By Ken MacLeod
EDMOND – Zach James watched somewhat helplessly as Sam Stevens birdied five consecutive holes to take a three-shot lead through 13 holes of the final round of the Oklahoma Open.
Stevens, the former Oklahoma State player who has been dominating the All Pro Tour for two years while also winning on the PGA Tour Latin America, had reached 20-under par after a short birdie putt dropped on 13, and was threatening to obliterate all scoring records for the 54-hole event.
“All I could do was keep playing well and hope that Sam made a mistake,” James said. “And then he did.”
And it was a whopper. On the par-3 14th which plays about 204 yards over a pond, Stevens hit a 7-iron that landed just short of the green in the water. After a drop, he hit a wedge too strong, pitched back from behind the green and missed the putt. Triple bogey.
James hit his tee shot safely on the green but 45 feet above the hole. The sloping putt also had five feet of break, but James read it perfectly for a stunning birdie and an even more stunning four-shot swing on one hole. James went to 18-under while Stevens dropped from 20 to 17-under.
And that’s the way it stayed. Stevens couldn’t get a birdie to drop on the final four holes, including his final effort on 18 that stopped about a rotation of the ball short. James made four steady pars and added his name to an illustrious list of past Open winners for his first victory as a professional.
Not that James is unused to winning. He won nine times in his final two years at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant (2018-19) but a nagging thumb injury delayed the start of his professional career until January of 2021. The $10,000 winner’s check and the victory will both buoy his confidence as he heads into qualifying school this fall for the Korn Ferry Tour.
Stevens has an exemption into the final stage of Q School as a result of his victory in Latin America. Despite the miscue on 14, this is a man who should definitely be playing at that level or above. He opened with rounds of 63-63, then after a shaky start in the final round began to take Oak Tree Country Club’s East Course apart beginning on 9 with booming drives and accurate short irons, leading to a run of birdie putts inside of 15 feet.
James, who lives in Whitesboro, Texas, opened the tournament with a 65 then shot fired an 8-under 62 Friday, kept in striking distance with a birdie on the par-4 11th and the par-5 12th. He was ready when the opportunity came.
“I just didn’t make a very good swing,” Stevens said. “I just thinned it. He made a great birdie, that’s one of the hardest holes on the course. But I wasn’t too upset. There’s a lot of holes left and 16-17-18 are great finishing holes. I knew a lot could still happen. And I made pretty good swings, but those are hard holes to make birdie.”
James said he aware of his status against Stevens but didn’t check the official scoring until after his tee shot on the par-3 17th.
“I knew with the way the wind was blowing and where the pins were it was going to be hard to shoot a real low number, so I thought it was just me and Sam at that point. I was just trying to make pars coming in and that’s what I was able to do. Knowing Sam, I thought his putt was going in on 18 and it probably should have.
“There were a lot of great players here this week from a lot of Division I schools, from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and I’m thrilled to have my name on that trophy and be a part of this history. Hopefully this is a start for me and I’ll keep it going.”
Two of those players James referenced, Austin Eckroat of Edmond and Quade Cummins of Weatherford, both members across the street at Oak Tree National, had most of the crowd following their penultimate group. Cummins birdied the 18th hole to finish tied for third with Wyatt Worthington of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, at 14-under. Eckroat shot 69 to tie former OSU teammate Zach Bauchou for seventh place at 11-under.
Carson Griggs of Sand Springs was low amateur at 4-under after rounds of 68-70-68.
Eckroat has status on the Korn Ferry Tour for 2022 based on his top-five finish in PGA Tour University in 2021, but will go to the final stage of qualifying school to try to improve on his status. Cummins has two events left on the Forme Tour to try to earn a top-five finish and automatic Korn Ferry Tour status, otherwise will also participate in Q School.
James was twice named the Greater American Conference Golfer of the Year, winning in 2018 and 2019, and was twice a PING All-American while being a finalist in 2018 and 2019 for the Jack Nicklaus Division II National Player of the Year award. He owns Southeastern’s career record for birdies with 475 and eagles with 23.
