PUEBLO, Colo. – You don’t have to remind Stetson Lawrence that every second, millisecond and inch can be the different between winning and losing in the sport of professional bull riding.
It is why it is almost too fitting his first career Built Ford Tough Series victory this past weekend in Thackerville, Oklahoma, came down in large part to a judge’s review that ruled Cody Nance had bucked off Nailed in 7.85 seconds.
Lawrence had no shame in saying on Sunday afternoon after the WinStar World Casino & Resort Invitational in Thackerville, Oklahoma, that it is “always better to be lucky.”
He has simply been on the wrong side of those calls far too many times in recent memory, especially in 2015 when he went through three heart-wrenching, close-calls.
The North Dakota bull rider posted three runner-up finishes two years ago. Two of those second-place performances came at the PBR Majors Iron Cowboy and Last Cowboy Standing when he was bucked off in both event’s final rounds.
Then it is hard to forget the rare turn of events at the 2015 St. Louis Invitational. It was there Lawrence became the only rider in the PBR’s current point system to win the event average but not an event title when he went 4-for-4, but lost out to Kaique Pacheco, who went 3-for-4 with two round victories.
If those events could have went a few seconds or milliseconds different, Lawrence would have been a World Champion contender.
A year later was more close-but-no-cigar scenarios.
Lawrence came within less than a second of winning RFD-TV’s THE AMERICAN in 2016, and he was bucked off by SweetPro’s Bruiser for a shot at the victory at the Ty Murray Invitational a month later after riding his first three bulls in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For a rider that has underwent so many twists and turns of frustration in chasing that first career win the last three years, he finally was able to sit back and laugh about how a little luck helped him finally get that first career victory.
And, of course, this weekend came down to milliseconds and some unexpected twists.
It almost appeared to be the same old story for Lawrence too.
Lawrence had seemed poised on Sunday afternoon in steamy Oklahoma to go into the Built Ford Tough Championship Round a perfect 2-for-2 and in the lead.
However, a 7-second buckoff once again appeared to be costly.
Lawrence was making a fantastic ride aboard DaNutso in Round 2 before he was caught leaning a little too far back and was bucked off at the 7.58-second mark.
The 28-year-old then went into the championship round sitting in fourth-place.
Lawrence first did his part by riding Pick-It Construction’s Find Jesus for 88.75 points to take over the event lead, but even he didn’t expect to stay in the lead for long as he stood off to the side of rider walk-off.
Shoot, 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis and world No. 8 Stormy Wing would surely come through with qualified rides, Lawrence thought.
Davis lasted 3.69 seconds on Cooper’s Comet.
Wing was no better, being bucked off by Bottom’s Up in 2.14 seconds.
Then Nance wound up short.
Just like that, Lawrence was being ushered to the top of the shark cage as an event winner for the first time.
“It is nuts,” Lawrence admitted. “I have been on the other end of this thing many of times. I know how that is and I am lucky it finally went my way.”
The bulls dominated in Thackerville too as the riders went a combined 14-for-80, not including the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
The 14 rides are the sixth-fewest at a BFTS event since 1999.
“It was weird, really,” Lawrence said. “We only rode 10 bulls in the two rounds? That is insane. That is nuts. I don’t know what it was. The heat? I don’t mind it, but I don’t like it at the same time.”
While the majority of riders took the week after Nashville off, Lawrence decided to compete at the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event in Eureka, Montana.
In fact, it was there that he got to work on a little adjustment that 1998 Ring of Honor inductee Jerome Davis offered to him in Nashville, Tennessee, last month.
Davis noticed Lawrence getting behind his bulls halfway through a ride and pointed out that whenever Lawrence lifted his rope to adjust and fight back to the front that his rope would actually slide back a half-inch or so.
“Jerome Davis has always told me to get the bottom of my rope up because my rope slides back a little and that gets me behind,” Lawrence said. “I had been having trouble with it. I did that there and everything felt great there.”
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride said Lawrence was “long overdue” to get that elusive victory.
“I am so proud for Stetson,” McBride said. “He made some good rides. The one that bucked him off here was right at the buzzer. He is riding good. Tough guy. Good guy. Easy guy to cheer for, too.”
McBride agreed with Davis’ assumption of what may be the biggest culprit for Lawrence’s buckoffs halfway through his ride attempts, especially when Lawrence draws a bull into his hand.
Those minor adjustments can be the difference between winning and losing, McBride added.
“The little things make a huge difference, especially at this level,” McBride said. “Stetson is a guy that really knows how to ride bulls, obviously, or else he wouldn’t be here. But it is the little thing, moving his rope, pulling it tighter, an inch further forward that changes everything.”
Lawrence, who began Thackerville with an 88.25-point ride on Wild’s Sky, earned 560 points toward the world standings to move up to No. 17.
It took him only three BFTS events, and eight overall, to earn the victory after fracturing his pelvis in April at the Tacoma Invitational.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said that Lawrence appears to be in better shape now than when he first got injured in Tacoma.
“Coming back from injuries, everybody is a little different, and he came back better than he was, and he was really good before,” Lambert said. “He looks like he is in better shape.”
Lawrence’s 2-for-3 performance in The Sooner State increased his season riding percentage to a career-best 35.19 percent (19-for-54) and Lawrence believes this win could be the first of many.
“A win helps with anything, but it don’t become easier,” Lawrence concluded. “I have to keep my head down and stick to the grind. Stay focused and keep riding bulls like I did this weekend.”
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