Damon Stephenson grew accustomed to fending for himself in Australia.
Aussie golf meant a lot of individual amateur tournaments, but no team competition. That was an adjustment he had to make when he jumped to the United States to play for Georgia State.
The freshman discovered added pressure in playing to support a team score as well as your own. This week, Stephenson delivered both.
He grabbed medalist honors Tuesday at the Wexford Plantation Intercollegiate on Hilton Head Island, shooting even par while helping the Panthers secure the team title.
"Here, if you play bad, you're letting down the team," said Stephenson, whose only previous American golf experience before college was an appearance at the Junior World Championships in San Diego. "Everyone's got to put in the effort."
The Panthers, who finished with a team total of 892 for the three-round event, received another top performance from sophomore Tyler Gruca, who finished second, three strokes behind his teammate.
No other Panthers cracked the top 20, but the first two slots were enough. Furman, 10 shots behind to begin the final round, finished second at 898. Davidson, Louisville and Presbyterian rounded out the top five.
Georgia State, under fourth-year coach Joe Inman, improved from their season debut at TPC Sawgrass. Given some time off to work on their games and free from the pressures of qualifying in practice, the Panthers returned to tournament competition refocused, Gruca said.
"It's good to see it paid off," he said. "So hopefully we can build off this and keep it going the rest of the season and going into the postseason."
The Panthers' goal is a return to the NCAA tournament, where they haven't played since Inman's first season. To get there, players can't stop working after their early-season victory, Inman said.
He walked the course with Gruca on Monday, and saw room for improvement in Stephenson's finish Tuesday. Inman likened Georgia State's chances against big-time programs to the discrepancy in Major League Baseball payrolls, saying the Panthers would have to find a way to overcome the deficiencies.
"I think we've got more steps," Inman said. "In the end, we're I think better than what we did this week."
Furman, playing its first event of the year, placed two in the top 10 but could not fire the low round needed to overtake Georgia State. Coach Todd Satterfield said he felt if someone could shoot a few under par, the Paladins might sneak into first. But the best Tuesday was a 1-over 73 from Matt Brown.
Wexford's renovations in the past year received a lot of chatter. And the firmness of the greens helped keep scores high. High winds also proved a factor in the first round.
"Obviously, you like to win," Satterfield said. "But to have a chance to win and being in that last group, it paid a lot of dividends down the road."
That Georgia State closed the victory, in its first trip to Wexford and with a young lineup, gave Inman reason for optimism. With two underclassmen leading the way, the Panthers learned to win Tuesday.
"We didn't do to well last year," Gruca said. "This is the first time for a lot of us being in a position like this."
WEXFORD PLANTATION INTERCOLLEGIATE
Final Team Results
Georgia State University 892
Furman University 898
USC Aiken 912
William and Mary 917
Francis Marion 919
Radford University 921
Ohio University 925
Western Carolina 934
Individual Top 20
Damon Stephenson, Georgia State 72-73-71--216
Tyler Gruca, Georgia State 73-71-75--219
William Sigg, Presbyterian 76-72-73--221
Kyle Blackston, Louisville 75-75-71--221
Weston Eklund, Radford 75-73-74--222
Matthew Broome, Furman 73-74-75--222
Fredrik Sporck, Francis Marion 78-69-75--222
Richard Fountain, Davidson 75-70-77--222
J.D. Solis, USC Aiken 75-76-72--223
Sam Echikson, Davidson 75-75-73--223
Matt Brown, Furman 80-70-73--223
Jeremy Wells, William and Mary 74-79-71--224
Matt Akins, USC Aiken 75-73-76--224
Austin Reeves, Furman 76-75-75--226
Evan Phillips, Presbyterian 74-77-75--226
Callum Tarren, Radford 73-76-77--226
Jack Wilkes, Richmond 71-77-78--226
Casey O'Toole, Samford 79-74-74--227
Paul Grauer, Ohio 79-71-77--227
Patrick Leisure, William and Mary 76-78-73--227
Greg Carrier, Furman 80-73-74--227
Travis Gantt, Francis Marion 74-77-76--227