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Sports

July 8, 2014

West column: Lamar golfers set for own British Invasion

PORT ARTHUR —     In case you haven’t heard, there’s going to be a Lamar University golf reunion next week at the home of the Beatles. Fifty years after the British Invasion of United States, Cardinal golf coach Brian White plans to offer up a toast to Chris Stroud, Shawn Stefani and Dawie van der Walt as they plant the LU flag on the Royal Liverpool golf course a young John Lennon used to cross to visit his girlfriend.

    Royal Liverpool, of course, is the site of next week’s British Open and the backdrop for a milestone moment in Lamar golf history. For the first time ever, three former Cardinals will be competing together in one of golf’s four major tournaments.

    “It’s exciting,” said White, who was in South Africa on a recruiting trip when Stroud became the third Cardinal to punch his Open ticket by finishing T4 this past weekend at the Greenbrier Classic. “This is a really big deal for those three guys and it’s something very special for our golf program.”

    As recently as two weeks ago, only Van der Walt, by virtue of winning on the European Tour last year, was headed to the town Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr made famous. Then Stefani, the week after missing the cut at Hartford, earned his spot by tying Justin Rose for first before losing a playoff in Tiger Woods’ Quicken Loan Invitational at Congressional Country Club in Washington D.C.

    The next day, White teed it up with Stroud in Houston and told him, “Chris, you’ve got to get it done at the Greenbrier. It would just be awesome for the three of you to be playing in the British Open.”

    Stroud was up to the challenge, opening with rounds of 66-66 and staying in contention for the lead until Angel Cabrera went nuts on the back nine. But his T4 was good enough to snag one of the four Open berths made available to a quartet of players in the top 12 at Greenbrier who were not already qualified.

    “I’m excited,” said Stroud Tuesday, while enroute to the John Deere Classic which starts Thursday in Silvis, Ill. “It didn’t really sink in until Monday. I’m looking forward to what I know is going to be a great experience. It’s going to be so cool to have three Lamar players there. That makes quite a statement about the caliber of players we’ve had at Lamar.

    “The pressure was on me,” he continued. “After what Shawn did at Congressional, Whitey kind  of threw out a challenge. When I saw Shawn early in the week at Greenbrier, he said, ‘you have to get it done. All three of us need to be at the British Open together.’ I was really grinding the final few holes. When my birdie putt didn’t fall on 18, I thought I’d missed out.”

    Interestingly enough, it was Stroud who’d given Stefani a pep talk the week before his near miss at Congressional.

    “Shawn missed the cut at Hartford and was a little down. We talked and he said he was going to play in Tiger’s tournament. I said, ‘Man, that’s a great course for your game. It’s really tough. On most of the holes there, par is a good score. Congressional is a grinder’s course and that’s perfect for you.’ That’s exactly what he did. I was not surprised that he almost won. He’s going to win.”

    White, though he doesn’t want to be accused  of playing favorites, says don’t be surprised if Stroud, despite never having played in a British Open, is a factor next week.

    “I told Chris a long time ago that his best chance to win a major would be the British Open. He’s an awesome bump-and-run player because of the course he grew up playing (Port Groves). He doesn’t get to play that kind of golf on the PGA Tour, but it’s going to serve him well over there.”

    Stroud has never played a round of golf in Europe as a professional. His only European experience came as a college player in the Palmer Cup at Ballybunion in Ireland. He loved every minute of it.

    “That’s my kind of golf,” he said. “But I’ve got a lot of homework to do on Royal Liverpool. I’ll be doing some research on the Internet, talking to veteran players who have been there and getting in all the practice on the course that I can. But for now, my focus is on the the John Deere.”

    Though the John Deere Classic ranks among the lower tier of PGA Tour events, and is an event you might think they would skip to rest up for next week, Stroud and Stefani both opted to play it. There’s a good reason.

    The tournament hosts, in an enticing ploy to lure bigger names, always charter a 757 to take all those who qualified directly to the Open site after play is completed Sunday afternoon. Eliminated are airport hassles, customs delays and many of the time-consuming annoyances involved with international travel.

    For Stroud, the major hoop to jump through was getting his passport in order. It expired two months ago, so most of Monday was spent getting it updated and arranging for housing in Liverpool. Wife Tiffany will be accompanying him, but the two Stroud children are staying behind  with grandparents.

    Almost overlooked in the excitement of getting into the Open for the Port Neches-Groves ex were the notable upgrades in his 2014 resume as a result of the T4 at Greenbrier.

    For openers, a $252,000 check enabled him to establish a career best earnings mark of $1,641,638. That surpassed his previous high of $1,602,122 set last year. He also jumped 10 places to an all-time best Official World Golf Ranking of 75, climbed from 47 to 41 on the money list and moved to No. 41 in Fed Ex Cup points.

    The T4 was his fourth top 10 of the season, matching 2010 and 2013, and was his 10th top 25 in 19 starts. His most previous top 25s was eight in 2011 and 2012. He’s also already at a high-water mark of 818 Fed Ex Cup points.

    “I’m doing a lot of things well, but there is still plenty of room to get better,” Stroud said. “I’m scoring well, driving the ball well and chipping and putting well. My wedge play has been poor for me and needs to improve. I’m proud of my consistency and being in the mix week after week. I’m comfortable being in contention.

    “Something Cabrera said Saturday really got my attention. He talked about how he’d won a couple of majors but had never  won a regular PGA Tour event. That underscored how tough it is to win out here. It reminded me that I have to stay patient and keep putting myself in position. One of these weeks it will happen.”

    Meantime, Brian White needs to brush up on Beatles tunes before he hooks up with his former players for the practice round they plan to play together at Royal Liverpool.

    It may have been a Hard Day’s Night at times in recruiting recently, and it’s certainly been a Long and Winding Road for LU golf since Stroud, Stefani and Van der Walt moved on. But this latest development should have the Cardinal coach wanting to Twist and Shout and sing “I Feel Fine.”

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

    

    

    

    

    

     

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