LEON, Mexico -- Stephanie Denick couldn't believe her lack of luck. Just a couple of weeks earlier, after her best friend asked her to be a bridesmaid at her Western-themeed wedding in Montana, she shelled out money for a pair.
Then, as life played out, a couple of weeks later, Denick found herself in Leon, Mexico, where the air is thin and the smell of leather is everywhere. She had no trouble seeing thousands and thousands of boots in all shapes, sizes and colors. Boots that were considerably less expensive than the $100 she parted with in Arizona.
"Had I known I was going to be in the boot capital of the world," Denick said, "I wouldn't have bought the pair I bought."
Her boyfriend, Nationwide Tour player Brady Stockton, didn't know he'd be here, either. Last week at this time, he was set to play in the Times Colonist Island Savings Open on the Canadian Tour, an event in Victoria, British Columbia. But as last week wore on, Stockton watched as his name moved up on the alternate list for the Mexico Open, the next Nationwide Tour stop, and by Sunday the chances of him making the field seemed excellent. With that in mind, Stockton canceled his own ticket and the one he purchased for Denick for Canada and booked two new tickets that would eventually ferry the couple to Central Mexico.
"Last Monday I was playing in a one-day National Pro Golf Tour event at Grahawk (Golf Club) in Scottsdale, when I got the call that I was in the Mexico (Open) field," Stockton explained. "I was already packed, figuring I was getting in, and now I officially was, and here we are."
With their Wednesday afternoon free, the day before the Mexico Open, and no need to purchase cowboy boots, Stockton knew exactly what he wanted.
You see, Stockton is a belt man. Denick confirmed he has close to 20 belts in his closet and scoffed a little when Stockton suggested he had "maybe 10."
When Denick chimed in, Stockton looked a little sheepish, a sure sign that his girlfriend, a fourth-year dental student at Arizona School of Dental and Oral Health, was right.
For a guy who pretty much grew up with black and brown belts, things took a turn a few years ago when Stockton played a round of golf at an Arizona golf course, Blackstone, and then bought a white belt with a belt buckle with a "B" on it. The second letter of the alphabet stood for the the "B" in Blackstone, but Stockton decided it would, instead, become The Brady Belt.
And when a phone call from Arizona custom beltmaker Patrick Gibbons came last fall, with Gibbons offering Stockton a free selection of belts for him to wear after he earned conditional Nationwide Tour status for 2012, Stockton's collection grew.
"I just think belts are really cool," Stockton said. "I'm a pretty conservative dresser, but I do like wearing something that's a little extreme. Not everything all at once -- and no white pants -- but something," he adds.
Something like, say, a belt. And that's why Stockton and Denick, traipsed along the streets of Leon not shopping but, rather, belting.
Stockton came planning on buying a couple of belts for himself and one for fellow Tour member Brian Vranesh, who couldn't make the excursion. Stockton was going for a more colorful look for his ensemble, with Vranesh asking for the standard-issue white.
With Stockton, though, nothing is standard issue. And once Stockton and Denick found their way to Salina Cruz, a street with --- hey, what do you know, belt store after belt store -- they zeroed in on Reales Belts, a shop run by Sergio Leal and Lupita Porras, with their son, Sergio, Jr. doing his homework on one of the store's counters while belt commerce took place all around him.
It didn't take Stockton long before he found the store's ostrich section, and soon Stockton had zeroed in on three belts: a black one, a blue one and Vranesh's white model. All ostrich and, as Stockton said, "all cool." Now it was Leal's turn to customize the belts, shortening, where necessary, adding new buckles and punching new holes.
While Leal worked away, several other Nationwide Tour players arrived, including some staff members. One staffer decided to purchase a black belt at the store, a non-descript number that wasn't fancy, one that came from something no more exotic than a cow.
"No way are you getting that," Stockton told the man. "You're not leaving Mexico with that belt. Here, try this crocodile one."
One-hundred pesos later, Reales Belts had made another sale, this time crocodile, dyed black. Stockton accepted no commission.
When the excursion ended, with rain falling on the group, everybody walked back toward the van. It was time to get ready for work. The Mexico Open begins today.
And this morning, Stockton, at 9:13 CDT, will tee off in a Nationwide Tour event for only the fourth time in his career, with all his starts coming this season. He has yet to make a cut in any of those starts, but his game, he said, is sharp and he's excited to be playing.
In other words, his spirit isn't sagging, and neither are his pants.