Stanger Thangs: Rookie Jimmy Stanger having his own version of March Madness

Jimmy Stanger is on a pretty sweet run.

In addition to finishing a career-best T-3 at the Puerto Rico Open two weeks ago and cashing his largest paycheck ($212,000), the PGA Tour rookie earned his way into last week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, near his adopted hometown, as the last man in the field thanks to the kindness and generosity of Tiger Woods.

“I was probably one of the happiest guys in the country that Tiger decided not to play,” Stanger said.

The 27-year-old Stanger, who could be the Tour’s new “Mr. Congeniality,” moved to Jacksonville a few years ago with one distinct purpose: to test his game at one of the best courses day in, day out.

“I think it’s a big reason I’m on the PGA Tour now,” said Stanger, who graduated from Virginia in 2017 and turned pro shortly thereafter.

Stanger finished T-35 last week at TPC Sawgrass, which is also the site of where he proposed late last year to his girlfriend, Isabel, who he met walking into Grace Community Church in Mandarin, a neighborhood located in the southernmost portion of Jacksonville on the eastern banks of the St. Johns River.

“Is there a more beautiful spot? I don’t think there is a more beautiful spot in Jacksonville than that back range,” he said of the home of the Tour’s flagship event.

Stanger had some golf friends, including fellow Tour rookie Adrien Dumont De Chassart, pals Phillip Knowles and Dawson Armstrong, form a wall so no one else would practice where Stanger planned his big moment with a photographer standing by to capture the moment. When Isabel and Stanger’s mom arrived at the course, Stanger explained their dinner plans were delayed and to come back to the range, where he was waiting on one knee.

“Fortunately, she said yes,” Stanger said, adding that they are finalizing plans for a September wedding.

Isabel and some of their mutual friends were rocking T-shirts that said, “Stanger Thangs,” and designed in the cover art of the popular Netflix science fiction drama series “Stranger Things.” There is expected to be an even bigger following of Stanger supporters this week at the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, which is not far from where Stanger was born raised in Tampa. He fondly recalls receiving his first golf trophy at age six, and winning the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association Tournament of Champions when he was eight years old. (He still spends a lot of time at Avila Golf & Country Club in North Tampa, where he first took up the game.)

This is the tournament he grew up attending as a kid, and he still has a handful of autographed golf balls from Tour pros at his parents’ house. From age 8 through 16, he worked various jobs as a tournament volunteer during the Valspar Championship. He remembers being stationed at the range, sorting golf balls, when Rocco Mediate took an interest in him and invited him and other youth range volunteers to watch him hit balls for over an hour and play different types of shots upon request. Another year he served as a standard-bearer for veteran Jerry Kelly.

“He seemed like he genuinely wanted to get to know me as I was walking the course as he’s playing in a big tournament. It cultivated my love of the game and desire to one day play in the tournament,” Stanger said. “I remember thinking to myself, if I ever get a chance to be out here, I want to be like that to the standard bearer, I want to be like that to the guys who work the range and do all those things.”

That dream of playing in a Tour event at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course came true in 2017 and 2018 as a sponsor invite.

“But my game wasn’t ready to compete out here,” he said.

Stanger once shot an opening-round 80 at PGA Tour Q-School, the highest score in the field, and then bounced back and shot 62 the next round, the low score in the field. He spent six years developing his game on the Korn Ferry Tour. After winning the Korn Ferry Tour’s 2023 Compliance Solutions Championship and graduating to the big leagues, Stanger is playing in his hometown event for the first time as a card-carrying member of the Tour.

He said he has been allocated the standard 12 tickets per day, “but I’m going to need at least 50.” Friends and family want to see him continue his strong play – 15 of his last 16 rounds have been at par or better. He enters this week in a three-way tie for third in the Aon Swing 5, with Valspar being one of three qualifying events remaining to earn points to earn a spot in the next Signature event, the RBC Heritage, with its limited field, elevated FedEx Cup points and a guaranteed paycheck. Could Stanger, who was in contention in Puerto Rico late on Sunday, make a run at his maiden Tour title this week at the place that helped cultivate his dream? Stranger things have happened.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek