Golf is wonderful and golf can be oh so very cruel.
The cruel part was on full display Sunday afternoon at Torrey Pines when Kyle Stanley stood in the neighborhood of 100 yards from the flag on the final green, staring his first PGA Tour victory squarely in the eye.
The lanky former Clemson All-American led by three shots. They had already scripted his name on those giant checks that they use for photo ops after the event. His closest competitor, Brandt Snedeker, was already giving interviews and telling everyone he gave it his all with that 67 but came up short.
Stanley stood there, needing nothing more than a double-bogey seven to walk off to the winner's circle.
Then golf happened.
His wedge shot hit past the hole and spun like an out-of-control top, sucked back past the flag then started its precarious journey down the front slope of that tricky green. Slowly the ball made its way toward the water, teasing everyone, looking like it might stop not once, but twice, before finally making the fateful drop into the drink.
Stanley dropped, hit his fifth shot to the back of the green then left himself a nerve-racking five-footer for his seven.
You know what happened. He missed, made a triple-bogey eight then lost in a playoff with Snedeker, who was as probably shocked as Stanley to find himself in that position.
Will Kyle Stanley recover from this and win in 2012?
So we pose the question: Could Stanley have averted this total disaster, this "Robert Garrigus in Memphis" disaster, this "Jean van de Velde at the 1999 British Open" disaster?
All you had to do was see how he played the hole when he got a second chance.
Stanley hit his drive in the playoff about like he did in the final hole of regulation. This time around, he hit three-metal to the back of the green and made birdie.
Couldn't help but think back to my days as a caddy on the PGA Tour; I also learned the same from my high school and college golf days. And that lesson is simple: Be who you are.
Stanley is a power player, a blaster, a bomber. When he stood over his second shot on the 72nd hole, he gave up being Kyle Stanley and tried to become Luke Donald. He could have easily reached the green, as he showed in the playoff.
Instead, he chose to lay up. Didn't like the decision when I saw it, and I thought out loud that he needs to be himself, not someone who doesn't have the power to fly it deep into the green.
Hindsight is always 20-20. Had I been on his bag, I would have fought him tooth and nail over any lay-up decision. Always told guys I caddied for to play what got them there. That's most important. Be who you are!
Stanley, in that one moment, became someone else and it cost him.
Will he recover from the disaster, the shock, the agony?
He probably needs to have a talk with Robert Garrigus. He got through his Memphis triple-bogey and won the last event in 2010 at Disney.
Kyle Stanley can as well.
But next time, he just needs to just be himself.