USC’s Steve shots 68 to win sectionalPublished Sep 25, 2013 at 6:11 am (Updated Sep 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm)
Thomas Steve putts for a birdie during Upper St. Clair’s 192-195 win over Peters Township. Seven birdies helped the USC senior earn medalist honors with a 3-under-par 68 during the Section 5 championships. Steve looks to advance to next week’s WPIAL individual championships and qualify for the PIAA tournament to be held Oct. 21-22 at Heritage Hills Golf Course in York, PA.
Eleanor Bailey / Staff
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Blend Roy Hobbs and Francis Ouimet, the first amateur to win a U.S. Open, together and who would that produce? Thomas Steve of Upper St. Clair. See, the 17-year-old is “The Natural” when it comes to “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.
Having never taken a golf lesson, Steve shot a 3-under-par 68 to claim the Section 7 championship and advance to this week’s WPIAL semifinals for the fourth year in a row. Steve grabbed the bronze medal in last year’s district championships and finished tied for 16th in the state. He garnered medalist honors as a sophomore with a 72 when USC captured its last WPIAL team title in 2011.
“To my knowledge, Thomas has never had a lesson,” said USC golf coach Todd Flynn. “He’s a natural, one of those amazing athletes that come down the pike once in a lifetime.”
Of the 68 he shot at the sectional, Flynn added, that showed Steve’s dedication. “He’s watching, learning and practicing all the time. You can’t do that without putting in the hours and hours of practice.”
Since he shed his football shoulder pads in ninth grade, Steve has focused on golf as well as baseball and basketball for the Panthers.
“I’m sort of small. I would not have lasted long in football,” Steve said with a laugh. “I felt I had a better opportunity and future in golf.
“So I just started practicing. No, no lessons,” he added. “It’s been all on my own. I’d watch other people play and study how to swing. It’s a feel mainly. It just came natural.”
Some of his talent, Steve inherited from his parents. His mother, Gina, earned All-America honors as a gymnast in college. Plus, she’s been inducted into the Indiana University of Pennsylvania athletic Hall of Fame. His father, Greg, was a standout athlete in multiple sports in high school before he matriculated to IUP.
“Having athletic parents always helps,” conceded Flynn. “But his parents have been great and Thomas is very cognizant of what they have sacrificed for him.”
Steve agreed. “My parents have been very supportive and they have been all for me doing this on my own (no lessons). I’ve seen kids who were good athletes and the parents pushed them too hard and the results were not good. My parents do everything to help me and I am thankful for that.”
Thomas is grateful for his athletic ability, too. He was a contributor on last year’s section championship basketball club that reached the Elite Eight in the WPIAL playoffs. Plus, he’s been a pitcher on the Panthers’ baseball team.
“I’m nothing special as a pitcher. I just throw strikes,” said Steve. “In basketball, I don’t run fast and I can’t jump but I’m a good shooter. I have pretty good hand/eye coordination and that definitely helps me in golf.”
In the sectional, Steve’s ability to card birdies helped him post the lowest score. In winning the event on the par 71 Red course, Steve recorded seven birdies.
“I was hitting my drives real well. A lot of wedges,” said Steve, who shot a 65 during the practice round prior to the match. Because his shots landed inside of three feet of the hole, the birdies afforded Steve short putts. “It was relatively stress free,” he said. “All the birdies allowed me to play real well.”
In reality, practice has made perfect for Steve. This fall, he is putting better than usual and that has helped his average, which is 33.5 for nine holes. “Putting is the main reason you play well,” explained Steve, who is a member of Valley Brook Country Club. “And, putting is just practice and a lot of repetition. It’s the most influential part of anybody’s game.”
Upper St. Clair has influenced scholastic golf since it’s inception, winning 17 WPIAL titles. Eight championships have been recorded since the millennium. Thanks to Steve and his senior teammates, including Grant Engel, Patrick McDonnell, Corey Wilding and Nelson Zacur, the Panthers have compiled a 13-1 record overall. Last week, they avenged their lone loss, defeating Peters Township by three strokes, 192-195, at Rolling Hills Country Club.
