David Stephens never considered himself a golfer.
He had hit balls on the driving range with his father and grandfather growing up and occasionally played a few holes. But, for as long as he can remember — going back to when he first picked up a stick at the age of four — ice hockey has been his sport.
So before his freshman year of high school, when he decided to try out for the Marriotts Ridge golf team, there were no expectations.
“I honestly didn’t think I would actually make the team. In my mind it was going to just be a good experience and a chance to expose myself to that level of golf. Hockey wasn’t until the winter, so I figured why not tryout,” said Stephens. “I remember playing just well enough at tryouts to earn one of the last few spots on the team and I did get to play in two matches my freshman year. I think I scored 12 and 13 points, so it wasn’t good or anything.
“Just being on the team, though, and around those kind of players definitely sparked my interest in the game.”
It’s from those humble beginnings that a star was born.
Fast forward to this fall, when Stephens was a senior captain and leading scorer for a Marriotts Ridge team that rolled its way to an undefeated year. His average of 23.2 points a match during the regular season ranked him third in the county.
But his crowning achievement came on the season’s biggest stage. He produced the best rounds of his high school career at the state championship tournament en route to winning the 1A/2A state individual title by one stroke.
It’s because of that finish, which also helped Marriotts Ridge win the program’s sixth straight state championship team title, that Stephens is this year’s Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys golf Player of the Year.
“David is an example of what is possible with the right amount of commitment and hard work. I don’t think anyone really could have predicted he would reach this level, but I do remember looking at his swing and his demeanor as a freshman and seeing the potential,” Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. “He just got better and better every year and when it was finally his time to take over as a leader this year, he was ready.”
Stephens had been a reserve player for two years before taking on a larger role as a junior — averaging 21.3 points in three regular season matches and placing in a tie for third at the county championship tournament. Even with the improvement, he missed out on making the Mustangs’ state championship starting lineup in 2016 for the third straight year.
“It was tough to not be able to play at states, but junior year was still a really big year for me. I finally felt like a competitive golfer, and it gave me the motivation to really start putting more focus on my game during the offseason,” Stephens said.
That new level of dedication paid immediate dividends once this fall rolled around, as Stephens scored 23 points in a season-opening win over River Hill. He said that match set the tone for both himself and the rest of the team.
“I think we proved a lot in that match, to the rest of the county and to ourselves as well that we were ready to continue what the teams before us had done,” Stephens said.
Stephens ended up scoring at least 23 points in four of his six regular season matches. At the county championship tournament, he shot an 80 to finish in a tie for sixth. He followed that up by finishing tied for 13th with a score of 83 at the District V tournament.
On the opening day of the state tournament at the University of Maryland, though, Stephens put everything together. His score of 75 was his best competitive 18-hole round and had him alone in first place. The next day, things started slowly with Stephens sitting at 6-over through six holes to temporarily fall out of first, but he regrouped to play his next 12 holes in just one-over and surge back into the lead. It’s that kind of resiliency that Dubbs said became one of Stephens’ trademarks.
“David had an unbelievably short memory, and when things might not have been going well, he had the great ability to be able to step back and refocus himself,” Dubbs said. “That’s why you saw such a great consistency from him … he was always able to make adjustments during the middle of a round.”
In the end, Stephens came to his final hole at states needing a par to secure the victory. He got it thanks to an up-and-down from over the green. He made a 6-foot par putt to win by one stroke.
“That was just an amazing tournament and to finish it that way was unbelievable.” Stephens said. “I mean how many people can say that the last shot of their high school career clinched a state championship?”
This winter, Stephens has turned his focus to the ice as a starting defender for the Mustangs’ hockey team. He currently hasn’t made any decisions regarding college and whether he will continue playing athletics in any capacity.
As for which sport he currently calls his favorite?
“That’s a tough one … at this point, it pretty much changes with the weather.”
Named to the all-county first-team are:
Kenneth Chaplain, Centennial, senior
Season highlights: The Eagles’ leader averaged 22.4 points in six regular season matches, including scoring a season-high 24 points in a tri-match against Marriotts Ridge and Atholton. He placed tied for eighth at the county championship tournament with a score of 81 and then was tied for 13th at the District V tournament with an 83. At the state 3A/4A championship tournament, Chaplain finished with a two-day total of 158 (83-75) to place in a tie for 16th.
Kevin Hickey, River Hill, junior
Season highlights: For a Hawks’ squad that finished tied for second in the county with a record of 9-1-1, Hickey finished with a team-best scoring average of 22.7 points a match. He scored a season-high 27 points in a tri-match against Glenelg and Mt. Hebron. He shot a round of 79 to finish in a tie for second at the county championship tournament and then posted an 80 to finish in a tie for eighth at the District V tournament. Hickey then wrapped up his season with a two-day total of 156 (81-75) to finish in a tie for sixth at the 1A/2A state championship tournament.
Alex Pak, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Season highlights: One of the captains for a Mustangs’ team that went undefeated this fall on the way to county, district and state championships, Pak finished with a regular-season scoring average of 22 points. He scored at least 21 in five of the six matches he played. The highlight of his postseason came at the county championship tournament, as he won the title with a score of 77. He followed that up with an 84 (tied for 17th) at the District V tournament and a two-day total of 155 (78-77) to finish in fifth place at the 1A/2A state tournament.
Branden Nguyen, Atholton, sophomore
Season highlights: The top player for the Raiders finished second in the county in scoring average this fall with 23.4 points a match. His season high of 26 points came in a tri-match against Marriotts Ridge and Centennial. At the county championship tournament, Nguyen placed in a tie for eighth with a score of 81. He followed that with the county’s top score (78) at the District V championship tournament to finish alone in fifth place. At the 3A/4A state championship tournament, he posted a two-day total of 156 (76-80) to finish in a tie for 12th.
Caleb Taylor, Glenelg, freshman
Season highlights: Taylor burst onto the scene this fall and ended up leading the county in scoring average (23.6) as a freshman. He scored 23 or more points in six of seven matches, posting a season-high 25 points on three different occasions. In the postseason, he shot an 83 at the county championship tournament to finish in a tie for 10th. He then shot an 83 at the District V championship tournament, missing the cut to qualify for the state tournament by two strokes.
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