By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Bedford North Lawrence’s Ethan Stanley joined exclusive company, qualifying for his fourth consecutive appearance in the IHSAA state golf finals. And that’s an outstanding list of accomplished players.
Stanley isn’t interested in a participation trophy. His goal, in the final act of his decorated high school career, is an award that must be earned. He dreams big, and why not? He will chase a state championship and isn’t afraid to state it.
Driven to achieve greatness, Stanley will tee off in the first round of the 36-hole state championship on Tuesday morning at Prairie View Golf Club. The final stage of the state tournament series features the 15 best teams, and the 25 top individuals who were not members of qualifying teams, in Indiana. Stanley has proven he belongs there. Now he will attempt to reach the next level and – like his hero Tiger Woods – beat them all.
Bold, not bashful, wins. Stanley is not arrogant, simply passionate, singular of focus, fearless regardless of the stage or circumstance. He believes in his own abilities.
His first two trips were with BNL teammates in quest of the team title. Now, for the second straight year, he’s alone, solitary in pursuit of glory when he tees off at 8:09 a.m. on the first tee. The difference this time is a mentally tougher kid who’s equipped to handle a game with more moments of disappointment than triumph.
“Honestly, just this season, mentally a lot has changed,” Stanley said. “I’ve learned to handle my anger, not let bad holes or bad shots affect the rest of my round. This season has been up and down, and I’ve had bad rounds, but I’m actually glad about that. You have to self-evaluate and learn from that.”
Stanley is more patient, more cerebral, calmer, stable. Golf demands those traits, otherwise a person might become consumed or slightly insane.
“They always say golf is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” BNL coach Mike Wright said. “It might be more than that because there’s a lot of walking and time to think. It can make you better or worse. You can prepare for the next shot or dread on the last one.”
This is actually Stanley’s last shot. His first two years at Prairie View, he was not quite prepared for the pressure and posted pedestrian rounds of 79-84 as a freshman and 77-84 as a sophomore. Last year still irks him. He carded six birdies during back-to-back 76s, finished tied for 20th (but only 7 shots back), and felt his putter cost him the medalist moment.
“My putting was atrocious,” Stanley said. “If I had made anything, I could have won that tournament. This year I’m feeling comfortable. So it’s 100 percent realistic to think I can win.”
His putter is not always his friend. They weren’t on speaking terms during the first 14 holes of the regional last week at Champions Pointe. But on the final four holes, they reconciled as he jarred an eagle, a clutch bogey, and a finishing birdie to advance. Tee to green, few are more accurate on a consistent basis.
“I’m hitting it really well right now,” said Stanley, quick to quote statistics from the PGA Tour to remind himself even the best don’t make everything on the greens. “Tee to green has been really good. If I can not let the one bad tee shot per round happen, I can score with my irons and wedges. I can’t score from the rough, bunkers or woods.
“Prairie View is visually intimidating. The trouble is there, but it’s not super tight. It can throw you off. I really like the course, like the layout, and if you’re hitting it in the fairways you can go low.”
Stanley has flirted with sensational scores. He had six birdies on the course during the 2018 State Preview event. He shot a brilliant back-nine 32 to cap his regional round of 1-under 71 as a junior. He could explode low at any moment.
“One thing he hasn’t had is the upper 60s round,” Wright said. “If he gets the putter going, he will definitely be able to shoot that. His experience is huge. He knows where he needs to get par and move on, he knows which par-5s are reachable. Four years there will definitely help, just with the pressure of it. If he can handle those last four holes of the regional, he can do this.”
Stanley has already signed with the University of Indianapolis, so this senior season has been a springboard toward that step. He will report to that campus on Aug, 21. He would like to bring a huge trophy with his dorm decor and luggage.
“I’m sure it will dawn on me a few days after the state finals are over, that this is the last thing I have of high school, the last thing I have left,” Stanley said. “It’s sad, but it’s exciting. It means I’m one step closer to UIndy, to chasing my dreams
“Now it’s completely me. When I’m out there, I can do my own thing, prepare how I want. It’s not as fun going alone, but it’s good because I can focus on myself. I have to play it as a marathon, not a sprint, and let everyone else make the mistakes. You have to realize everyone out there will be making them.”
The top 10 in the state finals are automatic All-State selections. Another 10 are selected for that honor based on their season performance.