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'Last man in' Scott Stevens shares lead after first round at The Grove

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'Last man in' Scott Stevens shares lead after first round at The Grove

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    COLLEGE GROVE, Tenn. – Ten days ago, Scott Stevens scribed a season-ending Instagram post from his parents’ basement.

    He reflected on a disappointing Korn Ferry Tour campaign that included nine missed cuts in a 10-event stretch, and how “while life itself is always beautiful sometimes you get bad eggs.”

    It was the type of post that alluded to an offseason of hard work ahead, with the intent of better days in 2024. He concluded the post with “We comin” – Deion Sanders.

    That was then. This is now. Those better days might be comin’ in 2023.

    Stevens, No. 159 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List, earned an unexpected spot in the field at the 144-player Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, the second of four Korn Ferry Tour Finals events, as 15 players ahead of him on the Points List elected not to compete. He learned Sunday evening that he had a tee time at The Grove if he so chose. Then he opened in 6-under 66, sharing the opening-round lead alongside Patrick Welch.

    Last man in, Scott Stevens shares early lead at Simmons Bank

    “I kind of went into this week saying I'm just glad to be here, happy for the opportunity,” Stevens said after signing his card in the Thursday gloaming. “I put so much pressure on myself pretty much this whole year and it hasn't gone very well. I just tried to really just use it as a learning opportunity because I feel like that's when I play my best when I'm just trying to learn. No matter what happens, if I play good or play bad, just try to learn from it.

    “Just even for me to be here … I thought my season was over, and a lot did have to happen for me to get in, so just the opportunity to play this week has been awesome.”

    Stevens, who hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee, thrilled the crowd that included his parents and friends with eight birdies against one double bogey on a demanding setup at The Grove, a contrasting test to the Korn Ferry Tour’s summer of birdie bonanzas. Despite that double bogey coming on No. 17, the University of South Carolina alum was all smiles after the opening round. He perceives this week as a free roll of sorts – he signed up for Q-School in July, and he had signed up for a GProTour event next week.

    Suddenly a spot in next week’s 120-player Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship is well within the realm of possibility. Dreaming bigger, a top-75 spot on the Points List after the Nationwide Children’s would earn full Korn Ferry Tour status in 2024, no Q-School needed.

    Then there’s the top 30 after the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance, which brings 2024 PGA TOUR membership. A win at The Grove would project him to No. 40, bringing a TOUR card suddenly within the realm of possibility.

    That’s a leap from where things stand, to be sure, as 54 holes remain against a stacked field. But the fact that he can even consider these possibilities? It’s a long way from that night in his parents’ basement, watching football just 10 days ago, where he reflected on a “frustrating and mentally exhausting season” in a caption paired alongside a photo of himself kneeling next to a toilet.

    After finishing No. 4 on the 2022 PGA TOUR Canada season-long standings to earn 2023 Korn Ferry Tour status, Stevens had struggled to find a groove to this point in the campaign. In 20 starts before the Simmons Bank Open, his best finish was T22 at the AdventHealth Championship in May. He had missed five-straight cuts before teeing it up at The Grove.

    But Stevens maximized the two-week gap between the first two Finals events, self-diagnosing some root issues with his swing and implementing changes with longtime instructor Bruce Etter, the head pro at Chattanooga Golf & Country Club.

    “I took those practice days super serious and just grinded,” Stevens said. “My swing had gotten super long and laid off, so I was stuck every time. I could only swing out to the right, so I was either hitting massive blocks or I could flip my hands and hit it low. Neither of them are very good, so just trying to shorten my swing a bit, and by shortening it, changing my wrist angle and keeping a lot more firm, because the club was collapsing and it was getting way behind me, and I had only one direction to go and that was right.”

    Stevens found a groove that has paid off so far in Music City. And with three more days like Thursday, his next Instagram post could sing an entirely different tune.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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