Wichita’s own Sam Stevens charges up leaderboard in second round of Wichita Open

Sam Stevens almost always manages to keep a calm disposition on the outside, but he was boiling inside walking off the 18th green at Crestview Country Club on Friday evening.

What had been a flawless day in the second round of the Wichita Open, one of his best ever on his home course (a 7-under par 63), had just been blemished by a double-bogey on the final hole.

After the Kapaun Mt. Carmel graduate signed autographs for the throng of onlookers, he began to beeline his way to the clubhouse, still upset with his finish. That is until he heard his 5-year-old son, David, chasing to catch up with him.

And with one big hug, Stevens’ whole demeanor changed. Suddenly, the flubbed chip shots on the 18th green didn’t matter all that much. He carried his son the rest of the way, signed his scorecard and emerged with an optimistic view for the weekend in a three-way tie (at 11 under par) for third place and one shot back from co-leaders Taylor Dickson and Matt Atkins.

“It’s easy to sometimes bring your bad golf home or be more frustrated than you need to be,” Stevens said. “But (my son) is always so happy. He doesn’t care about how I play. He knows circles are good and squares are bad in golf, so I was glad I was able to make a few circles for him.”

In fact, Stevens delivered nothing but circles on the first six holes on Friday, as the Wichita native made an electric charge up the leaderboard in his debut performance in the tournament.

After feeling like he left strokes on the course with his putter on Thursday, Stevens made up for it with his start on Friday. The average length of his six birdie putts was 20 feet, 3 inches and he made back-to-back 27-foot putts on No. 5 and No. 6.

“(Thursday) I drove the ball beautifully and didn’t feel like I got a whole lot out of my (4-under) round,” Stevens said. “Today I got a lot out of my round.”

After nearly rolling in his approach shot on No. 11 for a tap-in birdie, Stevens followed with another birdie on the par-3 No. 12 — a hole he bogeyed the day before. He even briefly took sole possession atop the leaderboard at 13-under when he reached the 496-yard par-5 No. 14 in 2 shots and nearly rolled in a 38-foot eagle putt.

Stevens, who is in his second year on the PGA Tour, was the main attraction on Friday with the largest gallery of any player. He said the crowd helped him dial in for the Korn Ferry Tour event.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Stevens said. “Obviously I’m a member here at Crestview, and there’s a lot of familiar faces out there, Crestview members and friends and family. It would be easy playing my home course this week to not be as locked in because I’m so used to being out here, but I think with people out there it makes it feel more like a tournament.”

The Oklahoma State product said he felt like the close to his round was sloppy, well before the mistakes on No. 18. He had a poor birdie attempt on No. 15, a rarity for him, then had to scramble to make par on No. 16 and missed a tantalizing birdie putt in front of the raucous crowd on No. 17.

Stevens blasted his drive 331 yards on No. 18, but his approach shot was short and to the right of the green. He then flubbed a flop shot that failed to reach the green, then chunked another chip. To make matters worse, his 14-foot bogey save lipped out of the hole.

“Obviously I’m still disappointed with how I finished on 18, but I had plenty of good shots and bounces that went my way today,” Stevens said. “It all comes back to even with the good breaks and the bad breaks, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much about it. I’ve got to get ready for tomorrow.”

A birdie on 18 would have tied the tournament record for low score in a round, although Stevens said his personal-best performance on his home course was an 11-under round of 59.

The double-bogey finish stings, but Stevens still managed to move up 12 spots on the leaderboard and firmly position himself as a contender for the trophy.