, Port Arthur, Texas


January 8, 2013

West golf notepad: White's help has Stroud back on track

PORT ARTHUR — Dance with who brung you is a phrase that’s long been attributed to University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal. It could, however, well be the mantra of what Chris Stroud is expecting to be his finest year on the PGA Tour.

Stroud, coming off a woeful second half of the 2012 season that saw him make only five cuts and win a mere $47,234 in his final 12 events, did some serious soul searching seeking a solution. All the deep thinking led him to a security blanket named Brian White.

White is the Lamar University golf coach whose fine tuning helped Stroud become a force at the collegiate golf level and instilled the mechanics for the PN-G ex to have a degree of success during his early years on the PGA Tour. Over time, though, Chris listened to others, tinkered with his swing and, ultimately, fell into the worst slump of his career.

After winning over $800,000 by June 1 last season, and apparently being headed to a record year, Stroud lost control of his driver, lost his confidence, then completely lost his way. He fell into the syndrome with his driver known as “army golf.” Left. Right. Left. Right. Next to the putting yips, missing both ways off the tee is probably a professional golfer’s worst nightmare.

Just ask Tiger Woods.

“The one thing I knew was that I had to get back to fading the ball, get back to where all my misses were to the right,” Stroud said. “I just had a lot of things going on wrong. The club was behind me, my legs were outracing my chest. I couldn’t get on the tee box and know where the ball was going.”

Amazingly, Stroud was able to overcome his problems for a time. He tied for fifth in the Mayakoba Classic and tied for 9th at the Honda. Somewhat by design, because of hard work the previous off-season, he was surviving with vastly improved putting and lights-out chipping. But problems with the driver  eventually brought him down.

Enter White, who spent many hours with Stroud in December not only working on re-building his swing but in reinforcing the mental aspect of his game. Although the proof will be in performance, the LU coach really likes what he’s seen recently.

“There are still some things he has to work through, but he’s in position right now to again play well on the tour,” White said. “I expect him to get better as he gets more comfortable with what we’ve worked on. What’s important is I think he finally understands the swing we built him in college was solid and didn’t need much work.

“Sometimes you tinker and things end up getting worse. Chris certainly isn’t the first good player who started listening to other people and tweaking his swing in search of perfection. But there is no such thing as perfection. I think it was just difficult for him to understand that the swing he took on tour was good enough to win with out there.”

Stroud, who launches his 2013 season Thursday at the Sony Open in Honolulu, swears he’s seen the light and will never again stray from White’s teachings.

“I’m hitting the ball the best I’ve hit in years,” he said last week, before leaving for Palm Springs, Calif., to insure he could spend his final week of preparation in good weather. “I’ve learned my lesson. In six seasons on the tour, I have not stuck to one plan for a full year. I kept changing things and all I was doing was keeping myself from being consistent.

“I won a lot of money early last year because I chipped and putted so well. But I knew things were slipping away. I didn’t know where the ball was going and you can’t survive like that. I turned a lot of ugly rounds into three and four under par, but I knew I couldn’t survive. I got to neglecting my short game trying to fix my driver and things just sort of fell apart.”

Stroud’s goal is for his drives to all be from the middle of the fairway to the right rough. If he can do that, while putting, chipping and scrambling as well as he did last season, both he and White figure there are some top 10s out there for him. And some chances to break through and get that elusive first win.

“In 2008, he was No. 1 on the tour in missing to the right,” White pointed out. “He didn’t win a lot of money because he was 130th in putting. With his putting and short game the way it is now, all he needs to do is give himself chances from the fairway. Or consistently miss to the right. You have to hit fades. You can’t make it hitting hooks.”

Stroud got some of the reinforcement he needed a couple of weeks ago at Lochinvar in Houston. With White looking on, he shot a 61 on a 45-degree day with the wind blowing 20 mph.

“It was as impressive as anything I’ve ever seen,” White said. “He had every ball moving left to right. His second shots looked like a guy throwing darts. I could see his confidence growing. That doesn’t mean he’s going to step out the first week or two and contend, but the foundation is back in place for him to play consistently well.”

So is the confidence.

“That day at Lochinvar sort of solidified in both our minds that the stuff we were working on is right,” Stroud said. “Within three days of working with Whitey, I was getting the ball to move left to right consistently. It felt awkward at first and I was having to put a lot of effort into it. But it gradually became simpler and simpler.

“I’ve got everything matched up the way I used to have it. I’m hitting the ball straighter and farther. I have no doubt it’s going to be a great year.”

CHIP SHOTS: Heavy rains and saturated fairways have severely curtailed golf activities in the early part of 2013. Only reported results came from the Thursday Senior Game at The Babe. Playing in a 2 ball, handicapped format, the team of Larry Stansbury, Bill Fears, John Veilon and John Overland won the front nine in minus 7. On the back, the foursome of Adam Noel, Dillard Darbonne, Guy Van Cleve and Maurice Ross won with minus 8. Closest to the pin winners were Harry Green (No. 2), Noel (No. 7) and Larry Foster (No. 12, No. 15) . . . Opening even in The First Tee of the Golden Triangle Southeast Texas Junior Tour is set for Jan. 19 at Babe Zaharias. Additional tournaments are set for Jan. 26 at Idylwild, Feb. 2 at Belle Oaks, Feb. 9 at Henry Homberg and Feb. 16 at Brentwood Country Club. Competition will take place in five flights for juniors ages 7 to 18. Entry fee is $20 for each event. For more information, go to . . . With The Patch have been shut down, Ron Theriot plans to launch a weekly Tuesday Senior Game on Jan. 15 that will be open to all players over the age of 50 at Babe Zaharias. Players 75 and over will benefit from tees forward from the senior tees that will be marked with American flags. Entry fee is $15, with team selection beginning at 8:30 a.m.

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