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."
The pairings have been unveiled for this week’s PGA TOUR Matchups Game on Facebook. You can check out the Matchups for the Shell Houston Open below, or on the PGA TOUR’s Facebook page.
Participants have until 6 a.m. ET Thursday to make their picks. Log on to the PGA TOUR Facebook page and click the Matchups link to make your picks for this week, or to sign up.
|Phil Mickelson vs. Fred Couples||Phil defends his title while Fred won his last TOUR event here|
|Johnson Wagner vs. Kyle Stanley||It's a battle of FedExCup leaders current and former|
|Graeme McDowell vs. Lee Westwood||These Europeans bring Texas-sized game to the Lone Star State|
|Ernie Els vs. Anthony Kim||The Big Easy takes on the 2010 champion at Redstone|
|Rickie Fowler vs. Bud Cauley||2010 Rookie of the Year vs. an early favorite for the 2012 award|
|1. Kyle Stanley||935||N/A||T5||88||1,023|
|2. Johnson Wagner||860||-75||10th||T13||56||916|
|3. Mark Wilson||840||-95||6th||T25||42||882|
|4. Rory McIlroy||815||-120||4th||T35||32||847|
|5. Phil Mickelson||807||-128||4th||T25||42||849|
|6. Bill Haas||752||-183||3rd||T44||22||774|
|7. Hunter Mahan||745||-193||3rd||T21||49||791|
|8. Brandt Snedeker||716||-219||2nd||T54||12||728|
|9. Steve Stricker||598||-337||1st||T5||88||686|
|10. Keegan Bradley||563||-372||1st||T5||89||652|
|11. Ben Crane||514||-421||1st||T35||32||546|
|13. Martin Laird||465||-470||1st||T25||42||507|
Check out the February nominees for PGA TOUR Player of the Month presented by Avis.
Who’s was the best PGA TOUR player in February? Now you can help determine the winner.
Avis Rent A Car and the PGA TOUR have redesigned the PGA TOUR’s Player of the Month award program for 2012. The monthly honor will now be determined by a fan vote via PGATOUR.COM. In January, Johnson Wagner became the first winner of the award.
On the first Tuesday of each month, fans can vote online at PGATOUR.COM for one of four players nominated for their outstanding play the previous month by a panel of national media.
The four nominees for February are: Phil Mickelson, Kyle Stanley, Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan.
Mickelson won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and finished second at the Northern Trust Open. Kyle Stanley won the Waste Management Phoenix Open in a dramatic comeback, and Haas won the Northern Trust Open in a thrilling two-hole playoff. Mahan wrapped up the month with a strong run through the bracket at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. It was Mahan's second WGC win.
The voting ends on the following Sunday, and the player with the most votes will be named the PGA TOUR Player of the Month. In addition, Avis, the “Official Rental Car Company” of the PGA TOUR, will present the winner with a $50,000 check payable to his charity of choice.
Results will be posted next Tuesday on PGATOUR.COM.
And if you want to state your case for why your favorite player should win the February award, just fill out the form below and let us know.
The tee times for the first round of this week’s The Honda Classic have been released. CLICK HERE for the tee times. Use the space below to comment about the pairings at PGA National.
Here’s a look at some of the notable groups in the first two rounds:
Jim Furyk/Y.E. Yang/Henrik Stenson
Yang has owned PGA National in recent years, with a win and a second-place finish.
Kyle Stanley/Keegan Bradley/Rory McIlroy
Three of the best players in the world under the age of 30, and all three bomb the ball.
Mark Wilson/Rory Sabbatini/Camilo Villegas
These three players won at PGA National in 2007, 2011 and 2010, respectively. Villegas and Wilson squared off in a four-man playoff (with Boo Weekley and Jose Conceres) on a steamy Monday in 2007, which Wilson won.
Lee Westwood/Ian Poulter/Tiger Woods
No introduction needed for this trio. Tiger makes his first start at PGA National. This is the third consecutive year Westwood has teed if up here. Tied for ninth in 2010.
John Huh/Charl Schwartzel/Ernie Els
The PGA TOUR's newest winner (Huh) immediately graduates to an A-list tee time with a pair of major champions.
Anthony Kim/Mike Weir/Mark Calcavecchia
Can Kim and Weir get their games turned around at the start of the Florida Swing? And don't count out Calcavecchia, who has lived in Palm Beach for many years. He tied for fourth here in 2008.
Now, it’s your turn: Which groups are you most interested in following this week?