It was the veteran versus the young gun Sunday at Mission Hills Country Club for the Kansas Amateur title.
But it was the experienced player, Bryan Norton from Mission Hills, who took home his third Kansas Amateur title with a 2 and 1 victory over Sam Stevens of Wichita after 36 holes of match play. Norton also won the title in 1980 and 2002.
Standing next to the towering trophy with all the winners of the last 104 years, Norton explained how he managed to become the oldest winner in tournament history at age 55.
“If I stuck to my game and I really executed the best I could, I knew I would have a chance,” Norton said.
Norton was a professional golfer for almost 10 years but reclassified as an amateur in the early 2000s and has been a staple on the local amateur circuit since. He also had a home-course advantage as a member of Mission Hills Country Club.
“At the start of the week it’s a disadvantage because you feel pressure and expectations, but as the week goes on you get kind of numb,” Norton said. “You don’t feel the pressure because you’re so tired.”
Stevens, who is headed to play golf at Oklahoma State this fall, was also the runner-up in this tournament last year. Although he wasn’t able to win his first Amateur at 18, he still sees many positives from the event.
“I take away a ton of confidence. It’s just hard to make it through a tournament like this,” Stevens said. “If you make it to the final, you know you’re playing well.”
As for Norton, he recognized a key moment in the tournament while accepting the trophy.
On the third hole of the afternoon round, Stevens nearly hit the ball directly in the hole on the par-3, but instead it kicked straight off the left edge of the cup in the air and right into a bunker. It was a very unlucky break for Stevens, who made a bogey that gave Norton a 3-up lead and changed the mood of the match.
Norton said that Stevens could have won if that ball landed in a different place.
“Sam you’ve won so many tournaments,” Norton told Stevens after the match. “And you’re going to continue to win tournaments.”
But for Norton, the main memory of the tournament was his continued mental focus throughout the week and not expending too much energy early on.
“You get so tired where some of the time you’re on autopilot,” Norton said. “You’re just exhausted. The older you get it’s more a physical thing than mental exhaustion.”