Kyle Stanley made a smart decision and got in front of the story early in the week at the WM Phoenix Open, so he could move on and redirect his focus to the present. He agreed to face the press on Tuesday morning at TPC Scottsdale, and bravely answered the inevitable questions about his shocking collapse on the par-5 18th at Torrey Pines in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open this past Sunday.
The 24-year-old from Gig Harbor, Washington, handled it like a pro, saying all the right things and staying dry-eyed, unlike Sunday when he understandably had trouble holding back emotions.
To his credit, the soft-spoken second-year PGA Tour player seemed poised and answered questions as honestly as possible. (I think everyone felt pretty sympathetic, so it wasn’t like he was under attack.) He emphasized the positives of the week because there’s no doubt he played very well and is extremely talented. And he’s taking the lessons learned from this difficult experience in stride, too.
“I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve a little bit,” said Stanley, referring to his tears after triple-bogeying the last hole in regulation and then losing the playoff to Brandt Snedeker. “You know, it just kind of came out. It was very tough to swallow. But that’s one of the things I learned is I think you need to really be prepared for whatever this game can throw at you.
“It’s a crazy game. It can love you, it can hate you.”
And nobody was judging him. If anything, it endeared him to the sympathetic public. As Snedeker said on Sunday, “You never want to see anybody go through that. I don’t care who it is, not even your worst enemy on the planet.”
Some have questioned Stanley and his caddie Brett Waldman’s decision to lay up instead of airmailing it into the grandstands behind the green — or just going for it and hitting it anywhere on the green. He only needed a 7 to clinch the win, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be (well, that’s one way of saying it). Instead of hitting lob wedge from 80 yards on his third shot, he took a sand wedge to take some of the spin out.
(Brett) didn’t expect that, I didn’t expect that, but it happened (to spin off the green into the water),” said Stanley. ” We’re dealing with it, and you know, we’re just going to continue to do what I can do each day to get better. That’s what I was doing going into last week, and that’s not going to change. I’m still the same guy. You know, unfortunate circumstances there, but we’ll get back in the saddle, and I think I’ll be better for it.”
In hindsight, he wouldn’t have really changed his game plan. He wouldn’t have gone for the green in two and launched his 3-wood in the grandstands. Laying up was the game plan and he obviously felt comfortable with it. The only thing he may have done differently was to hit a 52-degree wedge instead of a 56-degree on the third shot to make sure it reached the tough shelf.
Bobby Brown can attest that the 80-yard shot was in Stanley’s wheelhouse. Why? Because after Brown and Dustin Johnson split last April, he started looping and working for Stanley starting from May to the end of the season. During non-tournament weeks, Brown would drive an hour-and-a-half five days a week and meet Stanley to help him with his practice sessions. Already by reputation, Stanley is one of the hardest workers on Tour (if not the hardest).
“Nobody knows but Brett and me how hard the kid works, so I’m sure they were licking their chops on that number,” Bobby told me on Tuesday at the Phoenix Open. “Literally, I’m not kidding you, every day off, we would sit there for 2-3 hours, we would hit little piercing 60, 70, 80, 90, hundred buck ten shots. I would stand on the green and he would want feedback on every single one — what did that do, how close did it land, how much did it spin, how did it react. So, he certainly felt good about where he was.”
While many have criticized Stanley’s decision to layup, Brown backed it.
“You hate to question anyone’s strategy, but I wouldn’t even sit there and go — oh, they did the wrong thing, they’re supposed to blow it deep in the grandstands,” he said. “Anything crazy could happen. I mean, just ask Jean Van de Velde.”
So did DJ.
“He laid up to a good yardage,” Johnson told me on Tuesday. “It wasn’t like he did anything wrong. He’s got a three-shot lead. You can lay up, you can go for it, you can do whatever you want. And he obviously was comfortable with laying up, so the decision is not a bad one because most of the guys are doing the same in that situation. There’s nothing wrong with it. Now if I was hitting from where he was, my ball would have been flying into the back trap rather than laying it on the bottom shelf, but the layup is fine.
“He obviously didn’t hit that good of a shot. I talked to him and his caddie (Brett Waldman) and they were trying to land it on the back shelf. It landed on the bottom instead — Kyle didn’t fly it far enough. He didn’t hit it where he wanted to. You can say whatever you want, it’s just a bad situation. S#!t happens.”
Now Bobby has no doubt the mishap will only serve to motivate Kyle even more than he already is.
“I gotta tell you, if anybody can fight back — that kid has got like alligator skin,” he said. “It’s tough. He might get a little emotional, shed a few tears and stuff like that, but if nothing else, this is going to get him to work that much harder. So that doesn’t happen again. I hope he wins a couple times as long as Dustin’s not in the same field.”
Since first speaking to Bobby last June at the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier, he’s raved about Kyle’s work ethic. And I know he’s not exaggerating because it’s pretty legendary — I mean, he almost makes Vijay Singh look lazy.
“I’m not kidding you, five days a week — 60 balls from 60 yards, 60 from 70, 60 from 80,” said Bobby. “And we’d do that for three hours and then grab a bite to eat and then do it over again.”
As he started walking toward his car, he smiled and cracked, “I wonder what if Dustin worked that hard? …Maybe he wouldn’t be as good.”
(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)