The Valspar Championship kicks off today at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Tampa, Florida, and Virginia fans might see the V-saber logo walking the links. Virginia fourth-year Jimmy Stanger received an unrestricted sponsor exemption for the PGA event, allowing him to participate for the professional event as an amateur. Stanger is one of four current or recent college golfers who received an exception for the event.
The course, which is under 40 minutes from his home in Tampa, is one that Stanger has played “tons of times” as a junior. Stanger flew home two weekends ago to reacquaint himself with Innisbrook. “[I] hadn’t played there since I came to college. Love the golf course...it’s amazing to see the same place a PGA tour event.”
“It’s in perfect shape. It’s so green” Stanger said of the course after his trip home. “It was beautiful, awesome to be there. It gives me the chills to think I’ll be out there in front of all the people out there watching.”
Stanger and the Hoos, ranked #3 in the country by Golfstat, have had a very successful 2016-17 campaign with four first place finishes and a second place finish in six total tournaments. Their lowest finish? Sixth place in the Inverness Intercollegiate back in September in Toledo. Individually, Stanger has finished in the Top-10 in four of five events he has competed in, finishing in first place overall in the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate event in October.
His individual success, as well as Virginia’s overall success, has helped him feel more confident to make the jump into the PGA event, but he’s keeping a level head about the whole process. “Golf is golf.” Stanger stated. “Ultimately you get the ball in the hole and you see how everybody else got the ball in the hole, and if you got it in with lesser strokes than the other guys, then you win. So, that’s the mindset I’m trying to keep.”
And Stanger is heading into the Valspar Championship at a high point in his collegiate career. At the Johns Burns Intercollegiate in February - the last event Stanger participated in before his trip to Tampa - he scored a 10-under-par 62, setting a new course record at Wailua Golf Course.
“It was one of those rounds where I never really thought about where I was at.” Stanger said of his career outing. “Went out there, was very nervous, birdied my first two holes and was like, ‘Hey, this is nice!’ I went out, made two more birdies and all of the sudden I’m five under...after I birdied hole nine, and I just let it go.”
Putting was a huge part of that big round for Stanger. “[I] got to the last hole, had a 15-foot putt and thought to myself before I made it, ‘I can’t see how this putt is going to miss,’ and it went in. Really nice feeling.” Stanger has had help from an unusual source when it comes to his game on the green: a discontinued putter.
His first two years in college, Stanger struggled with putting, something he had always been confident in as a junior golfer. Said Stanger: “I was never a long-hitter, I was never great with my irons, but my putting was very good.”
Enter the Odyssey.
Generally, players on college teams receive the newest, top of the line putters. For awhile, that’s what Stanger was content to use. The summer after his second year, however, he decided enough was enough and he was going to track down his old model - the Odyssey X7. Problem was, the club was discontinued, so Stanger took to the internet. Lucky for him, there was one for sale on eBay for $85. “I’ve been using it for almost two years now and it’s worked wonders.”
Stanger was ready to try out one of Odyssey’s newer versions, but the old X7 just couldn’t be beat. “No matter what I hit, I can’t find a feel that I like more.”
Another tool at Stanger’s disposal is renowned sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella. “He [Dr. Rotella] works with just about everybody you can imagine on tour.” Stanger stated. “He talked with Jim Furyk before he shot 59, Justin Thomas before he shot 59...his ability to calm you down and get you to focus on the process - not the result - is legendary. He tells you exactly what you knew you should have been thinking beforehand, but he gets your whole body to believe it, not just your mind.”
It has already been a big week for Stanger in Tampa, having met a couple of big names as he prepared for the Valspar, including Virginia legend Ronde Barber (who is on the board of director’s for the event), and the aforementioned Jim Furyk.
At the time of publish, Stanger was one over (tied for 87th) through the first four holes of the event. You can follow along with the action here.
The Virginia Men’s Golf team was in action once already without Stanger - Golfweek’s #10 golfer in the country - and will have to play one more time without him as he has a dream weekend with the PGA. In the first event, the Hoos came in second overall in the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate in South Carolina. Virginia’s Derek Bard came in first in the event, and will have to play well again as the Hoos play in the General Hackler Championship in Myrtle Beach this weekend.