Cavalier Corner

June 2017

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16 ◆ CAVALIER CORNER BY SEAN LABAR U VA FOURTH-YEAR GOLFER Jimmy Stanger is constantly reminded of his childhood best friend, Harris Armstrong, each time he steps on the course. Armstrong and Stanger had an insepa- rable bond as kids growing up in the golf- entrenched community of Tampa, Fla. Armstrong was an excellent golfer and was named runner up in the national drive, chip and putt competition as a child, and Stanger was always by his side. They pushed one another. They laughed together. They hit the links nearly every day from age 5 to 13, dreaming of eventually sharing the stage with Tiger Woods on the storied course at Augusta National. In 2007, a routine MRI revealed a cancer- ous tumor on Armstrong's spinal cord. He died at age 13 and Stanger was forced to pur- sue their combined dream on a solo mission. "I still mark my golf ball with his initials just to remind me that life is fleeting and you've got to enjoy every minute of it," Stanger said. "I know that was a long time ago, but it still affects me now. Everybody dies at some point and you always have to remember there are more important things to fix your eyes on." Stanger is a devout Christian and has used the principles he learned early in life to pre- pare him for a professional golf career. The path has been long and winding with plenty of adversity along the way, but the paring of honoring his friend's legacy and a burning faith has always kept him grounded. The fourth-year still carries a piece of pa- per from when he was 6 years old where he scribbled that he wanted to play with Tiger Woods in the Masters at age 20. He hasn't graced the picturesque grounds at Augusta quite yet, but the dream remains more alive than ever. Coming out of high school with a bevy of honors, UVA's No. 1 player this year had plenty of options when he began to think about pursuing golf in college. He wanted to be pushed academically, spiritually and ath- letically. Virginia seemed like the natural fit. In his first two seasons, Stanger struggled to get over the hurdle and emerge from the pack in an ultra-completive ACC landscape. There were shining moments like four top-25 finishes during his first-year campaign and finishing as the No. 2 player at UVA in his sec- ond-year season, but Stanger still felt a void. "The golf career didn't exactly go how I wanted it to the first two years," he said. In Stanger's mind, he was better than the numbers were showing. He couldn't crack the top 300 in any of the national ranking systems. He was grateful for his starting spot with the Hoos, but was craving to be- come one of the best players in the country. The Tampa, Fla., native remained focused but also realistic. An eventual professional golf career was drifting further and further away. "I wasn't sure I could play professional golf until about six to eight months ago," Stanger said. "I actually interned after my second and third year at two different finan- cial institutions. I thought that I would be going into business for sure." Stanger always knew he was capable of competing with the elite players in the na- tion, and during his third-year campaign the tide finally began to turn. He wrapped up the season with All-ACC honors and claimed six top-10 finishes. He finished first or second for UVA in scoring at nine of 12 tournaments and was beginning to garner national recognition. When the 2017 season rolled around, Stanger understood he had a final chance to ride the momentum and show the rest of the world what he's always known. He entered the year as one of 28 players to be named to the watch list for the Ben Hogan Player of the Year Award and delivered in a major way. Last fall, Stanger finish ranked No. 2 in the Golfstat standings, a system that ranks the best NCAA Division I golfers. He shot a combined 25-under during 12 fall rounds and was tabbed ACC Golfer of the Month for October. At the Bank of Tennessee tour- nament in October, Stanger shot a career- best 10-under-par 206. The fall success helped Stanger's lifelong dream of playing on the PGA Tour become reality when he was selected to compete in the Valspar Championship in March. He was one of four collegiate players who received the rare unrestricted sponsor exemptions because of his superior play heading into the event. He showed flashes of brilliance in the event, bouncing back with a 2-over 73 after finishing 5-over 76 in the first round. In that moment, Stanger paused to take it all in. He thought about his childhood best friend and those smoldering summer days trying to master the game they both loved. He thought about his struggles during his first two seasons and the gut-wrenching feeling he might never be good enough to reach this point. He thought about his faith — and firmly believed this was all part of God's plan. "I started to relax and realized golf didn't have to be anything and everything in my life," Stanger said. "It didn't have to be my future. It's funny, whenever you die to something that's when it often comes alive. That's what my golf game did. It came alive." After that realization, Stanger's success became second nature. The pressure was gone. The desire for perfection had been lifted. Instead of feeling the constant weight KEEPING THE FAITH Fourth-Year Jimmy Stanger Persevered Through Tough Times En Route To Becoming An ACC Champion This Spring Stanger became just the third UVA golfer to capture the ACC individual champion- ship, joining Pete Arend (1955) and Ben Rusch (2012). PHOTO COURTESY UVA

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