Stanley, who in 2012 broke through with his first PGA Tour victory in Phoenix, “camped out” with seven buddies on a 90-foot yacht anchored at the Harbour Town Marina. “Last year I stayed (in Berkeley Hall), and it takes longer to get (to the golf course) than you’d think, so it was nice to be that close.”
He laughed. “It’s not bad,” he said then of his water-borne accommodations.
Stanley grew up in Gig Harbor, Wash., but spent most of his summers with his grandparents, now deceased, on Hilton Head. While there, he became one of the nation’s top junior players, winning four American Junior Golf Association titles and attracting the attention of Clemson golf coach Larry Penley, who wooed him to spend three seasons in the Upstate.
A quiet 25-year-old with a surprisingly wry sense of humor – at last year’s U.S. Open, he called former Tiger All-American and nice guy Jonathan Byrd “a jerk,” before flashing a “gotcha” grin at a reporter – Stanley is perhaps best known for his back-to-back emotional rollercoaster ride in 2012. Holding a three-shot lead at the final hole of the Farmers Insurance Open, he drowned his approach shot at the par-5 hole and fell into a tie with Brandt Snedeker, then lost in a playoff.
His soft-spoken, teary-eyed response to that disaster was still fresh in fans’ minds a week and, he said, “6,000 new Facebook friends later,” when Stanley shot a final-round 65 to rally from eight shots back, overtaking Sunday leader Ben Crane and winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Fans labeled him the “Comeback Kid” as his tears flowed again.
Though his roots (and now his residence) are in the Northwest, Stanley still considers himself an honorary South Carolinian. His return to Harbour Town was “a special time for me, having lived in Bluffton for three years. Plus my grandparents are buried about a mile” from Harbour Town, he says. He calls the RBC Heritage “like a fifth major to me.”
Early in 2013, Stanley was still struggling with his game from a year ago, when he finished 31st and missed the FedEx Cup Championship by a spot – his best finish of his career. More recently, though, he contended at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, finishing third after being two shots off the lead on Sunday. That propelled him to No. 57 among Tour money leaders this year, and he remains on the short list of players under 30 to watch.
“It’s coming,” he said of his game the week of Hilton Head. No doubt, a visit to his old stomping grounds and a weeklong taste of “island life” didn’t hurt.
Hometown: Gig Harbor, Wash.
Bio: Attended Clemson, where he was a two-time All-American and won the 2009 Ben Hogan Award; was runner-up in the 2007 and 2009 NCAA Championships; spent high school summers with his grandparents on Hilton Head Island, where he competed in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events, winning four times.
Highlights: Won the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open, his lone PGA Tour victory, a week after blowing the Sunday lead and losing the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff; played on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour 2009-10; member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team and won the Southern Amateur twice; turned pro after finishing 53rd at the U.S. Open in 2009.
Where I play: “Well, Harbour Town, no doubt. Kiawah (Ocean Course) is great, too, and Berkeley Hall (where he lived for three years). And I’ve got to throw Boscobel (Pendleton) in there; it doesn’t look like much from the road, but it’s a fun one to play. We played there about every other day when I was in college; I played the Walker Course maybe five times in my three years (at Clemson) but (I played) Boscobel four times a week.”
Where I eat: “On Hilton Head, that’s a no-brainer: Frankie Bones and Wise Guys, and Bistro 17 across from Palmetto Dunes. Those were my three spots when I lived here, pretty much every night. Around the state, Mac’s Drive-In is by far (my favorite in Clemson), we used to there and eat a ton, and the people are great. My Big Three: Mac’s, Frankie Bones and Wise Guys.”
What I do for fun: “I’m not a big fishing or hunting or mountains guy, which you might think I would be coming from Seattle. But I love the water, the beaches, and particularly being on the water in the Lowcountry is great all year round. (When I lived at Berkeley Hall) I loved to go out on the boat, take the jet skis out every now and then, and just get caught up in that ‘island life.’”