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Former Kentucky Mr. Golf to Compete in Barbasol Championship

Lexington native Hunter Stewart may feel nervous taking the first tee at the Barbasol Championship Thursday, but it won’t be for any lack of experience. “It’s got to be in the four-digits,” Stewart said when asked how many rounds of golf he’s played at Keene Trace’s Champion Trace Course. Make your way around the course in style in the single seat ride on MGI E500 cart. This single-seat Golf Cart is packed full of features to make every game comfortable, easy and to make every round a great round.

Stewart grew up in Lexington—in Nicholasville, to be precise. His parents still own the house where he lived through middle and high school, only 1.8 miles away from that first tee, Hunter’s home course. “It’s probably the first time I’ll sleep at home before a tournament since high school,” he said. Though he now lives in Atlanta, this house is home, and it’s a house he expects to be full of friends and family through the course of the week. Hunter’s wife Katherine, sister Annie, and parents, Jon and Melissa will all be around, but he expects his parents, ever the hosts, to have an open door to many others who will be cheering him on in his first PGA Tour start since 2016.

Stewart is a bit of a local legend in the Lexington golf world, he uses the best Mens Golf equipment. From travel bags to umbrella all the ultimate range of accessories we have it all, do visit electric golf push cart for more.  He made the Lexington Christian Academy varsity golf team as early as seventh grade, and his high school highlights include back-to-back state championship runner-up finishes as an individual, being dubbed KHSAA’s “Mr. Golf,” and leading the school to its first ever team state championship in 2010 over Justin Thomas (currently ranked 9th in the Official World Golf Rankings) and Louisville’s St. Xavier. You might not want to have one of the best golf bags in the world but for a regular golfer it is a must to have a top quality golf bag. Particularly if you love walking the golf course instead of driving in a golf cart. I would encourage all golfers to walk the golf course when playing as it builds fitness and gives you a better feel for the game. During the course of a round of golf you want your weekend golf bags to be comfortable, attractive as well as long lasting.

Speaking of Thomas, Hunter’s runner-up finish in the 2009 state championship was an instant classic—if high school golf could ever produce one. Lightning on day one cut play short, leading to a full twelve hours of golf on day two. By dusk, the team champion was crowned—St. X beat LCA by a single stroke. But Stewart and Thomas were still tied. They would go to a playoff the following morning—a playoff ultimately won by Thomas after pitching in from the fairway on the second playoff hole.

But Stewart spent the offseason improving, competing in tournaments nationally, and began the 2010 high school season by stringing together four consecutive victories. The streak came to an end when he finished in second place by shooting a 74 in Prestonsburg—not a bad round considering he made a 13 on the Par-5 seventh hole. “That honestly may be one of my proudest moments in golf,” he said, reflecting on the mental toughness required to finish a good round after hitting four consecutive shots out of bounds.

The season would end with sweet revenge. LCA beat Thomas and St. X by 14 shots in the state championship, giving coach Eric Geldhof his first of three state titles. While Stewart was the best player on that team, he wasn’t the only good player—LCA won another state championship the following season, and his teammates went on to play golf at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Lipscomb University, and Belmont University. And though Stewart grew up a UK fan, his college decision took him down the road to Nashville to play college golf for the Vanderbilt Commodores.

It was nothing against Kentucky, he says. He simply wanted to “be his own man.” But he retained his UK fandom—even if it meant sitting outside of the Vandy student section in 2012 to watch Anthony Davis and the Cats because his coach told him he couldn’t wear blue and sit with his fellow students. It doesn’t take him long to prove his UK fan bona fides—just ask who his all-time favorite Kentucky athlete is and ten minutes later you’ll have heard about the Ron Mercer jersey he wore every day to kindergarten, his sadness about the recent death of Jared Lorenzen, Wayne Turner’s armband, the time he watched Tayshaun Prince knock down five consecutive threes to open up a game against North Carolina, and camping out the night before College Gameday at Commonwealth Stadium in 2007.

Was it weird competing against Kentucky as a Kentucky fan? A little, but, in Stewart’s words, “when you grow up a Kentucky fan, you don’t really grow up a Kentucky golf fan.”

College golf would bring more success for Hunter. Just as he was crowned “Mr. Golf” in Kentucky in 2010, he won SEC Player of the Year honors in 2015. Hunter won five tournaments as a college golfer, and his stellar play landed him a spot on the US Walker Cup team in 2015. But despite his individual success, Stewart’s most fond memories and achievements have come in team golf and in life off the course. “Wining the high school state championship, some of our early wins at Vandy. Something about humans makes us want to accomplish things together.” A devout Christian, Stewart adds that some of his favorite “golf” memories were watching college teammates come into a faith of their own during their time together at Vandy.

Now, four years after college golf, Stewart spends most of his weeks this time of year north of the border, playing on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. For those who aren’t big golfers, the Mackenzie Tour is effectively the equivalent of AA baseball. “You take a step up to get to (the Web.com Tour), step up to PGA.” It’s not as glamorous as it looks, he says. “Early mornings and nights away,” are the price you pay as a professional golfer. He’s jealous of the players at the top who can brings their families along with them throughout the season. But the reward? “I get to play golf for a living.”

Hunter’s early professional career saw some starts in PGA events, including a top-10 at the 2015 Mayakoba Classic, but he still hasn’t had his break thru—making this week at home all the more significant. What could a good showing this week do for Hunter? “A win gets you the rest of the year and the next two years” on the PGA Tour. “Top two or three probably gets you on the Web. Top 10 gets you a start next week and enough money to keep going.” And that’s ultimately the goal—keep grinding, making enough money to keep going, until you wind up, eventually, on the PGA Tour.

Hunter was eleven years old the first time he played Champion’s Trace in early 2005. Is it weird going back? “Undoubtedly,” he says, as he reflects on the days when he and teammate Blanton Farmer pranked call the pro shop. “It’s a little odd . . . it’s just kind of where golf began for me.” He quotes Phil Mickelson, who has noted how difficult it is to win at home with all the distractions that come as part of the package. “I’d be kidding myself if I said I could just put the blinders on, so I just want to embrace it.”

Will he be nervous? Absolutely. “If you’re not nervous, that’s when you really should be nervous,” he quips. “But I’ve played some of my best rounds when I’ve been really nervous.”

How else will Hunter be feeling Thursday, as he steps to the tee alongside golf legends like John Daly and Kentucky legends like Steve Flesch? “Thankful. I just want to embrace it and be really thankful and have a great attitude. I’m thankful for those who have made it possible.” Best of luck to the Kentucky native this week.
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Want to keep up with Hunter this week and the future of his career? You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@hunterstewart5), or track his play on the PGA Tour App or pgatour.com.

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Article written by Taylor Combs