Kyle Stanley no longer owns a Baton of Pain. That, golf fans, is a remarkable thing.
The Baton of Pain tends to stick with some players like adhesive – sometimes bonded by a superglue that holds on forever.
Best I can tell, despite riches and fame, Greg Norman has a permanent spot in his locker for the 1996 Masters Baton of Pain. And setting aside his publicly cheerful face for the last 13 years, Jean van de Valde may take the 1999 British Open Baton of Pain to old age.
The Baton of Pain is a yoke, an albatross, a burden.
It's that inescapable feeling of pain, shame and nakedness that only golf can bring. It's the sensation of a blown lead on a Sunday, a championship lost, glory fleeing the other way just as you near it.
The golf gods didn't just hand the Baton of Pain to Stanley two Sundays ago at Torrey Pines: They clubbed him over the head with it. Stanley watched his chance at a first-ever PGA Tour win dissolve in agony. The five-shot lead he teed off with on Sunday was reduced to a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole, but surely young Stanley – 24, big-hitting, good-looking, full of promise from Clemson via the state of Washington – wouldn't make a triple bogey on 18.
Except, he did.
When Stanley lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker, most golf observers figured that, as talented as Stanley is, the searing feeling of loss that accompanies such a meltdown would mean he would need time to heal. His career arc would be delayed and there would be no telling when we'd hear from Stanley again.
The Baton of Pain was his, that is, until Stanley did the unthinkable and flippin' won the Phoenix Open the very next week.
What a story! Resilience, pride, talent, moxie and a general disdain for the Baton of Pain all rolled into one.
Not only did Stanley, who started eight shots back of Spencer Levin's lead Sunday morning, shoot a bogey-free, six-birdie 65 in the final round. But also he did it knowing that just seven days earlier, every reason he ever had to feel confident on the golf course had been dumped into a billabong, soaking wet.
After making his move Sunday with birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 8 and 11, Stanley had to know Levin was wobbling, shooting a one-over 36 on the front nine. He had made up five shots and was in the hunt.
On the one hand, redemption – sweet, unthinkable redemption – lay just a few well-struck, well-played golf shots away. On the other hand, the Baton of Pain lay in his golf bag, in the zipper pocket next to a banana, an energy bar and his wristwatch.
So when Stanley sensed the energy and still made birdies on Nos. 13 and 14, and stayed dry on the diabolically and potentially wet holes of 15, 17 and 18, he became a player who had no room for the Baton of Pain in his life.
The tears that welled in his eyes when informed of assured victory spoke as much. Who couldn't be touched by the kid's comeback? Just seven days earlier, he earned "Broadcast moment of the week" honors in this column for his stunned I-don't-know-what-to-say reaction on CBS after he lost the playoff.
Seven days later, he told CBS he was speechless again. That's because he was breathing deeply and brushing away tears. When he did surface for air, he thanked his mom and dad. At that point, he may not have been the only one misting up.
Nick Faldo called it "big, deep, powerful, positive stuff."
There's another way to put it: Baton of Pain … Be gone!
Only one problem: Golf gods never take the Baton of Pain back. They merely pass it on, like a virus.
Spencer Levin, your time with the BOP has begun. What you do with it is up to you.
65-63-68-75 – 13-under 271, Spencer Levin, third place, PGA Tour Waste Management Phoenix Open, TPC Scottsdale
Everything about Levin is appealingly homemade. His swing is anti-golf academy, relying on hand-eye coordination and guts. His tempo is that of a guy sick of slow play, ready to rock and roll, and if you can't keep up, the heck with you. His body language is overt – a backwards leg kick on a putt needing some English or a simmering intensity that contradicts every New Age sports coach's plea for Zen.
He's what an increasingly bland PGA Tour needs: an original with some attitude.
Now, he's going to have to show the golf world he can carry – and shed – the Baton of Pain.
