Mike Cullity's NH Golf: Scott Stallings going from Derryfield's hills to the PGA
Scott Stallings tees off during the first round of the 2011 Heritage Classic April 21 in Hilton Head, S.C. (JOHN DAVID MERCER / US PRESSWIRE)
It's fair to assume that some of the junior golfers who played in the 54th annual Red Ryan CYO Golf Tournament at Derryfield last week have entertained PGA Tour aspirations.
Those juniors should take heart, because one former Red Ryan competitor has fulfilled the dream.
When Scott Stallings made his Red Ryan debut in 2000, he was a husky 15-year-old from Tennessee who spent part of his summers with his maternal grandparents in Hampton. Now 26, Stallings is a PGA Tour rookie enjoying a successful maiden voyage in golf's big leagues.
In 20 starts this season, the fifth-year pro has earned $743,325, thanks largely to a third-place finish at the Transitions Championship in March. With five other top-25 finishes, Stallings stands 98th on the 2011 money list, in great position to finish among the top 125 earners and retain playing privileges for 2012.
“I pinch myself every single day,” Stallings said last Wednesday from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where he was preparing for the Tour's Greenbrier Classic. “I feel like I have the best job in the world.”
Early in his golf journey, however, Stallings was just another teenager hiking Derryfield's hills. After losing in the 2000 Red Ryan junior division semifinals to Nashua's Matt Giftos, who made a hole-in-one during the match, Stallings earned intermediate division medalist honors in 2002 with a sizzling 66.
Although he lost in the semifinals that year, Stallings won the intermediate title in 2003, beating his old nemesis Giftos and ending the Nashua player's run of three consecutive Red Ryan titles.
Stallings has fond memories of his Red Ryan victory, but a traffic snarl nearly derailed his title march. Stuck behind an accident en route to Derryfield for his first-round match, Stallings was in danger of missing his tee time and called the course on his cell phone to explain. Fortunately, a gracious opponent agreed to wait, and Stallings averted disqualification. “I almost lost before I even got started,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Stallings' talent earned him a scholarship to Tennessee Tech, where he was an All-American in 2006. He turned pro in 2007 and apprenticed on the Hooters and Nationwide tours before earning his PGA Tour card at the 2010 Q-School.
After missing his first five cuts, Stallings was in the title hunt at the Transitions Championship until a late double bogey. With rounds of 66-70-66-70 at Florida's Innisbrook Resort, he finished three strokes behind winner Gary Woodland, earning $374,000 and his Tour wings.
Stallings' breakthrough might not have been possible without Kenny Perry, a 14-time Tour winner who has mentored the rookie. Perry, who splits time between the PGA and Champions tours, helped Stallings secure a sponsor exemption into the Transitions field, since Stallings' early-season performance had dropped him to the bottom of the Tour's tournament-admission pecking order.
“He called me every single day (during the tournament) to pump me up,” Stallings said. “To have a guy like that, who's had the career he's had, take time out of his day to make sure I was doing OK was pretty encouraging.”
Perry also played a role in Stallings' biggest off-course highlight of 2011. After the pair played a practice nine before the Memorial Tournament early last month, they were eating lunch when tournament host Jack Nicklaus approached Perry and asked if he could join them.
“We sat with him and chatted for like two hours,” Stallings said. “To have an opportunity to sit with the greatest player ever is unbelievable.”
Stallings finished tied for 20th at Memorial and posted top-25s in three of his next five starts. With the PGA Tour playoffs less than a month away, he stands 88th in the FedEx Cup standings, with the top 125 earning berths in The Barclays, the first of four playoff events. Those in the top 100 after The Barclays earn a Labor Day weekend trip to the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, a prospect Stallings relishes.
“That was one of my goals at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I have a ton of family up there, and I love the Red Sox. I'm going to do my best to be there.”
Stallings' grandmother, Barbara Conant, still lives in Hampton and follows her grandson religiously.
“When he came in third in the Transitions, they could have peeled me off the ceiling, I was so excited,” she said. “Every weekend I'm usually on the couch with the tournament on, the laptop on my lap and the telephone on my left.”
As a 12-year-old, Stallings told his mother, Cheryl, that he wanted to be a pro golfer, and Barbara had faith that he would fulfill his goal, she says. Now that Stallings has made the big time, however, he remains humble enough to admit that the Red Ryan was an important stepping stone for him.
“I remember shots as part of that CYO tournament, and that was a big part of helping me become the player that I am today,” he said.
Through the green: James Pleat (Nashua) qualified for the U.S. Amateur last Monday in Canton, Mass. Pleat shot 72-72 to earn a slot in the Aug. 22-28 national championship at Wisconsin's Erin Hills Golf Course. Less than two weeks removed from advancing to the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur, Chelso Barrett (Bretwood) will aim for another national title, the Junior PGA Championship. The tournament is Tuesday through Friday at Indiana's Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
Mike Cullity's column on New Hampshire golf appears weekly during the golf season in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.