Former LCA standout Stewart sees 'great opportunity' in PGA Tour debut this week

mfields@herald-leader.comApril 15, 2014 

Former Lexington Christian Academy golfer Hunter Stewart is a junior at Vanderbilt University. He makes his PGA Tour debut this week on April 17, 2014. (Vanderbilt University photo)

  • RBC Heritage

    What: PGA Tour event

    When: Thursday-Sunday

    Where: Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C.

If Hunter Stewart needed any inspiration before playing in his first PGA Tour event this week, he got it by watching Jordan Spieth contend in the Masters.

Stewart, Kentucky's Mr. Golf his senior season at Lexington Christian Academy, and now a junior at Vanderbilt, was rooting for Spieth to become the youngest winner in Masters history. Spieth wound up in a tie for second behind Bubba Watson.

Stewart saw Spieth's performance at Augusta National as a bold stroke for golfers their age. Both are 20.

"What Jordan did gives guys like me confidence, seeing what he's done, knowing it can be done," Stewart said.

"It just shows you that the divide between great college players and your average tour professional is not as big as the public sees it to be. They're just more consistent than us. They just know how to play golf better than us."

Stewart is in Hilton Head, S.C., for the RBC Heritage, which begins Thursday at Harbour Town Golf Links. He earned an exemption into the tournament by winning the Players Amateur last July in nearby Bluffton, S.C.

Stewart said his busy college schedule didn't allow him time to get amped up about playing in the RBC Heritage until he arrived in Hilton Head on Sunday night and played a practice round Monday morning.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," he said. "But I'm looking at it as a great opportunity and I'm going to enjoy every moment of it.

"The biggest hurdle will be mental, just adapting to the crowd and noise, and getting in the flow of things."

Stewart's golf game blossomed when he was at LCA. He helped the Eagles win the state title in 2010, and he was individual runner-up as a junior and senior.

He's improved steadily at Vandy. Last year he won the Samford Intercollegiate, and his 72.97 stroke average for the season led the team. He's played well this spring, with four top-10 finishes.

Stewart credits Vandy alumnus Brandt Snedeker, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, for helping him. Snedeker, a Nashville native who still lives in his hometown, is generous in sharing his time with the Commodores.

"He's definitely a great resource to have," Stewart said. "He spent a really good amount of time with us last fall, telling about how he plays, his strategy. I got to play with him, too. It was cool hanging around him, getting his insight and learning a little about what it takes to play on the PGA Tour."

Stewart, of course, would love to join Snedeker on the PGA Tour someday.

"That's been a dream of mine," he said. "This week will be a nice gauge of where I am and what areas I need to improve in."

Stewart will have plenty of support in Hilton Head. His parents, Jon and Melissa, have rented a house. His sister Annie, his grandparents, and several friends will also be in the gallery to watch him compete with the world's best golfers.

"It'll be a big crew and it'll be a lot of fun," Stewart said.

"If all else fails, we'll have a good time and enjoy each other's company, for sure."

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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