OGA Executive Director Mark Felder said he had more comments from player’s on the excellent condition of Oak Tree Country Club than he had heard in many years. He also gave his post-round speech to the final groups, telling them they were always welcome back at the Oklahoma Open, but he preferred to be checking their scores on the Korn Ferry Tour next year. For many, that seems a likelihood.
Oklahoma Golf Association2021 Oklahoma Open
August 26-28, 2021
Oak Tree Country Club
Zach James Whitesboro, TX – 65-62-65 — 192
Sam Stevens Eastborough, KS – 63-63-67 — 193
Quade Cummins Edmond, OK – 65-63-68 — 196
Wyatt Worthington II Reynoldsburg, OH – 64-64-68 — 196
James Nitties Dallas, TX – 68-66-64 — 198
Josh Radcliff Grapevine, TX – 65-66-67 — 198
Zach Bauchou Stillwater, OK – 66-66-67 — 199
Austin Eckroat Edmond, OK – 66-64-69 — 199
Zach Burry Appleton, WI – 68-66-66 — 200
William Holcomb V Coppell, TX – 68-68-64 — 200
Slideshow photos by James Barrett
Christian Jalomo Richmond, TX – 65-70-66 — 201
Thomas Johnson Norman, OK – 68-67-66 — 201
Mason Overstreet Kingfisher, OK – 67-64-70 — 201
Blake Trimble Houston, TX – 67-67-69 — 203
Brett White Houston, TX – 70-66-67 — 203
Hayden Wood Scottsdale, AZ – 69-67-67 — 203
Braden Bailey Groves, TX – 68-70-66 — 204
Andrew Beckler Topeka, KS – 70-65-69 — 204
Riley Casey Tuscola, TX – 71-67-66 — 204
Cody Burrows Tulsa, OK – 70-68-67 — 205
Brian Dwyer Southlake, TX – 68-69-68 — 205
Zack Fischer Benton, AR – 68-69-68 — 205
Martin Flores Frisco, TX – 71-65-69 — 205
Rob Hudson Dallas, TX – 66-66-73 — 205
Charlie Kern Dallas, TX – 66-70-69 — 205
Preston Stanley Katy, TX – 68-66-71 — 205
Reece Blair Ardmore, OK – 69-70-67 — 206
Carson Griggs (a), Sand Springs, OK – 68-70-68 — 206 (Low Amateur)
Austin Jordan Benbrook, TX – 66-73-67 — 206
Brock Polhill (a), Edmond, OK – 65-67-74 — 206
Gage Ihrig Goodland, KS – 69-65-73 — 207
Ryan Grider Lewisville, TX – 70-65-73 — 208
Joseph Gunerman Dallas, TX – 71-66-71 — 208
Scott Newell Tulsa, OK – 69-70-69 — 208
Will Arend The Woodlands, TX – 66-72-71 — 209
Andrew Hudson Fort Worth, TX – 69-64-76 — 209
Jack Ireland The Woodlands, TX – 66-71-74 — 211
Oskari Nikku (a), Helsinki, – 71-68-72 — 211
Kyle Weldon Ballwin, MO – 72-67-72 — 211
Christopher Brown Garland, TX – 70-68-74 — 212
Brad Dalke Edmond, OK – 67-72-73 — 212
Landon Davis Forney, TX – 67-67-78 — 212
Sam Lee Stillwater, OK – 70-67-75 — 212
Josh Fosdick Edmond, OK – 71-68-74 — 213
Ben Hadden Shawnee, KS – 69-70-74 — 213
Christopher E. Brown Benbrook, TX – 72-67-75 — 214
Matt Gilchrest North Richland Hills, TX – 68-71-76 — 215
Andrew Presley Fort Worth, TX – 73-65-77 — 215
Delbert Brooks (a), Tulsa, OK – 66-71-79 — 216
Caleb Kimmel (a), Olathe, KS – 69-70-79 — 218
Phillip Bryan (a), Mustang, OK – 68-71-81 — 220