Professional golfer Kyle Stanley will forever remember Super Bowl Sunday 2012. And not because he’s an over-the-top New York Giants — or Madonna — fan.
But because he won the unglamorously-named Waste Management Phoenix Open on Sunday. And for Stanley, there was nothing trashy about his final round 65 that secured a one-shot victory and his first on the PGA tour.
What will resonate most for the spindly, 24-year-old, is that Feb. 5 was his day of redemption. And really, in sport, or in life, who doesn’t cherish a moment when they can say I am somebody, after feeling the extreme opposite?
And in Stanley’s case, feeling it so recently.
It was just last weekend, when Stanley stunningly and tearfully blew the three-shot lead he had on the 18th hole to lose the PGA event at fabled Torrey Pines in San Diego. The collapse prompted comparisons to cover-your-eyes-golfing-nose dives such as Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open, Robert Garrigus at the 2010 St. Jude Classic and so many others.
Social media offered a balm — Stanley reportedly picked up nearly 4,000 sympathetic followers on Twitter in 24 hours; other golfers sent him text messages assuring Stanley they’d “been there done that” and exhorting him to hang in, which, it seems, he did.
In the interest of full disclosure, Stanley’s win in Phoenix was as much Spencer Levin’s loss. Levin, reprising Stanley’s swoon from the weekend before, led by six at the start of Sunday’s final round. A golfing nightmare ensued with balls flying into clumps of cactus, water, basically all the places golf balls are not supposed to be.
When the smoke cleared, it was steady Stanley who made up an eight-stroke deficit and grabbed the winner’s trophy, a check for $1,098,000 and a spot in April’s master tournament.
And irony of ironies? Stanley was the one offering Levin words of comfort.
“You know, I really feel for him, experiencing that,” Stanley said, adding: “He’s a very good player, way too good of a player to not bounce back or recover. I feel bad for him. I really do.”
Levin dealt with his collapse in a matter-of-fact way.
“I just maybe tried a little too hard,” he said, adding, “just wanting it a little too much, I think.”
Maybe Levin wasn’t overwrought because he knows he has this advantage –instead of settling into a golfing rut, fighting demons for months, even years, he can simply look to the guy who beat him: Kyle Stanley a motivational hero. Who would’ve thought it a week ago?
(Tom Goldman is NPR’s sports correspondent.)