PORT ARTHUR —
Thanks to Lamar University golf coach Brian White, a last-minute switch to a 60-degree wedge he had discarded, a reminder from his sports psychologist to “stay distracted” and his own mental toughness, Chris Stroud has a new lease on life on the PGA Tour.
The former LU All-America, after making only one cut in five events on the West Coast, delivered a strong wire-to-wire performance under tough conditions in the Honda Classic that was good for a T13. A final round of even par 70, which tied for the sixth lowest score of the day, earned him $109,200.
More important than the money was the much-needed mental boost that four solid rounds provided. An added bonus for the PN-G ex was knowing he outperformed many of the world’s top-ranked players in a difficult setting throughout the week, including No. 1 Rory McIlory and No. 2 Tiger Woods.
“I really needed this for my confidence,” Stroud said Monday. “I’ve gone though a strange and very difficult few months and I owe so much to Brian White and my entire support team for helping me get back on track. I knew I was getting closer. I didn’t really played that bad on the West Coast. But you still need results.
“The thing is, your fortunes can change so fast from week to week. There is such a fine line between missing a cut and having a good tournament. Plus, I have never seen the fields as strong as they are this year. There are so many good, young players who are fearless. You just have to keep believing in yourself.”
Overwhelming evidence of that final statement was Honda winner Michael Thompson. After missing three of four cuts on the West Coast, and finishing dead last the only time he reached the weekend, Thompson came out of nowhere to score his first PGA Tour victory.
Nobody was happier over Stroud’s breakthrough than White. And he wasn’t the only reason the LU golf coach was beaming on Monday. Before Chris teed it up Sunday, White had watched former Cardinal Dawie Van der Walt win the European PGA Tour’s Tshwane Open.
“I was thrilled for Dawie and pleased for Chris,” said White. “Dawie is a very good player who just hasn’t had any breaks as far as getting on the PGA Tour. I’ve been telling him to stay positive, that he was good enough to win, and there is just no way of predicting when it will happen. This is huge for him. Now he’s got nearly a three-year exemption on the European Tour.
“I made it a point to call Chris Sunday morning and tell him Dawie had won. I knew he’d be excited for Dawie, plus I thought it would be a motivating factor for him. I’m not at all surprised that Chris played well. We worked some more after he came back from the West Coast and I liked what I saw.
“I thought he was getting there when we worked during the winter, but he still wasn’t completely trusting in his old swing. This time I made a point in a little different way and it clicked for him. What you saw at the Honda was the Chris who always plays well on tougher courses. I’m confident he’s going to go on and have a good year.”
Stroud also expects good things to follow, perhaps as soon as the next few days. After spending Monday and Tuesday fine-tuning his game at Houston Astro owner Jim Crane’s fabulous Floridian, which is the course where Tiger Woods and President Obama played two weeks ago, he flew to San Juan for this week’s Puerto Rico Open.
Chris’ confidence when he tees it up Thursday will be bolstered by a 60-degree wedge that helped him finish in the top 10 in scrambling stats last year. He’d put it out to pasture a couple of months ago, thinking the grooves had become too worn down.
“Being comfortable with your equipment is so important,” he explained. “I’d been trying to break in a new 60 degree and I kept leaving the ball short of the hole. It was costing me. I felt I was hitting good shots, but the ball just wouldn’t come off the face. Before Sunday’s round, I decided to go back to the old one. It definitely saved me some shots.
“That course was playing so tough and it was critical to be able to scramble. With the way the wind was blowing, and where they had the pins, you just couldn’t get close to the hole. I had maybe three good chances at birdie. Being able to get up and down was a difference maker.”
Stroud also felt he got a boost from a quick visit to his old stomping grounds at Sea Island, Ga. Especially valuable was a chat with his sports psychologist and an important reminder from him.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I need to be distracted to play well,” he said. “Other than being focused as I prepare to hit a shot, I do best when my mind is wandering. That’s what we talked about. I tend to get mentally worn down in tournaments if I’m locked in all the time. In that regard, I’m trying to be like Dustin Johnson.
“He goes out and looks effortless and doesn’t allow himself to get mentally bogged down. I have trained my body to be one of the best golfers in the world and I have to trust that I am and not worry and grind myself into the ground. When I write a book one day, it will talk about how figuring out how to get out of my own way was a big turning point.”
Puerto Rico would be a great chance to author a dynamic chapter.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org