Kyle Stanley displayed some impeccable golf during day one of the Tour Championship at East Lake, solid iron play provided the platform for 29-year-old to finish with a neat round of 64.
Solid ball-striking has been a feature of Stanley’s game this season and helped him claim victory in July at the Quicken Loans National, defeating Charles Howell III in a playoff. However, professional golf is not always so easy, and Stanley has endured his fair share of struggles throughout his career.
Following his win, he appeared emotional and relieved, as if a much-needed weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. It had been five years since Stanley had previously won on Tour. His first victory came at the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he came from 8 shots behind going into the final round to claim the trophy. What made this truly remarkable though, was the fact that only a week previous, he had capitulated in spectacular fashion; with one hole to play in the Farmers Insurance Open, Stanley surrendered a 3 stroke advantage, causing a playoff with Brandt Snedeker, one he eventually lost. Not many players possess such a degree of ‘bounce-back’ ability and mental resilience. He would need to call on it again only a few years later.
During the 2014 season, a dip in form caused Stanley to lose his way. Failure to deliver a top ten finish left him outside of the top 150 in the FedEx Cup standings. He lost his full-time PGA Tour status. A year of uncertainty would follow as he grappled with his game, competing on both the PGA and Web.com Tours in an attempt regain full playing rights and recover his game.
The defining moment arrived at the final regular-season event, the Wyndham Championship. Stanley had no choice but to deliver a solid performance in order to regain his Tour status. The week culminated in a top 20 finish, securing his card and quashing any doubters.
Commenting on his return to form throughout the 2015 season, Stanley said: “I was lacking confidence”. Having asked his father-in-law to caddie for a brief period, it forced him to take more responsibility for his on-course decision-making; “I needed it…I had to do all the work”.
In reflection, this period may have proved a significant turning point in the young Americans career. Being in control of his club selection and green reads and having to pace out distances was an element of the game that he confesses he shirked responsibility from. Having set things right throughout the 2015 season he regained the confidence and form that saw him claim his first tour victory and he hasn’t looked back since.
In the year thus far, Stanley has been consistently regarded as one of the best tee to green players around. Five top ten finishes had him sitting 22nd in the FedEx Cup standings going into East Lake. He has earned over $3.2 million dollars this year alone and looks set to cap it off with yet another outstanding performance.
— TOUR Championship (@playofffinale) September 21, 2017
Stanley’s story stands as a testament to the level of competitiveness on the PGA tour, but also to the mental fortitude required to earn a living as a professional player. Managing to rid your mind of any negative thoughts is never simple, but focus on “everything that I can control” as Stanley puts it, and you might just become a more successful player. This should act as a lesson to any aspiring golfer, preparation is key, but mental toughness is of paramount importance in the game of golf at any level.