At Perche Creek Golf Club, a par-3 course in Columbia, Missouri, every green looked to Ross Steelman to be roughly 10 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Play a place like that over and over again, and you tend to develop a laser precision on approach shots.
“I played the par 3 millions and millions of times a day,” Steelman said. “That’s kind of where I got started playing golf.”
In Atlanta, Druid Hills Golf Course – a hilly little gem tucked into a downtown neighborhood – is what Steelman calls a driver-wedge kind of place. He’s still trying to decide if he would describe the historic layout as short or not. Mostly he’s just enjoying it as a fun track.
“Lot of getable par 4s and par 5s are good to score on as well,” he said. “Par 3s, you just kind of have to muster up some courage and hit some good shots.”
Leaderboard: Dogwood Invitational
The Missouri kid handled it well on Wednesday in the opening round of the Dogwood Invitational, the unofficial opener to the summer amateur golf season. Steelman’s bogey-free 62 included two eagles and rocketed him to the top of the leaderboard by four shots.
Steelman’s eagles came at Nos. 7 and 9, the two par 5s on the front side. He hit 5-iron into both greens and made a putt of roughly 30 feet to jumpstart his day. Shockingly, his 62 is still five shots short of the Druid Hills course record after Alex Ross posted a 57 at the 2019 Dogwood.
Asked if he was aware of the record, Steelman responded that it’s common knowledge this week.
Still, a caddie for another player in the group asked Steelman on the 18th tee if he could get the course record with a 2 on that closing par 5.
“If I make a 2 and shoot 13 (under),” Steelman replied, “I’ll be two off the course record. We all got a pretty good laugh at that.”
Ross Steelman (Photo submitted)
This week marks Steelman’s debut at the Dogwood. Later this month, he’ll compete in the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island. Both are key events on the summer amateur circuit. Steelman is enjoying the opportunity after spending previous summers out with injury. He broke his left wrist before his senior year of high school when he hit down on a tree root that was hidden underground.
When he graduated early from Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri, and started at Mizzou in January of 2019, he reaggravated the injury. In some ways, the COVID break was a blessing because it allowed him time to actually heal.
After two years on the Missouri roster (including a redshirt year), Steelman has transferred to Georgia Tech for next season. He’ll head back to Atlanta, his new home city, to begin summer classes in late June.
“I’m fired up,” Steelman said of the transfer. “I’m really excited to be able to join such a great program. Coach (Bruce) Heppler is the best in the business and everybody on the team that I’ve met here are really great guys and we’ve all got very similar goals in mind as a team and individually.”
A move south offers the Midwesterner more opportunities to grow his game in the winter months, too.
Most recently, Steelman narrowly missed advancing as an individual to the NCAA Championship. His Missouri team was on the bubble for an NCAA Regional pick, but Steelman was chosen for the postseason as an individual. Oddly, two other individuals advanced out of the Noblesville (Indiana) Regional ahead of him, so even though he was third individually, he was one spot short. That scenario almost never happens.
Missouri spent the season competing primarily within the SEC Conference and Steelman thinks he benefited from a loaded schedule even if the season didn’t quite end as he’d hoped.
“For confidence, it’s huge,” he said. At No. 156 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Steelman is ranked as high as he’s ever been.
Outside of the wrist injury, Steelman has felt his putting has held him back recently. Back home in Columbia, he buckled down on short game with his longtime coach Jake Poe. Poe has known this level and beyond having competed at Stanford with Tiger Woods as a walk-on in 1994, and even rooming with the golf legend.
“He went into the coaching and business world and left the golf for Tiger and he’s been great to work with,” he said. “I’ve worked with him my entire life. He’s the first swing coach and the only swing coach I’ve ever had.”
The perfect voice, it seems, as Steelman eyes the next level.
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