PORT ARTHUR —
What was already the most productive year ever in professional golf for Lamar University connections got exponentially better on Sunday when John Riegger won the Champions Tour’s Boeing Classic by two shots. Riegger, who turned 50 on June 13, was playing in only his fifth Champions Tour event.
For those who don’t remember John, he played for Greg Grost’s high-achieving LU teams of the early 1980s. Three of his teammates from a Cardinal team that made a strong showing in the 1985 NCAAs — Trevor Dodds, Kelly Gibson and Philip Jonas — also went on to play professionally.
Riegger’s previous high points were victories in the Nationwide Tour’s 2007 LaSalle Bank Open and 2010 Rex Hospital Open. The Las Vegas resident never had much success in nine years on the PGA Tour, but winning so quickly on the Champions Tour suggests he may be one of those late bloomers who hits the jackpot at the senior level.
Meantime, Lamar golf coach Brian White gets to flaunt the achievement of yet another ex Cardinal in a remarkable 2013 season. Already there have been victories on the European Tour (Dawie van der Walt) and Champions Tour (Riegger), a tie for first on the PGA Tour (Chris Stroud) and a 54-hole leader in the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic (Shawn Stefani).
Here’s a quick look at what the above-mentioned players have accomplished.
• Stroud climbed to No. 40 in Fed Ex points at last week’s Barclays and has pocketed a career-best $1,544,269 in official earnings. He nearly seized his first PGA Tour victory at the Travelers Championship by chipping in on the 72nd hole to force a playoff that Ken Duke wound up winning. A 2004 LU graduate, he’s had four top 10s, six top 25s and made 16 of 24 cuts.
• Stefani, who graduated from Lamar in 2005, has had two top 10s, two more top 25s and banked $511,399 in his rookie year. He’s most remembered for his ace on the 17th hole in the U.S. Open. It was the first ace ever made in an Open at Merion. Unfortunately for the Baytown native, a late-season disc injury kept him from a high-enough finish to automatically retain his PGA Tour card.
• Van der Walt, who got his Lamar degree in 2007, won the European PGA Tour’s Tshwane Open in early March and finished second by a stroke in the Web.com Tour’s Brasil Open. Between those tours, he’s earned $418,912. The downside of his European win was that he must play 10 events on that tour to validate a two-year exemption, so he’s been up against a brutal travel schedule. It was likely a factor in him not playing well enough on the Web.com to earn a PGA Tour card.
• Riegger, class of 1985, showed he can handle pressure by holding off two of the Champions Tour’s best — Fred Couples and John Cook. He did it with a final round 68 that included three birdies in the final four holes. Among the spoils of victory was a two-year exemption that will give him the opportunity to make some serious money in 2014 and 2015.
Certainly not to be overlooked in Lamar’s 2013 golf accomplishments is White. At Stroud’s request, the LU coach gave struggling D.A. Points a putting lesson prior to the Shell Houston Open. Points went on to win the tournament and used that as springboard to his finest season. The former Illinois standout finished T6 at the Barclays, stands 25th in Fed Ex points and has collected $2,507,287 on the year. White, who was put on retainer in late spring, will work with his star pupil again at the third Fed Ex stop in Chicago.
“It’s certainly been a memorable year for guys who played golf at Lamar,” said White. “It helps reinforce my message to recruits that you can play here and go on to be successful professionally. When you look around, I’m not sure there’s a school in Texas whose exes are collectively during better than ours in 2013.
“You have to promote yourself and that’s what these guys are helping me do. There must be something good here when you look at what our former players are doing. Big name-schools attract the high-profile amateurs, but good pro players can be developed away from the spotlight. I think we are proving that.”
While it’s been a year to savor for Lamar golf interests, the best may be yet to come.
Stroud, for instance, is well positioned to climb into the top 30 in Fed Ex points at the next two playoff stops, which would earn him a spot in the Tour Championship and send him to the 2014 Masters. No matter how it plays out, White says Stroud’s time is coming.
“Obviously, Chris is having his best year but what you’ve seen is still nowhere close to what he can achieve,” contends the LU coach. “He’s having a great year, despite being a little inconsistent with his ball striking. His putting and chipping have been fantastic and have helped raise his game. When it all comes together, and it will, he’s going to win. And there will be more than one win, because of his ability to grind.”
Stefani and Van der Walt, meanwhile, can still earn 2014 PGA Tour cards in the upcoming four-tournament Web.com playoffs. Riegger, on the strength of his Boeing victory, soared to No. 31 on the Champions Tour money list. With seven events remaining before the lucrative season-ending Charles Schwaub Cup, he needs to move up only one place to qualify.
Bottom line, football won’t be the only sport of interest for Lamar followers in the next few weeks.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com