110th Junior Boys' Championship: Day Three - The Golf Association of Philadelphia

Jun 19, 2024

110th Junior Boys’ Championship: Day Three

Sunnybrook’s Stevenson successfully defends title

RINGOES, N.J. — He grew four inches. He rebuilt his golf swing. He even changed his hairstyle.

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The John Stevenson transformation, however radical, didn’t affect the Junior Boys’ Championship outcome. He became the 10th individual in the event’s 110-year history to successfully defend his title.  

Stevenson edged a focused Noah Wallace of Chesapeake Bay Golf Club, 2&1, in the final at a steamy The Ridge at Back Brook (par 72, 6,587 yards). He is the first Sunnybrook Golf Club member to hoist the Peg Burnett Trophy.

“It’s great. I’ve been playing well and working hard. It came together this week,” Stevenson, who will attend Drexel University in the fall, said. “This tournament means a lot to me. I won last year, and it was really special. Winning this last year was what set me up for college golf and got me recognized. I really wanted to come back.”

Stevenson is back alright. He may look different physically, but the mannerisms and mindset remain the same. Subtle yet sharp. Calm yet calculated.

His championship mettle showed against Wallace, a Junior Boys’ Championship newcomer. Stevenson swayed control of the contest by claiming Nos. 8 (par 3, 161 yards), 9 (par 4, 409 yards) and 10 (par 4, 260 yards). Wallace left a loose 9-iron on No. 8 in the left greenside bunker and failed to get up-and-down. He sailed No. 9 green with a gap wedge from 130 yards. On the gettable 10th hole, Wallace’s 3-wood caught grizzly grass above the left greenside bunker. Another bogey put a steady Stevenson, who reached 14 of 17 greens in regulation, 2-up.   

Noah Wallace

“When you’re not making pars three holes in a row, it’s pretty likely that you’re not going to win them,” Wallace, 18, of North East, Md., said.

Stevenson maintained a 2-up lead thanks to a birdie on No. 12 (par 3, 173 yards), where he drilled a 7-iron to eight feet. A scrambling Wallace, who will attend Wilmington University in the fall, cut the deficit to one following a win on No. 16 (par 4, 429 yards). With Stevenson shackled to the fescue, Wallace played a sawed-off 9-iron from 150 yards to the center of the green and two putted.

The comeback window closed as suddenly as a squirrel sprinting into the street.

With honors, Wallace knocked a 9-iron to 18 feet on the par 3, 152-yard 17th hole. Stevenson, unfazed and unwilling to visit The Ridge’s closer, painted the flagstick with an 8-iron to near identical distance. David Staebler, the match’s referee and GAP Rules Education leader, deemed Stevenson away. The latter then consulted with caddie Nolan Corcoran. The two reached an agreement quickly, a common occurrence throughout the Final.

A confident, firm stroke to the center. Sly fist pump. Champion once again.  

“[Repeating] was definitely in the back of my mind. I was just trying to focus on every match,” Stevenson, 18, of Ambler, Pa., said. “I obviously wanted to repeat. It’ what I’m here for. I’m just glad to do it.”

“It came down to a few shots at the end. He made a birdie putt. There’s not much I could do there,” Wallace, whose birdie attempt on No. 17 slid inches by on the low side, added.

Eight months ago, Stevenson started working with Matt Wilson at Baltusrol Golf Club.  

“We pretty much changed my entire swing this offseason,” Stevenson said. “My head used to be far in front of the ball. I would swing really down on it. I would hit it really low, and you can’t play good golf hitting it really low. Clean contact has been the biggest thing. Last year, my contact was terrible. Now I make really good contact, and it goes really high.”

Stevenson supplemented a new ball-striking methodology with more distance off the tee. He added muscle by increasing his workouts. Physical growth — from 5’8” to 6’0” — applies here, too.

Removed from the Stevenson transformation is the Junior Boys’ venue itself. In 2023, he prevailed at LuLu Country Club, where Stevenson is also a member. Friendly, familiar confines. The Donald Ross design is different than the Tom Fazio topography he traversed the past three days.

“It’s one of my new favorites. I never heard of it before coming here,” Stevenson said. “The layout is really good, and the greens are some of the fastest I’ve played a tournament on. They roll perfect when you hit it on line.”

Check the Junior Boys’ photo gallery online. You may notice some hair retreating from Stevenson’s hat.

“I just like a mullet,” he said.

