Fight or Flight – Tales from the PGA Tour

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.

Pinehurst member Darron 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.

Stiles has already seen his share of highs and lows early through the Western Swing for the 2013 PGA Tour season. On occasion here at the Pinehurst Blog, he’ll recount those highs and lows, what “reshuffling” means to PGA Tour players and everything in between.

Take a ride with Stiles inside the PGA Tour with his first installment – “Fight or Flight”

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

BY DARRON STILES

PGA TOUR PLAYER

Welcome to a new feature for me. This is the first post of the year for my blog about life on the PGA Tour.

I hope you enjoy the weekly updates and random thoughts about the game in general. Once my web site is up and running, I will be able to answer any questions you may have, or if you have any suggestions for topics to discuss, that would be great as well.

Let’s start with a recap of my season up until the Honda Classic.

As always, the PGA Tour season starts with the annual visit to the Aloha State – Hawaii. This year Hawaii had special meaning to me. Back in 2009, my wife, Kim and I were there for the first event of the season, when upon completion of my opening round of 78, we found out my father had suffered a massive heart attack and was on his way to the hospital.

My parents were taking caring of our kids for the week so Kim could spend some time with me in paradise. Within a few hours of finishing the round, my mother called us back to say my father had passed away. Immediately my world was turned upside down and golf was no longer a concern.

Pinehurst Country Club member Darron Stiles holds his 2013 PGA Tour card.

Pinehurst Country Club member Darron Stiles holds his 2013 PGA Tour card.

Fast forward to this year.

I was really looking forward to getting back to Hawaii for the Sony Open to tend to my unfinished business from 2009. The week started out great with an opening score of 68. This I’m sure put a smile on my father’s face up in heaven. However, the joy would not last, as on Friday some tree trouble making the turn derailed my efforts for the week.

On to the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs – a tournament that is generally a birdie fest with the scoring being very good. This year was no different. After a great opening 66, followed by an even better 65, I was in great position heading into the weekend. Despite briefly sharing the lead, I battled my nerves on Saturday, and some inconsistent ball striking led to a round of even par 72. I plummeted from the top 10 down to the mid-40s. Sunday was more of the same, as all I could muster was 2-under 70 to finish in a tie for 56th.  Still, while my finish was not great, I was encouraged by what I had seen throughout the week.

San Diego and Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open the following week saw me be frustrated by the notorious Poa Annua greens of California. I failed to take advantage of the “easier” North Course, only managing an even par 72 on Thursday. I played well on Friday on the much longer and difficult South Course.  But my score of 73 left me outside the cut line for weekend play.

The next week, our traveling circus headed to Phoenix for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This is where I need to share a little background info on my eligibility for PGA Tour events.

My category is Top 25 Web.Com/Top 25 Q School. (I finished among the Top 25 last season on the Web.com Tour, earning PGA Tour status for 2013.) We are not automatically in the field for every event. In fact, there is a pecking order of categories for each event. There are 27 categories that have status on the PGA Tour. My category is No. 21, meaning not many guys from Web.Com/Qschool would get in at Phoenix. That left me the only option of trying to qualify on Monday, which is a daunting task that is not fun.

There are usually four spots available each week for this process, but to make things even more difficult, Phoenix only has three spots. Nonetheless, I played Monday, shot even par 72 in cold conditions, then caught a flight back to Pinehurst.

That’s life on the PGA Tour.

Darron Stiles of the PGA Tour.

Darron Stiles of the PGA Tour.

***

My few days at home were wonderful, with my kids and Kim very happy to have me home if only for a few days. Come Sunday, though, it was back to the airport and a return to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach ProAm. The Poa Annua greens once again caused frustration and led to another missed cut and no paycheck.

Again, that’s life on the PGA Tour.

I was, however encouraged by my ball striking, as it improved from day to day, so there were some positive thoughts heading into another Monday qualifier for the next event, the Northern Trust Open, in Los Angeles. I was cruising along at 3 under for 11 holes when the round just stalled. A poor tee ball on 12 led to a bogey, and I just never regained the momentum from there and finished the day at 2-under 70. It took 67 (5 under) to advance to event.

Homebound again.

After a redeye flight back Monday night, I had a couple weeks off to rest and work on my game.

Then came the reshuffling.

***

In those two weeks off, my category would go through the first of five reshuffles for the year. That means we are reordered within the category based on how much money we have made for the season to that date. Having made only the one cut at Humana, I fell six spots further down in shuffle from where I started the season.

This would leave me in the daunting position of having to Monday qualify again for the first event of the Florida swing, the Honda Classic.

The qualifier was held at Mayacoo Lakes CC, about 25 minutes south of PGA National, the host course for the Honda Classic. The course was in fantastic shape, and being back on Bermuda greens was music to my ears – and my putter.

I shot a great round of 5-under 66. This put me tied for the lead when I finished. The only problem – there were still many great players on the course and the wait would be about 90 minutes to find out if I was going to get in or be in a playoff.

It came down to last group off each side. There was a 66 from the final group that sealed my fate for the week.

I was IN!!!!!!

Pinehurst's Darron Stiles of the PGA Tour.

Pinehurst’s Darron Stiles of the PGA Tour.

***

Now that the hard part was over, it was time to get ready for a demanding layout at PGA National, the Champ course, and home of the signature BEAR TRAP!!!!

Unusual for south Florida, the weather was cold for the entire week, but this is where those flights home paid off. Coming from Pinehurst playing and practicing in the low/mid 50s the week before, I was ready.

The first day we played the ball in hand due to some rain early in the week. This made the course slightly longer, but manageable because we could lift, clean, and place the ball in the fairway. Driving the ball well is paramount under these conditions. I did just that, hitting 12 of the 14 fairways, however my iron play was not quite as good and I finished with a 1-over 71.

We played the ball down Friday, much to the dismay of few players. I was not surprised by this at all, and welcomed the fact, because I knew scoring would be more difficult now and a solid round would go a long way. That’s exactly what I produced, a solid 2-under 68 to make cut at 1-under 139.

Saturday saw the start of the wind that would wreak havoc on scoring. I got off to a very hot start with an eagle and two birdies in the first five holes to put myself at 5-under, moving within three shots of the lead. That start cooled off just as fast though, with bogies on 6, 7 and 8. After another birdie on 9, my adventurous front 9 was completed.

Now for the more difficult back 9.  I managed a very respectable even par on the back in the gusty winds to post another 2-under 68. That put me in position for Sunday to get my first top 10 of the season, or even better, my first victory on the PGA Tour.

Sunday welcomed us with strong winds and cool temps once again. My goal for the day was to stay in the present and not think about the result. I feel that I accomplished this and played a solid round of golf, shooting 2-over 72 to finish the week at 1-under par 279. While I did not win, or even get my top 10, (T13), I was very pleased with my performance for the week and very happy to make a great move up the money list.

***

There was no time for celebration of the week that was, though, as I had a 10 p.m. flight out of Orlando down to Puerto Rico for our next event. I had committed to play in the Monday pro-am, and I have always strived to honor my commitments, so if that means driving 2 ½ hours to the airport to catch a flight, that is what I will do.

Just another flight in the name of the PGA Tour.

Stay tuned for my update of the Puerto Rico Open! Until next time…

D

Reservations

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