Once Stanger walked off the green, close friends and fellow Korn Ferry Tour members Dawson Armstrong and Jared Wolfe showered him with bottles of water. Stanger remained unconvinced. After all, the heat index in Norman, Oklahoma eclipsed 100 degrees around 11 a.m., so Stanger figured his friends were cooling him down for a playoff.
Even when it finally hit Stanger that neither player in the final group could tie him at 22-under par, the fact he won still didn’t feel real.
For six years on the Korn Ferry Tour, something had always happened. Whether it was an unlucky break on the final hole, a competitor carding the round of the day to beat him by a stroke, something always kept him from winning.
None of those things came to fruition Sunday. In his 120th start since joining the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018, Stanger became a Korn Ferry Tour winner.
“It’s not real. I don’t believe this is happening,” said an emotional Stanger. “I can’t put it into words. I’m so beyond thankful.”
Stanger entered the final round two strokes behind outright 54-hole leader Tim Widing, but by the time he reached the closing hole Sunday, Korn Ferry Tour winner Rafael Campos was his only competition.
Campos settled for par at No. 18 as he missed the green short and right, caught a flier on his chip which finally came to a stop on the back fringe, and rolled a putt within tap-in range which kept him at 21-under par for the tournament.
Two groups later, Stanger had 235 yards to the flag and grabbed a 5-iron, usually his 210 club. Adrenaline and the scorching heat made it the perfect club. Stanger slung a draw around the overhanging trees up the left side, and watched as his ball came to rest in the unformidable rough just behind the green.
Stanger pulled a putter and cozied his ball just outside of tap-in range, then knocked in his 3-footer for birdie and a bogey-free 6-under 66.
“There were nerves because I wanted to finish with a birdie on the last hole,” Stanger said. “I figured 22 (under par) had a better chance to win than 21, and it’s the last hole of a big tournament, so there were nerves. I’m glad I didn’t know where I was at. I would have been shaking a lot more.”
After only two first-time winners in the first 10 events of the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour season, Stanger became the fifth consecutive first-time winner.
Upon turning professional out of the University of Virginia in summer 2017, Stanger never figured it would take so long to win. Stanger won the 2016 Southern Amateur Championship, an event with several PGA TOUR winners among its list of past champions, including Harris English, Webb Simpson, Justin Leonard, and Ben Crenshaw. Stanger also defeated Wyndham Clark to reach the Round of 16 at the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship, and he capped his amateur career at the 2017 Arnold Palmer Cup alongside fellow Americans Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa.
Stanger’s enjoyed a successful Korn Ferry Tour career since earning membership ahead of the 2018 season. He posted finishes of 78th, 41st, 50th, and 40th in the Korn Ferry Tour standings. But something always kept him out of the winner’s circle.
Those somethings ate at Stanger even as he maintained fully exempt status on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“I’ve always been competitive… but this is my sixth year,” Stanger said. “I came out of college having won a couple times… just hearing about how quickly I would breeze through this tour to go to the PGA TOUR, and I’m on my sixth year out here now. I’ve seen a lot of friends get up to the PGA TOUR, play up there, and win on this tour. I’ve been putting in a ton of work, trying to do all the little things right day in and day out. You wonder if those are ever going to pay off.”
The lastest something came last week at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics. Stanger made a quintuple-bogey nine on the final hole. It looked like a mess on paper, but it was perhaps an inch away from being a routine hole.
A par would have put Stanger in a playoff. Instead, he finished in a five-way T30.
“Something my dad’s always preached to me, always taught me growing up, you enjoy the good times, but it’s the hard times that shape you and make you who you are,” Stanger said. “Last week, stuff completely out of my control happened on the last hole. Hit my ball an inch out of bounds and made a nine. And that hurt. I dropped from getting close to getting a PGA TOUR card to finishing 30th… and that one stung so much. My goal this week was (to) do all the little things right, no matter how hard it is, no matter how hard it might feel to get back up to that level on Sunday.
“This week, all I could think about was how thankful I was to be in contention one week after that happened. To win, that’s where those emotions came from. It’s crazy.”
Sunday’s victory moved Stanger from 29th to fifth on the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour Points List, which he believes will be enough to secure one of 30 available PGA TOUR cards at season’s end.
“I’ve always wanted to be up there,” Stanger said. “As a kid at the Valspar Championship, I would be a standard bearer, I’d work on the range. I just wanted to be able to shake the hand of a pro that came out there to hit golf balls. Practicing at my home club, I would go out there and practice 5-foot putts to win golf tournaments on the PGA TOUR. I can’t believe I’m going to be up there next year, Lord willing.”
With 11 events remaining this season, Stanger can turn his attention to finishing atop the points list and earning exemptions for the 2024 PLAYERS Championship, as well as the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
“This isn’t the end goal, but it’s a pretty amazing steppingstone,” Stanger said. “It’s not going to make me a different person. I don’t want it to make me a different person. But, man, it feels good. It feels so good.”
Sure sounds like it was worth the wait.
- Only two of the 15 events thus far this season were won by either a 36- or 54-hole leader (Ben Silverman/54-hole leader/The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club; David Skinns/36-hole co-leader, 54-hole leader/Club Car Championship at The Landings Golf & Athletic Club)
- Jimmy Stanger (1st/-22) became the third winner this season to birdie the 72 hole and win by one stroke (Spencer Levin/Veritex Bank Championship; Rico Hoey/Visit Knoxville Open)
- Stanger and Noah Goodwin (T4/-19) both finished with 102 total putts this week, the fewest in the field
- Stanger hit 51 of 72 greens in regulation (70.83 percent) and is the second winner this year to finish outside the top 30 in greens in regulation percentage (Scott Gutschewski/T34/LECOM Suncoast Classic)
- Korn Ferry Tour winner Rafael Campos (2nd/-21) recorded his second runner-up finish in his 124th career start on Tour, in addition to posting his highest finish in PGA TOUR-sanctioned play since a T2 at the PGA TOUR’s 2021 Corales Puntacana Championship
- Nicholas Lindheim (3rd/-20), who earned a PGA TOUR card via the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, recorded his third top-10 in his fourth start on the Korn Ferry Tour this season
- Making his 62nd career start on the Korn Ferry Tour, Patrick Newcomb (T4/-19) records his third top-10 and ties his career-high finish on Tour (4th/2022 Memorial Health Championship presented by LRS)
- Rookie Noah Goodwin (T4/-19) records his first top-25 in his 14th start this season; he entered the week with a streak of seven consecutive missed cuts
- Alan Wagner (T4/-19) records his first top-10 in his 20th career start on the Korn Ferry Tour; his only top-25 in 19 previous career starts was a T17 at the 2023 The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club
- Rookie Tim Widing (T4/-19) logs his third top-10 and first since recording back-to-back top-10s earlier this season (T8/Club Car Championship at The Landings Golf & Athletic Club; T3/Astara Chile Classic)
- Rico Hoey (T11/-16) posted his seventh finish of T11 or higher this season and moved within 21 points of Korn Ferry Tour Points List leader Ben Kohles (T35/-11), the only multi-time winner this season
- Three members of the PGA TOUR University Class of 2023 recorded top-25s: Ricky Castillo (T11/-16), who won his professional and Korn Ferry Tour debut last week, Yuxin Lin (T15/-15), who made his professional and Korn Ferry Tour debut this week, and William Mouw (T21/-13)