The 25-year-old has just had the “summer” of his life in Europe, and he is a few weeks away from walking down the aisle. The success on the British Isles in July has seen him schedule in a “mini off-season”, at a time when he might well have been clambering to save his Tour card.
“It has been a massive turnaround, and to think where I was a few months ago, to where I am now, is incredible.”
And yet, despite the obvious excitement – and relief – Stone retains a sensible dose of perspective. As he attests, the height of the current hills is only reiterated by the depth of the valleys he endured over the last 18 months.
“I have learnt to have that balanced outlook. This game can be very lonely when you are down, and it is important to maintain that perspective over this period. I have been on the other side,” he reminded.
A lot of that perspective comes from the close-knit team Stone has around him – including his coach, caddie, fiancée, parents and close friends.
“They know who they are, and they know what we have gone through to get to this point. There is no need to name them here, because they know.”
Stone’s day of all days came at Gullane when he shot a staggering 10-under 60 on the Sunday to win the Scottish Open. That secured his playing rights for another two full years, and sparked a sequence of events that saw him go to The Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship.
“I went from planning to go on a whiskey tour, after the Scottish Open, to suddenly having to find accommodation for Carnoustie.”
When the swell comes in golf, it is often in waves, and Stone most certainly rode it.
He maintains that he and caddie Teagan Moore made a pact not to look at the scoreboard on that fateful Sunday in Scotland.
“The important round for me was the 68 on the Saturday. That might not make sense, but it was my first bogey-free round in a long time. I was making birdies, but I was always making mistakes,” he lamented about his slog on the Tour.
“That Saturday was huge for my confidence, because it showed that the game was very close. The blade putter that I was going back to was working.”
A big part of his success, he explains, is having Moore on the bag. It is a different relationship to the norm of player/employee in the paid ranks, and Stone says that he is thriving on that familiarity.
“Teagan and I are very close mates so he can be honest with me, where a caddie just doing his job might be looking to keep the peace. If Teagan thinks I have been a chop all day, he will call me out.
“I have always preferred someone to be blunt with me. I was raised that way, and I think it is far better than sugar-coating things. Teagan was the one who pointed out that I should go back to the blade putter, for example. I had always used it coming through, and won 17 tournaments in the amateur ranks. I changed when I turned pro, and there was no real reason, really. Teagan convinced me to give it a go again, and it has rolled beautifully.”
The walk up the 18th at Gullane was made more special for the fact that he was with a mate, too. He told Moore, himself an aspiring golfer, to soak in the atmosphere, because days like that don’t come too often. They were still smiling – even after that putt for a historic 59 slipped left.
Now, instead of the daunting autumn slog for survival, he is eyeing a top 10 spot in the Race to Dubai, and exploring different opportunities. Interestingly, he added, his future will remain firmly in Europe.
“I love how we can sit at a table on the European Tour, and you can hear French, English, Spanish, English and Mandarin. I love that diversity, and you also can’t beat travelling around Europe. The countries are amazing, as is the food. And the golf courses change so you develop a well-rounded game. Personally, I prefer Europe.”
Another key part of being in Europe is the band of South African brothers that cajole each other all year. Stone has an example of that camaraderie. “On that Sunday at the Scottish, Dean Burmester and I were playing together. ‘Burmy’ was also in contention but when he fell away, he started cheering for me. Every putt I dropped, he was giving fist-pumps. It was amazing.”@whamzam17