SPORTING HALL OF FAME
Steve was born in Inverell NSW and spent his childhood and adolescent years in a variety of country towns including Goulburn, Barabrai, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong. Steve completed high school at Mount Austin High in 1980.
It was prior to his teens that Steve started to play the family game of Golf. A quick learner with above average games ability, he reduced his handicap quickly and within four or five years was playing off a two handicap. He started hitting golf balls between other sports, took a few lessons to gain the basics, and then spent three hours practising three nights a week to develop his now famous swing. One practise habit that concerned the family was his habit of chipping golf balls off the carpet onto his bed. This worked wonders for his touch, but the miss hits did his bedroom no good.
The two main golf clubs Wagga Wagga City and Wagga Wagga country, became not only a home away from home, but a major hunting ground in his quest to reach the top. He became Champion at both Clubs. School sports also opened up another channel for Steve to pursue his golf through the combined high schools competition.
Steve had a great opportunity when Sydney based professional Golfer Alex Mercer visited, giving Steve some lessons to fine tune his game. He and brother Robert often made the 10 hour train trip to Sydney and gained more than golf experience from these trips. Shoes and clubs were cleaned and shone, for Mercer did not like fools and poor dress, and expected manners, punctuality and discipline.
Golf success initially came by winning club events. Steve's handicap moved towards scratch. One of the first big wins came when he was selected for the Riverina Schools team to play at the inter-regional Combined Championships at Forbes in 1979. He won the State title at the St Michael's course and was selected in the State Schoolboys team to play in the national titles in Melbourne. '
At the club level he won the Wagga City and Country title that year, becoming the first Junior (then 16 years old) to win the difficult double. He also won the City of Wagga Championship with the total of 299 - a record at the time and the only winner to break the magic 300.
Steve first represented Australia at the 1981 Doug Sanders Junior World Championship. Doug established a World Junior (under 18) Championship to be contested by three selected players, one each from Europe, America and Australia. It would be a fantastic playing six rounds of golf, as the trio moved from one home country to another playing two rounds in each
Steve qualified for Australia with a 16 shot win at the New South Wales Golf Club in Sydney. The Championship started in England and Steve led after two rounds at Walton Heath, near London. The American, Daryl Henning, was struggling and almost out of contention, but Steen Tinning of Denmark had other ideas and scrambled into the lead by one stroke. Steve had faltered with his worst round at the series an 81. The Championship was finally decided in Houston, Texas, where Steve won by four shots. His scores 72, 76, 81, 73, 77, 78, for a total of 457.
He arrived home with a 1.5m high trophy. His parents and friends greeted him at Wagga airport and the celebration started with a kiss and champagne. The City Council, under Mayor Bruce Hedditch, held a Civic Reception for him to recognise his early international success. It was a tribute to him, his family and the City of Wagga Wagga.
Steve also represented Australia in the Dunhill Cup teams from 1994 to 1998 when he was the captain. In 1994 he represented Australia in the World Cup. In 1998 he represented the "Rest of the World' in the President's Cup versus the United States of America.
The big break had come. While in Houston, he met Dave Williams, the university of Houston's golf coach, who had seen him play in the Sanders event. This led to the offer of a scholarship at the University of Houston, with the possibility of a professional career later. Steve accepted the offer and moved into residence with Physical Education as his main area of study. Now in the world of high level sport, Steve found that his dormitory mates, included Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Carl Lewis. Money was hard to come by in those days, so Steve was one of the few students to spend Christmas holidays on campus.
Houston became home. Steve married Lisa DiStefano, whom he met in his geography class at Houston, and set up house, where he lives today. He lives near and is a member of the Champions Golf Club in Houston. In harder times, the members were to provide plenty of support. Jack Bourke had become a friend, mentor and near neighbour. He enjoys a beer and gardening specialising in Texas natives.
Some of Steves golfing tips include; "To increase your percentage in any one part of your golf game much repetitive practice is needed to obtain a feeling that doesn't need any thought"; and the key skills for golf are "the co-ordination, judgement (precise and concentration),attacking qualities, swing, balance, weight transference and patience".
Since being groomed through the college system and the tour grind, Steve has remained loyal to American golf. After some early success he travelled to compete on other circuits, whilst reducing the amount of time spent on the American tour to enjoy some of the other benefits life has to offer. He has won an Australian Open, did well in the British Open and World Match Play Championships. He also enjoyed representing his country of birth in trophy events.
Steve's career was hampered by an allergy to certain types of grass. With 10 PGA wins already under his belt, he continues to play on the PGA tour.
MAHS Sports awards:
Mt Austin High Sportsmen of the Year and Blue (in Golf) 1980
Doug Sanders World junior Champion
Wagga City Club Champion: 1979
Wagga Country Club Champion: 1979,1980
City of Wagga Open Champion: 1979,1981
Greater Greensboro Open (first big professional win) 1990
Players Championship 1991
Heineken Australian Open 1992
Tournament of Championships 1992
Buick Southern Open 1994
Shark Shoot Out (with M. Calcavecchia) 1995
Mercedes Championship 1995
USPGA championship 1995
The Players Championship (only the third double winner) 1997
Doral Ryder Open 1997
Players Champion 1997
Buick Champion 1998
Doral Ryder Open Winner 1999
Presidents Cup Winner 2000
First overseas player named in the US College top 9 World Match Play Championship, Runner Up, Fastest Player to earn $1 million in one year. (from 5 starts on the 1997 PGA tour)
(The above information was taken from "Something to Crow About: The History of Mount Austin High School Sport 1964-1997" written by Dave Gabittas.
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