By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
HERSHEY, PA. -- How can a golfer who lives in Atlanta, who teaches out of a club near Atlanta and who just won the Atlanta Open, be hoping for an invitation to return to the Georgia capital?
Ask Craig Stevens, the PGA Director of Instruction at Steel Canyon Golf Club in Roswell, Ga., who is participating in his 14th PGA Professional National Championship.
“It’s why we came here, that’s the goal,” Stevens claimed Tuesday, after his third round in which he shot a 1-over 70 and sits tied for 15th at 4 under overall.
Stevens finished high enough in the 2001 PGA Professional National Championship to earn an invitation to the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, ultimately won by David Toms. With a top-20 finish at this event, he will earn another invitation to the 2011 PGA Championship, coincidentally to be held at Atlanta Athletic Club once again.
“I’ve been around Atlanta since 1978. I’ve got so many family and friends there now,” Stevens noted. “The first time I played in the PGA Championship, it was kind of overwhelming, to be honest. But this time, I’m ready for it, I really want it. I’ve got a lot of people who’ve told me they’re going to be there, if I’m there, they’ll be there, it would be just too great to play in front of the home folks. I just need one more good round to see it happen.”
Stevens has reason to be confident. In the last two years, he has won a host of section and regional events, turned 50 and gained associate status on the Champions Tour, and is coming off a recent win at the Atlanta Open.
“The last couple of years, I didn’t play so well,” Stevens admitted. “For about 10 years, I played really hard and it kind of took its toll. And then for about two years, I just wasn’t playing like I had or wanted to. Last April, I made a decision that I wanted to give the Champions Tour a shot, so I got in better shape, got my game in better shape, and it clicked, I’ve been playing pretty well again.”
Stevens will leave Hershey after the week to try and qualify for the U.S. Senior Open before he ultimately returns back home. But for one more day, even as he makes one last trip around the East Course at Hershey Country Club, he will be thinking of his home state as both a destination and a goal.