Pro golfer Scott Stallings had a Forrest Gump kind of day last Jan. 26. His life was like a box of chocolates and he had no idea what he was about to get.
Stallings was a 28-year-old pro, with two victories on the
When he walked the fairways of the fabled Torrey Pines courses in the
So, when Stallings stood on the 18th fairway at Torrey, his 72nd hole of the tournament, there were no guarantees of greatness, nor expectations.
He was about to hit his second shot on the par-five, but while he was in a good spot to win, there were several contending players behind him.
He describes the moment now as most pro golfers do, with a hardened indifference to the enormous pressure of the task at hand that makes mortal golfers weep.
"It was 227 to the hole," he says. "I hit it 221 1/2."
That's reminiscent of the story of Ben Hogan and his caddie, who handed Hogan a club and said, "It's 150, 151 to the pin." To which Hogan responded, "Which is it?"
If Stallings' description sounds cavalier, he readily admits it shouldn't have been. Lots of things were running through his mind, including a carbon copy shot to the 18th green on the 72nd hole of the Humana tournament at La Quinta the year before.
"Exactly the same kind of lie," Stalling says.
In the desert, where he had led by as much as five in the final round, he cranked his approach shot into the water left of the green and missed the playoff.
At Torrey, he looked at the ball, again slightly above his feet, hit up on it a bit more to keep it from hooking, and hit it his 221 1/2, just over the water and into the short rough. He pitched to two feet and made the birdie putt. Then, he sweated out the late finishers before finding himself back on the 18th green, surrounded by people in blazers and being handed the tree trophy and a surfboard.
Also, a winner's check for $1,098,000.
As this was going on, 10-month-old son Finn was playing on the green, with Stallings' wife, Jennifer, nearby. TV cameras zeroed in. News photographers snapped the family moment.
Little did anyone know there would be other, less glamorous, family moments to come.
Stallings was pulled this way and that. There were photo shoots, media interviews, hands to shake of sponsoring Century Club members. They give you about $1.1 million, but they expect something back. Stallings wasn't resisting, nor would anybody in that spot.
He met the press, talked about the Humana collapse a year earlier and told about watching the
"Three or four years ago," Stallings says now, "I went up to Tiger and told him that story. At first, he kind of got weird on me, but then he thanked me and said nobody had an idea how many things people ask him to do."
Eventually, Stallings' champion's duties were over. A six-hour drive to Scottsdale was ahead.
He lives part of the time in Tennessee, but had decided to get a place in Arizona for the winter for a better training environment. Having never played well at Torrey, and expecting little this time, he had committed to a corporate pro-am in Scottsdale on Monday morning.
Dead tired and still wearing the golf clothes in which he had won, he headed south and east on Interstate 8.
Finn fell asleep, then awoke a couple of hours into the trip and threw up all over the back seat.
"I was in the middle of nowhere, off to the side of the road, in my same golf clothes," Stalling says, "cleaning up the back seat.
"I could feel the coyotes out there."
A couple of hours later, Jennifer got sick. More car cleaning. She ended up losing 10 pounds in 24 hours.
They eventually got to the Phoenix area, went to urgent care and finally, past midnight, got home.
"I went out, at 2 in the morning, still with my same golf clothes on," Stallings says, "and cleaned out the car again."
By the next day, he had the virus too, but somehow struggled through that week's
For Stallings, and for the rest of the season, the wrong kind of chocolates kept coming out of the box.
He never had another top-10 finish, made only 11 cuts while missing 16 and, had he not won at the Farmers and the two-year exemption into tournaments that comes with it, 2014 might have been a disaster.
Now, in the 2015 PGA season, already underway, he has won $203,900.
On the Tour's winter West Coast swing, he will include both the Humana and the Northern Trust at Riviera on his schedule, as well as defending his Farmers title.
Earlier this week, at Torrey Pines for a media day, he took a walk out to the 18th green and went to the spot where he hit his winning birdie putt.
"The green looks a lot easier than it did that day," he says, fully aware that weeks and months ahead can offer creamy, smooth bites. Or a broken tooth.