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Harwell Leads Texas Mid-Amateur through 36 Holes

HOUSTON – Colby Harwell is 18 holes from accomplishing something no other Texas amateur golfer has done in the past 24 years. After shooting a sizzling 6-under-par 66 on Saturday in the second round of the 2018 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship, the defending champion holds a one-shot lead over a talented field at vaunted River Oaks Country Club.
Texas Golf Hall of Fame member John Grace was the last to successfully defend a Mid-Amateur title when he won four in a row from 1991-94.
“That’s too much to think about,” Harwell said about matching Grace’s feat. “I did come here to defend my title, but all I’m thinking about right now is hitting the first fairway tomorrow.”
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It’s that kind of mentality that helped the 33-year-old San Antonio resident place his tee ball into all 14 of River Oaks Country Club’s fairways in the second round. He only missed two greens on the day and rolled in seven birdies. His two-day total of 6-under 138 is one better than Mansfield’s Lewis Stephenson, who fired a 3-under 69 in the second round and has a 36-hole total of 5-under 139.
Harwell has been one of the hottest players in Texas for more than a year. In addition to the 2017 Texas Mid-Amateur title, he also won last year’s Texas Mid-Amateur Match Play Championship and qualified for the U.S. Amateur. For good measure, Harwell finished T13 in the 108th Texas Amateur last summer against a stacked field of standout collegiate players. Those accomplishments earned Harwell the 2017 Texas Player of the Year award, which he picked up Thursday night at River Oaks.  
Earlier that day while registering for this year’s championship, Harwell returned the Mid-Amateur Championship trophy that he won last September at Comanche Trace.
“You guys hold on to this for me for a few days,” he said. “I’ll pick it up again on Sunday.”
He was smiling when he said it, but he wasn’t joking.
After his 66 on Saturday, Harwell revealed that the round could’ve been much better. He said he left three putts one quarter revolution short from falling in the center of the cup. His plan for Sunday’s final round? Keep it simple, he said.
“I’ve got 18 holes to go and a bunch of good players chasing me,” he said. “I’ll try to put a good number on the board and see what happens.”
Harwell’s closest competitor is Stephenson, the 58-year-old dentist who won the 2016 Senior Amateur at Escondido. He said he came into this week with modest expectations.
“I just wanted to play well and contend for the Mid-Master title,” Stephenson said of the division for players ages 40 years and older. He holds a one-shot lead in the Mid-Master Division and said his goals haven’t changed. “I really wanted this to be a tune up for the Senior Amateur in a couple weeks. I’m just going to come out tomorrow and try to play good golf. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that’s truly all I can control.”
Stephenson hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in the second round. He said he was surprised at his consistent play because he had never seen the golf course prior to his practice round on Thursday.
Tied for third place at 4-under 140 are Jake Istnick from Dallas and Montgomery’s Grant Schroeder. The 42-year-old Istnick shot a 3-under 69 in the second round. He trailed Stephenson in the Mid-Master Division by one stroke. The 26-year-old Schroeder made seven birdies Saturday on his way to a 4-under 68.
Houston’s Jess Bonneau and Micah Rodger from Odessa are tied for fifth place at 3-under 141.
Through two days of the 54-hole championship 13 players are under par and within five shots of Harwell. Fifty-nine players survived the 36-hole cut on Saturday at 6-over 150 or better. Eight River Oaks members qualified for the championship; 50-year-old Gregg Hammer was the lone member to make the cut. Hammer is tied for 12th place overall at 1-under 143. He’s also in fourth place in the Mid-Master Division.
For the second straight day, River Oaks provided a stern championship test for the best mid-amateurs in the state. The competitors played the 1923 Donald Ross-designed course that was completely renovated in 2015 by Tom and Logan Fazio at 6,729 yards in the second round. The par-72 gem features generous fairways but punishing rough – still thick and wet on Saturday from Friday’s rain – and deep, well-positioned bunkers.   
River Oaks played to a stroke average of 75.77 in the second round, which was nearly one shot better than Friday’s first round average of 76.40. The 436-yard, par-4 18th hole was the most daunting test. River Oak’s finishing hole played to a stroke average of 4.57 and yielded just four birdies. The 562-yard, par-5 10th hole was the least difficult; it played to an average of 4.91.
The final round of the 2018 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship begins at 8 a.m. on Sunday. For more information, click here.