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Sports

October 29, 2013

West column: LU's White helps Stroud get back on track

PORT ARTHUR —   

LU’s White helped Stroud get back on track



    Somewhere around 5 a.m. Sunday morning, roughly 9,900 miles from home, Chris Stroud nearly  repeated a piece of thrilling history from last June.

    Needing to chip-in for birdie on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff in the CIMB Classic — just as he did in the Traveler’s Classic  — Stroud’s wedge from rough behind the green was tracking toward the cup. In the last couple of feet, however, his ball veered ever so slightly to the right and stopped maybe six inches away.

    Southeast Texas’ favorite pro golfer had to settle for a T3 and the second largest career payoff of $406,000 that puts him ninth on the PGA Tour money list for the 2013-14 season. It’s the highest Stroud’s ever been, not only on the money list but also in Fed Ex Cup points (11th) and in the Official World Golf Rankings (84th).

    “I thought it was going in,” Stroud said of his near miss at the final hole. “Thing is, it was such a much more difficult chip than the one at the Travelers. I was in gnarly rough on a downslope. If I landed the ball on the green, it would have gone 10 feet past. I picked out a piece of grass on the fringe as the target and landed right on it.

    “The ball hit and kicked left and I said, ‘oh, do it again baby.’ I thought it was going in and that I would go on and win in a playoff. But there was too much moisture on the green. The ball slowed down and broke right at the end. It was a great shot, it just didn’t go in.”

    Remarkably, only three weeks after struggling badly off the tee, shooting rounds of 76-72 and missing the cut at The Frys.com Classic that kicked off the new PGA Tour schedule, Stroud may be more confident in his game than at any time since turning pro. Marathon practice sessions with Lamar golf coach Brian White, and a meeting of the minds between the two, have the always optimistic Stroud more upbeat then ever.

    Chris, in fact, is so ramped up he wasn’t feeling any jet lag from his 21-hour return flight to Houston. He was in bed at 8:15 Monday night, up Tuesday morning at 5, phoned his favorite golf writer at 9, then headed off to Lochinvar Golf Club in Houston to meet with White.

    “Good things are coming,” said Stroud. “I feel like a light bulb has gone off in my head as a result of all the work with Whitey. We spent four eight-hour days in a row after the Frys. He came to Lochinvar, I went to Beaumont Country Club. It was really intense stuff. With Whitey’s help, I finally figured out some things that are going to make a difference.”

    White,  who was concerned recently when Stroud was talking about how important he felt it was to implement swing changes to get more length off the tee, more or less convinced Chris that added distance would be a byproduct of getting back to swinging the way he was when he left Lamar.

    The message from his coach was:  “Listen, as good as your short game is now, as well as you are putting, when your ball striking gets back to where it was coming out of college, you can be in contention every week. You are long enough. What I want you to do is stick to who your are. Just be Chris Stroud.”

    “That’s pretty much what I told him,” White said. “He was not vertical enough, not keeping his body closed. We worked as hard as we’ve ever worked. We started at 11 a.m. and practiced and played until  dark. I feel like he really bought in. By the Friday of that week, I thought he looked the best I’d seen him in years. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when he almost won.

    “I’m trying to get him to hit the ball straighter, to get him back to the way he used to swing. We went back to some of the drills we used to do. He didn’t need to make major changes, just refine some things. I think this tournament will reinforce his confidence that this is the way he can be his best. I can see him going on to have a really big year.”

    Stroud couldn’t agree more.

    “Whitey and I are on the same page,” Stroud said. “It has taken me this long to figure some things out. Whitey pointed out to me that over my first seven years on tour I averaged 283 yards off the tee. He made the point that last year was an aberration because my swing was off little. I’m still developing as a player. He’s still developing as a coach. He’s learning to explain things so they are easier to understand.

    “Let me say this,” Stroud continued.  “I can’t possibly give Whitey enough credit. I am so thankful I turned down offers to go other places and went to Lamar. For a young player looking to develop his game to where it’s tour ready, there are few coaches as good as Whitey. Other schools may be able to offer more in some areas, but to me the most important thing is to have a coach who can make you better. Whitey can do that.

    “He not only understands the golf swing, and how to teach it, I’m convinced he’s the best putting coach in America. People talk Dave Pelz and Dave Stockton Jr., but Whitey can putt better than those guys and he knows the stroke better.”

    Stroud’s next tournament is the McGladrey’s Classic Nov. 7-10 at Sea Island, Ga. He also plans to play in the season-ending OHL Classic at Mayakoba Nov. 14-17. Between now and the time he heads for Sea Island, he’ll be spending as much time with White  as he can.

    “We’ve really grown together as a team, Stroud said. “I’m going to be coming to Beaumont more than in the past so we can work together. When he’s on the road with the Lamar golf team, I may go where they are. I’m changing my entire approach back to the way I did it when I was in college.

    “I’m not going to play more than two weeks in a row. I’m going to prepare hard with Whitey, play a couple of tournaments, then take time off. I’m sharper when I’m fresh. I am so confident this is going to be my breakout year. I really believe I can break out like Jason Dufner did a couple of years ago.”

    So does Brian White.

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

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