ST. LOUIS — Steven Souchek of Columbia has been here before.
Playing nearly flawless golf on the Norwood Hills Country Club West Course on Thursday, Souchek ignored hot, humid conditions to shoot a 3-under-par 68 and has the lead after the first round of local qualifying for the United States Amateur Golf Championship.
Now a 21-year-old player who will be a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Souchek must find a way to close the deal as he attempts to qualify for his first USGA national competition.
A former Gibault standout, Souchek holds a one-shot lead over Carr Vernon and Scott McGrath heading into the final 18 holes on Friday.
Alex Cusumano is among three players at 1 under, while former Belleville West and University of Mississippi standout Phil Caravia is among four players who fought through the conditions to finish at even-par 71.
But it was the talented Souchek who is once again 18 holes away from having a giant weight lifted off his shoulders.
Souchek, who played at John A. Logan College this past year, led the NJCAA Division I National Tournament heading into the final round during the spring and last month he was in a position to qualify for the United States Public Links Championship.
But both times, a final round meltdown cost him.
"Hopefully it will be different this time. Maybe I'll wear two different colored socks or maybe I'll eat something different. Anything to change my luck around a little bit,'' Souchek said. "Seriously, I'm going to focus on hitting fairways and greens and two-putting. If I can shoot par tomorrow, I like my chances of getting out.''
In all 106 of the top amateur players in the Midwest played at Norwood Hills. At stake are four spots into the 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship, which will be played Aug. 12-18 at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
While Souchek and Caravia had the low scores for metro-east players, several others also shot rounds of 76 or better to qualify for the final 18 holes on Friday.
Former Triad standout Blaine Buente fired a 1-over-par 72, while Mark Gardiner of Mascoutah, recently retired after a long career in the United States Air Force, checked in with a 73.
A member of the Millikin University golf program, Wes Hillen of Columbia shot a 74. Justin Robinson, who played at Lindenwood University Belleville, shot a 75 while two other local players -- Devlin Keenoy of Edwardsville and Michael Speicher of Mascoutah -- both shot 76.
Gardiner, coming off a top 20 finish at the Metropolitan Open Golf Championship last week, played well in every facet of the game except one.
"I was pleased. I was cable to continue my recent strong play again and had a good round. I just didn't play the par 3s very well,'' said Gardiner, who played the four par-3 holes at 3 over. "I also missed a couple of short putts which hurt my chances.''
Robinson may have felt the effects of the mid-90 degree temperatures, as he played his final four holes at 3 over to shoot a 75.
"If you would have told me I'd shoot 75, I would have probably taken it,'' Robinson said. "I played very well for 14 holes. It's just disappointing I let it get away late.''