Levin, Stanley prove it is hard to win on Tour
Would you rather be blindsided, knocked cold and wake up wondering what happened or see the punch coming slowly and deliberately without the ability to move, duck or faint?
Those two options played out on the PGA Tour the last two weeks for Kyle Stanley and Spencer Levin.
Stanley was hit with - or perhaps hit himself with - a haymaker that left him reeling. But he stood on wobbly legs in Pheonix a week later and regained his balance and then balanced the usually lopsided scales of golf justice. Not to diminish Stanley's accomplishment, but it may be a little tougher for Levin, who died more than one death on Sunday in Phoenix.
This was not the first time that victory was close enough to smell and then was ripped from Levin's grasp. He stood and watched Johnson Wagner on the 72nd hole roll in an 8-footer to force a playoff in Mayokoba last year. On the first playoff hole, Levin drove his ball into a fairway bunker and was unable to reach the green.
His fate sealed he handled defeat with an agitated grace. But even that disappointment may pale in comparison to the deliberate, stressful agony that he suffered from start to finish on Sunday.
The comparisons between what happened to Levin and what happened to Stanley seem inevitable. Stanley found redemption because he could take solace in the fact that he held it together for 71 and ¾ holes at Torrey Pines. Sure he should have been able to make a 7 on the final hole and win the golf tournament.
He knows that, but making an 8 doesn't affect a player's psyche the same way that making four bogeys and a double in the final round with a six-shot lead. Adversity comes in so many forms in this game that it is impossible to be able to handle them all. Stanley showed that he could handle the knock-out punch and play his way right back into mix.
For Levin, it may be a little more difficult.
I would love to see Levin bounce back and win at Pebble Beach this week. He plays well there, including a fourth-place finish in 2011. But I think that it is a tougher task for him simply because his final round on Sunday was totally unremarkable in every way. The questions and doubts that arise from something like that tend to linger a little longer.
I believe that Levin will win on the PGA Tour. Levin came out of college as one of the best young players in the game seven years ago. He played on sponsors exemptions in 2005 and took a pretty good beating. It happens. He took the steps up the ladder that he had to take. He played the Nationwide Tour for a few years and finally broke through to the PGA Tour in 2008 by finishing 22nd on the season-ending money list. As a rookie in 2009, he struggled once again but went back to Q-School and earned his way back for 2010. He has gotten better every year since. He has gone about it the hard way and has earned it every step of the way.
Levin's progress is undeniable. His talent is unmistakable. He will take the tough lessons learned this weekend and put them in the vault with all the others. When the time comes he will have them there to draw upon. His time will come, undoubtedly.
The individual nightmares collectively proved that winning on the PGA Tour from out front may be one of the hardest things to do in sports. Certain great champions have convinced us that it is easier than it actually is. The stories of failure from Hogan and Snead through Palmer and Nicklaus have long been forgotten, but if you dig you can find them.
What they all had in common was once they learned how to win they rarely wavered. It happens with every generation and for some it happens later in their career. For others it doesn't happen at all. It happened for Stanley and if there is any justice in this unjust game it will happen for Levin as well. But he will have to make it happen or at least be there to pick up the pieces when someone else fails to make it happen for themselves.
Sometimes this game is hard to like, even when you love it.