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April 02, 2012
Showing the same work ethic that had him pounding balls into the wee hours at Clemson, long-hitting Kyle Stanley has the tools—and the resiliency—to be a shining star
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April 02, 2012

Night School

Showing the same work ethic that had him pounding balls into the wee hours at Clemson, long-hitting Kyle Stanley has the tools—and the resiliency—to be a shining star

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Stanley, who does a killer Borat impression, says with a laugh, "It's really an act."

His sunglasses and facial hair—not quite a beard—give Stanley an older, almost menacing air and a damn good poker face. Asked if the story that he slept with his clubs during his junior days is true, he says, "Oh, yeah." Upon further prodding, he seems wary, as if he has revealed too much. The story: He had lost a big tournament due to poor putting, so Washington coach Matt Thurmond suggested that Stanley make his putter his best friend, take it everywhere, even to bed. He went a step further, sleeping with his entire set. The next week he won an American Junior Golf Association tournament. Draw your own conclusion.

"I don't do it anymore," Stanley says sheepishly. "I mean, it's not like I tucked them in or anything."

The victory in Phoenix got Stanley into the Masters and cast the spotlight on a player who may be the next big thing. At 24, he already has a trail of admirers.

During the second round in Phoenix he played a key second shot at the par-5 15th hole, which has virtually an island green. It was a two-iron from the rough, 246 yards to the front, 270 to the middle. "He flew it 250, it rolled to 20 feet, and he made the putt for eagle," says Waldman, who has been looping on the Tour for 10 years. "Nobody else I've worked for could've hit that shot."

Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, was paired with Stanley last year at the Mayakoba Classic. "It's windy," Lehman says, "and he's hitting these laser beams about 10 feet off the ground. Holy smokes, it's impressive. So I ask Kyle, 'Is that your normal ball flight?' He says, 'No, I hit it high.' I say, 'Oh, that's not very high. When did you start hitting that shot?' Kyle says, 'This morning.' 'Have you ever hit that shot before?' 'No.' 'So this is your maiden voyage hitting those low shots?' He goes, 'Yeah.' I'm sold—this guy is good."

During the off-season Stanley and his swing coach, Mike Taylor, went to the range at Berkeley Hall, Stanley's home course near Hilton Head Island, to work on distance control with his wedges. Taylor, wearing a baseball glove, positioned himself 70 yards away to field Stanley's shots. They added 10-yard increments per session, out to 120 yards.

"In an hour and a half," Taylor says, "the most I ever had to move was 15 feet."

James Sieckmann works with Stanley on his short game, everything from wedge play to putting to reading greens. He is equally impressed with Stanley's long game. "Kyle's driving reminds me of Greg Norman," says Sieckmann, whose brother, Tom, played 17 years on the PGA Tour. "I remember watching Norman at Firestone. When everyone else would lay up with a three-wood on those dogleg fairways, he'd smash driver into a 15-yard wide neck with no fear. That's Kyle. He's amazingly straight for how far he hits it."

At Doral, Stanley was paired in the first two rounds with Alvaro Quiros and Gary Woodland. "It was Home Run Derby," Waldman says. Stanley held his own with the two bombers. His power was also on display at the final hole in Phoenix. He and Waldman decided the best strategy was to take the water hazard guarding the left side of the fairway out of play by blasting driver over it. The carry was 316 yards.

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