April 2011

KYLE STANLEY Hometown Golfer Makes Heritage Debut

Author: David Gignilliat

While golf announcer Jim Nantz waxes poetic about the majesty of the Calibogue Sound and the sublime lighthouse backdrop on the 18th hole of Harbour Town for the millions watching on CBS, local golf fans will have a chance to cheer one of their own on as PGA Tour rookie (and Bluffton resident) Kyle Stanley makes his first appearance in the 2011 Heritage.

Judging by the start to Stanley’s 2011 campaign, you’d never know this was his maiden season on the PGA Tour. As of early March, he’s 78th on the Tour’s money list (at nearly $186,000 in winnings through six tournaments), ahead of former major championship winners Zach Johnson, David Toms, Retief Goosen, Tom Lehman, Padraig Harrington, Lucas Glover and Tiger Woods. He’s six for six in made cuts this season, finishing 13th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, and flirting with contention (he entered the third round with the outright lead) at the Honda Classic before finishing 24th. He’s already eclipsed his 2010 Nationwide winnings, and at press time, is currently 63rd in the FedEx Cup point standings.

“I’m pretty happy with my year so far, and it was nice to play well at Mayakoba [last month]. It’s my rookie year, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it,” said Stanley, 23. “I’d played 10 or so tour events before this year, so I was pretty used to everything and very comfortable out here which has helped a bit. It’s a long year, and I’m just focusing on the things I can do each day to get better. Along with that will come good results.”

Stanley lists the Rookie of the Year, a tournament win, and playing in the season-ending Tour Championship (restricted to only the top 30 on the PGA’s money list) as his main goals for the 2011 campaign.

Stanley, along with Beaufort County residents Mark Anderson and Chris Epperson, recently committed to play in the upcoming Heritage, slated for April 18-24, 2011, at the Harbour Town Golf Links. He has followed the ongoing sponsorship issues with the Heritage with concerned interest and, like many with ties to the tournament, he hopes someone will step up.

“It would be a shame to see Hilton Head lose the Heritage,” said Stanley, who at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, is one of the game’s surprising long hitters, tied for 18th for driving distance this year after leading the Nationwide Tour last year. “Although this will be the first year I’ll play [there], I know all the guys really enjoy coming to the Heritage; and beyond that, it’s an awesome course.”

Stanley has the type of junior golf and collegiate pedigree that is stuff of legend. A three-time First Team All-ACC at Clemson and two-time NCAA All-American, Kyle won the 2009 Ben Hogan Award (for the nation’s top collegiate golfer), beating out Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler for the top honor. A collegiate winner of the Southern Amateur Championship in Cordova, Tenn., Stanley also qualified for two U.S. Opens during his time at Clemson, one at Torrey Pines and one at Long Island’s Bethpage Black layout, where he made the cut in 2009.

Stanley lives in Bluffton, and represents Berkeley Hall, an exclusive private golf residential community as its touring pro. The Berkeley Hall golf facilities include two award-winning Tom Fazio layouts and a massive practice facility and learning center.“I chose Berkeley because of their overall setup. I have everything I need out there to get better: great gym, practice facilities, and two really good courses,” Stanley said.

Stanley decided to move to the area in 2009, a decision fueled by a lifetime of visits to the island.

“We have really good family friends that live on the island, and my family would come to Hilton Head every year to vacation when I was younger,” Stanley recalled. “So I fell in love with the place at an early age. I’m gone [on Tour] so much, so when I have time off I and get to come home, it’s important to me that I get to come home to a place that I really want to be.”

The schedule of a tour professional is a year-round job, which gives Stanley little time to relax on the island. When he does, he likes to hit up some of the area’s popular eateries.

“I’m really not a big beach guy, but I eat out just about every night when I’m home,” said Stanley, who is originally from Gig Harbor, Wash. “There are so many great restaurants on the island. Frankie Bones, Wise Guys, and Bistro 17 are three of my favorite places to go.”

For all of Stanley’s success so far in 2011, it was nearly just another season on the Nationwide Tour. Each season, the top 25 Nationwide finishers automatically earn the right to compete on the PGA Tour the following season. Stanley just missed, finishing 35th overall in 26 events. He made amends a few months later in December, surviving a six-day, 108-hole gauntlet held last December at the Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge in Winter Garden, Fla. The Q-School showing included a white-knuckle 5-under finish on Monday over the Crooked Cat track’s last 10 holes (a par-four eagle, and three clutch birdies), a surge that vaulted him into a tie for ninth place (a 13-under 416) and earned him the right to compete on the PGA Tour in 2011.

“Q-school was definitely nerve racking, especially that back nine. I had a good game plan for the course and really just tried to execute that the best I could,” Stanley said. “It’s amazing the thoughts that go through your head when you are a couple pars away from getting to a place you’ve wanted to be your whole life. My mind was all over the place, but I was able focus when I needed to. Ernie [Lopez], my caddie, did a great job keeping me in the present. He played a really big part that week.”

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