By Ken MacLeod
It seems an eon ago that Colton Staggs was the hottest prospect in Oklahoma junior golf. When he blistered The Territory in Duncan to defeat Robert Streb, now on the PGA Tour, 4 and 2 to win the 2009 Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur Championship at the age of 17, he had the world by the tail and a scholarship to the golf mecca of Oklahoma State in his pocket.
Four years of struggling to put a drive in the fairway later, Staggs was a broken youngster, mentally and physically. The world had him by the tail, and it was broken as well. He shattered his tailbone in the summer of 2013, a jet ski accident just a few hundred yards away from the clubhouse at Shangri-La Resort Golf Club on Grand Lake, where Wednesday he finally stepped back into the sunshine.
"I was being an idiot, jumping over the wake," Staggs said. "I landed on the Sea Doo and broke the bone. I could barely play all fall."
Thanks to a healthy body, the resolution of some swing issues and a resurgent confidence, Staggs can play again now. He gutted out a final round of 1-under 71 to finish 6-under for 54 holes and win the OGA Stroke Play Championship by a single shot over Oklahoma City University teammates Garrison Mendoza of Clinton and Matthew Cheung of Brisbane, Australia.
It was a sweet comeback for the lefty who will be a senior this fall at the University of Tulsa. He immediately credited the work he has been doing with instructor Michael Boyd, director of instruction at The Club at Indian Springs, and, for helping him heal, trainer Daniel Brafford, who is also a fine golfer and the son of two-time state amateur champion Bill Brafford of Broken Arrow.
"I was in the darkest place with my golf game, a total head case," said Staggs, who has mostly struggled through three years at TU since transferring midway through his freshman year at OSU. "Michael has totally changed me. I had some swing issues to fix, particularly with the driver. And then he gave me a lot of mental tips. He taught me how to really zone in on my target."
Staggs was in the zone when he drove the green on the par-4 14th hole, then rolled in a 60-foot eagle putt. That shattered a tie at 4-under with former Jenks teammate Brendon Jelley and Cheung, who both were one group ahead and in the process of mangling the par-4 15th hole, Jelley with a bogey and Cheung with a double.
Staggs was three shots clear of the field going to 15 and, with a birdie on the par-5 16th, he took a two-shot lead into the final two holes over the hard-charging Mendoza, who birdied five holes on the back nine while shooting 69, and Cheung, who birdied 18 to tie Mendoza in the clubhouse at 5-under.
After striping a 4-iron 238 yards into the wind on the long par-3 over water 17th and making par, Staggs had to battle his nerves and instincts on the short par-5 18th. His drive left him in the rough and with tree issues, but it took his caddie Paul Ross, father of his best friend, to talk him into punching out and going for the green on his third. Then he hit that shot a bit fat, barely clearing the water on the peninsula green.
From the rough in front of the green, Staggs’ fourth shot went about a foot. Now faced with getting up-and-down for the win, he pitched to 3 feet below the hole and made the putt. We’re not going to say calmly.
"There was some nerves there," Staggs conceded. "It’s been a long time since I’ve been in that position. I was shaking pretty bad but happy it went in."
"When he believes in himself, he’s always got a chance," Boyd said of Staggs. "Colton is a gamer. He was in a bad place when he came to see me. He literally was hitting his driver 150 yards off line at times. But he’s worked hard and made a lot of improvement. I can hear it in his voice now when he calls and says he’s hitting it great.
"To be able to stand up there and hit driver on the green on 14 under pressure, that’s a shot he wouldn’t have been able to hit last year. He’s getting back to a level now where he can compete."
With renewed confidence, Staggs is looking forward to being a help to his team as a senior and then pursuing professional golf, a goal that has never lost sight of despite many doubts and doubters.
"I haven’t done anything for the team in three years so it will be big to go out there and help Coach (Bill Brogden) and the guys," Staggs said. "As for me, my goals have definitely been questioned. You wonder if you can make it when you’re battling for a top 30 finish. I’ve learned through all this who the people are that really believe in me and it came down to a handful. Most of them are here and especially my dad (Mike Staggs).
