Wyndham: Stiles Earns Slot by Qualifying
Kim Stiles aimed the rotating wrist signal — in basketball it means traveling — at her husband, Darron Stiles. He was on the fifth green at Sedgefield Country plucking his ball from the cup after sinking a birdie putt on the par 5 hole, despite driving his tee ball into the deep rough.
“It means,” she said of the signal, “get the ball rolling. The first birdie of the day kind of gets things rolling.”
Darren Stiles, a 38-year-old golf pro, is the only Sandhills pro in the Wyndham. Except for this week, the Pinehurst resident plays the Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour’s second tier circuit. Over 10 years, he has won four Nationwide events and is the tour’s career money winner, with nearly $1.6 million. This year, so far, he has topped $100,000 on a circuit where purses are considerably smaller than the regular PGA Tour. The winner in Greensboro, for example, will take away $936,000.
Stiles is playing this week with the big boys on the big tour, not that he’s a small guy. He’s 6-foot-3 and from a distance in the fairway looks a lot like Ernie Els. The resemblance disappears when Stiles swings. His is a short back swing and a fast follow through. Els' stroke is slow and long, which is why he’s called “The Big Easy.”
Let’s see if we can get this straight: The sequence of events that got Stiles to Greensboro this week instead of Kansas City, where a Nationwide event is being played.
He had been home in Pinehurst since missing the cut in a Omaha Nationwide tournament week before last. He had driven his truck from Omaha to Kansas City, parked it at the airport and flew home.
He had planned to play in a pro-am in Richmond on Monday before flying to Kansas City for the tournament.
The Richmond event was canceled. With Monday free, he called his wife at Forest Creek Golf Club, where she works in the pro shop, and asked if she minded if he tried to qualify for a spot Monday in the Wyndham. She told him to go for it. If he failed to qualify, he had a flight booked out of Raleigh that night for Kansas City.
“I shoot 67 and here I am,” Stiles said, as he stood in the shade of the Sedgefield club house Thursday after shooting an opening round 70. It was a good 70 because he was 2 over par after four holes, 1 over after 15. A birdie on the par 4 17th hole got him to even par.
Entry into the Wyndham came at some inconvenience. His Titlest clubs and his clothes are in his truck in Kansas City. In the Wyndham, he’s playing with a back up set of clubs he had at home.. His Titleist golf bag with his name on it also is in the truck. Titleist shipped him a replacement that arrived earlier this week.
His caddy, Rick Coyette, also experienced inconvenience. He was in Kansas City waiting for Stiles. He had to switch gears and head east. He made the 1,000-mile drive in about a day. Why didn’t he bring Stiles clubs and clothes?
“He had the keys to the truck,’’ he said.
As for those substitute golf sticks, Stiles said, “I’m still not as confident as with my other set. But they are pretty good.”
He said he made only two really bad swings with them Thursday. He finished with two birdies on the last four holes. hole. He said that puts him into a good frame of mind for Friday.
He plays a Donald Ross course at home, the Scottish golf course architect’s masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2. Sedgefield is a Ross course. Sedgefield’s hill and dale and woody topography differs drastically from the relatively flat, sandy No. 2 course, but Stiles says he can tell Sedgefield is a Ross course.
Especially the bunkers. He cited one on the 11th hole. From the fairway hitting an approach shot, the bunker looks as if it hugs the green.
“It’s that optical illusion” that Ross mastered, Stiles said. “The bunker is actually 20 yards from the green. You see that all over Pinehurst. The philosophies of the two courses are similar.”
Darron and Kim Stiles, who have two children, have lived in Pinehurst since they married 11 years ago. They chose the resort because her father, who had been in the insurance business, decided to retire there.
He’s a Florida boy, born in St. Petersburg. He was a three-time All-America at Florida Southern University and was a member of the school’s 1995 golf team that won the NCAA Division II national championship. Before, that, he overcame some health adversity to later pursue a golf career. In 1982, when he was about 11, he had a cancerous tumor removed from his jaw.
This week the couple has been commuting, N.C. 211 to Candor and U.S. 220 up to Greensboro.
This is not the first time Stiles has made the commute. On several occasions, he has moved up to the PGA Tour only to lose his playing card for insufficient winnings, dropping back to the Nationwide. Greensboro has been good to him. He won $72,500 in 2005, good for a 17th-place tie at Forest Oaks Country Club, the tournament site before it moved to Sedgefield in 2008. In the 2009 Wyndham, he won $24,820, finishing in a tie for 32nd. He also has a tie for 48th in the U.S. Open on his record.
It was a gamble playing in Greensboro, one that didn’t pay off as it turns out. Stiles shot a 71 Friday and missed the 36-hole cut, which was 3 under par. Stiles was one over. Had it made it, he would have automatically made money. Last place in the 72-hole tournament pays $10,400.
He said he had no regrets about playing here instead of Kansas City, where the money would have been easier.
“I get to spend a week at home with my kids and my wife,” he said. “I don’t get enough of that. To stay home and work is a double bonus.”
Now, he has some traveling to do. He will fly to Kansas City, fetch his truck and drive to Knoxville, Tenn., the site of a Nationwide tournament next week.
Jim Schlosser is a retired reporter for the Greensboro News & Record. He can be contacted at email@example.com or (336) 601-9879.
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