SWANSEA — Only two weeks removed from a final round meltdown at the National Junior College Division I Golf Tournament, Columbia native Steven Souchek may now be ready to step onto the national stage.
At least that's the plan anyway.
A recent graduate of John A. Logan College in Carterville, Souchek fired an even-par 69 on Tuesday at Clinton Hill Golf Club and is alone in second place after the opening round of the local qualifier for the 2013 United States Amateur Public Links Championship.
A former prep standout at Gibault, Souchek held the lead at the JUCO national finals last month but struggled coming down the stretch and finished 12th.
"I played great the first three rounds. I shot a 66 in the third round when I played out of this world, but the last day the course was playing really tough and the pins were in tough spots. Plus it was the first time I had been in that position, especially on the national stage. I guess maybe the nerves got to me a little bit,'' Souchek said. "It was a good experience and hopefully I learned from it.''
Souchek trails Kansas State University junior Kyle Weldon, of St. Louis, by two shots heading into the second and final round on Wednesday.
A total of 43 of the top amateur players in the St. Louis area are vying for two spots in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
The 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship will be July 15-20 at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va.
Derek Mason, of Naperville, shot a 70 and is one shot back of Souchek, while Michigan State University sophomore Mitchell Rutledge, of Creve Coeur, and Tony Gumper of St. Charles, (Mo.) are still another stroke back at 71.
Another former Gibault standout -- Justin Robinson -- is at 72 while several players including Josh Phillips, of Belleville, Mark Gardiner, of Mascoutah, and Chris Eddy, of Belleville, are also in position to possibly advance after shooting rounds of 73 Tuesday.
One of the more challenging courses in the St. Louis area, Clinton Hill was played at par 69 on Tuesday instead of its normal par 71. But with tricky pin placements leaving tough approach shots, players still struggled on a hot, windy afternoon.
"I played pretty well,'' Souchek said. "I missed some greens basically because on some holes the pins were tight and if you were a little off target you were going to be off the green. I missed some putts I maybe shouldn't have, but I made some that way too. It was a pretty normal day.''
Rutledge, who played his prep golf at Whitfield High School, rebounded from a double bogey on the first hole and played the final 17 holes even par. Rutledge is searching for his second straight trip to the national finals after reaching match play last year.
"You have good rounds and bad rounds out here. That's golf. But I think I've learned to control my nerves after qualifying last year and playing more of these events,'' Rutledge said. "Today, I got off to a bad start with the double (bogey) on (No.) 1, but I came back with a birdie on maybe the toughest hole on the course which is hole No. 4. Then I had a nice long string of pars.
"I'll have to play better tomorrow (Wednesday). I think maybe one or two under par to have a chance.''
Robinson, who is a senior at Lindenwood University-Belleville, wasn't as accurate as maybe he would have liked, but still managed a 4-over 73.
"It was a struggle out there today. I didn't hit a lot of greens, but I got up-and-down a lot,'' Robinson said. "I grinded out there today. I only had two birdies all day.''
Torrey Welsch, of Belleville, and Dane Gray, of Swansea, shot rounds of 74 while Tyler Huelskamp, of Carlyle, and Paul Keck, of O'Fallon, are also within eight shots of the lead after firing rounds of 75.