Stankowski back on track with new swing

Paul Stankowski

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Our annual number-crunching package looks at players who made significant moves – up or down – during the past year in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

Our 2010 poster boy is Paul Stankowski, a former top-25 player early in his career who had struggled for the past decade. But a new instructor and a revamped swing paid off in a 540-spot jump in the Golfweek rankings (from No. 683 to No. 143) and, even more importantly for Stankowski, a rise in confidence and a career that’s back on track for 2011.

When you have two sets of clubs – one with graphite shafts and one with steel shafts – for two different swings, and you play on the PGA Tour, you know you’re in trouble. Such was the depth of despair for Paul Stankowski.

“I was lost,” he said. “On Mondays, I’d look at both sets and think, ‘Which one am I taking with me?’ I knew I couldn’t beat guys out here thinking like that.”

Still, committing to a switch in swing instructors wasn’t easy.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Stankowski said of former coach Mike Wilson, who had coached Stankowski since 1991 when he graduated college.

Number crunching

Check back to Golfweek.com every day through the end of the year to take a look at players who made significant moves – up and down – in 2010.

Stankowski was a two-time Tour winner who had finished inside the top 125 on the money list for eight consecutive years between 1996 and 2003 (his high mark was No. 21 in 1997). But he hadn’t finished in the top 70 in earnings since 2002 (or in the top 150 since ’04). After failing to Monday-qualify for the Northern Trust Open in February and tiring of “chasing the wind,” Stankowski called instructor Mike Abbott for a fresh approach.

Stankowski, 41, described his game the past few seasons as one-dimensional. He relied on a high-spinning cut. Upon his return from tearing a tendon in his left wrist in late 2006, Stankowski adjusted his swing to compensate for myriad injuries.

Under Abbott, Stankowski banished the old swing and changed his ball flight.

“I played 30 years setting up on the right side of the tee box looking at the left edge of the fairway and hitting a big cut, and now I’m hitting a draw,” he said. “I’ve officially gotten to left of center of the tee box. It’s a two-step challenge. It’s a challenge mentally just to stick the tee in the ground and look at the right side of the fairway.”

His progress is evident in his 2010 statistics. Stankowski finished first in par-3 performance (14 under) and 11th in the all-around category, a compilation of eight major stats. His putting average of 1.753 ranked T-26, an improvement from T-171 in 2009. It marked the first time his putting average had fallen below 1.80 since 2003.

Stankowski’s breakthrough on the course occurred in July at the Reno-Tahoe Open, where he recorded his first top-10 finish since 2004. He proved it wasn’t a fluke with a T-4 at The Greenbrier Classic two weeks later. All told, Stankowski earned more money in 2010 ($666,591) than in his past three Tour seasons combined . He was 137th in earnings, giving him conditional status for next season, then became fully exempt for 2011 with a tie for ninth at Q-School.

It was an emotional moment when he did so. “Don’t make me start crying now,” he told an interviewer, who dared to recount all he had overcome.

With watery eyes, Stankowski said he and Abbott are not done.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable,” he said. “There are some shots that would’ve scared the daylights out of me in the past and pins that I never could go for, and now I can.”

In 2011, he’s setting his sights on ending an even-longer dry spell – Stankowksi last won in 1997.

“Two top 10s was a big hurdle to leap,” he said. “If I get the putter heated up, I’m going to win again, and that’s exciting.”

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