Hoo-rizons: Golfer Shooting for Much More Than Just His PGA Tour Card

Hoo-rizons: Golfer Shooting for Much More Than Just His PGA Tour Card

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Jimmy Stanger never thought he’d become a professional golfer. Even though he played on the University of Virginia golf team, Stanger – who double-majored in finance and marketing in the McIntire School of Commerce – thought he would work on Wall Street, or maybe at a large advertising firm, after he graduated.

But Stanger came into his own as a player during his final two years on Grounds, and suddenly what he thought was an impossible dream became a reality.

However, in 2020, after two years of playing on the Korn Ferry Tour, Stanger came to a realization: “Ultimately, even your dream job doesn’t fulfill you in the way that you think it will,” he said.

That’s not to say that Stanger’s love for golf waned.

Now on the cusp of qualifying for the PGA Tour, the Tampa Bay, Florida, native is as excited about his future in the sport as ever.

The bigger picture is what got Stanger thinking. He just believed he should be doing more to help less fortunate people, an ideal that had first been instilled in him by his parents at a young age, and was further emphasized during his time at UVA.

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“I just started wanting to give back to something,” Stanger said. “I wanted to make a difference in this world outside of golf, and to use the platform that God has given me to give back – as opposed to just taking from people who have given so much throughout my life.”

Stanger, now 26, is certainly making a difference to people in Colombia right now. For every birdie Stanger makes on the tour, the 2017 alumnus donates $10. At the same time, others have joined in to pledge money for every birdie (a score of one stroke under par on a golf hole) that he makes as well.

Since 2020, he has raised more than $80,000 through a ministry he created called “Birdies for Hope” – enough to build four churches in Colombia, one of which also features a “Hope Center” that hosts a wide range of community and educational activities.

“It’s been amazing to see other people come alongside me and donate,” Stanger said, “to help bring hope around the world.”

One of four children, Stanger first experienced the joy of helping others as a 7-year-old, when his parents traveled to a small province in China to adopt his younger sister, Theresa Maylei. During the trip, the Chinese community had a grand opening for a church that Stanger’s parents had partnered with the International Cooperating Ministry to build.

“The day after we picked her up, we went to church on a Sunday and saw this place packed full with hundreds of people,” Stanger recalled. “Just seeing the impact that this ministry was having on a community that really didn’t have solid buildings – you have this one pillar that’s standing out among them, this place where people could meet, this place where people could feel an earthquake isn’t going to topple it, a place that could guarantee that people could stay dry whenever it starts pouring.

“It just made such an impact on me.”

It led to Stanger being involved in numerous service projects in Tampa throughout his childhood.

“My family has always believed in the idea that it’s better to give than to receive,” said Stanger, who was home-schooled by his mother through high school, “and that ultimate joy comes through serving others, as opposed to focusing on yourself.”

Stanger had very specific parameters when it came time to select a college. In the end, he chose UVA over several other prestigious schools, including Harvard University.

“UVA was the best of both worlds,” Stanger said. “It has the academics that you need. It’s a school where you can get access to any scholar and can have access to so much information and some of the brightest minds on the planet. But then you also have the athletic side. That combination of excellence, both in academics and athletics, is what drew me.

“Some of the other schools that I looked at had one or the other, but they did not have both.”

Stanger said he has many fond memories from his time on Grounds.

The microeconomics course he took from legendary economics professor Ken Elzinga has had a lasting impact, he said. “What I found so amazing about that class was not necessarily that he taught such unique topics, or that he was passionate – because I had a lot of amazing and passionate professors,” Stanger said. “It was his accessibility.

“Just knowing his status – that he would have office hours where we could come and visit and talk with him … that was something I utilized a couple times, and it was amazing to be able to ask personalized questions to one of the brightest minds in the country.”

On the golf course, Stanger had a host of highlights. None were bigger than when, as a fourth-year student, he sunk a 12-foot putt in a playoff to win the ACC individual championship in South Carolina.

