Still one of Georgia PGA’s best at 52…
Craig Stevens won Georgia PGA Player of the Year honors for the first time in 1999 at the age of 38 and repeated the feat two years later.
Over the next decade, Stevens placed 2nd in the points standings five times and was 3rd or 4th three other times.
By that time, Stevens had turned 50 and was eligible to compete at the senior level. Neither his desire nor his skills lessened as he approached and then passed his 50th birthday, with the three years since he turned 50 among his most successful since he began competing in Georgia PGA events in the 1980s.
Stevens captured his third Georgia PGA Player of the Year title in 2012, and made it two in a row this year, holding off challenges from Tim Weinhart and Sonny Skinner, both former Players of the Year.
With his 2013 Player of the Year award, Stevens joins Hugh Royer, Jr., and Stephen Keppler as four-time winners. Weinhart and Gregg Wolff, who both earned the honor seven times, are the only Georgia PGA members with more Player of the Year titles.
At the age of 52, Stevens is the oldest player to top the Player of the Year points list. He also became the first player to win Senior Player of the Year honors at the same time, ending Skinner’s two-year run in that category.
“It’s a big accomplishment for me,” Stevens said of his Player of the Year honor. “At the age of 52, I’m able to compete, and it makes me feel like I still have a little bit of game.”
Stevens has been a remarkably consistent performer for the past 15 years since emerging as one of the Section’s elite players in the late ‘80s while he was entering his late 30s.
Stevens scored an early Georgia PGA victory in the 1985 Match Play Championship, but did not win another points event until he scored a pair of victories in ’98 in tournaments that have since dropped off the Georgia PGA schedule.
Despite not winning a Section event in ’99, he captured the Player of the Year title. He earned that honor again in 2001, winning three times including the first of his three victories in both the Section Championship and PGA PNC qualifier.
The next six years, Stevens never finished lower than 4th in the Player of the Year standings, including four runner-up finishes, but went four years without a victory after one win each in 2003 and ’04.
Stevens slipped a bit in 2008 and ’09, placing 8th and 6th on the points list respectively, but with his 50th birthday approaching, he began working harder on his game. The results over the last four years have been evident.
Shortly before turning 50, Stevens won his second Section Championship and third PNC title, finishing 2nd on the points list in 2010. He won his first Atlanta Open in 2011 after turning 50, and also took the Georgia Senior Open in his first attempt, winning the event again this year.
Although his only victories in 2012 came in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship and a Junior-Senior team event, he captured his third Player of the Year title thanks to a string of runner-up finishes.
Stevens defended his top spot on the points list this year, winning his third Section Championship and reaching the finals of the Match Play. With his second victory in the Georgia Senior Open and several other wins in Senior Division events, he also was Player of the Year for the over-50 set.
During his early years in the PGA, Stevens spent some time working in the shop, serving as head professional at three Atlanta area clubs.
But he eventually reached the conclusion “that if I wanted to play, there was no way I could do that. For a head pro, his club is his number one priority along with family, and I could not do all that was necessary and still play. In 1994, I started to teach.”
Stevens has worked as an instructor for the past two decades at a number of clubs in the northern Atlanta suburbs, primarily in Cobb County. He is currently in his second stint at Brookstone G&CC in Acworth, where he spent seven years previously and is “going on three years since I’ve been back here.”
With his personable nature and knowledge of the game, Stevens has been able to maintain a steady volume of students wherever he has worked. Since he has settled in again at Brookstone, he says he has been “doing a little more with juniors in the last year.”
With all the technical focus on the golf swing and the advances in equipment technology, Stevens’ strongest attributes as a player are something his students would do well to try and emulate.
Stevens’ steadiness and resolve have kept him among the Georgia PGA’s top players over the past 15 years, and he takes pride in the consistency of his efforts and results.
“I’ve been a very consistent player though the years. I’ve been on every Cup team since 1989. I’ve had some tough times, but I’ve overcome them. I just hang in there.”
Stevens’ success as a player has taken him beyond the Georgia PGA in competition. He has qualified for and competed in a sizeable number of PGA Tour events over the years, most notably three PGA Championships.
Two of those appearances came at the Atlanta Athletic Club, which afforded Stevens the opportunity of competing in a major championship in his home town, a rare experience for a club professional. Or a tour player for that matter.
“That was huge for me, making it to the Athletic Club two times,” Stevens says. “It was great that so many people came out to see me and gave me such huge support.”
Stevens shared the local media spotlight with Keppler in 2001, but when the PGA returned to Atlanta a decade later, Stevens was the lone Georgia PGA member in the field. He also enjoyed his lone away game at Hazeltine in Minnesota, and has made appearances in two Champions Tour majors – the Senior PGA and U.S. Senior Open.
The latest tour event for Stevens was the recent McGladrey Classic at Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside course, where he won the first of his three Section Championship titles.
Stevens’ results were not exactly what he was hoping for. He says he “is not giving up, but I am looking forward to being with the seniors in the future.”
Although Stevens would just as soon forget his second round in the recent McGladrey, he has fond memories of both Seaside and the Retreat course, where he has won the last two times the Section Championship was played there. This year, he shot a final round 67 to erase a 4-stroke deficit after 36 holes and win by one stroke.
But Stevens’ most cherished experience in a Georgia PGA event was his first Section Championship victory at Seaside in 2001, when he admits he “almost broke down” after edging Chan Reeves by one shot in a two-man duel.
Stevens has a total of 13 career victories in Georgia PGA points events, one win in each of the last three years in the Section’s top two senior tournaments, plus three Senior Division victories this year and two team titles.
He still expects to add to those totals over the next few years, but admits his thoughts about the future also revolve around teaching. From his years of competition, Stevens has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about how to play the game.
“I want to pass it on and help people get better. I’m known as a player, but I want to also be known as a quality teacher.”