Kyle Stanley’s Discarded Winner’s Cheque (and Other Thoughts)
By Conor Nagle under PGA Tour

So close... (via Geoff Shackelford)

When Kyle Stanley played the 18th hole of Torrey Pines’ South Course for the first time last night, the prospect of a second visit was considered so unlikely, so far beyond the realms of possibility, that some overzelaous tournament official decided to draft the winner’s cheque.

And who could blame them?

When the Washington native stood the final fairway, poised to find the green in regulation, he enjoyed a three-shot advantage over his nearest challenger, Brandt Snedeker.

He could afford, theoretically, to find the back of the green and four-putt from distance for his first victory; he could miss the green wide right before duffing a chip and jabbing three dismal putts holewards; he could even use his putter for a series of nudges around the lake guarding the green.

Of the many hundreds – nay thousands – of permutations and combinations available to him, Stanley elected for one whose arithmetic would leave him either with a comfortable margin of victory (the perfect start to a promising career) or scrotum-tighteningly close to public humiliation. Form alone appeared to discount the latter.

But when his ball spun across the face of the ridge guarding that final pin, and gathered momentum as it tumbled back towards the lake, the magnitude of his miscalculation became clear.

In his single-minded determination to win the right way, Stanley fell victim to one of the modern golf’s most seductive myths: that sound fundamentals and confident execution alone hold the key to good scoring.

In reality, golf is about the balance of probabilities, and in refusing to countenance outcomes that didn’t immediately jive with his winning attitude, the 24-year-old committed a cardinal sin.

Hubris, thy name is Stanley.

Of course, finding the water hazard in front of the green left him with an opportunity to salvage victory – three shots would do it – but visibly rattled, disturbed by the sudden irruption of an event he hadn’t – perhaps couldn’t – anticipate(d), the task became immeasurably more difficult.

In only took seconds to undo a lifetime’s good work, to reduce the golf club to foreign object.

Taking to Twitter after the subsequent play-off consigned Stanley to the most ignominious of losses, Robert Garrigus suggested the youngster could learn from his heartbreak at the 2010 St.Jude Classic.

But while both have now suffered the sort of defeat that can end careers, that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike Garrigus, for whom a twitchy susceptibility to pressure wreaked havoc, Stanley was undone by his inability to conceive of failure.

That, of course, and the fact that’s impossible to come to terms with your own fallibility en route to the drop zone.

Conor Nagle