SUDDENLY ON Sunday evening near Atlanta, some drifter with a
linebacker's name, Paul Stankowski, started asking for
directions to a place he'd never been and hadn't planned on
going to anytime soon--some burg called Augusta. "I-20?" he asked
tentatively. "Is that what they call it?" You got it, kid. Hit
I-20 eastbound, go 130 miles, exit at Washington Road, and watch
out for the goose bumps. Nirvana wasn't far at all, not compared
to the light-year Stankowski traveled last week.
He played himself into this week's Masters from the outskirts of
nowhere. In this season of skyrockets on the PGA Tour--Stankowski
on Sunday became the fourth first-time winner in the past five
tournaments--he came furthest the fastest. As sixth alternate for
the BellSouth Classic at Atlanta Country Club, Stankowski was
the last player admitted to the field, late Wednesday, after
Steve Hart withdrew with a sore back. No dead-solid-last entry
had won on the Tour since John Daly shot the moon in the 1991
Stankowski, 26, won a one-hole playoff with another apparition,
Brandel Chamblee (surely the crest of this groundswell of
no-name chic), who was also playing for entree to Augusta. To
break their tie at eight under par, they were turned back to the
18th hole, a par-5. These young folks are not afraid to go for
the throat--which, most of all, is the reason for this year's
changing of the guard on Tour--so Chamblee went for it and
missed. What the hell, his face said later.
After Stankowski drove to the brink of a fairway bunker and laid
up, Chamblee, who'd put his ball nicely in the middle, decided
that "if I could put it on the green in 2, I could put a lot of
pressure on him." Instead, Chamblee mis-hit a one-iron into
water. (He would have preferred a two-iron but had decided to
leave it out of his bag on Sunday.) His drop was met by
Stankowski's 97-yard lob to within 15 feet of the hole. Bogey
was met with birdie, and it was over.
April 14, 1996
Still, paradoxically on this new no-fear Tour, Stankowski said
he "felt all along for Brandel. Brandel's a good friend of
mine." The goateed Stankowski is a kid in speech and,
apparently, in mind. He says "wow" and "cool" and "totally" and
"bummer" way too much, not to mention "choking my guts up,"
which he did last year but not on Sunday. And finally, when
Chamblee's shot headed for the water, "I thought, Wow. O.K.
Don't lick," said Stankowski. "Don't start licking your chops,
thinking, O.K., I've got this wrapped up. So I just totally
tried to zoom everybody out, zoom that out, focus in on my
97-yard L-wedge and just try to execute one more good golf shot.
You know, that's all I was trying to do, and put it out of my
mind that if I knock it close I could win this tournament--and
none of that stuff entered my mind."
Zoom ... wow ... really ... men's professional golf, replete
with skull-hugging caps, has become all of that: so cool, so
spacey, so far removed from Nicklaus and Irwin and Palmer, who
were out in Arizona last week, clinging to golf as it once was,
to a game whose old public cannot understand why so many new,
weird faces grace the TV screen on Sundays.
Cool ... considering that Stankowski's rise to the Masters began
well before his climb from absolute last in Atlanta. A month ago
he was sitting out tournaments, drifting along in a boat on a
bass-filled lake outside Dallas, thinking, What do I expect now?
Pretty much nothing.
He bettered that a week ago Sunday, shooting five under at a
country club named Le Triomphe in the Cajun town of Broussard, a
suburb of Lafayette, if that tells you anything, to win the
Louisiana Open on the Nike tour. Winning back-to-back in a week
on the Nike and the big Tour is a first, roughly tantamount to
hitting four home runs in Columbus one Sunday, then four at
Yankee Stadium the next.
Emerging from swamp country that Monday, he found himself an
alternate at Atlanta and decided to come on, to "hang out" just
in case, even though it miffed him that he had to pay $500 more
to get to Atlanta on what had been a discount plane ticket back
to Dallas. Five hundred dollars is a lot for somebody who,
before dropping into the minors at Le Triomphe, had won all of
$6,480 in seven starts on the Tour this year. Entering the
BellSouth, Stankowski wasn't even among the top 200 on the Sony
He won $45,000 in Louisiana, $234,000 in Atlanta, and said,
"It's kind of imaging now: I'm going--hello--I'm going to Augusta
... kind of neat." He paid the Masters the obligatory lip
service going in: "As a kid, you know, you dream about just
being on the Tour. And when I qualified a couple of years ago,
it was a great feeling. I thought, Wow. Cool. You know, I'm out
here playing with the big boys. And now, I've won. So it's kind
of--I'm going to Augusta. I mean, it's cool. My life basically
He had lost his Tour card last year by "choking his guts up"
late in the season, falling $1,801 short after missing seven
cuts in his final nine starts. He regained his playing
privileges at qualifying school last December.
