By Justin Sokeland
CARMEL – Golf, brutally unfair and unforgiving without warning, gouged a chunk from Ethan Stanley’s soul, bringing him to his knees with a gut-punch blast of emotional pain, agony and bitterness.
Stanley, Bedford North Lawrence’s lone representative in the IHSAA state finals, deserved a better finish than what Fate decided Wednesday afternoon. Playing in the championship for the fourth and final time, he was worthy of a proper farewell.
Alas, following a final-hole disaster, Stanley walked away devastated, crushed by calamity as he carded an 81 and fell back into the pack, stunned by a quadruple-bogey on the 18th hole. Not even hugs from family and friends could console him.
The conclusion marred a valiant round. His precise game betrayed him, so Stanley was a scramblin’ man, and scorecards don’t fall in love with a scramblin’ man. After an opening 1-over 73 put him in position to contend for the individual state championship, he couldn’t summon any magic for the last lap. And that last hole was agonizing to watch.
Before he reached the home hole, Stanley had only one birdie and scuffled with his swing – especially with wedges when in prime spots to attack prone pins. He paid the penalty with a series of bogeys, then the series of unfortunate events unfolded on 18.
From 90 yards for this third shot on the par-5, he bladed a wedge over the green into heavy tangled grass, needed three hacks to free his ball from that ruthless lie, then lipped out a putt. He tugged his Tiger Woods hat down over his eyes, but the emotions were unstoppable.
For once, the Ice Man – usually oblivious to pressure – melted.
“It was the fact that was the last thing I’m going to do – embarrassing, upsetting, but I can’t do anything about it,” Stanley said before his red eyes could return to their normal steel hue. “I just kept fighting and tried to make stuff happen. It just never happened.”
Stanley skirted disaster several times on the opening holes, before a tee shot into a bunker on the par-3 6th led to a 3-putt double from 12 feet. He 3-putted again on the 9th to make the turn in 3-over, and missed another short par putt on the 10th.
His shining moment came on 11, with a powerful tee shot and wedge to 6 feet for birdie. But he struggled on 14 and 15, lost some enthusiasm, then seemed to steady the next 2 1/2 holes. Until that chain reaction on 18 staggered him.
“I didn’t play well today,” Stanley said. “I didn’t hit the ball well, wasn’t making anything. You have days like that, and it sucks it was my last round of my high school career.”
This was in stark contrast to the opening round, one of grace and elegance. The second day was one of grit and patch-work to keep everything together. And until the 18th, he was successful in that, even as he fell from this starting point of 6th place and failed to mount a charge.
“Yesterday his tee shots and irons had a rhythm to it,” BNL coach Mike Wright said. “He had an idea where it was going. Today, from the first tee shot, he never seemed to get in a groove where he was comfortable.
“He really scrambled around and had a nice score. He made some putts for par that he didn’t make for birdie. But after the bogey on 9, it was hard to get it back after that.”
Stanley dropped into a tie for 25th with a two-day total of 10-over 154. He had goals of a victory, or at least challenging David Gratzer’s program-best finish of fourth place.
“It’s such a hard thing to do, as an individual, to get to a state finals,” Wright said. “That last hole could have happened at the regional, and he wouldn’t be here.
“There’s just no margin for error at this level. He’s special – special probably isn’t a good enough word.”
After the tears, after the jolt of stunning reality and dose of disbelief, Stanley composed himself to reflect on his decorated career. His next step will be competing for the University of Indianapolis.
“The biggest thing is letting other people know you can set your goals high,” he said. “And don’t be afraid to fail. I failed way more times, and that’s why I will be successful.”
In the team competition, top-ranked Carmel (playing on its home course) won the state championship with a second-round 289 and two-day total of 588 (17 shots clear of Noblesville and Center Grove).
Carmel’s Nick Dentino and Noblesville’s Clay Merchant finished tied atop the individual leaderboard at 4-under 140. Dentino won the one-hole playoff with a birdie.
IHSAA STATE FINALS