Darron Stiles and the Coconut Tree – Fighting off snowmen in California

Pinehurst's Darron Stiles is optimistic about his start to the 2013 PGA Tour season.

Pinehurst’s Darron Stiles is optimistic about his start to the 2013 PGA Tour season.

BY ALEX PODLOGAR

How do you start a story like this? Pinehurst’s Darron Stiles has played five really good rounds of golf in his return to the PGA Tour.

He has a missed cut and a T56 to show for it.

So how do you begin the story of Stiles’ start, especially when it includes a coconut tree, the top of the leaderboard, a cart path and a snowman? What class in J-School do you take to handle that?

The answer is, there isn’t one. There is no perfect way. No right or wrong.

Still, what do you do?

You do what Darron Stiles did.

You put your head down and keep going – and fight back.

***

I took three shots at laying the foundation of Stiles’ early season story.

It’s pretty clear I failed each time. Here, see for yourself:

LA JOLLA, Calif. – The quad.

In figure skating, it’s a good thing. In fact, it’s revolutionary.

In golf? Well, that’s another story.

(Well, duh…)

***

LA JOLLA, Calif. – Eight days earlier, his ball fell into a coconut tree and never came out.

Now, he led the tournament. But then there was the cart path and the out-of-bounds stake.

Oh, and…the quad.

“Overall I feel like I’m playing pretty well,” says Pinehurst’s Darron Stiles, who has started his sixth season on the PGA Tour. “But there’s been a little bit of bad luck in these first two weeks.”

(Better…)

***

LA JOLLA, Calif. – Four holes earlier, Pinehurst’s Darron Stiles had made his third birdie in five holes to start his third round at the Humana Challenge, moving into a share of the lead.

Playing the Nicklaus Course at PGA West, there were few electronic leaderboards around, so while Stiles knew he was near the top of the field at the PGA Tour’s second tournament of the season, he didn’t realize the exact position he was in.

Four holes later, though, it became a nonissue. A wayward drive struck the cart path and bounced out of bounds on the par-4 15th hole, Stiles’ fifth of the round, leading to a double bogey. He bounced back with a birdie on the next hole, but despite splitting the fairway on the par-4 18th, Stiles needed seven more shots – one of them was wet, one of them was misclubbed and two were left in deep rough – to card an 8.

A quad.

(Informative, but wordy. And we haven’t even gotten to the coconut tree yet…)

***

Stiles is the Web.Com Tour’s all-time career money-winner, which people who don’t know any better would say makes him the Crash Davis of golf. That isn’t accurate, of course, because Stiles has had five seasons on the PGA Tour, and the Web.com Tour success has translated to more than $1.8 million in earnings. (Stiles has also earned more than $1.4 million in his five PGA Tour seasons.)

Take that, Nuke.

Of course, he’d like to stay on the PGA Tour, land of big money, fame and major championships. Through two weeks, he’s played well enough to do just that, boasting a scoring average of 69.17 and ranks first on Tour in putting inside 5 feet.

Still, the only deposit he’s made is in earnings of $12,432. That’s what happens when just a few loose swings translate into balls stuck in coconut trees in Hawaii and cart paths and snowmen in California.

“Obviously, I’m making plenty of birdies,” says Stiles Tuesday from Torrey Pines, a few days after opening the Humana Challenge with rounds of 66 and 65. “But clearly there’s still a little bit of rust in competition.”

The coconut tree incident was the result of an unfortunate shot in the second round of the season-opening Sony Open, contributing to a 74 that led to Stiles missing the cut. (Stiles on Twitter that day: “Well thx to a coconut tree, got the weekend off. #betternextweek” Follow @dstilesgolf) The quad eight days later could partially be explained by miscommunication between Stiles and his caddie. Stiles was quoted 105 yards to the pin when it was really 91, leading to short-siding himself in deep Bermuda rough behind the green. But it was the approach shot he dumped into the water from the middle of the fairway that led to the calculating mistake.

“My caddie contributed slightly to the 8, but it was my fault,” Stiles says. “I was the one making the poor shots.”

But there haven’t been that many missed shots, and that’s what has Stiles so optimistic about his start. The laid-back Stiles even took to Twitter on Saturday to explain both his woes and his good fortune – in 140 characters or less:

well, interesting day @HumanaChallenge made a double and a quad with 6 birdies to offset = even par!! #gottagolowonsunday

Stiles wasn’t able to go too low Sunday, but still finished at 15-under 273 to tie for 56th.

And there was a good lesson in Stiles’ recovery from the quad.

“I actually played the (next) hole poorly … but made a 15-footer for par that got me turned around.

“The big thing is that I knew I had nine holes left (after the quad.) And I had been making a bunch of birdies all week and it was perfect scoring weather – I mean, not a breath of wind, blue skies, sunny, 75 degrees, a day you dream of – and I thought, ‘You just got to keep going, keep staying aggressive and make as many birdies as you can.’”

And so Stiles will head to the tee on Thursday for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines with the same mindset: keep grinding. (Stiles tees off on the 10th tee of the North Course at 10:10 a.m. Pacific on Thursday.)

“You can be aggressive on the North Course here, but if you push the envelope and force the issue by being aggressive on the South Course, it won’t be pretty,” he says.

No matter. Stiles has already seen golf when it isn’t pretty.

He handled it just fine.

Reservations

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