A professional touring pro for 17 years, Stiles, 39, has earned more than $1.8 million on golf’s most elite satellite tour and has won six times, including once in 2012. Over the course of his career he has spent five seasons on the PGA Tour, which is where he will return once again when he tees it up Thursday to play the first round of the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii. (Follow Live Scoring here.)
With earnings in excess of $200,000 in 2012, Stiles finished 17th on the Web.com Tour money list, punching his ticket back to golf’s biggest stage. Now, he would like to stay there.
And he believes he’s found the winning formula to do it.
“Really, it comes down to splitting hairs,” says Stiles, who spent the offseason pouring over his competitive statistics seeking ways to improve his game. “There were a couple of areas, though, that jumped out.”
And so when Stiles approaches his goals for the season, he’s not listing winning on Tour, surviving to keep his card or X amount of top 10s. Instead, it’s play better and get better at the game, and the rest of that will take care of itself.
“I haven’t really thought about a lot of goals,” Stiles said from Hawaii on Tuesday. “I know what I need to improve on from last year to have success.”
One of the most consistent drivers on the developmental tour – Stiles ranked fifth in driving accuracy by hitting 74 percent of fairways – he has focused intently on improving his putting. While he led the tour in scrambling, Stiles was 68th in putts per round.
“It’s very minor, but it means so much,” Stiles says. “If I can bring my putts per round average down by half a percentage point, say, from 29.25 to 28.75 or something, who knows much money that can translate to in a year.”
Stiles arrived in Hawaii on Sunday evening and will be away from Pinehurst for the next month. After the Sony Open, which airs on The Golf Channel from Thursday-Sunday beginning at 7 p.m. each night, Stiles will play the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif., the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, try to qualify for the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, and then play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Stiles is not like most of the 25 Web.com Tour qualifiers, 14 of which will be PGA Tour rookies. A veteran of professional golf, Stiles approaches the game like a job, and there have been no surprises so far.
“Everything feels pretty much the same as in previous years,” he says. “It’s really not that much different from a season-opener for any other year. It’s still the first work week of the year and it’s still time to get the season going. It doesn’t matter what tour it is.”
Still, the start of a new season is exciting. And Stiles will admit it’s good to be back on the PGA Tour.
“The two people most excited to be here are me and my caddie,” he says.
“Well, my wife, too.”