It is a lovely Southern night, the kind that songs are written about. The sky is dark and clear, dotted with stars and splashed by the Milky Way. A light breeze carries the scent of languid Lake Hartwell, invisible in the darkness a short distance away. The night is calm and beautifully silent.
Or it would be, if not for Kyle Stanley.
A deep-throated, reverberating clink! shatters the serenity. Someone is hitting the absolute bejeezus out of a titanium driver. Clink! There's another one. Clink! And another.
There is no silence in this secluded corner of the Clemson campus. And no night, either. Stanley, soon-to-be Phoenix Open winner, is pounding tee shot after tee shot on a field-of-dreams practice range beneath a bank of lights once used for RV parking at Tigers football games.
During his three years at Clemson, Stanley turned midnight golf sessions into a ritual. It wasn't unusual for Stanley, whose long legs and lean physique make him look taller than his actual six feet, to keep swinging past 1 a.m. His routine was to join teammates for an hour of afternoon practice or maybe a few holes of golf, then leave to finish schoolwork. He returned to hit balls in solitude, or with Clemson coach Larry Penley. "It was quiet there, freaky quiet sometimes," Stanley says of the late-night sessions.
Stanley found the chatter and commotion of team practice distracting. His full-blown golf obsession made him feel like Marlene Dietrich—I vant to be alone.
Sometimes, campus security would drop by to ask: How much longer? Penley always gave the same answer: "We're almost through."
Stanley and his coach still laugh about that because Penley's reply was a convenient lie. Stanley is the opposite of Mr. Almost Through. He's Mr. Two More Buckets of Balls. On the PGA Tour, Stanley is Vijay Singh 2.0, the hardest-working man in golf, same as he was at Clemson, where he was Captain Midnight meets the Lone Ranger as played by Ben freakin' Hogan.
This is how a golfing prodigy from Gig Harbor, Wash., a small, picturesque town on Puget Sound, ended up in South Carolina when he had a smorgasbord of scholarship offers from which to choose. "You could light up the range like a football field," says Stanley. "That was a real selling point."
Stanley realized he wouldn't have to stop working on his game because of a nuisance known as sunset. Those Southern nights, sweet and soft, would belong to him.