The Way of an Eagle
by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
When Paul Stankowski finds his groove, he really finds it! The boyish, energetic Stankowski ended 1994 with a sizzling fifth-place tie at the Las Vegas Invitational. The $54, 750 in prize money boosted him to 106th on the money list--and back for 1995. Nineteen ninety-five started off nearly as well: He challenged briefly at the Bob Hope Classic before finishing with an eighteen-under-par 342 and eighth-place tie (with two of his longtime idols, Scott Simpson and Larry Mize).
Stankowski was a three-time All-American at the University of Texas at El Paso and won the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1990.
I grew up with a Catholic background. I was an altar boy at St. Anthony's Church, went to a Catholic school for first through eighth grades, and went to church every Sunday and holiday--but that was about it. I didn't know anything about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
My brother accepted the Lord in high school. I remember him doing a lot of Bible studies, reading the Bible a lot, making a bunch of notes, and all that kind of stuff. He's four years older than I am. And my sister, Teresa, as well. I remember she had a boyfriend who was a Christian, and they always prayed together. But I didn't know what it was all about.
Tom went to Arizona State; he was a senior when I was a freshman at the University of Texas at El Paso. He shared with me, off and on. I always told him, "I'm not ready for that. I'm in college. I want to party and have fun. And I can't give that up yet." I liked hanging with my teammates and all that fun stuff.
But Tom was patient. He shared with me Philippians 1:6: "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." That stuck with me, though I really didn't know what it meant, and yet it was becoming more clear as time went on.
College Golf Fellowship was an organization that had banquets at certain college tournaments, and I went sometimes. My freshman year at the NCAA, Scott Simpson shared his testimony at North Ranch. They sent cards around, and I checked off that I wanted to know more about furthering my relationship with Jesus Christ, so they sent me a Bible. That was that stage.
But I kept living the college party life. A friend of mine, John Sosa, went to the University of Texas at Austin. He gave me some contemporary Christian tapes: Michael W. Smith, Russ Taff, and others. They were pretty neat, and I'd stay up listening to them. On March 9, 1990 I accepted the Lord. It was from all the things my brother was telling me, the things I was hearing from College Golf Fellowship, the Bible studies I attended while I was in college, and the words of a friend of mine from Oklahoma State, Kevin Wentworth, who would lead Bible studies. I went to some of those, and I eventually accepted the Lord. I can't remember where I was, but I'll never forget the date.
Meanwhile, I lived with the golf team--about ten of us--in a big golf house near UTEP. For about a week I was reading my Bible, I was listening to my music, and I was praying nightly--but I didn't have any fellowship. While I was reading and listening to my music, I'd hear the guys downstairs partying and playing cards. I could hear the beer cans opening up.
After about a week, I put the Bible away, put the tapes aside, and went back to living that life. From there, I pretty much went deeper into sin: drugs, drinking more often, everything.
Then in December of 1990, I turned twenty-one, and we went out on my birthday. Some of my teammates and I did some things we shouldn't have done. After it was over, we got into a fight among ourselves. It was a bad night altogether!
On our way home, a teammate and I were messing with this car in front of us: swerving around, flashing our brights on him. Finally, I went around him, and the guy started chasing me through the dark streets of El Paso. At one point, I zoomed through a yellow light and screeched through a left turn. There was a cop there--and he pulled us over. I was wasted--and I still had my golf clubs in the back of my car.
One of the rules we had at UTEP was that if you ever got a ticket for drunk driving, you were immediately off the team. Basically, my life, my college life, my golf life, would have been gone if this policeman had given me a ticket.
I panicked. I claimed a guy was chasing me, which was the truth--I just didn't tell the policeman why he was chasing me. The policeman never saw the car following me; I guess the guy had pulled off when he saw the cop. Somehow I talked my way out of it. The officer let us go.
