SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.– Many sages have imparted wisdom that goes something like this: Most important is not what happens to you or how you react to what happens; rather, it’s how you consciously choose to respond.
Apparently Kyle Stanley was paying attention.
Two days later, the shock and emotional pain of making triple-bogey-8 and losing a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the Farmers Insurance Open apparently have worn off. They have been replaced by warmth from an outpouring of support and the realization that he is playing well.
If he’s ruminating, he’s hiding it well.
“I’m pretty much at peace with everything,” the 24-year-old said Tuesday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. “You can either let it get you down or you can focus on the positive. I did way too many good things last week to dwell on one shot or one hole or one putt.”
The shot and putt, of course, came on the same hole. He put too much spin on a 77-yard sand wedge shot that spun back some 35 feet into water. Then he missed a 3 1/2-foot putt for victory and lost on the second playoff hole against stunned beneficiary Brandt Snedeker.
This wasn’t your typical Category 5 final-hole blowup. There were no shanks or blades or fats. Stanley didn’t hit a bad shot on his final few holes. He just hit one unwise one. And when he replayed things in his mind Sunday night, that spinny wedge was the one that popped up most.
He would have been better off blasting a 3-wood into the grandstand or, more sensible, wedging to the back or right part of the green.
“Knowing what I know now, (I’d) hit a 52 (degree wedge) instead of 56, maybe,” he said. “You know, just maybe do whatever I could to take that water out of play. But in the moment, I felt like (caddie) Brett (Waldman) and I made a pretty good decision, and that doesn’t change.”
What has changed is his relationship with the world, and vice versa.
Stanley said he’s “overwhelmed” by the support flooding in from all corners. Past Masters champion Zach Johnson talked with him Sunday night. Steve Stricker, America’s top-ranked player, and Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few were among the countless who sent text messages. Robert Garrigus, who blew a final-hole, three-shot lead in Memphis in 2010, sent him a couple of notes via Twitter. Charles Barkley wrote in through an intermediary. New to Twitter, Stanley said his Twitter followers swelled by some 6,000 in less than two days.
“(Garrigus) bounced back nicely (with victory at the end of 2010),” Stanley said, “and I plan on doing the same.”
The text exchange with Few during a somber Sunday night dinner with his family, close friend and agent was particularly helpful to the 2009 Ben Hogan Award winner out of Clemson. Stanley, a native of suburban Seattle, said he started watching Gonzaga basketball when he was “3 feet tall” and lives and dies with every game. He has not met Few, and the coach took the initiative to get the golfer’s cellular telephone number from a third party.
“That turned his emotions around,” agent Brad Buffoni said. “All of a sudden, he started seeing the positives. It was a good pivot point. He left the dinner in different spirits. That and all the support has made him more comfortable that the world out there likes Kyle Stanley.”
Stanley said the coach told him to “keep my head up and that I played tough and that down the road I’m going to be stronger for it.”
Earlier Sunday, Stanley had broken down in tears several times in the interview room. Then he and Buffoni spent 30 minutes alone in the locker room, as Stanley quietly tried to absorb what had just transpired as the agent offered perspective. More tears would follow that night.
“I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Stanley said. “It was very tough to swallow. But that’s one of the things I learned – you need to really be prepared for what this game can throw at you. It’s a crazy game. It can love you; it can hate you.”
Stanley is known to be quiet and shy in large crowds but fun with his inner circle. He’s a powerful ball-striker who has focused on upgrading his short game since joining the Tour last year. Count him high on the growing list of young players with star potential. As Snedeker said, “The sky’s the limit.”
When you’re in mourning, it’s difficult to see the sky. Or if you can, it’s gray.
There was a beautiful, blue sky here Tuesday. Even for our recovering protagonist. Once the tears dried, he could see that he tied the Farmers 54-hole scoring record, led in ball-striking and putts per green in regulation and made three key par-saving putts, on Nos. 14-16.
“We’re dealing with it, and we’re just going to continue to do what I can do each day to get better,” said Stanley, known for his work ethic. “That’s what I was doing going into last week, and that’s not going to change.
“I’m still the same guy. I’m still very confident. There were unfortunate circumstances, but we’ll get back in the saddle. … I may not have believed it Sunday night or even Monday morning, but everybody just kept telling me I’ll be a lot stronger for it, and I agree with that.”