Kyle Stanley: Sophomore Slump

A year ago at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Kyle Stanley had merely to play his layup shot into the par-5 18th, two-putt, and he would have his first PGA Tour victory. And so he did…play his layup shot perfectly into the green; the rest just didn’t work out.

In a tragic comedy of what would soon come, his perfect shot hit behind the hole, rolled back by the hole, down to the front of the green and into the pond fronting the green. He had so little backspin on the ball it took forever to play out. He made a three-putt triple bogey and lost the playoff to Brandt Snedeker. 

How do you get over something like that?

I mean, it’s been behind me for a while.  You know, dwelling on something like that isn’t going to do you much good.  I maybe surprised myself a little bit how quickly I was able to come back.  But mentally that was probably one of the more difficult things I’ve had to overcome.

I think in my mind I really didn’t feel like I did a whole lot wrong there on 18.  With my current ball, I’m not sure that I’d be able to do that now.  But yeah, there’s not really a whole lot I’d change.  I’d probably hit a pretty good shot in there.  In my mind I kind of played it up as kind of a fluke deal.

It was the setup of the hole though, wasn’t it?

Yeah, the day before I had about the same yardage to a different pin on that green and hit lob wedge.  That stayed on the green just fine.  On Sunday I hit a sand wedge, and it spun back in the water.  I think pin placement had a lot to do with it.  There were a ton of variables there.

But it was the fact that the bank was shaved down wasn’t it?

It was only my second year playing there, so I wasn’t sure if it was or not.  I wish it wasn’t.

But he was right, he did get over it quickly. The following week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he came from eight shots back in the final round to edge Ben Crane by one stroke and snatch that first elusive victory. It was a crowning achievement to everything he’d ever done in golf. It could only go up from there.

Unfortunately, those two weeks of the year turned out to be the top of a parabola. He made $2.4 million for the year, but $1.7 million of that came from those two weeks. They were the only top-10 finishes for the year. He did have six more top 25s and some nice checks to go with them, but that didn’t quite fulfill all the breakthrough promise of those two weeks. Not to mention missing 10 of 27 cuts.

Maybe he knew it all along, but at the end of the year, his putting turned out to be the culprit. Which is odd because he is a great putter. In that final round at the Waste Management, he made up those eight strokes because he putted lights out. I know because I was there.

But he lost sight of that somewhere along the line and ended up all the way two slots out of the bottom of the Tour’s putting stat, Strokes Gained – Putting. He finished 189 out of 191 players. He lost .763 strokes to the rest of the field each time he played. In a world of razor-thin margins, that’s a lot.

So with that perspective behind him, just what is he doing about his putting?

Putting more time in to be honest.  You know, that’s kind of the one thing that’s really plagued me this year.  It hasn’t really been my ball‑striking or the equipment.  I feel like my stats from that standpoint have all been comparable if not better to what they’ve been since I got out here on Tour.  But putting I’ve really struggled.

I think it’s more of a mental thing for me, and just got to put the time in and put the reps in, and from a mental standpoint just get a little bit more confident.  Confidence is huge on the greens.  I think if you look at the guys that putt the best out here, they think they’re going to make putts.

It’s true. The putters who expect to make putts, make more than the players trying not to miss. There is a definitive advantage to those who putt with certitude as opposed to those who are “trying to make it.”

When you putt with certitude, your misses don’t discourage you as much; the break was just a little more or less than you thought, but the confident, accelerating stroke is closer to good than a reticent one.

And with the “closer to good” strokes predominating, you can begin to feel inefficiencies better; freedom produces clarity. You get a better, faster sense of what you need to pay more attention to: the path of the putter, the pulls and the pushes, the closed and open faces.

With that sort of slow motion of a putting stroke, you can begin to watch what’s going on with a sense of fascination that heightens awareness even more. When you putt with a foreboding sense of recrimination, all of that goes away.

And that’s why Stanley is sort of re-booting his putting, starting from the beginning and expecting them to go in again. And it turns out that there is a very subtle difference between expecting them to go in and wanting them to go in:

Yeah, maybe get a little more process oriented and just kind of control the things I can control on the greens, good routines, good lines, good speed.  I think I maybe want the ball to go in the hole a little too much.  It’s hard to tone that down, especially when you’re not putting well.  But I putted good today, so I guess present tense I’m putting well.

And so another week begins, another dialing back to the first day of the next tournament, another chance at redemption, at healing, at glory.

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