Stephen Behr (USGA photo)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 23, 2018) – Much was made of the graduating class of 2011 – at least in professional golf circles. It was the future of the PGA Tour, and even if the rest of the world didn’t pick up on that until Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and company were household names, Stephen Behr
saw it coming probably before he had his driver’s license.
That’s because Behr, 25, was among them. That was back when the future of the PGA Tour was doing the American Junior Golf Association tour.
You don’t have to be good with numbers, as Behr is, to see that a career spent going toe-to-toe with such players would require an absurd amount of talent. Not that Behr isn’t talented (and in the context of most amateurs, absurdly so), but Behr always had other plans for himself. Call this week a different means to qualifying for some of those Tour events – the U.S. Open, the Masters – that Thomas and Spieth frequent.
Aside from his experience as a junior golfer, many other things pointed to Behr’s current career as a risk consultant for Ernst and Young. He had a fortitude for numbers (Behr missed only two questions on the math portion of the SAT in high school before he had even enrolled in a calculus class), and a nagging wrist injury. He still straps a stiff EVO shield onto his left wrist when he plays.
Behr was a second-team All-American at Clemson and a first-team All-ACC selection. He and Trip Kuehne, who played at Arizona State, are believed to be the only All-Americans to turn down a professional golf career over the past 25 years. Behr’s decorated Clemson career also included the Byron Nelson Award. He was the first player to win it in program history. So understandably, there were questions about his future.
“Even in college, people always said, ‘You don’t plan on going professional?’” Behr remembers. “I was like, ‘No, I’m going to win the Mid-Am and play the Masters.’ So I’ve had this vision for a while.”
Once again, Behr had done the math, and he knew that the first year he was eligible to compete in this tournament (a player must be 25 by the first day of the championship), it would be played in Charlotte, roughly 100 miles northeast of his boyhood home of Florence, S.C. He had played both host courses in junior golf.
On Sunday, he had a 3-under 68 at stroke-play companion course Carolina Golf Club. At 5 under for 36 holes, Behr ended up as the stroke-play medalist by two shots. This is just his third USGA championship
As other players withered in the Carolina heat this weekend, Behr soldiered on. He grew up putting on Bentgrass greens and hitting off Bermudagrass fairways. There isn’t a better place for Behr to have made his mid-am debut than right here in the Southeast.
“This is kind of my element, for sure,” he said.
On Sunday, the venues tested many other players. Bradford Tilley
, Rob Laird
and Todd Mitchell
were closest to Behr at 3 under. First-round co-leader Stewart Hagestad
, the 2016 Mid-Amateur champion, tumbled down the leaderboard when he went 3 over in his first three holes at Carolina Golf Club. He rebounded to save 74 and finish stroke play tied for seventh.
“Besides the start, I didn’t play that badly,” Hagestad said. “It’s tough because the greens are getting really firm. There were a few tricky, tough pins. We were close, we just didn’t do anything spectacular."
Behr’s week continues now that the championship turns over to match play. He’ll miss a few more days of work, but the word is out at Ernst and Young about the caliber of young player the company has brought on board.
At first, Behr’s co-workers at the Atlanta offices were uncertain of the level at which Behr had played this game. Slowly, they began to understand. Behr also joined the Golf Club of Georgia, where he played for the club championship last year. He lost to Erik Martin, a former N.C. State player, in the final.
It was good preparation for this week, but the better prep work came in Scotland over the summer. Behr took a dream buddy trip, teeing it up at the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Turnberry, among other places.
“I think that kind of tuned me up,” Behr said. “Playing eight days in a row really got me to where I wanted to be.”
He’s not all the way there just yet. The final evaluation can only be made on Thursday.
ABOUT THE U.S. Mid-Amateur
The U.S. Mid-Amateur originated in 1981 for the
amateur golfer of at least 25 years of age, the
purpose of which to provide a formal national
championship for the post-college player. 264
begin the championship with two rounds of sroke
qualifying held at two courses, after which the low
(with a playoff if necessary to get the exact number)
advance to single elimination match play.
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