By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Kyle Stanley says he never really sweated over it but had to play a waiting game before knowing he was in the field for this week's U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Having played six events out of the previous seven on the 2013 PGA Tour, the 25-year-old American decided to skip last week's St. Jude Classic in Memphis, well aware that he could lose his place in the top 60 world rankings, and therefore also at the Open.
As it happened, Stanley slipped from 59th to 60th and became the last player to earn an exemption for the season's second major through the world rankings when the field was set for Merion on Monday.
"It wasn't too much of a sweat for me," Stanley told Reuters with a slight grin on Wednesday after completing a practice round on a sun-splashed afternoon at Merion. "I was never going to play in Memphis.
"In my mind, I had kind of done all I could. I've played decent the last couple of months, so it was just kind of a waiting game for me."
"The good thing was I was back home in Seattle with my friends and had a lot to kind of keep my mind off it," said the American, who had missed out by two shots in U.S. Open sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio nine days ago.
Asked how closely he had monitored the likely permutations in the world rankings last week, Stanley replied: "I knew there was a guy over in Europe (Austrian Bernd Wiesberger), if he played well, he would probably have knocked me out.
"I knew that (Australian Marc) Leishman was 60th and he wasn't playing (last week). (American) Jimmy Walker was mid-sixties and he missed the cut.
"So it really came down to guys either had to win or finish top five and none of them did. So here we are."
RETURN TO FORM
Stanley, who won his first PGA Tour title at last year's Phoenix Open, is delighted to have regained good form over the past two months having struggled badly with five missed cuts in his first 10 starts on the U.S. circuit this season.
"I've come a long way since the beginning of the year," said the slender American, who has recorded three top-six finishes in his last five appearances, including third place at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago.
"It's a little bit of a confidence booster for me. Mentally I am in a good place and physically I am in a good place, so that's a good recipe for success right there."
It may also be to Stanley's advantage this week that he knows the iconic East Course at Merion fairly well, having played here during the 2005 U.S. Amateur.
Though the layout measures only 6,996 yards off the back tees, it is renowned for its thick rough, narrow, tilted fairways, deep bunkers, contoured small greens and several semi-blind tee shots.
According to Stanley, the path to success this week will hinge on accuracy off the tee.
"It's a short course but it's really tight," he said. "You really don't have to do much to miss a fairway here. Granted it is short with a lot of short par-fours but you also have some big par-fours where driver is the club.
"And if you miss the fairway, then you're going to have a mid-iron out of this stuff," he said, looking at tangly rough already more than five inches high in places due to heavy rain over the last week.
"So it's not easy. The key to scoring well week, apart from making putts, is hitting the fairways."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)