PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

July 15, 2014

West column: White, LU golfers enjoy special Open experience

PORT ARTHUR — Even if the surroundings didn’t look that way, it felt a lot like Beaumont Country Club for the Lamar University threesome preparing for the British Open Tuesday at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

    “It was the good old days all over,” said LU golf coach Brian White, after walking 18 holes with three players — Chris Stroud, Shawn Stefani and Dawie van der Walt — who helped put Cardinal golf on the NCAA map. “Late in the afternoon, Chris and Dawie were the only ones on the range. Chris remarked that this is the way it used to be at Beaumont Country Club.”

    White said the unique team warm-up for one of golf’s majors was an incredibly neat experience for all involved. The LU trio, plus Texas A&M ex Ryan Palmer, teed off at 12:20 p.m. Liverpool time — that’s 6:20 a.m. CST — and experienced an unseasonably warm 70-degree temperature  with little wind.

    It turned out to be such an enjoyable time together for the LU contingent they planned to go out again today, although Van der Walt, who has been on site since Sunday, is only going to play nine holes. Stroud was pushing for a late-afternoon start in hopes of getting the windier conditions expected for later in the week.

    “It was just a wonderful day, lots of camaraderie among the guys, and the kind of ribbing you would expect from players who know each other so well,” said White.  “For me, it was a really special feeling watching them and thinking about what we’d accomplished together and what they did for Lamar golf.

    Only Georgia (6), Georgia Tech (5) and Florida (4), incidentally, have more exes in the Open than Lamar’s 3.

    Stroud, Stefani and Van der Walt didn’t actually all play for LU at the same time. Stroud came first and he and Stefani were teammates for three years. Van der Walt arrived from South Africa the year after Stroud departed and played one season with Stefani.

    As a group, they combined to win five Southland Conference team titles and three individual crowns, with Stroud the SLC champ in 2001 and 2003 and Van der Walt grabbing the individual title in 2007. Stroud, a four-time SLC Player of the Year, recently became the first golfer inducted into the Southland’s Hall of Honor.

    During the Stroud, Stefani, Van der Walt era, the Cardinals twice earned top 10 national rankings, and managed a best ever finish of third in the NCAA tournament. They took different paths to professional golf success, with Stroud getting there first.

    “When we recruited those three to Lamar we knew they were unbelievably talented, but you never know on the path to professional golf,” White said. “It takes some guys a long time, some hit it right off the bat and some never get there at all. We knew if they continued they could make it.”

    Both Stroud and Stefani are enjoying their best seasons on the PGA Tour, with Van der Walt trying to earn a PGA Tour card while competing on both the European Tour and the Web.com Tour. His biggest moments have come with victories on the European and the Sunshine Tours where he won the 2013 Tshwane Open and the 2013 Nelson Mandela Championship.

    Dawie nearly won on the Web.com Tour’s Cleveland Open earlier this year, but lost on the 11th hole of a playoff with New Zealand’s Steven Alker. He’s currently 38th on the Web.com’s money list and needs to get to 25th in the four remaining tournaments to earn a PGA Tour card.

    Stefani, who is from Baytown and attended Barbers Hill High School,  won twice on the Web.com in 2011 and nearly had a major PGA Tour breakthrough three weeks ago before losing to Justin Rose in a playoff at Tiger Woods’ Quicken Loans National in Washington D.C. That wouldn’t have happened, if not for a strong showing at the Shell Houston Open in April.

    Back troubles late last season left Stefani with a medical exemption for the early part of 2014. To keep his card for the full season, he had to reach a certain point on the money list by the SHO. With hometown fans rooting him on, Stefani finished outright fifth and has been on a roll ever since. He’s more than doubled last season’s money winnings with $1,275,566, has soared to No. 72 in Fed Ex Points and has climbed to No. 122 in the Official World Golf Association Ratings.

    Stroud, meanwhile, has done just about everything but win. He surpassed his all-time best on the money list two weeks ago at the Greenbrier. The PN-G alum has banked $1,652,025 while making 15 of 20 cuts, finishing in the top 10 four times and the top 25 10 times. He’s No. 44 in Fed Ex points and 77 in the OGWR.

    White, meanwhile, after checking out the course with his players Tuesday is unsure how they will fare at Royal Liverpool.

    “After seeing the course, I don’t think there’s any one of them that has a particular advantage,” he noted.  “It’s typical links golf, with a lot of bump and run shots required. Adjusting to the greens will be a problem because they are slower and firmer. Chip shots will bounce more than you expect.

    “I don’t see driving distance being that much of a premium. The most important thing is going to be avoiding the bunkers off the tee. They are extremely penal. Most of them are pretty much a one-shot penalty. Choices and execution off the tee can make you or break you.”

    Van der Walt and Stefani will have played the bulk of their first two tournament rounds while most LU followers are sleeping. Van der Walt is off at 12:36 a.m. CST Thursday for his opening 18, then at 5:37 a.m. on Friday. Stefani’s tee times are 5:48 a.m. CST Thursday and 12:47 a.m. Friday.

    Stroud hits his first British Open tee shot at 9:33 a.m. Thursday, then goes out at 4:32 a.m. Friday. That part won’t feel much like Beaumont Country Club.

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

    

    

    

    

    

    

    

      

    

  

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