Scott Stallings has never strolled across the plush, verdant fairways of Augusta National. He’s never had his hat blown off by the swirling winds of links golf at the Open Championship. Heck, he hasn’t even played a full season on the PGA Tour.
But Sunday at the Greenbrier Classic, Stallings soared to his first professional victory.
After starting the day one off the lead, Stallings made four crippling bogeys on the front nine. However instead of sinking into despair, Stallings roared back with six birdies on his next nine, highlighted by the single most important birdie putt of the 26-year-old’s career on the 18th hole.
He carded a 1-under-par 69 and earned his way into a playoff against Bob Estes and Bill Haas. The trio returned to the par-3 18th for the playoff and Stallings hit nearly a carbon-copy of his earlier shot to within five feet of the cup. After Estes and Haas watched their putts just barely miss, Stallings studied his putt meticulously. He tapped his speedy, left-to-right breaking putt and at the very moment his ball fell in the cup, Stallings and the crowd erupted in almost synchronized ecstasy.
Stallings became the 10th first-time winner this season, and sixth rookie champion on the PGA Tour (the most on Tour dating to 1970). For Stallings, there’s no doubt this Sunday at the Greenbrier would be a day he’d never forget, if anything for the totally unpredictable start and finish.
“I think this round was the tale of two nines. The front nine I couldn’t do anything right; the back nine I had pretty good control of what I was doing.”
When Stallings appeared to have totally collapsed on the front-nine, was anybody really that surprised? Remember, this is a just rookie on Tour who entered the final round of only his 21st PGA Tour event in contention, something he’d never done before. It may not be the type of pressure that Kobe Bryant feels with the clock winding down in the final seconds of a NBA game, but it is certainly an intense, mind and body consuming feeling. Four bogeys on the front-nine was almost generous.
What was completely out of the blue was Stallings utter relentlessness on the back nine. Between hole no.10 and the playoff hole, Stallings carded two pars, one bogey and seven birdies. That’s unheard of for a rookie. Actually, that’s simply unheard of!
Stallings is a true Cinderella story.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little kid…I was that little boy running around to chase autographs and yelling at guys because they wouldn’t stop and sign my golf balls or so on and so forth. But to wake up every single day and to have a dream about playing out here and watching golf with my dad growing up and just saying, Hey, how did you do this? How did you do that? Just trying to learn from watching guys on TV… And to be a champion of such a great event it was a huge blessing, and I’ll never forget it for sure.”
With the victory at the Greenbrier Classic, Stallings earned a spot in next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. He may also have some new material for his blog.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)