Into the Light

By Rex HoggardMarch 27, 2009, 4:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. ' Its not part of golf lore yet, but it will be.
Its a vision of a lone figure illuminating the Clemson University practice range with the lights from his well-used Toyota pickup truck, searching for Ben Hogans secrets in the South Carolina dirt past midnight.
Its a phone call placed well past an acceptable hour to a swing coach with a single message: I got it.
Its a relatively mundane happening that was transformed into an epiphany so profound it changed the course of a 15-year-olds life.
Kyle Stanley
Kyle Stanley during last year's U.S. Amateur. (Getty Images)
If it all this sounds a tad too Bagger Vance for you then take heart, Kyle Stanley is as off-the-shelf as they come, 5-foot-11, expressive brown eyes, mop of unruly hair tucked under a cap and a polite wrapper folded firmly around an intense and driven young man. The kid next door, if the kid next door could hit the ball 320 yards and roll putts like Ben Crenshaw.
The story, at least the golf chapter portion of it, begins at the 2003 Washington state high school championship. The 15-year-old version of Stanley missed some putts, missed a couple drives, missed the cut. Familiar tale, but the twist occurred within.
That was a kick in the gut, said Stanleys father, Matt. I think (Friedrich) Nietzsche said, You cant know light, unless you know dark.
Funny, it was that competitive crossroads that now drives Stanley, 21, into the South Carolina darkness and towards a professional career he seems capable of willing to fruition.
I wasnt really a hard worker before that, said Stanley, a junior at Clemson who is making his second start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational thanks to his victory at last years Southern Amateur. I made the decision that if I didnt win because I played poorly, that was fine. But I was going to be ready.
The workhorse of the Pacific Northwest shut down the rest of his athletic dance card to focus on golf and picked Clemson ' about as far from his Gig Harbor, Wash., home as one can get ' because of its rich golf heritage, not to mention a staggering number of alum who go on to Tour careers.
His first summer at Clemson he won two events and qualified for the U.S. Amateur, it was a solid, if somewhat expected, start. But it was Stanleys work ethic that turned heads.
Hogan once said there was never enough daylight to hit range balls. Stanley quickly found a cure. As a freshman he made a habit out of practicing late into the night with nothing but his Toyota high beams and a few distance light poles to guide the way.
The people who would park their campers behind the range would turn the switch (for the range lights) off and hed walk back down there and turn them back on, said Sea Island (Ga.) Resort swing coach Mike Taylor, who started working with Stanley about a year and half ago.
The kid, who counts Vijay Singh as his favorite Tour player, has taken a page out of the Fijians book. So much so that Taylors biggest challenge now is limiting his time on the practice ground, as well as setting boundaries for the duos frequent conversations.
He will call you at weird times at night, laughed Taylor, who has worked to shorten Stanleys swing as well as his practice sessions. We had a running joke that because we talked so much we set 7 (p.m.) as our regular time to talk.
The practice has paid off. Stanley is Golfweeks seventh-ranked college player, narrowly missed the cut at last years U.S. Open and quietly staked his young competitive legacy to last months Jones Cup victory, an event he won in a playoff after walking off the 15th green on Sunday five strokes behind the leader. It was the kind of urban-legend type stuff that elevates good players to great players.
Thats why you play so you can get into situations like that, said Stanley, who plans to turn pro after next months NCAA Championship.
Matt Stanley is not above marveling at his son, but its a quiet appreciation more so than the pride of authorship normally offered by your average over-bearing soccer dads.
So much of what Kyle has done has come from within, Matt Stanley said. One thing we always thought was important was he needed to start making good decisions early and he has done that.
During a practice round on Tuesday at Bay Hill Kenny Perry was impressed with both the competitor and the resilient young man within. On the opening hole of their practice round, Stanley outdrove Perry by 25 yards and hoisted his approach to eight feet.
If youre going to drive it like that were going to have problems, smiled Perry, one of the Tours longest hitters. But it wasnt Stanleys surprisingly powerful swing or his dogged pursuit of his first made cut on Tour ' an effort that was ultimately derailed late Friday by an inopportune quadruple-bogey at the par-5 sixth hole ' that drew Perrys praise.
Hes got the total package, Perry said. But what I really liked the most was his demeanor. Hes all golf, all business.
Twenty-one-year-olds dont build a golf lore, they borrow gas money from their parents and make bad decisions they will laugh about for years. What changes the paradigm is when a 21-year-old trades the college nightlife for endless nights on a deserted practice range. Its what marks the beginnings of golf lore.
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  • Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.