PEBBLE BEACH — Scott Stallings gave his son Finn the birthday present the youngster had asked for on Sunday at Pebble Beach Golf Links, and it nearly led to another reason for Stallings and his family to celebrate.
Finn’s 6th birthday actually is Monday, but he told dad he was looking for birdies in Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Dad complied by converting seven of them, including one at the home hole for a closing six-under 66 that at the time pulled Stallings within two strokes of leader Phil Mickelson. The deficit was three shots by the time play was suspended at 5:55 p.m. PST with Mickelson and 54-hole leader Paul Casey the only players left on the course.
Stallings intended to show up Monday morning at Pebble and wait around to see if Mickelson would close out his 44th career PGA Tour title. Even without a victory, at 15-under 272, Stallings was proud to settle for his best finish on the PGA Tour in four years—and hugs from his family.
“He said he wanted me to go out there and make a bunch of birdies for his birthday,” said Stallings, 33, who won the last of his three tour titles at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open and finished second there the following year. “We’re excited to be able to do that, especially hitting it close on 18 and seeing him in there, and he gave me a thumbs-up when I walked up on the green. So it was exciting to have him out there.”
The Knoxville, Tenn., resident was excited for plenty of reasons, none more so than finally feeling like himself again after an odyssey that briefly derailed his career. In 2015, Stallings reported himself for taking medication that was among the drugs banned by the tour. Suffering from fatigue, Stallings began taking DHEA at the behest of a physician to combat low testosterone. But once he found out it was not an approved drug, he apprised the tour and received a 90-day suspension starting that July.
Fortunately, his victory in 2014 allowed him to weather the absence and retain his card. But he hasn’t done much since then, posting just a handful of top-10 finishes.
Committed to improving his health, Stallings has become a dedicated visitor to the gym and has made dietary changes, too. “Physically, I’m changing everything,” he said. “I’ve realized that you can’t take your health for granted, and I did that once.
“I try to be a good example for these guys [Finn and his almost 3-year-old daughter, Millie] and show them every single day,” Stallings added. “To them, it’s a little bit weird that my job is to play golf for a living. But I think seeing, in the gym, on the course, off the course, just trying to be a good steward of what you have and the opportunities we have out here. And I definitely was at a point in my life where I didn’t feel like I took advantage of it, I didn’t appreciate it, and it was kind of a foregone conclusion. And now kind of feeling like that got taken away from me for a little while with some of my health stuff and really excited to see where my game's going and hopefully be able to do this for a long time.”
Stallings added that it’s not just the physical side that he has improved upon. There’s been “internal improvement,” he said. He is making better decisions.
“It’s nice to see all the hard work showing up on the golf course,” he said.
Especially because it hadn’t been this season. Prior to arriving on the Monterey Peninsula, Stallings had made seven starts and finished no better than T-39 while missing three cuts. He came in ranked 183rd in FedEx Cup points.
“I get a lot of questions about the start to my season, and it’s been slow and I’m not like oblivious to that, but I’m also understanding that I’m doing the things I need to do on and off the golf course,” he said.
Stallings finished in the top-10 at Pebble Beach for the second year in a row, but it should have been three straight. In 2016, he was T-14 after what he labeled “a freak shot” on the par-5 closing hole. He aimed his tee to the right, away from the water, but watched in disbelief as his ball bounced through the fairway, off a rake in a bunker and caromed off the cart path and out of bounds.
On Sunday, he played the hole “properly” by hitting an iron off the tee, laying up, and then sticking the approach to two feet. He sank the putt to give Finn another gift. It was a gift to himself, too, for all the changes he’s undertaken.
“I work hard,” he said. “The changes have just taken a little longer than I would have liked. But hopefully, it all adds up to better golf.”
It did at Pebble Beach.