Regardless of how she performs in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals Sunday at Augusta National, Allyn Stephens won’t have any trouble keeping her results in perspective.
Two words speak volumes as to the reason: Hurricane Harvey.
The eighth-grader from Houston, a competitor in the Girls 12-13 division, lived through a natural disaster that spawned unprecedented flooding in her hometown last August. Nearly eight months since four feet of water severely damaged her family’s residence 10 miles northeast of downtown, the Stephenses are still staying in a rental home.
They are counting the days until they can move back into familiar surroundings – but also counting their blessings.
“I am thankful to have parents who could pay for rebuilding the house,” Allyn said prior to a Saturday practice session at the River Club in North Augusta, S.C. “I’m grateful that there is a house I can go back to, because I know a lot of people can’t go back to theirs.”
The Stephenses live just a par-3 away from Greens Bayou. “A lot of the images you saw on television – people wading through water – was our area of the city,” said Allyn’s father, Joe, a justice of the peace in Harris County. “She has classmates who lost everything. We had to do away with the dress code because some kids barely have the shirt on their back. We have a neighbor whose husband died rescuing people from their homes.”
Joe and his wife, Adrian, raised money to help the widow of Benjamin Vizueth, who was electrocuted by a downed power line when he fell out the boat he had used to ferry flood victims to safety. The Stephenses also provided their labor to assist more than a dozen families in cleaning up their houses. “We helped them tear out the sheet rock, and through that service it made us forget about what we were going through,” Joe Stephens said. “We tried to immerse ourselves in those who were less fortunate. We’re probably 10 years away from our city being back to what it was.”
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, after her family had spent a couple of weeks in a hotel before finding a rental home, Allyn refocused on qualifying for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals for the first time. During the preceding months, she had heeded her father’s advice that dedication would pay off.
“I tell Allyn golf is like anything else: If you put the time in and do the work, things will turn out the way you want them to,” her father said.
“He’s just about hard work,” Allyn said. “That’s his entire message to me – work hard, play hard and have fun.”
The 13-year-old isn’t the only talented athlete in the family. After graduating from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, her father played four seasons in the NBA (with the Houston Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Utah Jazz) and half a dozen years professionally in Europe. Her grandfather, Joe Stephens Sr., who gave Allyn her first cut-down clubs, played basketball at North Texas State in the late 1960s.
Joe Jr. introduced Allyn to his favorite sport, but it was a brief relationship. “She had one good game, and everybody thought she was a world-beater; then it was all downhill from there,” her dad said, laughing.
Golf proved a better fit. “I just feel like it’s my calling,” said Allyn, who aspires to attend Stanford University and become a professional golfer after graduation. “Basketball was cool, but I didn’t love it like I love golf.”
Some of Allyn’s friends don’t share her affinity for the game. “Oh my gosh, they’re like, ‘Allyn, it’s not a sport,’” she said. “It happens all the time. So I’m trying to educate them.”
With a ball placed in front of them, the naysayers quickly come to appreciate the challenges of golf. “They whiff the first three times," said Joe Jr. "Then they understand.”
After her final tune-up on Saturday, Allyn will take an enviable tempo and a definite strategy into the National Finals.
“I have a plan for everything,” she said. “I have a certain distance in mind for drives, chips and putts. For my drives, in between 210 yards and 230 yards. For chips, I want to be six feet or inside. For putts, I want to be within two feet or inside. I feel if I do that, I’ll win. If I do it and I don’t win, I’m still going to be proud of myself.”