Dillon Stewart (Colorado Golf Association Photo)
With RainDance National having held its grand opening just over a year ago, there didn’t figure to be many competitors in the 2023 Colorado Amateur Championship
field who would have a notable home-course advantage for the state championship.
But that didn’t turn out to be exactly true. And, as it happens, the golfer in the field who may have played the most pre-tournament rounds at the Windsor course turned out to be the guy who raised the Tub Morris trophy on Sunday.
, who is working at the course about three days a week this summer thanks to connections to RainDance pros Chris Williamson and Max Bigford, figures he’s teed it up at RainDance about 30 times. And that experience may have played a factor in the 22-year-old — who lives about seven minutes away by car — claiming the title in the prestigious event.
“I think it helped a lot,” said the Oklahoma State player, who’s entering his fifth and final season of college golf. “I’m sure my yardage book looked a lot different than most of the guys who only played out here for one practice round. I know there are places you’re not getting balls up and down — and (other) places that are really easy. That helped a lot, especially if I was out of position. I knew where to hit to make an easy 4 — or, worst-case scenario, 5. So I think that was a huge advantage.
“(Ptarmigan Country Club is) still technically home for me, but I think I’ve played more rounds out here (this year) than I have there,” Stewart said.
Stewart estimated he’s played RainDance, which is only a year old, about 30 times.
Stewart, a former Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado boys player of the year, was a stellar junior golfer. In 2018, he won the individual title in the Junior America’s Cup, which features some of the top junior golfers from the western U.S., Canada and Mexico, and he led Colorado to its first team title ever in the boys JAC.
Also that year, he became the first Colorado boy to win the AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior and also earned a second AJGA title. In addition, Stewart captured the 5A state high school individual championship and led Fossil Ridge to its first team title in boys' golf. And he signed to play golf at college powerhouse Oklahoma State.
But since Stewart’s high school/junior days, the spigot of success had been turned off. He finished runner-up to Connor Jones at the 2022 CGA Match Play and had been close in some other events. But, until Sunday, he hadn’t been able to get his hands on a big-time victory in recent years.
“I haven’t really been in the winner’s circle since high school,” he said. “I came close last year with (the CGA Match Play). It’s just hard to win, no matter what field it is. There are a lot of good players from Colorado.
“So it feels good. I’ve been working my butt off at school and over the summer, and my game is trending in a really good direction.”
Stewart trailed much of the final round on Sunday, but he took advantage of four consecutive bogeys by the leader — and two-time champ — Colin Prater of Cherokee Ridge Golf Course. After a double bogey on 15 — “Honestly, I thought I was out of it after No. 15. I wasn’t, thank goodness,” he said — Stewart birdied two of the last three holes down the stretch, both par-5s. At both Nos. 16 and 18, he two-putted for Birdie to emerge with the victory.
On the formidable test that was RainDance National, which played a little more than 7,700 yards on Sunday, Stewart closed with a 2-under 70. His 4-under for the week was one better than Prater, who made birdie on No. 18 after just missing an 18-foot eagle attempt, and two University of Northern Colorado teammates.
TJ Shehee of Boulder Country Club birdied the final three holes and equaled his runner-up finish from the 2023 CGA Match Play, and Gage Messingham from The Club at Rolling Hills eagled No. 18 from 15 feet. (Another UNC golfer, Westin Pals, carded a tournament-best 67 on Sunday to give the Bears three of the top sixth finishers at RainDance.)
“Losing by one doesn’t feel good, but I still played good this week,” the 19-year-old Messingham said. “I’m going in the right direction. It’s very positive, especially going into the college season. It helps a lot.”
Former champion Pat Grady, 37, chipped in for birdie from 80 feet on No. 12 as part of a run of four straight birdies and placed fifth despite a final-hole bogey.
Noting how much the leaderboard changed over the final nine holes, Grady said, “I was seven or eight out of it at one point.”
Indeed, going into No. 10, the former University of Colorado golfer trailed Prater by eight strokes.
Prater, winner of the CGA Amateur in 2016 and ’20, held a two-shot lead at the turn on Sunday after chipping in for a birdie on No. 9.
“But a couple of bad golf swings — and maybe an unlucky break or two — and you make a couple of bogeys and you lose,” Prater noted.
The former University of Colorado-Colorado Springs golfer three-putted No. 12 for bogey, but his second shot on the 653-yard par-5 13th was particularly damaging. There, having hit a drive that split the fairway, he pushed a hybrid into the penalty area short and right of the green, leading to another bogey.
“It was just a really bad golf swing, and I just couldn’t get the ship righted,” said Prater, a high school biology teacher who has qualified for this summer’s U.S. Amateur.
A tee shot into the sand on No. 14 led to his third straight bogey. On No. 15, he hit a very good long approach from a cart path, but his ball landed on a sprinkler head and went just over the green, leading to another bogey. And on 16, though he did make par to snap his bogey streak, he three-putted again.
Asked the last time he bogeyed four consecutive holes, Prater said, “Probably not this year.
“You have to go earn (the title); no one is going to give it to you. Dylan played a really good round of golf. The course was really, really tough today. The greens were concrete.
“But I can’t be too upset. I gave myself 18 feet on the last hole for a playoff” but missed the eagle try.
As for Stewart, he admits, “I hate looking at scoreboards. I refuse to.” So he left that duty to his caddie, David King, who also works at RainDance. And when King advised him on No. 16 tee that he was one out of the lead, “I just kind of refocused,” Stewart said. “I did a good job of shoving 15 out the window and moved forward from there.”
And the two-putt birdies on Nos. 16 and 18 were enough to get him over the hump at what could be considered his second home course. Certainly, Stewart had a significant following rooting for him on Sunday.
“My driver’s usually my weapon; this week it wasn’t,” he said. “Today it was a lot better, but I hit a lot of balls into the junk. So my putter and my short game, the work I’ve been putting in saved me. So it feels really good to know that, even if I don’t have my strong suits that week I can still post a good score and stick in it. It feels good to see the hard work pay off.”
With Sunday’s victory, Stewart joins a list of CGA Amateur champions who have gone on to win a combined 31 times on the PGA Tour, including five U.S. Opens, plus 47 times on PGA Tour Champions. Past winners of the event include Hale Irwin (three times), Steve Jones, Wyndham Clark, Bob Byman (three times), and Brandt Jobe.
This figures to be Stewart’s last time competing in the CGA Amateur — at least for the foreseeable future — as he plans to turn pro shortly after Oklahoma State wraps up the 2023-24 college season.