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Lewis Stephenson finishes off Texas Senior Amateur victory
Lewis Stephenson after first Texas Golf Association title <br>(TXGA Photo)
Lewis Stephenson after first Texas Golf Association title
(TXGA Photo)
HORSESHOE BAY, TX (September 11, 2016) -- Lewis Stephenson from Mansfield rolled in a 15-foot birdie on the final hole Sunday afternoon to win the 2016 Texas Senior Amateur Championship by two shots over John Pierce from San Antonio. Stephenson was rock solid in the final round with a 2-under-par 69 and posted 4-under 209 for the 54-hole championship at spectacular Escondido Golf & Lake Club. It was his first statewide Texas Golf Association Championship.

“I literally cannot believe it,” an emotional Stephenson said moments after the victory. A late arrival to tournament golf, the 56-year-old dentist played baseball in college. He started playing competitive golf in his late 30s. “I’ve just worked so hard over time. I know all the guys I’m playing with every time I go out, and I respect and appreciate them. People ask me how you play tournament golf, and I say, ‘You go out and get your brains beat out for about 10 years.’ But I was too stubborn to quit. I can’t believe it all came together.”

It was Stephenson applying the beatings this time around. He grabbed the 36-hole lead after an impressive 2-under 69 in the second round, part of which was played in a quick-arriving storm that brought rain and 25-30 mph wind gusts. He played even-par golf during the squall, while most of the field took their lumps in the form of bogeys and double-bogeys. Stephenson, who finished fifth in the 2015 Texas Senior Amateur, said his resiliency in Saturday’s tough weather conditions was a key to his victory.

“It was such an odd thing,” he said of the storm. “Whenever you come out of it, you think, ‘That could’ve been really bad.’ I just hung in there. That’s what golf is: you can’t complain. The elements are part of it.”

Stephenson started the final round with a one- shot advantage over Ed Brooks, the 1997 Texas Amateur and Southern Amateur champion. Stephenson led by two over Texas Golf Hall of Famer and 2010 Texas Senior Amateur winner John Grace from Fort Worth. Stephenson and Brooks birdied the first hole. For the next 90 minutes, Stephenson kept Brooks and Grace at arm’s length with a succession of clutch par saves. A change in his putting game proved to be a major difference maker.

During Thursday’s practice round, Stephenson switched to a left-hand low putting grip. He said the new look and feel of the grip provided a great deal of comfort. Over the years, he’s gone back and forth between a left-hand low and conventional putting grip.

“My putting was really good,” he said. “I made some critical five- and six-footers for par today. I was steady with those five- and six-footers putts and didn’t let them derail me.”

San Antonio’s Pierce, playing a group ahead, turned 55 years old on Friday. It was the last day possible to be eligible for the tournament, reserved for senior amateurs aged 55 and older. Pierce promptly took a lost ball after his first competitive shot in senior amateur play. He rallied and made three birdies on the front nine. Pierce made the turn at 2-under overall to jump into contention.

Meanwhile, Brooks made a double-bogey on the par-4 seventh hole to disrupt his momentum. Stephenson made it a three-shot swing with a birdie on the hole. He looked to be in trouble on the eighth, however. Stephenson drove the ball into a fairway bunker, and then hit his second shot under the lip of a bunker in front of the green. Undeterred, Stephenson blasted out to seven feet and calmly rolled in the putt to save par.

A birdie on the par-5 ninth hole gave Stephenson a two-shot lead over Pierce. Brooks and Grace failed to make up ground on the back nine, and Stephenson ultimately made enough pars down the stretch to hold off Pierce. Both players birdied the final hole.

“All week long I putted fantastic,” said Pierce, who finished alone in second place at 2-under 211. “On the first hole, I thought I was staring at a bogey. Then I holed a 40-footer for par. I started rolling it, and I hit a lot of good shots. I missed my share coming in, but this is really cool for my first senior event.”

Brooks and Grace both shot 1-over 72s in the final round. Brooks took third place at even-par 213. Grace was fourth with 1-over 214. Jerry Hudgins from Tyler came in fifth place with a final score of 2- over 215.

Stephenson was greeted with a tearful hug from his wife Janice immediately after the final putt dropped. Also in Stephenson’s gallery were his longtime friend who often caddies for him, Steve Henry and his wife Fran. All three walked every hole in support of Stephenson.

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