Jimmy Stanger unlocks his potential after learning from setbacks
5 Min Read
University of Virginia alum clinches first PGA TOUR card for 2024
Written by Stephanie Royer
When it comes to golf, Jimmy Stanger is playing for something greater than himself.
Stanger’s childhood best friend Harris Armstrong, who was a golfer in his own right and twice a runner-up in the Golf Channel's Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals, died at age 12 of spinal cord cancer. Stanger marks each of his golf balls with the initials “H.A.” and says Armstrong is a “huge reason why I’m playing pro golf today,” along with the sacrifices of his parents and his faith.
Stanger solidified his path to the PGA TOUR with his first Korn Ferry Tour title at the Compliance Solutions Championship in June at the University of Oklahoma’s Jimmie Austin Golf Club. At No. 10 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List with two events remaining, his top-30 position is now secure.
Stanger first earned Korn Ferry Tour membership ahead of the 2018 season and has finished 78th, 41st, 50th and 40th in the Korn Ferry Tour standings to continually keep his status – but narrowly missing out on unlocking the next level.
Stanger, 28, started this season with five top-15s in 13 starts and was trending upward heading into Oklahoma, despite a sour taste in his mouth from the week before. Needing a par on the final hole of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas Wichita Open to enter a playoff, Stanger’s tee shot landed an inch out-of-bounds and ultimately led to a quintuple-bogey nine.
In the past, a mistake like that would have haunted him. This time, it fueled him.
72nd-hole coverage: Jimmy Stanger wins Compliance Solutions Championship
“When I first turned pro in 2017, I went to Final Stage of Q-School and shot 80-62. Lipped out a putt on my last hole to miss by one shot,” Stanger recalled this summer. “One year later I was able to fight my way onto the (Korn Ferry Tour) but then lipped out a 6-foot putt on the last hole to finish 77th on the points list. Those two moments have led to too many sleepless nights.
“But part of maturing as a pro golfer is learning how to let it go, leave it all at the course. You start practicing differently, stimulating those situations in practice. It just encourages us to be that extra 1% better.”
A week after his 72nd-hole calamity in Wichita, Stanger faced a same situation on the final hole in Oklahoma. Par would secure a playoff, birdie would win. He was ready.
“There was a peace and a calmness and thankfulness that I've gotten this opportunity again,” Stanger said. “I know literally the worst thing that can happen and I've survived it and I've been able to battle back, so I can just enjoy these next 20 or 30 minutes and see where it takes me.”
One birdie later he was a champion on the Korn Ferry Tour, to his utter disbelief. Coming off the course, he couldn’t hold back the emotions.
“I think I've finished every position two through 15, 20 out here in six years. Just haven't gotten the win,” Stanger said. “Someone always makes birdie on the last or shoots an unreal final round. ... Last week I made a 9 on the last hole and was tied for the lead. So this is just not real.
“I came out of college having won a couple times … just hearing about how quickly I would breeze through this Tour to go to the PGA TOUR, and I’m on my sixth year out here now … I’ve been putting in a ton of work, trying to do all the little things right day-in and day-out. You wonder if those are ever going to pay off.”
Jimmy Stanger full interview after winning Compliance Solutions
Stanger grew up in Tampa, Florida, with his grandfather and father sharing a love of golf that naturally diffused down.
“Dad would come home from business trips when I was 3 and 4 years old, and it’d be ‘Jimmy's waiting in the cart for you to take him to the course,’” he said.
He grew up playing at Avila, a private golf community in North Tampa, and he rose through the junior ranks to join the University of Virginia golf team, overlapping with PGA TOUR player Denny McCarthy.
“It'll be nice to have a fellow Wahoo out here next year,” said McCarthy on Stanger’s #TOURBound status. “We had some fun moments in practice rounds and tournaments so it will be good to continue that … some friendly competition.”
A few years into Stanger’s Korn Ferry Tour journey, a realization fueled the formation of BirdiesforHope, an initiative where he donates money for every birdie he makes in a TOUR-sanctioned event. It provides a constant incentive to play his best and connects him with the global community at large. The initiative has raised close to $150,000 and counting.
“BirdiesforHope I started thinking about in 2019,” Stanger said. “I'd been a pro for two years. I'd have some ups and some downs that showed me golf's never going to satisfy, no matter how much success I have.”
The donations from these birdies are used towards constructing church buildings overseas for local Christians in primarily rural and impoverished areas. These churches are multi-purpose as community centers, orphanages and schools.
Stanger’s long-term goal is to establish a full-blown foundation like Tiger Woods’ TGR Foundation. But for now?
He’s most excited to play the Valspar Championship, his home event, where he grew up working on the range and standard bearing. Also, trying his best to stay in the moment. It earned him a PGA TOUR card, after all.
“I've dreamed since I was literally in diapers of being on the PGA TOUR,” Stanger said. “I'm not going to rush this experience. I'd love to compete up there and win, but I’m staying thankful in the little things. I know whenever I do that my competitiveness will take over and I have enough God-given talent to compete out there.”
Stephanie Royer is on staff at the PGA TOUR. She played on her college golf team and is currently on a meaningful journey to travel to every destination in the "National Treasure" movies.