Cheung, whose mother lives in Hong Kong and father in Australia, is right at home in central Oklahoma. He earned NAIA All-American honors this year at OCU and may have won this event if not for pushing his drive right into tall stuff on 15, leading to the double bogey that dropped him back to 3-under and three shots behind Staggs.
Jelley, drew even with Staggs early but could never get below 4-under. He did not birdie either the short par-4 14th or the short par-5 16th and came up short in his bid to sweep the match play and stroke play championships after having won the match play title at The Patriot two weeks earlier. He finished tied for fourth with Bard Hager of Bartlesville, who closed with the tournament’s low round of 65 despite windier conditions and more difficult pin placements than the earlier rounds.
In the OGA Pro Series Event, Will Kropp of Edmond set a new course record with an opening round 64 and went on to shoot 11-under for 36 holes, five shots better than Chris Worrell of Jenks.
Kropp will play in the Oklahoma Open before returning to South America to play on the PGA’s South America Tour, where he currently ranks fourth after the spring season, thanks to his victory over Angel Cabrera, among others, in his native Argentine. The top five finishers on that tour will be exempt for the 2015 Web.com Tour.
2014 OGA Stroke Play Championship
Shangri La Resort – Heritage/Legends
Colton Staggs, Tulsa, Oklahoma – 70-69-71–210
Garrison Mendoza, Clinton, Okla. – 70-72-69–211
Matthew Cheung, Oklahoma city, Oklahoma – 68-73-70–211
Brad Hager, Bartlesville, Okla. – 75-73-65–213
Brendon Jelley, Tulsa, Okla. – 74-67-72–213
Anthony Marchesani, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 71-69-73–213
Scott Verplank, Edmond, Okla. – 69-76-72–217
Thomas Johnson, Norman, Okla. – 70-72-75–217
Joel Driver, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 77-73-68–218
Conrad Walcher, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 73-74-71–218
Jackson Stuteville, Durant, Okla. – 73-72-74–219
Eric Kline, Ponca City, Okla. – 70-74-76–220
Austen Fuller, Edmond, Okla. – 74-75-72–221
Joby Gray, Elk City, Okla. – 75-74-72–221
Rustin Purser, Edmond, Okla. – 74-73-74–221
Tyler Hargus, Shawnee, Oklahoma – 73-68-80–221
Turner Howe, Norman, Oklahoma – 73-73-76–222
Trent Mewbourn, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 70-70-82–222
Jacob Bishop, Edmond, Okla. – 79-72-73–224
Caleb Meyers, Edmond, Okla. – 71-76-77–224
Sam Russell, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – 71-74-79–224
Eli Armstrong, Edmond , Okla. – 71-76-78–225
Kacey Threet, Grove, Oklahoma – 68-77-80–225
Casey Paul, Owasso, Okla. – 75-76-75–226
Cole Goekeler, Tulsa, Okla. – 74-77-75–226
Cody Burrows, Chickasha, Okla. – 76-74-76–226
Brady Richardson, Tulsa, Okla. – 73-74-80–227
Jett Johnson, Norman, Okla. – 73-73-81–227
Walker Henson, Enid, Okla. – 75-75-78–228
Cameron Hamilton, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma – 77-73-79–229
Oklahoma Golf Association
Pro Series #3
Shangri La Resort – Heritage/Legends
August 4-6, 2014
Will Kropp, Edmond, Okla. – 64-69–133
Christopher Worrell, Jenks, Okla. – 68-70–138
Cameron Meyers, Edmond, Okla. – 71-69–140
JR Hurley, Norman, Okla. – 70-70–140
Rhein Gibson, Edmond, Okla. – 68-73–141
Ben Klaus, Edmond, Okla. – 70-72–142
Jackson Ogle, Edmond, Okla. – 75-76–151
Andrew Green, Edmond, Okla. – 71-81–152
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