An exceptional work ethic helped Gig Harbor golfer Kyle Stanley advance to the PGA Tour.
Golfer Kyle Stanley makes no secret of his admiration for workaholic Vijay Singh.
So as Stanley prepared to leave Gig Harbor for college, it seems fitting a brightly lit driving range that used to double as an RV lot during football season helped lure him across the country to Clemson in South Carolina.
Soon that illuminated practice area, open to him at all hours, became Stanley’s domain.
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Stanley’s practice habits were legendary at a school that had already produced PGA Tour pros Lucas Glover, Jonathan Byrd and D.J. Trahan. It was nothing to find Stanley at the range well into the night, perhaps even until 3 a.m.
“I didn’t stay much past 1, but he would,” Clemson golf coach Larry Penley said earlier this month. “There were a lot of times I’d leave him down there and I know he’d practice for another hour or two.
“Without question he’s the hardest worker I ever had.”
That is saying something, as Penley will begin his 30th season at Clemson this fall.
“I never went out. I went to school and practiced golf for three years,” Stanley said last month during the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
Stanley developed a daily routine — attend class, go to golf practice for an hour, see his tutors, have dinner by 6:30, then head to the range.
“I’d practice six or seven hours a night,” he recalled. “I’ve never been a big sleeper. Four or five hours a night is pretty good for me.”
That dedication helped make Stanley a winner in his second year on the PGA Tour, capturing the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Feb. 5.
In stunning fashion, the 24-year-old Stanley overcame an eight-shot deficit a week after blowing a five-shot, 54-hole lead and losing to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff at the Farmers Insurance Open. His Torrey Pines disaster was one stroke shy of the largest final-round collapse in Tour history when leading after three rounds, and he held a seven-shot edge at one point.
“It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in sports,” Penley said. “Not the fact that he won, but the fact he put himself back in position to win. A lesser man or a lesser player couldn’t have done that mentally.”
Stanley’s triumph earned him a spot in this week’s $8.5 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
Stanley’s breakthrough victory didn’t surprise Penley, who raves about what Stanley has become, mentally and physically. He talks frequently with Stanley, who lives near Hilton Head, S.C.
Penley said the 5-foot-11 Stanley weighed 137 pounds when he arrived at Clemson in the fall of 2006. But he showed up in the weight room almost every morning at 6:30 a.m.
“After three years, he weighed 171 pounds with 2 percent body fat,” Penley said. “He’s all muscle and gristle, I can assure you.”
Obviously that means his discipline extends beyond practice.
“He’ll eat a chicken wing every now and then, that’s about it,” Penley said.
Stanley told orangeandwhite.com, a Tigers website, he and caddie Brett Waldman celebrated his Arizona triumph at In-N-Out Burger, ordering three double-doubles “animal style.”
Despite his stature, Penley knew Stanley had the talent to join Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, and the other Tigers on the Tour.
“He could hit shots as a 16-year-old that I hadn’t seen kids hit before,” Penley said of Stanley. “The speed he had in his golf swing was incredible. He had incredible hands and incredible speed. All we really had to do was kind of fine-tune it and tighten it up a little bit.”
Stanley was an NCAA runner-up in 2007 and 2009 and won the Ben Hogan Award as a junior. As a freshman, he played on the winning U.S. Walker Cup team with Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.
Stanley’s career average of 71.63 was second to Trahan’s (71.49) in Clemson’s record book.
“All we worked on for three years was getting his speed and ball flight under control,” Penley said. “He used to hit the ball so high and he still can. His biggest attribute today is his ability to flight the ball at different heights.
“When he’s at his best, he can get that golf ball to do anything he wants to do with his irons.”
Stanley turned pro after finishing 53rd at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in New York. He earned his Nationwide Tour card in 2010 and moved up to the PGA Tour in 2011. He nearly won as a rookie at the John Deere Classic, beaten by a shot when Steve Stricker sank a 25-foot birdie from the fringe on the 72nd hole.
Stanley was finally rewarded for his incredible practice focus this year. He has never liked people goofing off around him, as some Clemson teammates did when they were bored.
“I loved practicing by myself,” Stanley said of his college days. “If I went down to the range at night and saw somebody else there, I was, like, ‘No.’ Even out here I love practicing later in the day when it quiets down. It’s easier for me to focus and get my work done.”
This season, Stanley has bounced back from a stretch from March through June during which he missed seven cuts in 12 events. In July, he tied for 22nd, 19th, 39th and 61st at the AT&T National, John Deere Classic, British Open and Canadian Open, respectively.
He has had seven top 25s in 22 events and earned more than $2.19 million to rank 20th on the Tour money list. Stanley is sixth on the Tour in 2012 driving distance, averaging 306.3 yards.
Blowing a huge lead as Stanley did at Torrey Pines might send some golfers into a funk for months, if not years. But because of how Stanley set his goals, he was not hurting for long.
“His plan for this year is not number of wins, it’s ‘How many times can I put myself in position?’ ” Penley said. “So he was able to draw a positive from Torrey Pines because he reached a goal. He knew he was playing well, so he said, ‘Why not? Let’s just do it again.’ “
The heartbreak of Torrey Pines “seems like a year ago,” Stanley said at Congressional. At the Phoenix Open, he said he gained “6,000 Facebook followers” and was cheered by the gallery as “The Comeback Kid.”