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Lewis Stephenson paces Texas Senior Amateur field after 36-holes
Lewis Stephenson <br>(TXGA Photo)
Lewis Stephenson
(TXGA Photo)
HORSESHOE BAY, TX (September 10,2 2016) -- Lewis Stephenson leaned on a strong mental game to weather the storm in the early going Saturday and emerged as the 36-hole leader of the 2016 Texas Senior Amateur. While much of the field struggled in severe conditions, the 56-year-old dentist from Midland shot a 2-under 69.

Combined with his even-par effort in the first round, Stephenson sits at 2-under 140 overall. He holds a one-shot lead over Fort Worth veteran Ed Brooks, who in 1997 won the Texas Amateur and Southern Amateur. Brooks also signed for 2-under 69 on Saturday. He’s alone in second place at 1-under 141.

Lurking two shots behind Stephenson is another Fort Worth stalwart, Texas Golf Hall of Famer John Grace. Winner of the 1994 Texas Amateur, Grace owns third place at even-par 142 headed into Sunday’s final round at the visually stunning Escondido Golf & Lake Club.

When a north wind – opposite from Thursday’s first round – brought in a nasty squall about an hour into the second round, Stephenson dug deep. With extra focus and determination, he played even-par golf despite the spitting rain and high winds that gusted up to 25-30 mph. The cell lasted a little more than hour. During that time, Stephenson made a birdie, bogey and two pars in the most difficult conditions of the tournament.

“The weather was tough, but I knew I just had to hold on until it changed again,” said Stephenson, who finished fifth in the 2015 Texas Senior Amateur.

Known in the competitive amateur community for his friendly nature, smooth swing and flowing blond locks, Stephenson was a late comer to tournament golf. Rather, he played collegiate baseball in his younger days. Before he started fixing smiles for a living, he was a hard-hitting third baseman for Lubbock Christian University from 1978-82. The grit and resiliency he acquired in baseball came in handy Saturday.

“I hung tough,” he said, “and made a couple really good up and downs in that stretch of bad weather.”

Stephenson added two more birdies on his back nine to stake his lead over Brooks, who played in the afternoon wave and missed the morning storm. During the first two days of the 54-hole championship, the 67-year-old real estate agent has displayed machine-like accuracy with his iron play. Brooks has hit 33 of 36 greens in regulation so far. “I’m generally a decent ball-striker,” Brooks said, “but the putter has dealt me a fair share of misery over the years. I’ve been putting OK this week. I took 10 years off from competitive golf, so I’m missing that tournament toughness. Tomorrow might be an uphill climb, but I’ll do my best.”

The weather did take a toll on the 69-year-old Grace, who won this tournament in 2010. He went 5-over during the rain and high winds, but Grace played the other 14 holes at a 2-under-par clip to post 74. Overall, Grace sits at even-par 140. Throughout his illustrious amateur career, he’s won every major individual TGA Championship, including the Texas Mid-Amateur four years in a row.

John Pierce from San Antonio is in fourth place at 1-over 143. He made four birdies Saturday on his way to a 1-under 70. Fort Worth’s Hollis Sullivan is fifth at 2-over 144. Once of eight Escondido members in the field this week, Sullivan also rolled in four birdies in the second round.

Trip Long from Wichita Falls shot the round of the day, a sizzling 4-under 67. He took two bogeys during the stormy weather, but after that he lit up Escondido’s plush zoysia grass fairways and Champion Bermuda grass greens for six birdies.

“I kind of got lucky on No. 6,” Long said. “The wind was left to right and the rain was horizontal. I hit a hybrid that scooted up to about six feet. In those kinds of conditions, you just have to do the best you can.”

Long made four straight birdies in the middle part of his round. After vaulting up the leaderboard, he finished the day tied for 24th place. He attributed one of the best ball-striking rounds of his life to an inspiration within his group.

“I was playing with John Grace for the first time, so I just tried to emulate him,” Long said. “Playing with a really good player like John Grace sure helps. My tempo was solid; I had a good feel over the ball.”

Sixty-three players survived the 36-hole cut at 11-over-par 153. That group includes three Escondido members, led by Sullivan. Joining him in the final round are Larry Nunez from Austin (T11) and Gordon Butler from Horseshoe Bay (T24).

The final round of the 2015 Texas Senior Amateur begins Sunday at 8 a.m. CST.

View results for Texas Senior Amateur Golf Championship

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