What you can learn from Kyle Stanley’s victory at The Waste Management Phoenix Open
Rewind one week – Kyle Stanley is standing in the semi-rough on the left side of the par five 18th fairway at Torrey Pines. He is contemplating his options for his second shot, comfortable in the knowledge that he has a three stroke lead. To one and all his first PGA Tour victory seems a certainty. He makes the prudent play and lays up, leaving himself just shy of 90 meters to the flag, which is cut in its traditional final round, front-left, location. All that is required is for him to hit a wedge-shot over the hazard fronting the green and beyond the flag. Execute that basic shot and he can take umpteen putts for the title.
Not so fast – the next 15 minutes or so become a real-life nightmare for the poor young man and in a result that made the Jean van der Velde meltdown at Carnoustie look somewhat normal, Stanley took six strokes from inside 90 meters to record a triple bogey. The result plunged him into a playoff with Brandt Snedeker, which Stanley ultimately lost, and he was inconsolable.
Kyle Stanley represents all that is good with the professional game. He is a prodigious talent, a nice young man and a player with all of the shots. He dealt with the heart-breaking – and to a weaker man, potentially career-wrecking – loss in a very professional manner. He offered no excuses and took every stinging question right on the chin. The pundits seemed convinced that a redemptive triumph was imminent considering his skills and game. All Stanley could do however was to move on and go to the next event and keep swinging.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon – in contention again, Kyle Stanley shoots a bogey-free final round of 65 (6-under par). His round was flawless and included three clutch par-saving putts on holes 15, 16 and 18. In the end his 15-under par total proved enough to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open by two shots. What a performance; what redemption; what a story!
So, what can we learn from Kyle Stanley’s performance this week?
Golf – The greatest game of them all:
Success in golf is the product of many facets. In my opinion, one of those is a brutally honest recognition of the fact that golf, and especially tournament golf, is a fickle lover. The game is a beautiful and alluring partner who will take you from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, sometimes all in the space of a few hours. As Stanley did, you need to embrace this fact and continually remind yourself that the nature of the greatest game of them all is volatile and dynamic. Make this mind-set your default and it will help you to remain somewhat emotionally and mentally level; even though your round may be the furthest thing from stable. Always remember the words of the legendary Bob Jones: “Golf is a funny game. It is also a tantalizing, frustrating game. Tournament golf can be heroic or tragic, a play of forces in which players and spectators alike may experience drama equal to that on any stage. And in any kind of golf, pathetic and ludicrous situations may succeed one another with kaleidoscopic rapidity.”
Momentum has a real influence on results:
Momentum has a huge influence in all sports but it appears to me that the very nature of golf makes it all the more susceptible to momentum ebb and flow. That being said, bear this fact in mind if you are playing well and you are not getting the results you feel like you should. Sure, Stanley didn’t lift the trophy at Torrey Pines but he travelled to Phoenix with the mind-set that he was hitting the ball well and making his share of putts. Momentum was on his side and he just needed to remain as patient as possible as he kept executing his shots and his game plan.
“Stay in the present”:
It’s a cliché I know, but to be successful in golf you have to continually work very hard to keep your focus and your attentions on the job at hand. It is so easy to project our thoughts into the future or even worse, drift back into past failures. Kyle Stanley could have easily been a victim of that in Phoenix and gone through the motions. He could have lived in his Torrey Pines failure, which would have detracted from his performance. Instead, he stayed focused on the job at hand and executed beautifully under the highest of pressure. Who knows what was going through his mind when he began to hit a few wayward shots coming down the stretch? He could quite easily have allowed his mind to wander but he knuckled down, kept his thoughts in the moment and made a few crucial par-saving putts.
Hit it when you are ready:
Stanley missed a downhill 6-footer for the title in San Diego. In Phoenix he faced a nasty little 4-foot putt on the 18th to retain what was a one-shot lead at the time. He read the putt; he made his rehearsal stroke; he had his caddy Brett Waldman line him up and as soon as Brett had stepped out of the way he hit the putt and made it. There is a great lesson in his approach. Doubt is a golf-score wrecker and conviction is a golf-score saviour. If you are sure about your shot-selection and call, don’t hang around; hit it! The longer you stand over the ball or the longer you take to make your decision, the larger the probability of doubt creeping in becomes. By all means, if you are unsure, take time to assess the situation fully but when you are ready, do not hang around.
Embrace golf for its volatility. Work hard to keep your attentions in the moment. Don’t force it and rely on momentum if you are playing well. Play when you are ready. Use these simple keys and I am sure that you too can bounce back like Kyle Stanley did.
Play well and enjoy our great game.