The next day, I began thinking, This is not good. We had a big team meeting, and some of my teammates wanted to kick us off the team for the stuff we'd done the previous night and for the fight afterwards--they were tired of it. I was tired of it.
As time marched on, January and February, I kept looking forward to my brother Tom's wedding in March. He was a Christian, and his Christian friends were going to be there. I was going to get to hang out with some Christian people. I couldn't wait! It was like a fire burning inside of me, like God was knocking at my door, or knocking at my head, saying, "Hello! Let Me in; let Me take charge here!"
Finally, on March 9, 1991, Tom got married. At the wedding we got in a little circle around Tom, and we started praying for him. When it was my turn to pray, I lost it. I lost it all. Here was a guy who'd basically led me to the Lord. He'd planted all of those seeds, and he'd helped me water them, and God made them grow--if it wasn't for Tom, I might not be a Christian today.
That day I rededicated my life, and that night I went to a party. I didn't drink, but I was still there, so I was torn. I drank water, and when I saw the parents of a friend of mine at the party, I stayed and talked with them.
I went back to college the next day and went right back out to the bars. I went with some teammates to a couple of restaurants with bars and got smashed by noon! By 3:00 P.M. I was wasted again and talking about some of us going to a country nightclub in El Paso.
I went to the golf house for a couple of hours and tried to sober up. When the guys called and said, "Are you read to go?" I said, "No, I'm not going to go."
On the eighteenth of March I quit drinking--which I thought would be a hard thing to do--but I haven't had a drink since.
The other things in my life, which I thought would be the easiest things to leave, are still creeping around in there. So Satan still has a foothold, and he's trying to knock on my door, and he's keeping those poison darts coming my way.
Still, I call March 9, 1991, my rededication time, and it took about a week and a half to get settled down, I found a church to go to. I discovered the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at UTEP, I started going to their meetings on Tuesday nights, and I met some great people and had some real fellowship. Since then, I've had so much Christian fellowship in El Paso, it's scary! Everywhere I turn, there are Christians! I go to a prayer breakfast every Thursday morning at my church that has a real mix of age groups, I've come a long way, but I have a long way to go.
I got out of college in 1991, turned pro, played the Golden State Tour, and tried to get my eligibility card that fall. I missed getting my card, but I got to the second stage. I missed getting into the final by a couple of shots. I was kind of disappointed. I never had a doubt in my mind that I'd get on the Tour that year. It was like, "This is it! I'm going!" It was just a matter of going through these stages--and I didn't get it.
I played the Golden State Tour again in 1992, full time. I played well, won my first tournament, and started dating my wife-to-be, Regina.
We'd met in May 1991, two months after I rededicated my life. She's a wonderful Christian girl. It took a while to get that relationship off the ground, partly because I left that summer to go play golf. It was hard being away, because we'd just met, and I left for two months. We grew closer and I moved back to El Paso.
I continued to play on the mini-tours. At the San Juan Open, in Farmington, New Mexico, she caddied for me, and I won! It was my first win as a pro--it was pretty neat. A few months later, she caddied for me again at the New Mexico Open and I won again! Boy, was my regular caddie bummed!
We kept dating and ended up getting engaged in May 1992. On the one-year anniversary of our first date, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.
I didn't try Q School in 1993 because we set a date of January 9, 1993 and I didn't want to be a newlywed and go back the next week and go on tour. I figured, "Let's go play the mini-tours again, let Regina get used to the travel--which you never do, anyway--and just have some fun and get to know each other." It worked out well, we had some fun, and I had some success on the Golden State Tour--though I didn't win any big ones. But I played solid golf, and I had a good time with Regina and learning all about her.
We tried Q School again the next time I was eligible and I got through it. I got my card, and the rest of December I was on cloud nine. I had my birthday during Q School finals week, and getting to go out on Tour was a good birthday present! We then went to Hawaii and had our one-year anniversary in Hawaii.
So 1994 was a total blessing.