“Having the whole team and my coach, Bowen Sargent, there with me – that’s a memory that almost doesn’t feel real because I had dreamed about it happening my first three years, and very rarely do you see a dream that specific actually come true,” Stanger said. “That was incredible.”

Sargent considers Stanger and former fellow UVA star Derek Bard two of the best student-athletes he’s ever coached. “Both of them are almost perfect kids,” said Sargent in a 2016 interview. “They do what they’re supposed to do, they’re great role models, they’re good kids outside of golf.”

Both parlayed their collegiate success into professional careers, though life on the tour has taken some getting used to, according to Stanger.

“Professional golf can be unbelievably rewarding, but also can be unbelievably brutal, because your success and failure is based off a score – and that score is incredibly objective as opposed to subjective,” Stanger said. “What I mean by that is so often it comes down to one or two shots over the course of four days.”

As a fourth-year student, Stanger sank this 12-foot putt to win the ACC championships. (Photo by Jim Daves, University Athletics)

After graduating in 2017, Stanger nearly missed qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour.

In the final stage of qualifying, Stanger shot an 80 in the first round of play – which nearly put him out of contention – before bouncing back to shoot a 62 the next round.

“I think that’s a good description of the way my professional golf career has gone, where it’s been a lot of ups and downs, but at the same time a lot of resilience in coming back from some things that have been frustrating.”

To earn his PGA Tour card, Stanger needs to finish in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry points list. In the last two years, he’s finished 44th and 50th. Competition takes place from January until early September.

“I’m very fortunate now to have played four years now on the Korn Ferry Tour,” said Stanger, who is currently rooming with former UVA teammate Danny Walker (also playing on the tour). “I think it’s given me a lot of experience and practice in the types of situations that are necessary to get to the PGA Tour and succeed on the PGA Tour when I get there.”

In the meantime, Stanger also intends to keep grinding away toward his new dream: Growing Birdies for Hope into a full-time 501(c)(3) ministry that can fund all kinds of projects throughout the world.

Stanger said the skills he honed at McIntire have been vital.

“The marketing part of my degree has been incredibly useful – in learning how to market myself and how to market Birdies for Hope,” Stanger said. “Even just something as simple as sending emails in a professional manner – McIntire put a huge emphasis on the little details like that. It’s probably like 100 different small details like that which make a big difference when you’re trying to advertise and market things.

“I have not used the finance [component] in the way that I expected to yet, in terms of going into Wall Street or into a certain advertising company, but I’ve been able to use it very much in my golf in raising money for Birdies for Hope.”

Stanger, whose father is a financial adviser, certainly isn’t ruling out a career in either of those sectors down the road.

“Fortunately, because of my UVA degree, I have a lot of options that I could go into if golf were to not work out or I just were to move on,” he said. “And that’s something I’m very thankful for. It gives me a lot of peace playing professional golf, to know that I have that if I need it.”

Stanger has certainly found peace with Birdies for Hope.

Stanger said he was moved to fund churches in Colombia after playing an annual tour event in Bogota and seeing other churches that had been built by International Cooperating Ministry that were making an impact.

“They had united a part of the city that had been gang- and drug-driven,” Stanger said. “It was incredible to see.”

And Stanger remembered the impact that building a church in his sister’s homeland so many years ago had. Now 20, Theresa plays golf at Wheaton College in Chicago. “She has a beautiful swing,” Stanger said.

International Cooperating Ministry provides the land and labor for the churches and hope centers, with the money raised from Birdies for Hope paying for the construction supplies.

Stanger is looking forward to visiting the churches and hope center he has funded, which he has been unable to during the pandemic.

The first church he funded in Arjona – a small village in rural Colombia – welcomes an estimated 650 people to services each week.

Stanger’s most recent project was building the San Vincente Hope Center near Medellín.

“These are now four separate buildings that are going to provide an incredible infrastructure for people to meet, for people to live out their faith, for children to learn,” Stanger said. “I think it’s been incredible to see the difference it has made.”

To learn more about Birdies for Hope, visit JimmyStanger.com or email Stanger at jimmystanger@gmail.com.

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications