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Kyle Stanley was a big name in the small world of amateur golf. He won the Ben Hogan Award as the outstanding player in the college game as a junior at Clemson, and he piled up amateur titles and played on the winning U.S. Walker Cup team in 2007 with the likes of Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson.
Initially this year Stanley became a big name on the PGA Tour for all the wrong reasons. At Torrey Pines, with his seven-shot lead in the final round cut to three, he needed only a double bogey at the par-5 18th for his first professional victory. He hit a perfect drive, a perfect layup and a perfect wedge shot. Except the combination of slope and spin caused that perfect wedge shot to suck back and trickle off the green and into a pond. Then it got ugly. Stanley hit his fifth shot beyond the pin, three-putted for an 8 and lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker.
Remarkably, that crushing defeat was all but forgotten a week later when Stanley rallied from an eight-shot deficit on the back nine, hit clutch shots on the closing holes and won the outdoor party known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
After the Torrey Pines disaster, Kyle's father, Matt, remembers dinner with his wife, Michele, their daughter Kristen, Kyle and two others. "The text messages started rolling in, and boy, that was something," Matt says. "We heard from everyone we ever knew. He got all this support, felt all this love, and it really opened his eyes. For Kyle, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to him."
It was reminiscent of another failure, the time Kyle missed the cut in the Washington state high school championship, an event he presumed he would do well in, maybe even win. The drive home from Spokane was a long one, but it gave father and son time to talk. Matt reminded Kyle that Tiger Woods, whose picture hung in Kyle's room, had a reputation as one of the game's hardest workers. The implication was that young Kyle wasn't working hard enough.
Point taken. Almost overnight, perhaps foreshadowing the way he rebounded after Torrey Pines, Kyle devoted himself to the game. Even now, Matt can't tell the story without getting choked up. "It was a mature decision for a young kid," Matt says. "He would do his homework, then go out on the course when nobody was playing. He'd take a couple of big flashlights and put them on the green so he could chip and putt after dark. I was very proud of him. He found his passion."
Maybe that explains the note in an old Clemson media guide listing Singh as Stanley's favorite player. He laughed when it was pointed out that Singh is nobody's favorite golfer. "Yeah, I suppose it's an odd pick, but it's his work ethic," Stanley says. "I modeled myself after him a little bit."
Stanley weighed in at 137 pounds when he arrived at Clemson in 2006. Three years later he was 172 pounds with minimal body fat—strong and, for a golfer, ripped. "I had never spent any time in a gym," he says. "I made it part of my routine."
He is seen as stoic and quiet. Mostly he's shy and not as socially comfortable as some of the others. He admits to an obsession with golf. He didn't attend a single party while in college, and he only went to a football or basketball game when the golf team was being honored. When he says, "I didn't really know my teammates," the tone of his voice hints at regret. He says he has learned there's more to life than golf on the PGA Tour, and the pairing before this season with Brett Waldman, one of the most outgoing caddies on Tour, was an instant success.
"He's coming out of his shell," Waldman says. "He has made a transformation in the short time we've been together."