Into the Light

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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.
 
Related Links:
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