SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – TK Lawrence was sitting inside the Thomas & Mack Center during last year’s Built Ford Tough World Finals when her husband, Stetson, accepted his re-ride option in Round 3.
TK began fuming in her seat, frustrated that Stetson tossed away his qualified on C-Note to take a chance at improving his score against King Buck.
Her frustration only escalated when Stetson then got bucked off by King Buck in 3.65 seconds and tore his right PCL in the process.
“I was pretty mad at him for taking that re-ride,” she recalled on Wednesday night. “If you would have been the person sitting next to me in the stands, you probably would have been plugging your ears because of how loud I was yelling.”
Stetson still remembers approaching his wife after the failed re-ride attempt.
“After I went back to see her, let’s just say she wasn’t impressed with me,” Stetson said with a laugh. “I looked back at it after the Finals and thought, ‘Man, why did I take that re-ride?’ It could have helped me out, but point proven that if you get on another bull you could possibly get hurt on the next one.”
The couple, which first met in 2010 and got married in 2012, had some long conversations in the offseason about what Stetson could try and do to take his career to the next level. Based on his 29th finish in the 2014 world standings, the Lawrences knew Stetson didn’t have to rush his way back on tour because of his injury and that he would be guaranteed eight events before being possibly cut from the BFTS.
There also was the decision that maybe Stetson needed to adopt a, “Ride smarter, not harder” strategy.
Stetson was starting his first full year on the BFTS and had never before in his three-year BFTS career been able to begin a season right away on the BFTS.
Therefore, once he made his season debut in New York, Stetson decided to focus more on consistency instead of trying to swing for the fences.
“Just staying consistent and riding all of my bulls, that is what I am striving for,” Stetson said. “I’m just making it my own game and not letting the hype get to me. I am staying cool and collected and keeping my mindset.”
Stetson’s approach of not worrying as much about ride scores and instead focusing on qualified rides has paid off so far this season.
He has already set a career-high with 12 qualified in eight BFTS events and he is currently riding at a career-best clip of 48 percent. Half of his qualified rides have gone for 85 points or more, and he has placed in the Top-5 of six BFTS rounds.
“Maybe it was his wife nagging him a little bit, telling him he needed to work smarter, not harder,” TK said. “Last year, he just wanted to win and be that 90-point guy that everybody remembered.”
TK added that she thinks her husband has been able to relax on the BFTS compared to past years because he had those eight guaranteed events, which he has translated into 748.5 points and a No. 14 world ranking heading into this weekend’s First PREMIER Bank PREMIER BankCard Invitational in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“It was (less stressful), but in the same sense you had to get your points in those eight events,” Stetson said. “Once I got those few couple of points, it was weight off my shoulders.”
Of course, 450 of those points were earned at the highly-debated St. Louis BFTS event last month that saw Stetson go 4-for-4 and finish second to Kaique Pacheco (3-for-4) based on the PBR’s new points system that determines event winners based on total points earned at a single event and not ride scores.
Stetson understood going into the year that there would be a slight, and very limited, chance a rider could ride all of his bulls and still lose the event title, but he also understood that the event average winner still is going to get those important 400 bonus points toward the world standings.
“It was crazy,” Lawrence said. “Social media and the phone was going crazy about what was all going down. After the first day, I was sick of just answering my phone and people kept asking. I just wanted to get back to staying focused, riding bulls and not worrying about what is going on.”
“No matter what, you do what you are there for,” TK added. “It doesn’t matter what the politics say or social media or what other people say. You go there and you take care of business.
“He is so much more mature because he has learned how to focus on what his job is.”
Stetson isn’t saying that he will never take a re-ride again; it is just all circumstantial, such as last weekend in Fresno, California.
To the confusion of many, Lawrence turned down a re-ride and he kept a 64.75-point ride on Play Up during the first round. However, people were unaware of the fact that he had re-aggravated his PCL injury a week earlier during the second round of Iron Cowboy when he had ridden Pound the Alarm for 85 points.
The 26-year-old had an MRI reviewed by Dr. Tandy Freeman the week heading into Fresno and it was learned there was no serious damage, but he still wanted to make sure he didn’t risk further injury.
“It is feeling good again,” Lawrence said. “I just need to keep working at it and get stronger and stay healthy. The second round of Iron Cowboy I landed right on my knee, the same way I did it at the Finals. (Freeman) thought maybe I had cartilage torn and that was catching on my knee, but my PCL was pretty much just swollen and I had to get that back down.”
Stetson and TK have been living on the road in Texas while TK, a professional barrel racer, competes at rodeos and jackpots in the region, and Stetson rides nationally on the BFTS.
Being based in Texas has allowed Stetson to save money on travel costs and rehab his knee at Michael Johnson Performance.
The Trenton, North Dakota, bull rider is expected to be one of the crowd favorites in South Dakota this weekend with fellow North Dakota native Nathan Schaper.
Stetson’s dad’s family is from White Horse, South Dakota, which 3.5 hours west of Sioux Falls, and Stetson expects a handful of family members to be in attendance, but admitted with the expected sell-out crowd that tickets were getting tough to find.
“I try not to let that get to me,” Lawrence said about being a potential fan favorite this weekend. “I don’t let it get to me. I just stay focused and try to keep calm and ride bulls.”
For the first time in his three-year career, Lawrence doesn’t have to worry about having to ride to say on tour.
For the foreseeable future, he has the peace of mind of knowing he is here to stay.
“It’s been an actually pretty unbelievable start,” TK said. “He doesn’t have to think, ‘I have to ride, I have to ride, I have to ride.’ He has really grown and matured, and he is no longer almost a little star struck.
“He has reached that point where he believes he belongs there.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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