As if Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley needed to be told following his dramatic come-from-behind victory at the early-season Waste Management Open – the reminder was nice, anyway.
Son, you get to go to your first Masters.
And the second-year PGA Tour golfer and Bellarmine Prep graduate, has carried that thought with him to the tournaments following that win – where he has been heartily cheered and congratulated.
But one day back home a few weeks ago in Bluffton, S.C., an important piece of mail arrived.
“I got my Masters invitation in the mail,” the 24-year-old said. “It was a little card that said it was official.”
And today wraps up his preparation for one of the famed courses in the world – Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts what would be deemed the favorite major championship by most of the players. Stanley tees off on Thursday at 6:18 a.m. PDT and is paired with Australia’s Jason Day and reigning FedEx Cup playoffs champion Bill Haas for the first two rounds.
“I am fortunate. It was the one tournament that was on television, and I was glued to it. And as a kid, you dream about being there,” Stanley said.
“I played (Augusta) once in college. That was cool. But being there as a pro is pretty special.”
After that victory in Phoenix in early February, Stanley not only grabbed hold of the tour money lead, but he also led the FedEx Cup playoff points standings for the next month – until Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy won at The Honda Classic.
Currently, Stanley is No. 5 on the money list ($1.99 million) and in FedEx Cup playoff points list (trailing Hunter Mahan by 360 points).
And no, Stanley has not played his best golf since that scorching hot streak on the West Coast, which included a heartbreaking runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, losing to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff the week before Phoenix.
In his past three events, Stanley missed the cut at The Honda Classic, tied for 51st in the no-cut WGC-Cadillac Championships and tied for 75th at last week’s Houston Open.
Stanley said he was worn out on the Florida swing. He had gotten into two events he had not planned at the beginning of the season – the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships and the WGC-Cadillac Championships – and played in eight of the first nine tournaments on tour.
“I was a zombie out there,” he said.
Then there has been this growing fame issue Stanley has had to adjust to. Normally a very private person, he is now recognized in grocery stores, airports and shopping malls fairly consistently.
“I’ve just had to manage my schedule a little bit better, and get to the course (for practice) a little earlier,” Stanley said.
But the fame has led to a few cool perks, too. A big Gonzaga men’s basketball fan, Stanley has gotten to know a few important figures around the program – including coach Mark Few.
When the Zags went off to Pittsburgh for the first two rounds of the NCAA East Regional, Stanley not only attended both games, he also was invited into the locker room after their opening victory over West Virginia.
He also received a Zags jersey with his name on the back of it.
“That was probably one of the coolest weeks of my life. I called my agent (Brad Buffoni) and told him I did not know if I was more excited winning in Phoenix, or going in the locker room to meet the guys.
“You know, I am probably not the same guy I was in college. I was maybe a little too golf-oriented, and did not get the whole sides-of-life aspect. I had never taken a week off where I did not touch a golf club in-season, but it felt great. At the end of the day, there is more than golf, and I am starting to realize that.”
That is not to say he hasn’t taken his Masters preparation very seriously. Ten days ago, he met up with his caddie, Brett Waldman, and short-game coach James Sieckmann for three practice rounds at Augusta National.
One of those rounds was played with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, with whom he has formed a friendship.
A big portion of his sneak-peek rounds was practicing his wedges around the green. Titleist sent him six different Vokey 60-degree wedges to try out for the tournament.
“There are more subtleties at Augusta than the vast majority of courses,” Stanley said. “Brett has caddied there quite a bit and his job in practice rounds (has been) to get me as comfortable on the course as I can. He knows all that stuff. I still have to know what to do, though.”
This week, he has played only nine holes a day as his tuneup for the tournament.
“(The course) is more wide open than people think,” Stanley said. “The key to that golf course is driving it well, and to just position your golf ball in the right places for all the pins.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org