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The cell phone diary of PGA TOUR rookie Sam Stevens

6 Min Read


Fort Worth native will have homecoming at Charles Schwab Challenge

    Written by Kevin Robbins

    For nine hours last month after his closest call on the PGA TOUR, Sam Stevens and his family drove through the night, from San Antonio to Wichita.

    His wife, Kelsey, and sons fell asleep.

    “So I just started talking into my phone,” Stevens said, “about how the tournament went and kind of how I felt about things.” He had plenty to contemplate from the Valero Texas Open: playing his way into contention, the two eagles on Sunday that put him a shot out of the lead, the putt he missed on the last hole to tie it.

    “Seventy-two holes is a long time,” Stevens said into his phone, quietly enough to not wake anyone. “Let it happen and be patient.”

    The 26-year-old TOUR rookie has indeed been letting it happen in 2022-23. In 20 starts since his promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour, Stevens has a pair of top-10 finishes, four finishes inside the top 25 and that runner-up finish in April at TPC San Antonio, where he lost by a shot to Corey Conners. Patience has indeed been working.

    Sam Stevens sends 163-yard tee shot to 3-feet at Wells Fargo

    Some of the credit goes to his habit of composing notes to himself on his phone. He began the practice about three years ago, when he started contending on the APT Tour. Stevens wanted to document his career — what was working, what wasn’t, where he was emotionally and mentally, the entire journey — in the form of a modern mobile journal. He won in 2019 in Lufkin, Texas. Where was his game? He won in 2020 in Newton, Kansas. Where was his head? He won twice that year in Arkansas, but he also missed a couple of cuts in Oklahoma and Texas. What was going on right then? Those answers went into his notes app.

    Journal entries from PGA TOUR rookie Sam Stevens

    So did his reflections on the Valero Texas Open that night in the rental car on Interstate 35. So did his thoughts on the Wells Fargo Championship, when he never contended but did play with Rory McIlroy. Stevens’ mobile diary also includes this assessment with one round to play at the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Championship in September:

    “Go out there and play the game,” he typed. “What an awesome opportunity God has given me.”

    “I pray I can glorify Him with my actions and my play,” he continued. “I hope that I can be thinking about Kelsey and the boys,” he added. “I pray I can have fun regardless of the result, and I want to play freely and with joy.”

    He ended his thoughts with: “Let’s get it.”

    He did. Stevens tied for 12th, securing his TOUR card for this season. Eight months and many phone notes later, he’s making his 21st start at this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club, which marks a special inflection point as he continues to establish himself on the PGA TOUR.

    This week marks a homecoming, of sorts, for Stevens, who was born in Fort Worth on Independence Day 1996, into a golf family. His father, Charlie, played at Oklahoma and mixed it up on the Korn Ferry Tour. His grandfather, Johnny, made 30 PGA TOUR starts in the late 1960s, most in 1968 and ‘69. Stevens later moved to Wichita, where he lives today, but never lost his identity as a Texan.

    All three generations of Stevens men won the Kansas Amateur. Sam’s victory came in 2015, when he was a rising sophomore at Oklahoma State. He had a nice career for head coach Alan Bratton in Stillwater, with a smattering of top-five finishes for a powerhouse program full of future stars. Stevens held the sixth spot on the 2018 squad that included Austin Eckroat, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff. That meant Stevens watched as a spectator as that historic team beat Alabama in the NCAA national championship at Karsten Creek, OSU’s home course.

    “I probably should’ve played him more than I did,” Bratton said. “He’s a mentally tough kid, just a refreshing throw-back player. Obviously, he believes in himself.”

    Stevens rode that belief to the APT, a mini-tour with tournaments in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma. He won six times between 2018 and 2022, earning enough money to sustain the dream of someday reaching the PGA TOUR. He made 25 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour.

    Although he never won, he shot 62 in the third round of the most important tournament in 2022, the Korn Ferry Tour Championship last fall at Victoria National. He tapped his thoughts into his phone and paused to take stock of the moment, then carried that awareness and calmness into the last round, when he shot a good-enough 71.

    His first year on TOUR has been a wild ride, including a start at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, where as an alternate he got in when Paul Casey withdrew and went on tie for 72nd place.

    “A year ago or two years ago, I was just hoping to Monday (qualify) into a Korn Ferry event so that I could get a chance to play the TOUR,” Stevens said before the recent AT&T Byron Nelson (T-34, four rounds in the 60s). “I try and have that perspective. It’s hard, you know. And I think the longer that you’re out here, the easier it is to lose sight of the fact that this is a really cool place to be.”

    His parents, Charlie and Pam, plan to travel to Fort Worth from Kansas to watch their son compete. They see plenty of Sam and his young family, who live less than two miles away in Wichita. That’s also where Stevens’ 80-year-old grandfather still plays golf regularly, despite some recent heartache. Margie Stevens, Sam’s grandmother and Johnny’s wife, died on the Saturday of the Valero Texas Open at the age of 78.

    “Never forget that you play for something bigger than yourself,” Stevens typed into his phone the following day.

    Of all of the reasons Charlie and Pam are proud of their son, perspective stands out the most, Charlie said. Golf has never taken a disproportionate chunk of Sam’s attention. He cares about success. He works hard at success. But Stevens values balance: his family, his faith, his belief that golf is one thing but not the only thing.

    “He is grounded. He’s good with his family. He’s just a solid kid,” Charlie said. “Life is fleeting. He knows that.”

    Sam earned his spot at Colonial with his FedExCup rank of 56th this season, a long way (and thousands of words on his phone) from the Kansas Amateur, the sixth spot on OSU’s 2018 national-championship team, the wins in Arkansas and Texas on the APT Tour, and the stress of Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifiers.

    “I want to play on the PGA TOUR,” Stevens wrote all those years ago. Now he is.

    “Journal entries are for my golf,” he said, adding that they’re for his life, too. “I want to stay grateful. And I want to just appreciate, you know, everything that I get to do out here.”

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