Paul Stankowski embracing the grind that goes with his status, setting sights on elusive victory
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Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
Career grinder Paul Stankowski relishing journey on PGA TOUR Champions
During Paul Stankowski’s time on PGA TOUR Champions he’s noticed a distinct difference in his fellow playing competitors when he walks up and down the practice range.
The similarity is that most everyone is having a good time. The difference? The amount of fun one is having is usually directly correlated to the type of status that player has on the tour.
“You have two sides of the Champions Tour,” Stankowski said. “One side is the exempt players; the other side is the non-exempt players.
“The exempt players … they seem to have a lot more fun than those of us who, we have to grind our way in and out of the fields. That being said, I’m having a blast. But it’s a grind. It’s a lot of work.”
Yes, Stankowski is on the outside of the exempt bubble, having finished No. 44 on the Charles Schwab Cup last year, closing with five top-25 finishes in his last six events to improve that number drastically. The top 36 are fully exempt and Nos. 37-54 are conditionally exempt. Stankowski figures he’ll get into at least 80 percent of the events he’d like this season. Maybe more.
It's not yet where he’d like it to be, but Stankowski, 53, is in a good position for a man who, not all that long ago, didn’t know if he’d be playing during these years.
“I quit for a solid five years, and didn’t know if I could come back,” he said. “I had no idea how competitive I could be. To be sitting here now, I’m like, ‘OK, I am competitive, and I can play with these guys,’ that is amazing. It’s amazing.”
The aforementioned closing stretch last year that propelled him to better status for this year included a fourth-place tie at the Sanford International and a second-place tie at the PURE Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach. He tied with Steven Alker and Ernie Els and was just a shot behind winner Steve Flesch.
That strong form rolled over to this year and Stankowski finished in a tie for third at the PGA TOUR Champions Trophy Hassan II in Morocco in his first start this year.
“The golf course in Morocco … the challenge was the green complexes,” Stankowski said Tuesday from Naples, Fla., where he’ll tee it up this week against a stellar field in the Chubb Classic. “They were very … they had a lot of character. There were some difficult driving holes, too.
“Tee to green I thought I was good. If you were driving it wayward, you’d have some issues. If you were a little bit off on the greens, your ball could hit 10 feet away and end up 50 feet away.”
Stankowski rallied from shooting 2 over on Day 1 to shoot 5 under over the weekend. He finished second in the field with 13 birdies and credited a solid week with the driver for the second-best finish of his PGA TOUR Champions career.
Still confident, Stankowski feels that he could be in for another good finish this week at the Chubb, a place where he shot and opening-round 5-under 67 last year and tied for 12thplace.
“What makes Florida golf typically is the wind,” he said. “If the wind blows, courses get challenging. It’s not an easy course, but it’s one that’s gettable if you’re hitting it on the button. If there’s mild winds, scoring will be low. If you get some gusty winds, it changes things.”
Stankowski said he feels blessed still to be able to play golf for a living. But as long as he can stay healthy, he hopes to play for a long time.
Next up would be to figure out a way to win on PGA TOUR Champions to add to his two wins on the PGA TOUR. As Stankowski will attest, though, it has been a while.
“Oh my goodness. It has been since the 1900s since I won anything,” Stankowski said. “My last win on the PGA TOUR was in 1997 (the United Airlines Hawaiian Open). It would mean a lot to win again.
“We are always one injury away from being retired. But now I’m playing a tour where everybody hurts. That could be the theme. I don’t know how long it will last, how my body will do. I pray can play till I’m 60.”
Stankowski is eyeing a couple of tournaments in particular this season. He makes his home in Flower Mound, Texas, which is about 17 miles from the site of the Invited Celebrity Classic in Irving at the Las Colinas Country Club. The KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship also is in Texas this year, at Fields Ranch East in Frisco, a little over 30 miles from Flower Mound.
“If I can get a win in front of my kids that would be a dream come true,” Stankowski said. “Josh was born in 1999 and Katie in 2002. We play twice in Dallas – the Invited and the PGA. My son will caddie both of those weeks. If I could pick a win, one of those two would be amazing. But a win anywhere … would be beyond words.”