A dream season for Stallings
PGA success suits Worcester native
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - For someone who didn’t know he’d be playing in the 93d PGA Championship 10 days ago, Scott Stallings certainly dressed the part yesterday: Red shirt, black slacks, black-and-white saddle shoes, even red socks. In the heart of Georgia Bulldogs country, it’s a fashion statement that goes over exceptionally well.
Stallings could say the same about his rookie season on the PGA Tour. The Worcester native is 27th on the money list with $1,891,825, built largely on two tournaments: finishing third at the Transitions Championship in March, then winning the Greenbrier Classic two Sundays ago, his first Tour victory. Only two rookies have earned more money than Stallings this year: Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, and Hopkinton High School graduate Keegan Bradley.
“It’s funny, they ask you about your goals, and you realize in one week that you’ve completely surpassed everything you’ve already set,’’ Stallings said. “We haven’t even reached the playoffs yet, and it’s like, ‘OK, I need to reassess this.’ ’’
His Greenbrier victory - he birdied the 18th hole to force a playoff, then birdied it again to win - came with plenty of perks, including this week. The season’s final major will be the first for Stallings, who toured the front nine at Atlanta Athletic Club yesterday afternoon in searing conditions better suited for the local sauna. The sun was unrelenting, the temperature raced past 90, the humidity kept climbing.
Stallings didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Like so many rookies, Stallings’s first goal for 2011 was securing his tour card for next year. The other items on his wish list? An opportunity to win a tournament, qualify for the playoffs, qualify for next year’s Masters.
Winning the Greenbrier took care of all that. It sent Stallings to his first World Golf Championship event (last week’s Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, where he tied for 29th), gave him a two-year tour exemption, and booked his spot in next year’s Masters and Players Championship, among others.
Oh, there was one more goal. Let the 26-year-old explain its importance, in his own words. There were lots of them, and barely a breath in between.
“Playing in Boston was a for-sure goal. My mom’s family is from all up there, from Kennebunk all the way down to Rhode Island and throughout the coast, so the
“Needless to say, I’ve got that week highlighted.’’
Moving from Massachusetts to Tennessee as a toddler didn’t change his sporting allegiances, even though he went to high school (Oak Ridge) and college (Tennessee Tech) in the Volunteer State, and still lives in Knoxville. He roots just as hard for the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins now as he ever has, and takes in as many games as he can when he returns to visit relatives. Days before playing at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., he was among the masses attending the Bruins’ rolling rally, then sat behind the plate at Fenway Park the next day as the Bruins were bringing the Stanley Cup to the pitcher’s mound and throwing out first pitches.
“I saw some of the worst first pitches in the history of first pitches, especially for athletes and how coordinated those guys have to be to do what they do,’’ Stallings said. “That was terrible, absolutely terrible. To skate backwards and do what they do, and then not to be able to throw it 60 feet? Come on.’’
(Note to Thornton, Lucic, & Co.: Stallings was laughing when he took his shots at you, so he was probably joking.)
The accent might scream South, but his passion for team sports has never left the Bay State.
“Growing up it was like, ‘Red Sox? Who’s that? Wade Boggs? Who’s that?’ ’’ Stallings said. “Everybody else was a Braves fan. For me, it’s always been Boston. It’s my favorite city ever, I love it up there, love the area, love the Red Sox. If the winters weren’t brutal we’d live there.’’
He’s making a nice living down here, at least for now. Stallings became a member of the Tour by finishing in a tie for 11th at last year’s Qualifying School, a few months after a mildly successful debut season on the Nationwide Tour: No wins, three top-10s. And while there’s been a bumpy learning curve this year - more missed cuts (12) than made (10) - winning has a convincing way of hiding most blemishes.
With only two tournaments left until the playoffs start, Stallings, currently 26th in the points standings, will almost certainly still be among the top 70 by the time the Deutsche Bank Championship concludes Labor Day. He’d like to make some noise in his major debut this week, but has a hard time not looking ahead to what will be a satisfying trip to New England, one that was circled on the calendar months ago, without any guarantee of it actually happening.
Four days in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., at the Greenbrier Classic ensured that it will.
“I knew if I made it past Boston, it was going to be a successful year,’’ he said. “That was kind of the benchmark.’’
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.