PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Sports

March 27, 2012

West column: Stroud changing strategy for Houston Open

PORT ARTHUR —  Chris Stroud's normal Monday after playing 72 holes in a golf tournament would be to rest, regroup, then prepare to go back on the road for whereever the next PGA Tour stop might take him. This week, however, the routine has changed, and it's only partly because he's got a home game.

  Not long after landing in Houston, Chris was headed to Redstone Golf Club, site of the Thursday through Sunday Shell Houston Open. Although he was coming off another impressive performance — a tie for 15th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando — and knows Redstone better than any course the pros play, the former Lamar University All-America understood he needed extra time on the practice range.

  Why? Because he's making what many would consider a major equipment change, to compensate for past problems in an event where he's made the cut only once in six tries. And he had to sink a pressure-packed 6-footer on the 36th hole in 2009 to make that one cut on the number.

  "At Redstone, you need to be able to move the ball right to left," Stroud said. "You absolutely can't miss to the right. If you do, you are going to make double bogeys and worse. My normal driver, the one with the purple shaft, is difficult to turn over. My miss is almost always to the right.

  "I've put a lot of thought into this. With Redstone in mind, I've been working with Kevin Kirk (his instructor) on drawing the ball. Every shot after No. 3 you need to draw the ball. I have one driver that's decent as far as trying to hit a draw. But it's still not what I want. We'll be working on what I need early in the week."

  Tinkering with his equipment is nothing new for Stroud. Thus far this season, he's used four different sets of irons, four 3 woods and five drivers. The only clubs he doesn't mess with are his wedges.

  "I know that probably sounds a little scary," he said. "There's a fine line and you can't be changing clubs if you don't know what that club is going to do, what a certain shaft is going to do. You have to understand how that club is going to react and you have to trust the mechanics of your swing."

  Stroud says he's made equipment changes, most of them subtle, because experience gained on the various tournament courses has helped him understand what can work best for him at those locales.

  "It's something that might not work for everybody," he said. "You have to be confident in what you are doing. I started thinking about this when Phil Mickelson used two different drivers at the Masters a couple of years ago.

  "I really believe going with a different driver is going to make a difference for me at Redstone. The main thing is that I just can't miss right. If I miss, it has to be left. I've done a lot of homework on this. I have enough trust in myself to believe it will work."

  While Stroud has had few memorable moments at Redstone, he's never come into the SHO playing at such a high level. In his last three tournaments, he's finished T5, T9 and T15, and he's placed in the top 25 in five of eight starts. He's No. 41 on the money list with $605,129 in official earnings and he's No. 48 in Fed Ex Cup points.

  By comparison, a year ago he came into the Shell Houston Open with only $199,727 in winnings. Perhaps even more noteworthy,  a column leading into the 2011 SHO noted he was "up to No. 92 in putting."

  Now, after finishing first in the field at Bay Hill in the PGA Tour's new and most significant stat — strokes gained putting — he's climbed to No. 9 in that category for the year. Some guy named  Tiger Woods is right behind him at No. 10. He's also T2 in one putts from 15 to 20 feet.

  Thanks to his dramatically inproved putting, Chris is No. 9 on the tour in stroke average at 69.67. The overall tour average is 71.31.

  With better putting leading to higher finishes, Stroud's mindset is markedly different than in his first five years on tour. He was actually disappointed over finishing T15 at Bay Hill, despite the fact he beat a lot of the game's best players.

  Much of the disappointment stemmed from numerous missed opportunities on the way to a final round 74, including three back-nine bogeys that kept him from moving as high as third. The fact that scores for the entire field soared on Sunday, with nobody in the top 16 shooting lower than 70, was of little consolation.

  "I did myself in with poor wedge play, which was really surprising," he said. "I had great chances in the middle of the round to make a move and didn't get the ball close to the hole with my wedge. But the fact that I didn't have a good ball striking week, and still finished T15 in such a strong field, reinforces how far I've come.

  "A year ago I would have been thrilled to finish T15 at Bay Hill. Now I'm disappointed."

  Stroud has one goal, and one goal only at Redstone, and it's not to just make the cut.

  "I  want to win," he said, "and I think I can. It's the only way I can get into the Masters. Well, there might be a possibilty I could get high enough in Fed Ex Cups points by finishing second, but I'm not sure about that. I just need to put everything together for a full tournament and I can win."

  Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.

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