AUSTIN – Lewis Stephenson stormed back from a four-shot deficit Sunday at The Hills Country Club and fired a 5-under-par 67 in the final round of the 2018 Texas Senior Amateur to win by one shot over Mike Booker. It’s the second Senior Amateur victory for Stephenson in three years; he won in 2016 at Escondido and finished runner-up last year at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas.
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Stephenson finished the 54-hole championship at 5-under 211, one stroke better than Booker, the 2015 champion at Oak Hills Country Club. Stephenson birdied three of his first six holes to make his move on Booker, who started slow with a bogey on par-4 third hole of the Hills’ scenic and punishing Jack Nicklaus Signature Course.
Stephenson’s third birdie of the final round – a slippery 9-footer on the par-4 sixth hole – pushed him into a tie Booker at 4-under overall. The two battled back and forth over the last 12 holes. Booker, a 10-time winner in TGA Championships, dropped his first birdie of the day on the par-5 ninth hole to pull back ahead by one. It didn’t last, however. Booker made a bogey on No. 10, and Stephenson’s back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th holes gave him a brief two-shot lead.
Booker answered with birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to pull even again. Booker’s bogey on No. 15 and Stephenson’s 10-foot birdie on the par-5 17th proved to be the difference. He held a two-shot lead with one hole to play, and his two-putt bogey sealed it. His wife Janice walked the margins of the fairway all three rounds. She was there to give Stephenson an emotional embrace once the triumph was complete.
“This means a lot,” he said. “It really does.”
Stephenson fought through a stop-and-start second round that was plagued by weather delays for heavy rains and lightning in the area. Play on Saturday ultimately was suspended by darkness, and 38 players had to return to The Hills to finish their second around at 8 a.m. on Sunday. Stephenson was among that group, and he faltered with a 4-over 76 despite make birdies on his final two holes.
Stephenson said the difference on Sunday came from the shortest and longest clubs in his bag.
“I just made some putts,” said the 58-year-old dentist from Mansfield. “I had a little something in my putting routine that kind of helped me see the line a little better. And hitting the fairway with driver sets you up so well here. You can be off the fairway just a little bit and be blocked by trees. So you have to hit the fairway and make some putts. That was totally the key.”
After a bogey-free 70 in the second round that matched his first round score, Booker didn’t quite have the same mojo in the final round. He lost a drive to the right on the 15th hole and had to chip out from behind a tree, which led to a bogey. He hit good putts on the final two holes, but both barely missed.
Despite his disappointment, Booker was effusive with his praise for Stephenson.
“He was fantastic, a very worthy champion,” said Booker, the 63-year-old Houstonian who won the Texas Senior Player of the Year in 2015. “He was just awesome. He didn’t even come close to making a bogey until the final hole.”
A final round 69 gave defending champion Ed Brooks from Fort Worth third place at 1-over 217. Brooks defeated Stephenson last year by two shots, which kept Stephenson from potentially winning the championship three consecutive years. Bobby Baugh from San Antonio and Michael Lohner from Southlake shared fourth place at 2-over 218.
Stephenson said this victory felt different than his first one in 2016. He said he was probably “scared to death” two years ago, but this time he knew what he was up against.
“Mike Booker is a great champion,” Stephenson said. “I knew it was going to be a very, very difficult day. He didn’t have one of his normal championship days. He didn’t make as many birdies as he usually does. That helped me out a little bit. It was a phenomenal day for me. I couldn’t be happier.”
Earlier in the week, Stephenson talked about some of the similarities between his day job as a dentist and playing competitive golf. He said many people see him as “the bogeyman” when they come to see him, which creates stress for both him and the patient. He’s learned to cope with that, and those skills have helped him on the golf course, too.
“As a dentist, you’re always trying to solve problems, and you’re always dealing with people who don’t want to be there,” said Stephenson, who also has 2016 Carlton Woods Invitational Senior Championship and 2018 Society of Senior title on his resume. “I’ve learned to quiet my spirit, let them have their moment – this is going to be expensive or painful for them – and then you have to get on with it. In golf, you’re always going to have blow-up holes and things won’t always go your way. So out there, I try to quiet myself, give myself a moment and then get back to it.”
No doubt Stephenson was settling himself after Booker re-took the lead from him midway through the final round. He was able to withstand the stress put on him, and he got back to his business of winning golf tournaments.
“The flip side of that is, golf is my happy place,” he said. “Walnut Creek Country Club in Mansfield is the place for me to get away from all the stress from work. That’s where I get to be outside and enjoy things. That’s my happy place.”
The TGA extends its appreciation to The Hills, their members and staff for their efforts and hospitality during the championship week. Special thanks go to General Manager James Walsh, Director of Golf Aaron Chilek, Golf Course Superintendent Charlie Trammell and his hard-working grounds crew, Board Chairman Mark Wolstrommer and Volunteer Coordinator Warren Smith. We also want to recognize all the TGA Volunteers who gave their time to ensure a memorable week for all at the 2018 Texas Senior Amateur.
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