Golf’s “mates” set a winning tone for Panthers

Georgia State’s golf program has struck gold internationally in recent years.

“Gold” comes in the form of two cornerstones for the program in junior Damon Stephenson and sophomore Jonathan “J.J.” Grey, who have both been solid in their collegiate careers.

Stephenson has one overall victory and has finished in the top 25 11 times as a Panther. He is also successful in the class room as he was on the Sun Belt Academic Honor Role last season.

Grey burst on the college scene last year, winning the first two tournaments of his career and finishing his freshman season with 12 top 25 finishes.

Grey was named Freshman All-American and finished his freshman season ranked No. 43 by Golfstat and No. 64 by Golf Week.

Grey is currently leading the Panthers in top 25 finishes this season with eight.

Damon Stephenson is the next big "Aussie" in the game of golf with 11 top 25 finishes in his career.
Damon Stephenson is the next big “Aussie” in the game of golf with 11 top 25 finishes in his career.

The Panthers’ roster includes four international-born players to go along with the five American-born players, which brings with it a little friendly competition.

“We kind of have friendly matches in practice,” senior Tyler Gruca said, “but during tournaments, we’re all trying to do the same thing, which is just help out the team.”

Stephenson and Grey have done just that, and have situated themselves at the head of the table as key pieces of the Panthers’ puzzle.

Stephenson, who is originally from Gold Coast, Australia, and Grey, originally from Kent, England, are first and second in top 25 finishes this season for the Panthers. Stephenson has posted five top 25 finishes and Grey six top 25 finishes.

Gruca sees the pair as a barometer for the overall success of the team.

“Both of them, if they’re playing well, then we know we’ll have a good chance to shoot a good round and compete by the end of the tournament,” Gruca said.

Despite their similar statistics, Stephenson and Grey have had different roads to where they are as players and geographically.

Stephenson said he can remember hitting stones with sticks at the age of two or three, long before he would make himself into the promising golfer he is today.

Stephenson moved around the world to follow his father’s job growing up; living in the Philippines, Malaysia and Qatar.

It was when Stephenson lived in Qatar that he was introduced to the game.

“We were living in Qatar when I was 12 or 13, and there wasn’t much to do in the country,” Stephenson said, “but there was one really nice golf course that actually hosted a European tournament, so I played there quite a bit and sort of got into it.”

Eventually, Stephenson would catch the eyes of Georgia State, San Diego State University, University of North Carolina and Berry College, all of which wanted him in their programs.

Georgia State caught Stephenson’s attention, however, because of its location and Head Coach Joe Inman.

“Definitely liked the location of it in Downtown Atlanta,” Stephenson said. “Lots of stuff to do, the access to some of the courses, coaching, [and] coach Inman obviously has a lot of experience on tour,” Stephenson said adding Inman has a wealth of knowledge and experience to help teach the team.

Stephenson also has a local idol that he looks up to: Adam Scott.

“He’s undoubtedly he’s probably the best Australian golfer,” Stephenson said. “A lot stuff he does, I defiantly look up to him. We came from the same hometown back in Australia.”

Grey’s path to Georgia State started with him seeing his mother play.

“She used to play internationally, and ever since I started, I was kind of always inspired to come over here and play.”

Grey got an early start at golf, receiving lessons at age 11. He admits it wasn’t something that his friends thought of as fun.

“Everybody kind of considers golf an old man sport. So it wasn’t anything of any my school friends did,” Grey said, “but, I liked it enough to forget about that sort of thing.”

Grey’s early start jump started his skills and he would later garner attention from American schools such Georgia State, Colorado, Texas State and Maryland.

Once at Georgia State, Stephenson took Grey under his wing, not knowing the two would soon form a powerful duo for the Panthers. But Grey did not stay under the wing for long winning his first two college tournaments he participated in.

“He just took off and went himself and had a great year,” Stephenson said of Grey as a freshman.

The two have even developed a solid friendship.

“We’re pretty good mates me and J.J. [Grey]. He’s from England so we have the Aussie, English banner going on,” Stephenson said of Grey.

Grey and Stephenson will be back in action at the Sun Belt Conference tournament April 21-23.