Fun & Games: Bursting the bubble


Sedgefield Country Club’s No. 15 daunts many visiting golfers during the Wyndham Championship. Some nail it when needed.

Davis Love III eagled the hole to secure last year’s win. On the third day of the 2016 tourney — Saturday, Aug. 20 — Jim Furyk also eagled No. 15, hitting the second-longest putt of his illustrious career.

Graeme McDowell missed the green on his approach.

“Please stop,” he hissed through gritted teeth in his Northern Irish brogue. “Please stop, please stop!”

It rolled off the front back onto the fairway.

But I wasn’t following McDowell or Furyk.

Back at the seventh hole, my lifelong chum Zack Benson cooked a whole hog for a Wyndham Championship party on Saturday at his buddy’s house to the right of the green. Men in polos and shorts, women in sundresses and Ray-Bans, drank Bud Light in the shade and watched the throngs cheering on famed pros like McDowell and Rickie Fowler as they putted on the punchbowl green.

“You here for a sandwich?” he asked. “Grab some ’cue.”

“Nah, I don’t have time,” I said. I wish I had; he sure can cook a pig. “I’m following a player, so I jumped ahead to say hi.”

“Who’re you following?”

“Kyle Stanley.”

Somehow, even his Oakleys betrayed his confusion.

“Never heard of ’im.”

Kyle Stanley of Gig Harbor, Wash. played golf at Clemson University and first earned his tour card for the 2011 season at age 24. He made up for lost time with four top-10 finishes and a spot in the British Open at Royal St. George’s in Kent, England. His next year was a whirlwind; he melted down in the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open, blowing a 3-stroke lead on the last hole, then recorded his first tour win the next week in the Phoenix Open at the Tournament Players Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. He lost his card in 2014, but fared so well in the 2015 Tour finals that he regained playing privileges this season.

He’s been swinging upward since.

To be fair, I’d never heard of him, either. But he was on the bubble.

PGA Tour players from around the world converge on Greensboro in late August every year for the Wyndham for a few reasons. For one, Sedgefield’s course, conceived by famed designer Donald Ross, gained a reputation as one of the pros’ sleeper favorites in the years since the Wyndham was established in 2007. Another might be the $5.6 million purse.

But the main reason is that it’s the final tournament before the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the four tournaments capped by the PGA Tour Championship. The eight top finishers in the Wyndham automatically qualify for the Barclays, but only the top 125 point leaders in the FedEx standings get the chance to move on to the playoffs.

The bubble, as one might expect, refers to the players right around the cusp of that Top 125 mark. Leading into the Wyndham, Kyle Stanley ranked No. 127 in the standings, so he was a tiny puff of air on the top film of the bubble with the potential to bust the whole thing or ride along the surface.

Stanley showed up against stiff competition.

This Wyndham field will probably go down as one of the finest assembled in the tournament’s history. That says a lot; Tiger Woods showed up last year, infamously flopping on the final day and retreating from golf. This year, some of the world’s best, like Fowler, McDowell, Furyk, Kevin Na, Brandt Snedeker and hall of famer Ernie Els visited humble Greensboro to play for points.

The assembled talent thrilled every day. Luke Donald aced No. 16 on Aug. 18 and won vacations for life from Wyndham; Shawn Stefani, another bubble player, holed it on Saturday to better his standings. Fans witnessed historic rounds on Aug. 19: Si Woo Kim, a relative unknown from South Korea, established a course record of 60 — 10 under par — and would’ve hit 59 if it hadn’t been for barely missing a 50-foot putt on his final hole. Lucas Glover nearly matched Kim, missing a tap-in for par to finish at 61.

Stanley may not have had the putt of his life, let alone the round of his life, but his appearance still had a story behind it.

Stanley shot 69 and an impressive 65 in the first and second day, respectively. With those rounds, he put himself in the running alongside Fowler and McDowell and ahead of former champions like Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore and Webb Simpson.

He had to do great in order to break through the No. 125 mark, and for a player with past problems in the mental game, he killed it.

He’d played well through No. 15, hitting five nice birdie putts to make up for two bogies while his partner, 26-year veteran Tom Gillis, slipped into trouble after his ball went for a swim on No. 8.

Stanley jeopardized his exemplary round when he lobbed his ball above the front bunker, nearly the same shot from the opening day.

But Stanley pulled it together.

His pitch out of the rough rolled about a yard away from the cup. Good position for anyone, especially a guy who makes over 99 percent of his three-footers.

Stanley sank the putt for birdie, no problem.

I’d never heard of him before that day, yet I found myself proud of him for bursting the bubble.