Area stars Stevens, Graham off to hot starts
It’s one of those rounds. For those who have picked up a golf club, you know it all too well.
A couple of birdies add up on the scorecard, you make the turn at No. 10 and realize this is going to be an extraordinary day.
Your friend suddenly nudges you and wonders when it will all go awry. That feeling comes as you make bogey on No. 12.
How do you rebound?
Brookfield junior Conner Stevens and John F. Kennedy senior Jimmy Graham didn’t have that exact scenario, but they knew how to handle those hiccups in recent rounds of 67 shot in the setting of a competitive high school tournament.
Graham was playing on the north course at Mill Creek Golf Course in Boardman at the Cardinal Mooney Cardinal Classic on Aug. 25.
“That was the closest I’ve ever been to the ‘zone,’ “ he said.
Stevens didn’t want that double bogey or even snowman (an eight) to appear on the scorecard. No one does.
He was 5-under at one point in the Ursuline Invitational on Aug. 27 at Youngstown Country Club, but figured if he played smart and made pars he’d finish 1-under and be just fine. That would put him at 1-under 70. Instead, he played much better, carding a 4-under 67.
Graham started out 5-under after seven holes, stumbled a bit before the turn and finished with six birdies and three bogeys. It resulted in a 3-under 67.
“I knew I was playing good golf, and I knew I was hitting good golf shots,” Graham said. “I really didn’t have to panic on on the bad shots that I hit. They weren’t necessarily awful shots. They were mis-hits on the club face. I know I’ve been playing golf long enough that I know what I’m doing wrong when I’m playing good. Granted, it helped being 5-under after seven holes. I could give myself a little room for error. When I was 5-under after seven, I wanted to keep it going, keep making more birdies.
“My thought process on each hole was drive, approach shot and birdie. I wanted to birdie as many holes as I could. I tried to focus on the positive thoughts, keep telling myself positive thoughts and staying calm.”
“It’s all mental,” Stevens said. “You have to stay confident. If you bogey a hole, you have to leave that hole behind you. You can’t think about it any more. You have to think about what’s ahead. If you bogey one, you have to say I have a par 5 coming up. I can get it back there and not try to push things.”
The two are arguably the best Division III golfers in the area, possibly the state.
Graham is confident in his abilities and would like to see Stevens next to him at this year’s state tournament at NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury, north of Columbus.
“I want to see him win,” said Graham, who added he wants his JFK team to make it back to state. “I want to compete with him. I look forward to playing with him in the upcoming tournaments. I’d like to see him finish second at state behind me. That would be pretty nice.”
Stevens would love to have an individual state title, but wants to win sectional and district titles as well.
“I think it would be more special to get it as a team,” said Stevens, whose team finished fifth at last year’s state tournament.
As for Graham, Stevens expects that kind of talk from his friend.
“That’s pretty typical for Jimmy,” Stevens said. “He talks so much trash it’s funny.”
The two have known each other since playing against each other at youth tournaments years ago.
Each of them wished they played on the same high school team, but they enjoy the time together during the summer months. After a couple of rounds with graduated Brookfield senior Nate Smoot, Campbell’s Dean Austalosh and Poland’s Alex Rapp — a who’s who of boys golf in the Mahoning Valley — the group usually plays some football or basketball.
It’s always Stevens and Graham in a two-man game of basketball.
“Me and him always play on the same team,” Stevens said. “It’s so fun. He shoots and I dunk. It’s easy.”
So who has the best jump shot?
“It’s not even close. It’s me,” Graham said. “He knows. I carry him in most of the games. He’ll be mad at me.”
“That’s not true,” Stevens said about being carried in basketball games.
The truth is Kennedy has a five-man squad and is on its third coach in as many years. Graham stays in touch with former coaches Jim St. George and Heath Myers. Tom Rider, also the Kennedy girls golf coach, mentors the boys team as well.
The transition is difficult, but Graham only concentrates on what he can control.
“I try to focus on myself and post the numbers that I can post,” he said. “I don’t have any control over what anybody else is doing.”
Brookfield is a stronger team this year with Bristol transfer Anthony Clark adding to the mix after sitting out the first half of the season. They’ve shot under 300 as a team, which shows its strength as one of the best in the state.
Just like shooting a 67, it’s about having a strong mental game.
“I feel like I can go out and shoot a low round, even par, every time I go out,” Stevens said. “Couple years ago if I shot 77, I’d consider that a good score. Now if I shoot 74, it has to be lower than that.”