By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When he was growing up, one of Kyle Stanley's favorite players was Vijay Singh.
Small wonder, then, that he gained a reputation for a work ethic similar to the Fijian when he went to school at Clemson. In fact, one of the reasons he decided to play for the Tigers was that head coach Larry Penley had built a lighted practice range near the football field.
"You could pretty much practice whenever you wanted," said Stanley, who remembers hitting balls on the range as late -- or as early -- as 3 a.m. "It was pretty cool."
That said, Stanley, who punched his ticket to the Masters in February when he made the Waste Management Phoenix Open the first win of his PGA TOUR career, didn't always have that kind of affinity for the practice range. In fact, Stanley remembers a heart-to-heart with his dad after he missed the cut at Washington's state high school tournament.
"We had a four- or five-hour drive back (from Spokane to Gig Harbor),” Stanley said. “I remember just talking to my dad and he just kind of explained to me, listen, if you want to be really good, if you want to be one of the best players in the world, you know you're going to have to work at it."
Stanley said he made the transformation "pretty quickly." The hard work paid off, too, with a scholarship to Clemson where he earned All-America honors and played on the Walker Cup team. After another speedy transition that included one year on the Nationwide Tour, he found himself on the same range with Singh.
"I've always loved golf," said Stanley, who shaved off his beard on Monday morning. "It's always kind of been my biggest passion. ... But it is one of those deals where you just kind of have to figure out what your priorities are, and once I did that, it just really gave me something to focus on."
He’s so focused now that Stanley will even shyly admit to leaving the course, then turning the car around so he can return to the range and hit one last, good, shot.
"I always want to finish off a practice session on a good note," he said grinning. "It's probably a little bit of an OCD thing, to be honest."
Stanley came to Augusta National last week prior to playing in the Shell Houston Open to learn the nuances of the course and get used to the "aura" of the Masters. He played here as a sophomore at Clemson but that hardly prepared Stanley for what he'll face this week.
"There are a lot of subtleties here especially on the greens," said Stanley, who ranks 159th in strokes gained putting. "I don't think it matters where you're from; you still have to learn them. You can't really do it in one or two days. That's why I came in last week prior to the event and spent a lot of time on these greens. I don't think you can ever get too comfortable on them. They are very difficult."
Stanley, who ranks sixth on TOUR in driving distance, certainly has the length to play Augusta National, though, and he's 12th in greens in regulation. He says he's happy with his play tee-to-green but has put extra time in on his wedge game and his putting leading up the the Masters.
One area of his game Stanley shouldn't be worried about is resiliency, though. After all, this is a man who squandered a five-stroke lead in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open but rebounded seven days later in coming from eight strokes off the pace on Sunday to win in Phoenix.
"I knew probably the biggest thing that I was going to take out from it was I just kind of challenged myself to see if I could put it behind me," Stanley said. "I think probably the biggest thing I learned was just mentally maybe I'm a little bit tougher than I thought I was."