Photo: Stallings and former coach Bobby Nichols celebrate one of Stallings' all-tournament performances. Nichols is one of three previous Tech golfers to play on the PGA Tour.
Clutch birdies on final two holes lift Stallings into PGA ranks
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Scott Stallings spent his collegiate career following the advice of his coach, Bobby Nichols.
Now, thanks to critical birdies on the final two holes of play, the former Golden Eagle golf All-American is following in Nichols' footsteps, too.
Stallings, who reigned as one of the top golfers in the Ohio Valley Conference during his four-year playing career at Tennessee Tech, on Monday capped his rookie efforts by qualifying for the 2011 PGA Tour.
Stalling bogeyed the 16th hole Monday and was in jeopardy of not finishing in the Top 25 to earn his Q-card. He responded by sinking a lengthy birdie putt on the par-5 17th to create a little more breathing room. He hit his drive in the fairway on the par-4 18th and struck a 6-iron onto the final green. By scoring birdies on the 17th and 18th holes on the sixth and final round of the tournament, Stallings climbed into a tie for 11th place in the grueling, 108-hole tournament that featured 153 of the world's best golfers vying for 25 spots in the PGA field.
"To have the opportunity to play on the PGA Tour is something I've dreamed about since I was a little kid," Stallings told The Golf Channel. "To have the opportunity to go out and play with best players in world is something I'm very excited about."
A 2007 TTU graduate from Oak Ridge, Tenn., Stallings will become only the fourth player in Tech history to compete on the prestigious PGA Tour. He earned the chance Monday by finishing tied for 11th in the six-round PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament at the Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge.
Stallings joins Nichols, Bobby Greenwood and Jeff Sluman as former Golden Eagles to reach the PGA Tour. Nichols played his entire career at Tech, then returned to coach at his alma mater and was inducted into the TTU Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. Greenwood and Sluman each played their freshman season at Tech, Greenwood in 1958 before finishing up at West Texas State and Sluman in 1978 before playing his final three seasons at Florida State.
Stallings carded 26 birdies and 68 pars over the 108 holes of play in the six tournament rounds, and wound up at 12-under-par 417 for the entire tournament. He opened with a one-under 71 on the Crooked Cat Course, followed by an even-par 71 on the Panther Lake Course in the second round.
He made his move up the leaderbard on the next two rounds, beginning with a four-under 67 at the Panther Lake layout during his third round. Returning to Crooked Cat for the fourth round, Stallings caught fire and shot seven-under 65. Starting on the back nine, he ran off a string of four consecutive birdies on holes 14 through 17, then shot a bogey on 18 to make the turn at three-under. He then birdied the first three holes on the front nine, and added another on No. 7.
Back at Panther Lake for the fifth round, Stallings had three birdies on the back nine but wrapped up with four bogeys on the front for a one-over 72. Even with that, Stalling was at 13-under par heading into Monday's final round. He made the turn after the front nine at Crooked Cat at even par, then opened the back with a birdie on 10. He stayed at one-under until a bogey on 16. Birdies on the final two holes pushed him to one-under, as he closed at 12-under.
It was a story of redemption for Stallings, who missed his 2010 PGA Tour card by one stroke at last year's Q-School. Playing on the Nationwide Tour in 2010, Stallings played well. But he couldn't make the late-season push he needed to finish in the top 25 on the Tour money list and earn his way onto the PGA Tour.
Following Nichols into the PGA Tour is something that the legendary coach foresaw back in 2003 when Stallings was a freshman.
"It was at one of the Hall of Fame dinners and Coach Nichols came up and said 'when you leave here, you could be one of the best players to ever play for me at Tennessee Tech.' That kind of stuck with me. It meant a lot to me for him to say something like that," Stallings recalled when he was named Tech's Outstanding Male Athlete of 2007.
Nichols' intuition came true for Stallings who wrapped up the most glorious golf career in Tennessee Tech history.
Stallings twice earned Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year honors, was named first-team all-conference and shot his way to a spot in the all-tournament team at the OVC Championships with a second-place tie.
Stallings set the bar pretty high for his final campaign at TTU after an unbelievably successful junior season. During the 2005-06 campaign, earning OVC Player of the Year and all-OVC honors while ranking first in the league in scoring average at 70.6. He earned seven all-tournament awards, including the OVC Tournament where he finished second overall. A three-time medalist, Stallings qualified for the NCAA Regional tournament in Orlando, Fla. and then qualified for the NCAA National Championships where he finished 23rd overall.
Stallings wrapped up his junior year being named honorable mention All-American by Golfweek.com and being ranked 84th in the nation.
When Stallings graduated in May 2007, he left with the school record for most all-tournament finishes (19) and most medalist honors (7).
"He really contributed a lot to our success. He was a great guy to have on the team. He's a hard worker and he was well-respected by all the OVC players and coaches," Nichols said at the time.
"I'm proud of everything I did at Tech," Stalling said. "I love Cookeville and I love Tech. It will always have a special place in my heart and I miss it a lot more than I thought it would."
"I think he's going to be successful on the PGA Tour. He has all the talent and he's a hard worker. His future is very, very bright," said Nichols, less than a year before passing away.
Note: Jesse Smithey of the Knoxville News-Sentinel and Buddy Pearson of the Cookeville Herald-Citizen contributed to this story.
Click here to read story in Oak Ridger
Click here to read story in Knoxville News-Sentinal
Click here for Scott's official bio on the PGA webpage