Encinitas Advocate Sports

Local golf standout mastering the mental part of the game

Tommy Stephenson has had a pretty good grip on the physical part of his golf game for years.

He’s fairly recently learned to master the mental part of the game.

And if the early returns are any indication, it’s already paying off.

Stephenson cites keeping a cool head, even at his worst moments on the golf course, as a key factor in a strong showing at one of the world’s most prestigious amateur golf events last month.

The 16-year-old from Carlsbad was among two local golfers who finished in a six-way tie for ninth place at the July 8-11 IMG Academy Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

“I’ve had that driven into my head for the last seven years and in the last year and a half its finally starting to sink in,” Stephenson said.

The world’s largest tournament featured 1,200 participants from 56 countries and 42 states.

Torrey Pines High standout James Song also finished tied for ninth.

Stephenson said learning to experience failure, an inevitability golfers at all levels have to deal with, has helped him achieve success.

“You obviously have to be having a good week and hitting the ball well, but what distinguishes the people who are finishing top 10 from the people who are missing the cut is their mentality,” Stephenson said. “I just stayed positive and I never got down on myself. I never really got angry with how I was playing. I think that was the key to me staying positive and playing well.”

Stephenson played well in what he considers the biggest tournament of his career.

Other career highlights include Stephenson winning the prestigious Future Golf Champions title in the 15 to 18 age group last summer in Palm Springs. He was a second team All-San Diego Section selection as a freshman at Carlsbad High. He didn’t play for Carlsbad last season but the incoming senior expects to play next season.

Stephenson struggled early on in the tournament but pushed his way up the leaderboard with an exceptionally strong finish. He birdied three of his last six holes to finish the day with a 74. He shot a 76 on the first day and shot a combined 291 score for the tournament.

“I had kind of a rough start to more than one of the days but I played really well and I battled really well,” Stephenson said. “It was a scrappy tournament and it was good to get a top 10 in the end, sneaking in with three birdies in the last six holes.”

Stephenson started playing golf when he was practically a toddler and his love for the game and the competition got him hooked early on. His first memory is competing in a playoff in his first tournament when he was 8.

Stephenson plans to play in college and hopes to someday play professionally. He’s being recruited by several Division I schools.

He plans to major in business, and if he doesn’t play professionally, he hopes his real job is as close to his dream job as possible.

“Even if I don’t end up being a pro golfer I want to stay in the golf industry,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said he’s discovering the lessons he’s learned on the golf course apply to situations in which other areas of his life land in the rough.

“Ideally you always want to stay positive with everything you do in life, not just golf,” Stephenson said. “That’s the goal, but I’m not going to say you’re never going to be negative. There’s always a chance, but I’m just looking to stay positive with everything going forward.

“With golf, it’s paying big dividends, and with everything else it’s starting to pay off a little too.”

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