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Major Performance

Steffen Wraps Up Junior Season With Round At Bethpage Black

Maple Grove junior Evan Steffen tees off on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park during the New York State Federation golf tournament Sunday in Farmingdale. Steffen’s round at the site of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens was the culmination of the best local boys high school golf season in recent memory. Submitted photo

Tiger Woods once won a U.S. Open at 3-under par.

Nobody else in the field of 156 professional golfers finished under par that weekend.

One of the PGA Tour’s four majors in 2002, that Open was played at Bethpage State Park on Long Island and billed as “The People’s Open” because it was the first one ever to be played at a true public golf course.

The Black Course at Bethpage in Farmingdale is not an easy golf course, which is what made the challenge so alluring to Evan Steffen.

A week after finishing tied for fourth at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships at Mark Twain Golf Course in Elmira, the Maple Grove junior was invited to Long Island to tackle Bethpage Black at the Federation Championship this past Sunday.

Maple Grove’s Evan Steffen, second from left, and fellow competitors look from their tee box onto one of the greens at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course during the New York State Federation golf tournament Sunday in Farmingdale. Submitted photo

“The one thing that stood out to me was thinking about the people who have played there like Tiger and Brooks Koepka,” Steffen said Wednesday evening. “That was kind of cool to think about. The putting greens were super nice and the course was gated, which you don’t see a lot around here.

“Standing at the first tee,” Steffen added, “it was really cool taking in the fact that you are playing on a course that has hosted two U.S. Opens.”

“It was absolutely awesome. It almost feels like pulling up to what you see on TV at Augusta National or a course like that,” Maple Grove head coach Justin Hanft said of Bethpage. ” … It (opened) in 1936 and it still has that original feel to it.”

The Red Dragons junior fired an 87 to finish 19th out of the 24-golfer field that included top finishers from the state’s public, Catholic and Independent schools along with New York City’s public schools.

“It was a massive challenge. That course plays a different skill set, especially compared to what the kids faced during the state championship at Mark Twain. It was basically the complete opposite,” Hanft said. “It was 6,800 yards at Mark Twain and almost 7,500 yards at Bethpage. There were narrow fairways with extreme changes in the cuts of grass. The second cut of the rough was nearly impossible to hit your normal-distance clubs out of … when you are used to 400-yard par 4s and you go to almost 480-yard par 4s, you are basically almost down a stroke.”

Jack Tebeau of St. Francis won the Federation title with an even-par 71.

“Evan might have been the only kid to have not played there before. The NYSPHSAA champion tied for third and his high school is adjacent to Bethpage,” Hanft said. “The kid that won it from Buffalo was impressive. He was in a group ahead of Evan and eagled the par-5, 607-yard 13th hole. He hit his drive about 310 and then hit driver off the fairway to about 12 or 13 feet. … He was a big boy.”

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While Steffen finished three shots back in Elmira and 16 shots back on Long Island, it didn’t take away from one of the most successful high school golf seasons in recent memory for a Chautauqua County student-athlete.

“I think he was a little disappointed in his performance, but he is motivated to bounce back and knows what he needs to do to enhance his game. … His accuracy off the tee was a little bit off Sunday, that’s part of golf,” Hanft said. “This year, he just continued to get better every match, which was awesome to see. … He wanted to ease into being aggressive and playing really good golf, but doing it at the right time this season. … We had some conversations about that, prepared for the big events and focused on that. He was able to set those goals and accomplish them this year.”

In 12 regular-season matches this spring, Steffen finished as the medalist nine times and recorded a stroke average of 37.4 — best in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association.

After missing the Section VI state qualifier cut last season at Bartlett Country Club, Steffen improved by 11 strokes to shoot 77 in Olean and advance to the final 20. There, Steffen shot a nine-hole score of 36 for a winning total of 113 to become the first Maple Grove golfer to advance to the state tournament since Wil Lockwood in 2014.

“Coming into it, I had a back issue so I wasn’t really in great shape coming into the season. Last year, I started really good and didn’t do great at sectionals. I didn’t play super great in the beginning of this year, but peaked at the right time,” said Steffen, the son of Brett and Jessica Steffen, and nephew of Bryce and Rachael Steffen, who own Bemus Point Golf Club and Tap House. “My goal was to make states and once that happened at sectionals, I was in a pretty good state mentally. I felt good at Mark Twain and ended up playing well.”

Steffen was the fifth Red Dragons golfer in the last 20 years to advance to the state tournament, joining Lockwood, Tim Lutgen, Kenny Woodfield and Cameron O’Neill. Prior to Steffen’s fourth-place finish this year, Maple Grove’s highest finish at the state tournament was 19th by O’Neill. With more than 750 teams and 8,000 golfers participating in New York state, Steffen placed himself in the top 1.2% with his title at the state qualifier.

“On Day 1 (in Elmira), he just sort of played his game. He had a few more looks at birdie on Day 1 at the state tournament and bounced back to even,” Hanft said. “When he finished minus-2 with another couple of looks on the front nine (on Day 2) and then had another couple of looks on the back nine … at No. 13, it kind of felt like we might have an actual chance at this thing.”

Steffen’s season will go down in Maple Grove history. He became the first state-qualifier medalist in program history with his 27-hole score of 113. His tie for fourth place out of 99 golfers at Mark Twain Golf Course makes him the highest Chautauqua County finisher in 49 years since Southwestern’s Rick Bell won the state title in 1975.

While Steffen certainly has an advantage playing on his home course, he also played well at road courses during the regular season. In five home matches, Steffen averaged 37.4 strokes and in seven away matches he averaged 37.8.

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It may not look like there is much room for improvement for Steffen, who will return for his senior season next year.

“He has a great swing, but he’s already talking about wanting to start lifting and getting in the weight room to add a little size for ball speed,” Hanft said, “while also maintaining the other parts of his game: the short game and consistency with his irons.”

The challenge of again battling for a state championship and making another trip to Long Island to take on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park might be enough for Steffen to go even lower on the links.

“I’ll probably work a little harder for next year and try to gain some (swing) speed,” Steffen said. “I feel like I’m lacking a couple of things in my golf game, but I’m still able to compete, which is good to know.

“If I can clean up a little of everything,” he added, “I can get to a great spot.”

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