Freshman Louis Olsakovsky, who qualified with Steve, Engel, McDonnell and Wilding for the WPIAL semifinals, Zach Barone, Jackson Sandusky, Austin Cassidy and Brooks Wilding have also contributed to USC’s success and stand poised and ready to help the team challenge for the WPIAL team title. The finals are set for Oct. 10 at Cedarbrook Golf Course. Last year, the Panthers failed to qualify for the championships, falling in the semifinals.
“Last year was a real shock to them,” said Flynn. “I told them that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. And, you see what has happened. They are focused. They are on a mission.”
For as long as he can remember, Steve had been on a mission to gain acceptance to Notre Dame. Though recruited by Virginia Tech, Davidson and Dayton, among others, Steve recently committed to the Fighting Irish’s program.
“Notre Dame has always been my dream school. You cant beat the academics,” said the prospective business major. “They have good coaches and a good team. It’s a good fit. My goals are to get a great education and see how good I can get at golf and see if I could go professional.”
Because Notre Dame boasts certified coaches, Steve plans to learn from them the way he has from Flynn. Now or in the future, will he consider lessons.
“I seem to get better on my own,” he explained. “I know exactly what I do with my swing and no one is going to mess with it.
“I think I can learn from the coaches at Notre Dame just like I have with Coach Flynn. He has been a big help. He keeps my head in the right place and makes sure we are all in the right mindset when it comes to competing.”
Competing for Steve is all about his teammates as opposed to himself. His goal is to go out as a WPIAL team champion and make it back to states and be competitive there.
“Winning the WPIAL team title as a sophomore was the most fun I’ve had playing golf,” said Steve, who shot a 72 for medalist honors. “So I’d like to do that again. It would be a great way for the five seniors to end their high school careers. To go out on top,” he continued. “So I am going to do whatever I have to in order to help the team win.”
That camaraderie endears Steve to others. According to Flynn, there are none like him or his teammates.
“Thomas is nice beyond belief. An unbelievable young man,” he said. “This team is so close. It’s an amazing group of kids.” So remarkable, Flynn adds that “if something would ever happen to any of them or their parents, then they would have a place to live at my house.”
NOTES: Lauren Waller earned medalist honors during the girls’ qualifier held at Rolling Hills Golf Course. The Canon-McMillan junior cared a 76. Mia Kness and Syncliare Kuhn of Peters Township followed Waller in second and third position.
Upper St. Clair’s Mariah Kelly and Melissa Kearney as well as Mt. Lebanon’s Lily Oppenheimer also made the cut for the WPIAL finals.
In the boys’ Section 7 qualifier other local golfers to advance included: Cody Ruffing, Ryan Pollack, Jake Sollon and Josh Verner from Peters Township; Drew Harris and Gino Dipardo from Chartiers Valley; Ben Setar, JD Oddi, Kevin Rush and Clark DePolo from Canon-McMillan as well as South Fayette’s Corey Long, Anthony Vallelunga and Tyler Vidak
Thomas Steve file
Birthdate: Oct. 19, 1996
Parents: Gina and Greg
Siblings: Ally, 16; Jack, 13; Sara, 11
Sports: Golf, basketball, baseball
College: Notre Dame
Favorite class: Calculus
Favorite color: Blue
What’s in a name: Having two first names is confusing but I’m used to people mixing up my name. I let them now though. But I like (my name). It’s unique. People remember it.
Favorite food: Spaghetti
Dessert: Ice cream cake
Restaurant: Moe’s Southwestern Grill
Top sports team: Pirates right now. I think they will hold on and be all right. They folded last year but I don’t think they’ll screw up in the end this year.
What’s on TV: I never watch it. When I do I guess it would be Friends
Best book: Great Gatsby
Who would play you in a movie: Corey Wilding. He knows everything about me.
Life lesson golf has taught me: Enjoy life. People spend too much time getting worked up and when things don’t work out they get depressed. Life is like golf in the fact that if you shoot a bad hole, then shake it off and move on. It absolutely helps me. You have to maintain calm. When you get frustrated, it doesn’t end well.