself that he mastered his temper by finishing with two birdies in the final four holes.
“The only thing in my mind was the pre-round talk from coach (Dan Phillips),” Stevens said. “He just told just to keep grinding. I could hear him in my head after I made that triple.”
Hargrave entered the final hole with a one-stroke lead, but he missed the green and his 7-foot putt for par missed low of the hole to force a playoff.
Playing the par-4 No. 1, the power was immediately shifted to Stevens when Hargrave’s tee shot hit a tree. He recovered nicely to leave himself a 15-foot par putt, but it missed and Stevens tapped in for the state championship.
It was a perfect ending to a surprise season for the Crusaders, which thought its team from last season with four seniors would win a championship.
“That was probably the best team I’ve been around and we didn’t win,” Kapaun coach Dan Phillips said. “I won’t let them forget about that in the future. They’ll be motivated to want to come back and do it again. The future looks bright.”
While his teammates were off taking pictures with the trophy and celebrating the victory, Stevens was off to the side on the phone. He couldn’t talk long, but moments like that with his father will be what Stevens will remember most about his day.
“He was pretty excited for me,” Sam said. “Really, right now I just want to get back and walk him through my round and go hole-by-hole with him.”
Team scores—1. Kapaun Mt. Carmel (Stevens 71, Gilbaugh 80, Auer 80, Burns 82) 313; 2. St. Thomas Aquinas 318; 3. Topeka Seaman 325; 4. Blue Valley 335; 5. Shawnee Heights 336; 6. Bishop Carroll (Hoefling 82, Koester 83, Chadd 86, Towey 87) 338; 7. Blue Valley Southwest 338; 8. Hays 349; 9. Newton (Ayers 80, Pauls 86, Ramos-Thaw 90, Rother 94)350; 10. Salina Central 356; 11. Mill Valley 366; 12. Winfield (Bryan 77, Sawyer 94, Long 96, Berholf 100) 367.
Individuals—1. Stevens, Kapaun, 71; 2. Hargrave, Salina South, 71; 3. McHenry, Shawnee Heights, 73; 4. Mays, BV Southwest, 75; 5. Perry, Topeka West, 76; 6. Heald, Seaman, 77; 7. Wiltse, Aquinas, 77; 8. Williams, Aquinas, 77; 9. Bryan, Winfield, 77; 10. Johnson, Blue Valley, 78; 11. Hoover, Andover, 79; T12. Gilbaugh, Kapaun, 80; T12. Auer, Kapaun, 80; T12. Ayers, Newton, 80; 15. Christenson, Seaman, 81; T15. Stuckenschneider, Aquinas, 81; T17. Hoefling, Carroll, 82; T17. Burns, Kapaun, 82; 19. Hummel, Seaman, 83; T19. Atteberry, Shawnee Heights, 83; T19. Shaw, Ark City, 83; T19. Koester, Carroll, 83; T19. Karney, Blue Valley, 83; T19. Farrell, BV Southwest, 83; T19. Romme, Hays, 83; T19. Hilderhof, Aquinas, 83; T19. Kruse, Aquinas, 83.