He’ll be the number one with a mullet.

Another Junior Boys’ trophy, lock it and load it.

In a fracas between friends and former La Salle College High School teammates Stevenson snuck past North Hills Country Club’s Sebastian Botero, 2&1, in the semifinals.

“Whenever you can play good golf, play against a friend and have a really good match, it’s really fun,” Botero, 18, of Abington, Pa., said. “He played really well. He didn’t make any mistakes and capitalized anytime I would make a bogey. I’m proud of him.”

Botero appeared poised to even the contest on No. 16 (par 4, 429 yards). With Stevenson out of position off the tee, Botero faced a 119-yard shot from the right rough. A swirling wind dictated a “wrong club” — a 54-degree wedge. Botero and Stevenson matched 5s from 15 yards.

On the next hole (par 3, 152 yards), Stevenson sunk a six-footer for birdie.

“I’m definitely really proud of myself. I put in a lot of hard work. For a long time, I didn’t reap the benefits of that work. I finally feel like I’m playing good golf,” Botero, who will attend Millersville University in the fall, said. “To have lost to John, the defending champion, on the 17th hole definitely shows that I can compete. I’m happy for him.”

Wallace dispatched medalist Thomas Young of Saucon Valley Country Club, 2&1, in the semifinals.

“I honestly didn’t have my best stuff today. I tried to hang in it as long as I could,” Young, 18, of Center Valley, Pa., said. “Noah is a good consistent player. I didn’t hit enough good golf shots to keep up with him. I’m really disappointed with how I played today. I know I’m a better golfer than this.”

Young inked a 41 compared to Wallace’s 40 on the front nine. Off by a couple of feet, a couple of yards. A shot that missed a ridge by two feet, a shot that failed to carry a bunker by two feet.

“I had opportunities to bring the match back into my hands. I just didn’t take them,” Young, who will attend Methodist University in the fall, said.

First Flight
In a Junior Boys’ Championship rematch — a Delaware duel, if you will, Fieldstone Golf Club’s Davis Conaway defeated Wilmington Country Club’s Jack Homer, 2&1, to win the event’s First Flight.

In the Round of 16 a year ago, Homer eliminated Conaway in 20 holes. Conaway, with routine pars on Nos. 16 and 17, exacted revenge at The Ridge.   

“We know each other well. We’ve played in tournaments together for a while,” Homer, 17, of Wilmington, Del., said. “I told my mom on Monday that I was going to run into Davis in the Final. I knew it was going to be a great match. If you play a player like that, then you’ve got to have your sharpest stuff. In the end, it was a poor putting week, especially against Davis that really hurt me.”

“It wasn’t our best golf. It was definitely a friendly match. I play a good amount of golf [with Jack],” Conaway, 16, of West Chester, Pa., said. “It was a tough [stroke-play] qualifying round, but I bounced back.”

Conaway is an incoming junior at Malvern Prep. Homer is an incoming senior at The Tatnall School.

Junior Boys’ Championship
The Junior Boys’ Championship is the premier Major in the GAP Junior Division. It is open to members of a GAP Member Club 14-18 years of age who have not started their college education and who hold a handicap index of 14.4 or lower. Sixteen players qualify for match play; an additional 16 advance into the event’s First Flight.

The Junior Boys’ Champion is awarded the Peg Burnett Trophy, named in honor of the Association’s Executive Secretary from 1951-76. Ms. Burnett was an ardent Junior golf supporter who emphasized sportsmanship and respect for the game. “I was very strict about checking the rule book. I didn’t make the rules, but since they are there, you have to abide by them.”

Championship Flight
1. John Stevenson, LuLu CC d. 11. Noah Wallace, Chesapeake Bay GC, 2&1
1. Stevenson d. 5. Sebastian Botero, North Hills CC, 2&1
11. Wallace d. 2. Thomas Young, Saucon Valley CC, 2&1

First Flight
3. Davis Conaway, Fieldstone GC d. 1. Jack Homer, Wilmington CC, 2&1
1. Homer d. 5. Ian Larsen, Honeybrook GC, 4&3
3. Conaway d. 10. Declan Conner, The Skramble House of Golf, 2&1

Celebrating Amateur Golf since 1897, GAP, also known as the Golf Association of Philadelphia, is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 345 Member Clubs and 110,000 individual members are spread across the Eastern half of Pennsylvania and parts of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. The GAP’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.

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