Levin's 75 was seven shots higher than his worst score of the first three rounds, a clear case of a guy unable to handle the glare of a final pairing on Sunday. There's good news in this.
Levin's post-round comments were as open and honest as you could imagine – a 27-year-old willing to stare down his demons with the curled upper lip that's marked his pugnacious playing career.
"It's 100 percent on me," he said of his collapse. "The way I went about it … It was on me, and I blew it."
This is positive. Confrontation suits Levin's personality. Go fight it, kid.
Levin is old school, right down to – get this – not owning a cell phone or an email account.
Levin is the "Gilligan's Island" of PGA Tour players.
Stanley said part of the reason he was able to chuck the Baton of Pain out of his life was because of the outpouring of support he received via Twitter. He took heart in the "Atta-boy" and "Go-get-em" comments he received from friends, family and fellow players alike. It takes a village, it turns out, to bounce back from a triple bogey on the 72nd hole.
So, young Spencer, our advice is to set up a one-week Twitter account. Make your handle @ScrewBatonofPain and let the tweet love flow. You'll be bigger, better, stronger and can thank us later. Plus, if the golf gods try to tweet you with negative swing thoughts, you can do what sportswriters do to haters who tweet: Block 'em!
I have to admit, for years I've held the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open in disdain. I thought it was gimmicky, loud and boorish. And let's be honest, for the most part, I'm right.
But there are times when even this curmudgeon admits the hole is pretty darn fun.
So when Crane and Watson took to a 16th tee-box microphone like the Jay-Z and Kanye of the PGA Tour and broke out the Oooh de LaLi LaLis from their 2011 hit "Oh Oh Oh," it was an early leader for Most Amusing Moment of the Year. I guess 2.9 million YouTube hits can't be wrong.
The crowd went nuts, of course. But then again, the crowd would have gone nuts if Crane and Watson went to the microphone and announced tax audits for everyone. Something tells me the 16th-hole crowd isn't entirely focused on details – just beers and noise.
Sometimes, that's not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Last week, the mulligan went to Stanley. This week? Levin is the beneficiary.
Levin came to the 15th hole at Phoenix still tied for the lead. It's a par 5, so you had to figure a guy like Levin had a chance to regain the lead with a bird. With the drive-able 17th hole still ahead, Levin's wobbles could be righted and he still could get his first win.
Except … his drive was tugged left and the ball snuggled up next to a cactus. This is never part of the winning game plan. Even though Levin was able to punch out from the cactus, he was so rattled his third shot drifted away from the green.
A wet golf ball meant a double-bogey "7."
That was an "ouch" worse than any Arizona cactus needle could ever deliver. Levin would finish two strokes behind Stanley.
So, young Spencer, let's head back to the 15th tee, let you fire up one of those cigarettes you like to smoke, crank that neck back and forth a few times, remember that it's a birdie-begging par 5 and … give that man a mulligan!
Bake the clams, golf fans, it's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am time.
This tournament is already the winner of Comeback Tourney of the Year. After a Tiger-free decade in which the fields have been weaker than convenience-store coffee, this year's Pebble Party is hopping.
Not only is Tiger making his 2012 PGA Tour debut – back for the first time since 2002 and playing with Tony Romo in the pro-am – but also the field includes Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Snedeker.
Defending pro-am champion Bill Murray, who told the San Francisco Chronicle that the win he forged with pro D.A. Points last year is "like a blazing searchlight in the lighthouse of my life," will have to fend off amateurs like 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Alabama coach Nick Saban and the heart of rock 'n roll himself, Northern California's own Huey Lewis.
Throw in Patriots coach Bill Belichick looking to lick some wounds and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ready to have "NFL MVP" stitched onto the side of his bag, and it looks like Pebble is back in business.
Then again, when is Pebble Beach ever not in business? Pebble is all business, 24/7/365. Plus, Spencer Levin is playing. He likes it there. Might be a good spot to chuck the Baton of Pain into Carmel Bay.
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