Wow — for the second week in a row, that was the first word I uttered, but this Sunday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, I was shaking my head in awe and respect instead of shock and disbelief.
I think few doubted that Kyle Stanley, who quite possibly works harder than anyone else in the pro ranks (I mean, the kid makes Vijay Singh look lazy!), would break through with his first PGA Tour victory sooner rather than later (but sometimes these things can go either way — need I list examples?). After all, talent doesn’t just vanish. Neither does resilience, especially when you’re 24 years old.
“I’ll tell you what, as well as I know him,” said Bobby before the tournament started. “I think he’s going to come into this week (at the WM Phoenix Open), shake it off, and say, ‘Hey, I played my balls off, I gave it 110%.’…I gotta tell you, if anybody can fight back — that kid has got like alligator skin.”
Outside the scoring trailer, just minutes after Kyle had signed his scorecard, his caddie Brett Waldman spoke to a scrum of reporters.
“No question (I was confident Kyle was going to win soon),” said Waldman, who took a year off from looping on the PGA Tour to test out his own game as a player on the Nationwide Tour. “Out here on the Tour, you just can’t hide talent. Talent can’t hide for long.”
That’s undeniable, but most, even Kyle, didn’t expect such a quick bounce-back.
“I’m not sure what I’m thinking right now,” said Stanley, smiling, in his post-win presser. “It’s been a great week. You go from a very low point to a high point. I’m not sure I expected to maybe recover this quickly. You know, I’ll take it.”
See, it’s not so hard to win!
“I just tried to focus on playing golf,” he said, laughing. “I knew I was playing well coming into this week. I think the biggest challenge was seeing if I could put last week behind me. I think I did.”
I’d say so.
Stanley started the day trailing leader Spencer Levin by eight shots. It was already impressive to see him and Waldman back in the mix, let alone for them to come from behind and capture the big W. Obviously, the circumstances this Sunday were rather different than the ones last week at Torrey Pines. Kyle hadn’t gone into the final round with a five-shot advantage or held the wire-to-wire lead. Just about any player will tell you it’s easier to be chasing the lead than holding it.
In a mere two weeks, Stanley has experienced both sides of the spectrum.
“I think playing from behind was quite a bit easier,” said the 24-year-old from Gig Harbor, Washington. “I think when you have a big lead, it’s human nature to want to protect it. I think it’s a little easier kind of being on the chasing side. It certainly was today. So yeah, I guess coming from behind. But I think you’ve got to learn to deal with both.”
Stanley doesn’t make a habit of watching leaderboards, but he caught a glimpse of one on 17 (which showed he was leading). He tried his best to avoid them because he learned last week it didn’t do him any good to see where he stood or what others were doing. Instead, he focused on what he could control and didn’t force things to happen.
“Brett did a great job of keeping me in the present there on the back nine,” said Kyle. “I don’t know what I’d do without that guy. We just played golf, stuck to our game plan, and here we are.”
Now, those closing holes weren’t exactly the smoothest ride for any of the players in contention. Jason Dufner, Ben Crane, Bubba Watson, and of course, Levin, along with Stanley, made the last 30 minutes or so quite the nail-biter (not going to lie, it got pretty rough that I had to stop watching for a bit).
The difference came down to the usual: making those clutch 5-8 footers under pressure. Unlike at Torrey Pines, Stanley looked calm and composed and didn’t stray from his routine. Kyle took command of the momentum when he rolled in an eight-footer to save par on No. 16, while Crane missed and carded a bogey.
Said Waldman: “He played impressive golf. Last week he was a little bit nervous. This week there was more of a calm. Like he said earlier in the week it was therapeutic for him to be out there. I just kept really building his confidence up. As of Tuesday, we didn’t really talk about last week at all, it was just move forward.
“I said to him last night, ‘Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing and maybe tomorrow is our day to put our best round together,’ and obviously it was. He’s got a lot to be proud of fighting back after last week.
“You’ve got two ways to go, I think; you can either let it ruin you or depress you, et cetera, but he chose the other route.”
While this was sweet redemption for Team #KFS, it doesn’t necessarily erase last week’s disappointing experience. At least not for Stanley, which actually isn’t surprising to hear because if anything, it’ll make him work harder so he doesn’t let history repeat itself (even though it was partly bad luck).
“I’m never going to forget (what happened last week at Torrey Pines),” said Stanley. “But I think it makes this one a lot sweeter, just being able to bounce back. I’m kind of at a loss for words right now. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve gotten. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable turnaround.”
I couldn’t have scripted or said it any better. Kudos to Stanley and Waldman.
(AP Photos/Ross D. Franklin)