Scott Stallings came out of nowhere to win the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines by one shot over the five guys who finished T2: K.J. Choi, Graham Delaet, Jason Day, Pat Perez and Marc Leishman. What made this such an interesting win was that nobody even mention Stallings as a possible winner; he was in the middle of a swing change.
I’ll be the first to tell you I would be lying if I said I’ve been consistent in my career and it’s something I’ve been lacking. When we sat down and kind of, after the playoffs, I remember I shot like 80-something my last round in the playoffs in Chicago. We had like 10 weather delays and I kind of just bagged it and was trying to figure out what I was doing. Said to my coach, my trainer, said what are we going to do to get better? I said I’m sick of playing like this. I said even if I have to go play bad, I’m ready to make the changes.
We started implementing them and my coach Brad and my trainer Adam have been on me every single day. The fall was a struggle knowing that I was going to play bad [he made just 2 of 5 cuts and a mere $30,400 through Humana]. I was going to play really good for stretches and play really bad for stretches. I needed to play tournament rounds to kind of get it going instead of taking four, five months off and then come back in January without having played.
And while it was his swing that hung together for him as he finished off his win, it was his putting that kept him moving down the field:
The guy that helps me with my putting is a guy named David Robinson. He’s a mini-tour buddy of mine who’s now caddying for Blake Adams and he’s been helping me probably the last six, eight months.
He actually didn’t watch me hit a single putt this week, and we were eating lunch in the middle of the day and he said, man, you cannot release the putter too much, especially on these greens. He said, almost feel like you’re trying to just over-release every single time, I promise you won’t putt bad.
That’s all I really thought about coming down the stretch with the putter and just try not to leave the face open and try to stroke on my line and that’s all you can really do on greens like this. They rolled really good for them and I’m really thankful for the opportunity and happy to be where I am.
Nobody was mentioning Choi either until he made an early charge up the leaderboard getting to 6-under, 8-under for the tournament. So while he set the benchmark for what was possible on the day, the leaders were already flirting with 10-under and had miles of holes to go. You could cut the tension with a knife, as they say.
Hometown boy, Pat Perez, winner of the World Juniors on the same course and sent off by his father, the starter, kept pushing…looking good…but couldn’t get beyond 2-under on the day.
You know, it’s great and bad. This is the one I want to win more than anything in the world and, you know, I came up short. Yeah, I played great and I don’t know what I’m going to finish, but, you know, really when I woke up this morning I really thought I was going to get it done, I did. I thought things were just going kind of smooth, you know.
Through the morning I hit it nice and I just thought — I thought today would have been my day.
Graham Delaet and Jason Day made a run at it. Delaet looked ready, powerful and indestructible even though he had his right wrist wrapped. Getting to the clubhouse with Choi at 8-under seemed a worthy accomplishment, but the leaders were still out there with enough holes to go.
Of the three most likely guys to pull it off, the three guys in the last group, only Marc Leishman was able to hold it together. But he too got stuck on 8-under.
There was never really a point where I thought I’m done [even as he tried to sink his wedge shot for an eagle on 18 to tie]. Standing on 16 tee I thought if I birdied the last three, it’s mine. Hit a good shot and a good putt on 16, hit good tee shot, good shot and good putt on 17, and then just hit a bad tee shot on 18, but like I said, I was probably going to lay up anyway, it’s quite an easy wedge shot. Just 2nd is not bad.
Gary Woodland was pounding the ball all day long, but lost his swing on the back nine, his tee ball into the left hazard when he was trying to hit his stock cut the most evident. But he knew it wasn’t stable on the 1st tee:
It was a little off. I drove it pretty well early, gave myself a lot of chances and I just didn’t get anything out of it and it kind of fell apart there on the back nine. All in all, like I said, I’m playing well and I’ve got a golf course that suits me really well, and the good thing is I can forget about this and play well next week [in Phoenix].
Jordan Spieth was expected to make an irrepressible run at it, but he didn’t tell us that he’d tweaked his ankle late Saturday and didn’t even hit any balls afterward. He made a game try, but without being able to load up his right side on the back swing, he was a paper tiger, shot 75 and finished T19. The leaderboard was so tight, it didn’t take much to fall a long way.
I don’t remember where, it just started hurting, stepped wrong somewhere. I couldn’t hit balls after the round. Obviously didn’t affect the round on Friday, but just didn’t hit any fairways from there. I didn’t feel pain at all, so I don’t blame it on that whatsoever, but whatever it was, I wasn’t loading correctly and therefore I started hitting them left going left really with every club.
But the best thing for him were the mental lessons he learned over the weekend:
I felt very comfortable, didn’t feel nervous at all, no tension, just really didn’t have my stuff. I was struggling with my driver, and when I’m struggling with my driver, mentally it’s very difficult for me to stay neutral and refocus and finish off a good round. It’s something I really need to work on. It’s a detriment to my success is learning how to get over and finding a go-to shot.
Typically I can and this is really the first event since as long as I can remember where I really just had no idea where the ball was going to go. I had an 8 iron from the middle of the fairway laying up to about a 30-yard wide area with a stock 8 iron on 18 and I missed the fairway by 10 yards. That shot is borderline a shank. So I just don’t know what happened so I just need to get home, work with my instructor and come back to Pebble.
He was thrilled with the 63 he shot on Friday, but he also saw behavior in himself that he knew was detrimental to his long-run success:
Anytime you can do that I can draw back on that for confidence. Yeah, I mean, this weekend, especially today, I really had it today and I just let stuff get to my head too easily.
The cameraman stepped on my ball back on 6 when I guess it was on a really good lie, you know. I hit a good chip shot anyways, but when the putt missed it just got in my head. It carried to 7 and it really shouldn’t have. I’ll learn from that just to brush it off. There’s no reason, there’s nothing I could do about it, I couldn’t prevent it, I wasn’t to the green yet. So all in all just really wasn’t mentally ready to win this week.
But it’s early in the season and I can draw on some confidence from the first two rounds.
On the one hand, we see the first evidence that our phenom really is only 20 years old, so cut him some slack. But in the next breath, we see a very self-aware critique of himself that makes it clear that our initial assessment of his first year on Tour and his future was not a mistake.