Two moments: In Hawaii, first tournament of the year of 1994. I missed the cut by a shot at the United Airlines Hawaiian Open--a four-footer on the last hole, I was sitting there dejected. We went to dinner that night, and suddenly I realized, This is the first tournament of twenty-five I'm going to play this year! It's not a big deal! Immediately, God said, "This was just one little thing. Keep on going."
I missed the next couple of cuts, but I played well at the Bob Hope Classic.
The best week I had was the week of the Federal Express Classic in Memphis. I flew out to Memphis early. It was the week of the FCA Golf Camp, in Olive Branch, Mississippi, just two miles south of Memphis. I talked to Tim Kilmer and told him I'd love to go and help out. I did some clinics for them and shared my testimony for the first time. I was nervous, but it went well. And Regina was there, so it was a good week. We got to see some pretty strong kids.
I was a little frustrated as the week went on because I didn't see any spiritual growth. It was as if they weren't excited to be out there for the Lord--it was just another golf camp to some of them. But the very last night of the week they had an open mike, and the first kid up there was strong, bold, to the point--it was awesome! This kid was on fire! It was so cool.
I went on to play well that week. I had my best tournament of the year, tied for eighth until the Las Vegas Invitational, where I tied for fifth. I wasn't expecting it in Memphis though. I hadn't spent too much time on the golf course because I was helping out with the kids through Wednesday night--and He rewarded me for the work I did with the kids. So I was richly blessed, not only by the tournament, but by seeing and hearing those kids.
My heart goes out to high school kids today--they're struggling. The peer pressure is unbelievable. I think you've got to reach kids before they get to college. If you can get a kid, reach him, and tell him about Jesus before he gets to college so he can accept that truth and live it in college, life will be so much better--and easier. I'm so thankful to have accepted Christ in college. I got to live my last three months in college walking for the Lord.
Bunker play is my strongest point. I was a horrible bunker player in high school and college--I was pathetic.
So I practiced it a lot with my brother during my first couple of years as a pro. We'd go practice, and my brother would stand far away from the hole and hit the highest bunker shots in the world. Mine would always come out low and then scoot. His were high and soft. So I worked with him a lot. I had no clue what he was doing. So he showed me. He told me to step into his stance, and I kind of got a feel for it.
And then when I was watching Fred Couples in person and on TV, and nine times out of ten, his hand would come off the club and he'd do it one-handed--but he hit great bunker shots.
So I put the two together: standing farther away like Tom and trying to mimic what Freddie looked like hitting bunker shots. And one day I found the magic. It was amazing. Now I think it is the best part of my game; I can feel I can make every bunker shot I hit. The confidence is there.
I now tell golfers to open up their bodies, open up their stances, and open the blade. If you can point the blade at the hole, or your target, or where you want to land the ball, then you can open your body to that. Look at your feet line, and put your club down so it is aiming on that line, then open up your body. I basically take the club up and outside, drop it down behind the ball, and accelerate--and try to knock the sand out of the bunker.
For an amateur who doesn't hit bunker shots well, aim two inches behind the ball, and try to knock the sand out of the bunker in a descending blow--not swinging up. Swing down at it. If you do that, your ball will come up and out. And that's basically how I've learned.
If you knock the sand out of the bunker, you're not worrying about the ball--you're swinging down and through the ball, not up at the ball. As long as you're going down, two inches behind the ball, the ball will pop up. That's what all that club loft is for.
I grew up aiming straight at the hole, digging down, and I just couldn't hit good bunker shots. So now I open up my body--probably aiming thirty feet left of the pin--and I point the face of the club at the target, take it straight up, and drop it down. You're almost cutting across the ball. You've got to stay with it--crop it a little bit.
And you've got to accelerate through the ball to get it out. Otherwise you're going to hit it fat, and the ball's not going to go very far, and that's not good. It's got to go far.
It's a simple process--it's just not easy. Just like everything in golf.
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