"I didn't choke today," he said, "and that's all I care about."
He had plenty of chances. Stankowski started at seven under,
three shots behind 54-hole leader David Duval, the more staid
24-year-old (four years' exposure to Georgia Tech caused that
orthodoxy) out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Stankowski began one
stroke behind the apparent zoomingest zoomer in all of young pro
golf, Tommy Tolles, who seemed to be on a countdown toward
Masters qualification--Tolles had finished third at New Orleans
and second in the Players Championship, and all that remained
was a first at Atlanta before liftoff. Lurking just behind
Stankowski were standard stars Fred Couples at six under, and
Nick Price and Davis Love III, each at five under.
On Saturday, Stankowski was starstruck with the notion of
pairing with Couples in the final round. "I looked up at the
board," he said, "and thought, If I get to six under I'll play
with Freddie tomorrow. And I had about a three-footer at 16 that
I neglected to even think about. I missed it, so I was bummed.
And then I finished birdie-eagle to go play with Freddie, so I
was real excited. I thought, Great, you know, this is cool. This
is what I want. I want to play with, you know, a star. You know,
Freddie. Gosh, everyone wants Freddie. I like his demeanor on
the golf course. He's so laid-back."
Yeah, well, a lot of kids seeking entry to Augusta on the week
before golf's Holy Week would, well, you know, choke their guts
up while playing with, you know, Freddie, especially when, like,
you know, Freddie birdies 11 and you, like, par it, and he's,
like, one stroke off your neck. Not that Couples was there for
long--he followed the birdie with three bogeys--and not that it
would've been the end of the world if Freddie had, like, kept on
"Well, the way I look at it," said Stankowski, "it's just golf."
Pity Duval and Tolles couldn't handle the pressure that way,
playing in the final pairing for the second week in a row. Duval
faltered from the start, bogeying the first hole while Tolles
birdied. But through the round, both of their putters went away
on a gusty day, and neither man was a factor. Tolles suffered a
75, Duval a 76.
On his way to a final-round 71, Stankowski turned his greatest
chance to choke into a birdie at 14 after he'd driven into a
fairway bunker. "That, my friend, was the turning point," he
said. "I hate fairway bunker shots. I have the L-wedge in my
hand, water short of the green. I'm going just great, you know?
If there's one shot that I would shudder on, it would be that
shot right there. I thought, Gosh, what do I do?"
What did he do? "I flew it to the back fringe and somehow--I
don't know what the heck it hit--but it came shooting back ... I
mean, I think God kind of kicked it back for me. That was kind
of cool." The 15-foot putt for birdie looked pretty cool too.
"I'm glad it looked that way," he said.
And now--hello--he's going to Augusta. "I've never been," he said,
"and I didn't want to go until I won to go, and so, now, it's
like, wow, you know, I'm finally going. It's kind of cool."
But, like, where will he stay, with everything jam-packed down
"I have no idea."
Someone dropped a fax in front of him. He read aloud. "'If I can
be of any help with accommodations, please call.' It's from
Augusta National Golf Club, Buzz Johnson."
Might that be Buzzy Johnson, the Masters tournament director?
Get the names right, kid. All is sacred at the other end of I-20.
Wait until Buzzy and the committeemen get a load of this one.
Last of the last into Atlanta, and now dead-solid last into
Augusta. What might that mean?
"Well," said this goateed guy named Paul Stankowski, beginning
an inflection whose coolness cannot be translated in print, "you
Give yourself a hand, Paul Stankowski (above). You are just the
eighth player to win the final event before the Masters and
thereby pick up an 11th-hour ticket to Augusta. Here's how the
others spent the week after.
11th-Hour Victory Masters Finish
Davis Love III 1995 New Orleans 2nd
Mike Standly 1993 New Orleans Cut
Tony Sills 1990 Houston Cut
Mike Sullivan 1989 Houston 46th
Joey Sindelar 1985 Greensboro 31st
Danny Edwards 1982 Greensboro 24th
Danny Edwards 1977 Greensboro 19th