By Murray Evans
NORMAN – In his sixth season on the Korn Ferry Tour, Jimmy Stanger has watched many of his friends win and move on to the PGA Tour, but he didn’t know when – or if – his time to do so would ever come.
It finally happened for Stanger on Sunday, when he drained a three-foot birdie putt on No. 18 of the inaugural Compliance Solutions Championship at steamy Jimmie Austin Golf Club, giving him a bogey-free 6-under-par 66 and a one-shot win over Rafael Compos.
With the heat index soaring to 104 degrees, Stanger, from Tampa, Fla., closed at 22-under while recording his first Korn Ferry Tour win in 120 starts. He earned $180,000, but more importantly, he moved up to fifth in the tour standings after the 15th of what will be 26 tournaments. The top 30 will advance to the PGA Tour, meaning Stagner has all but assured himself of moving up.
“It’s not real,” he said. “I don’t believe this is happening. I’m going to wake up in my bed, this is going to be this morning and we’ve got to go through the day. Yeah, I can’t put it into words. I’m so beyond thankful.
“I came out of college (at Virginia) having won a couple times in college, 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. … That desire’s there. I’ve been putting in a ton of work, trying to do all the little things right day in and day out for the last, you know, couple years. You wonder if those are ever going to pay off.”
He said he has taken comfort in a passage from the Biblical book of James: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’
“That’s just my mindset today. I was saying that before hitting the eagle putt on the last hole before making the (birdie) putt, just trying to rehearse that over and over again in my head, just saying if the Lord wills, I’ll win. If he doesn’t, who am I? Just trying to think on that instead of worrying about what could or couldn’t happen.”
Since he turned pro in 2018, Stanger had two second-place and two third-place finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour. He thought he might have a shot at that elusive win last week at Crestview Country Club in Wichita, Kan., but he posted a quintuple-bogey 9 on the final hole of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas Wichita Open, dropping him from a berth in a playoff into a tie for 30th.
Stanger said his father told him that it was a moment that could make him or break him, something Stanger took to heart Sunday.
“My goal this week was let’s 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,” he said. “Then this week all I could think about was how thankful I was to be in contention one week after that happened. And now to win, I mean, that’s where those emotions came from. Those storybook things don’t happen, it’s not real. It’s crazy, I don’t know how someone can say there’s not a God who’s just so kind.”
Stanger began Sunday two shots behind third-round leader Tim Widing and played steady golf, recording three birdies on both the front and back nine.
On what proved to be a crowded leaderboard, Stanger moved into a tie for the lead after birdies on No. 5 and No. 6 and stayed there much of the rest of the way. Nicholas Lindheim – making an injury rehab start – laid down a 64 to finish at 20-under, but Campos and Stanger, playing several groups behind Lindheim, soon caught and passed him, as did Alan Wagner.
A double bogey at No. 17 took Wagner out of contention. Campos, playing two groups ahead of Stanger, made a mess of the par-5 No. 18 and ended up salvaging par, but missing an opportunity to put pressure on Stanger.
Using a 5-iron, Stanger hit his approach shot on No. 18 to within about 20 feet to the left of the hole, just off the green in short rough. He delicately putted to within three feet, then sank the birdie putt.
“There were nerves because I wanted to finish with a birdie on the last hole,” he said. “I figured 22 (under) 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 (on the leaderboard). I would have been shaking a lot more. I was already shaking. You saw the emotions that came after I heard that I had won. I’m glad I wasn’t feeling those before hitting the putt.”
In the final group, Widing closed out a 1-under 71 with a birdie to salvage a four-way tie for fourth that included Wagner, Patrick Newcomb and Noah Goodwin at 19-under.
Lindheim’s third-place finish was his best on the Korn Ferry Tour since 2017, a span that covered more than 60 tournaments. He had a run of four straight birdies on the front nine.
“At the beginning of the week, I thought the course was going to hold up, but based on the scores, it really didn’t,” he said. “I think it’s a challenging course but with the greens being receptive, you can kind of get away with some shots off the fairway. I made the cut on the number and kind of switched my putting routine a little bit and I also found some comfort with my golf swing, which was pretty key.
“For me to come out here and to play well tells me the stuff I’ve been doing with my rehab and all that, I’ve been doing the right things.”
Jelley, once a star at Oklahoma State, and former Oklahoma standout Chris Gotterup led the four men with Oklahoma ties who survived the 36-hole cut, each finishing at 13-under 275, tied for 21st. Gotterup posted a 70, Jelley a 72.
“It’s nice to be back home,” Gotterup said. “It’s always great playing at Jimmie. They did a great job, considering the weather wasn’t what they wanted to dial up. It’s weird playing your own course for a tournament, just because you’ll probably hit shots that aren’t as scary when you’re playing for fun. But it’s just another event on the calendar, really.”
Jelley played in the Compliance Solutions Championship on a sponsor exemption, but his high finish this week should mean an end (for now) to having to wonder week to week if he’ll have enough points to make the tournament field.
“Obviously, every made cut for me is huge, especially a top-25,” Jelley said. “This probably pretty much secures me the rest of the season, where I won’t have to worry too much about sponsor invites or if I’m going to be an alternate or not. It’s certainly a good finish this week and it will end up going a long way.”
Rhein Gibson, a former NAIA All-America player at Oklahoma Christian who now lives in Edmond, finished off an even-par 72 with a birdie on the par-5 No. 18 and tied for 53rd at 8-under 280. His former college coach, David Lynn – who has guided OC to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the NCAA Division II tournament the past two seasons – caddied for Gibson.
Patrick Welch, playing in his third Korn Ferry Tour event since finishing his collegiate career at OU this spring, tied for 58th at 7-under 281 after shooting a 73 on Sunday.