CONWAY — Chris Stens said he and his parents moved to the Myrtle Beach area this past summer from Fayetteville, N.C., so he could hopefully get more interest from college golf coaches.
Winning a high school tournament with 24 teams and 128 players is the kind of thing that will get the Carolina Forest senior transfer noticed.
Stens shot a 2-under-par 70 at the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina to win the fifth annual Panther Invitational individual title by two strokes over Zak Butt of Ashley Ridge High. The 70 is Stens’ lowest 18-hole competitive score.
“I wanted better opportunities with golf so I moved here,” Stens said. “My plan right now is to go to Coastal just to go, but if someone wants to pick me up for golf, depending on who it is, I’m willing to go.”
Waccamaw finished second to Sumter in the team competition by three strokes at 30-over 218, while Michael Leftis of Myrtle Beach and Nathan Bazant of North Myrtle Beach tied for fourth individually at 75.
Stens made five birdies and three bogeys Saturday. He bogeyed the first hole and closed with a birdie on the 18th – his fourth on the back nine despite playing through considerable wind.
His approach to the par-4 18th green came to rest atop a ridge with the pin at the bottom of a slope and water behind it. “My putt was either going to go in or go in the water,” Stens said. “I told my group that. I just tapped it and it rolled and lipped in for birdie. I was so happy.”
Stens’ parents have had a condo at Legends Resort for seven years so they decided to move there. He said his father is a home loan officer who is able to work from Myrtle Beach.
Stens made the move after growing about 6 inches to 5-foot-11 in the past year, which allowed him to add more length to his game. “Freshman, sophomore and junior year I was a lot shorter so I didn’t hit it really far,” Stens said. “Now that I’m hitting it farther I know that I can shoot lower so I needed to go somewhere where I can get noticed more.”
He was the top player on the Cape Fear High team for the past two years and made the state championship as an individual. He grew up playing in Eastern Junior Golf Association events and said his lowest non-competitive round is a 65.
Stens practices and plays with the Panthers at their home course of Myrtle Beach National, but also often returns to Legends and hits balls on that range. “That’s what you’ve got to do, put the practice in,” Stens said.
Stens said Carolina Forest schedules about twice as many events per year as Cape Fear High did, so he’ll have more playing opportunities.
He hoped to make an impression at the George Holliday Memorial Junior on Thanksgiving weekend at Myrtle Beach National, but he shot rounds of 84, 78 and 74. “So nobody noticed me for that,” Stens said. “It was cold, though.”
It didn’t take long for Stens to get the attention of Carolina Forest coach Vil Caroso, however.
“Usually when they transfer and they tell you what they shoot, nine out of 10 times it’s not right,” Caroso said. “But this kid is legit. He’s got a great short game and hits the ball flush.”
Stens works part time as a cashier at Food Lion and uses the money to buy golf equipment and fund his limited junior golf schedule. He’s working about eight hours a week on weekends during golf season and 20 hours a week in the offseason.
The Class AA Warriors finished second only to a much larger AAAA school. “It’s great to start the season out like this,” Waccamaw first-year coach Chris Daily said. “I’ve been proud of what they’ve done in the matches and then to come to an event like this, playing with some bigger schools, and to have that kind of showing is really nice. It can build some confidence for them. They can see they can stand up to some bigger schools and play with just about anybody in the state, in my opinion, but they also see they could do some work and continue to improve a little bit.”
Freshman Patrick Golden paced the Warriors with a 5-over 77, which tied for seventh. The squad’s lone senior, Adam Wooldridge, tied for ninth with a 78, eighth-grader Jackson Cole tied for 13th at 79, junior Davis Hogan shot an 84 and sophomore Will Canipe shot an 89.
“Our Achilles heel all season has been putting a little bit, and once again today we didn’t quite get the putting done,” Daily said. “If we had putted a touch better here and there I think we easily could have shot what we needed to.
“But I’m proud of the ball-striking and the attitudes out there. I had a lot of the guys get over par early and they turned it around and finished pretty well.”
Saturday’s win is Sumter’s first since 2011, when it graduated five players who went on to play collegiately. The Gamecocks have finished fourth, second and now first in their three tournaments this year.
“It speaks highly of the kids and their work ethic for sure,” said Sumter coach Matt Love, whose team was paced by junior Charlie Dallery, who finished third individually with a 73, and also received a 78 from eighth-grader Dixon Flowers.
• Team scores – 1. Sumter 315, 2. Waccamaw 318, 3. North Myrtle Beach 323, 4. Blythewood (B) 325, 5. Wando 326, 6. Hartsville (A) 327, 7. Carolina Forest (A) 328, 8. Ashley Ridge 330, 9. St. James 333, 10. Myrtle Beach 338, 11. West Florence 341, 12. West Ashley 343, 13. Fort Dorchester (A) 345, 14. Georgetown 347, T16. Wade Hampton 352, T16. Conway 352, 18. Aynor 356, T19. Socastee (A) 361, T19. Fort Dorchester (B) 361, 21. Blythewood (A) 363, 22. Hartsville (B) 370, 23. Carolina Forest (B) 375, 24. Socastee (B) 398
• Top Individuals – 1. Chris Stens, Carolina Forest (70), 2. Zak Butt, Ashley Ridge (72), 3. Charlie Dallery, Sumter (73), T4. Michael Leftis, Myrtle Beach (75), T4. Nathan Bazant, North Myrtle Beach (75), 6. Elliott Ferguson, West Ashley (76), T7. Drake Cassidy, Hartsville (77), T7. Patrick Golden, Waccamaw (77), T9. Adam Woolridge, Waccamaw (78), T9. Dixon Flowers, Sumter (78), T9. Kent Lawrence, Wando (78), T9. Matt Moninghoff, Blythewood (78).
• Area Individuals – 2, Waccamaw (318): Patrick Golden 77, Adam Wooldridge 78, Jackson Cole 79, Davis Hogan 84, Will Canipe 89; 3, North Myrtle Beach (323): Nathan Bazant 75, Daniel Graves 82, Colin Reno 83, Vijay Mishra 83, Matthew Leonard 92; 7, Carolina Forest (328): Chris Stens 70, Ben Roleson 81, Enzo Farrar 88, Adam Allen 89, Bailey Endres 89. 9, St. James (333): Alan Crum 80, Karsten Kenley 81, Mason Richardson 84, Alex Kasco 88, Coleman Bess 92. 10, Myrtle Beach (338): Michael Leftis 75, Mark Karavan 84, Kohler Karavan 84, Brooks Swanson 95. T14, Georgetown (347): Will Marlowe 82, Carter Weaver 83, Evan Runion 90, Henry Young 92, Hannah Fesperman 93. T16, Conway (352): Brady Fulmer 84, Travis King 86, Chase Cannon 88, Dalton Richardson 94, Peyton Andreucci 118. 18, Aynor (356): Spencer Cannon 79, Walker Johnson 90, Hunter Johnson 93, Blake Rabon 94, Max Roberts 96. 19, Socastee (361): Brady Lane 80, Ryan Case 90, Nick Dollinger 93, Cody Grant 98, Zack Schultz 100.
• Other locals – Tanner Smith, Carolina Forest, 82; Dylan Griffin, Carolina Forest, 86; Kevin Burriss, Carolina Forest, 89; Lance Vu, Socastee, 90, Austin Prince, Loris, 91.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.