PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

October 8, 2013

West column: Stroud putting more emphasis on distance

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Rested and refocused after a 2013 PGA Tour season that saw come oh-so-close to his first victory, while  establishing personal bests for money won ($1,602,222), Fed Ex Cup finish (43rd) and scoring average (70.546), Chris Stroud is ready to jump head first into the tour’s revamped schedule.

With what is being labeled as the “2013-14 season” starting Thursday with the Fry’s.com in San Martin, Calif., Stroud plans to play in four of six events before New Year’s celebrations take place. He’s hoping for a fast start that will provide more flexibility in where and how often he plays once the calendar flips over to 2014.

“It feels sort of weird without the typical winter break we’ve had on the PGA Tour for years,” Stroud said Tuesday. “You hear a lot of different reactions to the changes, but I think over time it’s going to be way better. I think the fall tournaments will become more and more popular and I think eventually you will see more of the bigger name players participating in them.”

It’s certainly not that way yet. Biggest names in the Frys.com are arguably former Masters champ Angel Cabrera, former British Open champ Stewart Cink and former U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover. From the 2013 Fed Ex points list, only three players above Stroud are entered.  But there are 20 guys who have won a PGA Tour event in the past two years.    

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a great opportunity to pile up some Fed Ex Cup points early and build sort of a cushion,” said Stroud. “For me, a good start would give me the option of skipping some of the West Coast stuff in January and February. I’d like to play fewer tournaments and take more breaks. Look at what Steve Stricker did last year when he cut back his schedule.”

After a season in which his success could clearly be tied to scrambling (6th) and strokes gained putting (35th),  Stroud’s focus has shifted to hitting more fairways, getting more distance off the tee and dramatically improving on greens hit in regulation. Getting better in the first two of those categories would obviously impact on GIR.

Stroud, in the final stats for 2013, was 164th in driving distance (277.0), 73rd in driving accuracy — only 765 of 1,226 fairways hit — and 113th in greens in regulation. He was able to turn those numbers into a solid year strictly because he was No. 1 or No. 2 in scrambling most of the season. Strokes  gained putting, of course, was a component of the scrambling stat.

“The main thing is for me to continue to be strong with my short game,” he noted. “But, the way the game of golf is getting more about length, I’ve got to add distance. I’m just giving away too much off the tee. Part of that is being more accurate. To keep moving up, I absolutely have to hit the ball farther and straighter.

“I’ve been working on some things in practice to increase my swing speed. I’ve gotten some good tips on that from an instructor at Sea Island named Mike Taylor. Part of all this is being able to take the left side of the course out. Whitey (Lamar golf coach Brian White) and I have really worked on that. I missed too many fairways to the left last year.”

One of the biggest changes for Stroud will be going back to a conventional-length putter.

“I’ve just decided it’s time to get away from the belly putter and not necessarily because of the rule change that’s coming,” he said. “I’ve been with the belly putter off and on for 10 years. It’s taught me some things and it’s been good to me from short and  mid range. But I feel like it’s been a liability on long putts.

“I went to the shorter putter a few times last year, most notably at Hilton Head, and did well. I finished sixth there. The key on going to the short putter is getting one I can line up really well. I read greens well and I stroke the ball well. When I miss, it’s often because I didn’t line up right. I’m using a Scotty Cameron this week, but I’ll be searching until I’m confident in getting the ball on line.”

Stroud’s No. 1 goal continues to be breaking through for his first PGA Tour victory. He nearly took care of that at The Travelers Championship in June with a dramatic chip-in on the 72th hole to force a playoff with Ken Duke. Duke won with a birdie on the second extra hole.

The former Lamar All-America says there’s no doubt that final-day experience will be invaluable the next time he’s in contention. Interestingly enough, Cowboys fans, he uses Tony Romo as an example.

“I watched the game against Denver and Romo was amazing,” he said. “But when the game was on the line he tried to force something and it blew up on him. The pressure late in a golf tournament is similar. That’s why you see guys who haven’t broken through let tournaments slip away. Like Romo, they try to force something, instead of staying within themselves.

“I’ll never forget when I was headed to the course on the final day at The Travelers. Hal Underwood texted me with two words —  “Nothing fancy.” I’ll remember that forever. Play to your strengths. Hit the shots you can hit well. Give yourself a chance. That’s what I did. I didn’t make a mistake to beat myself. It took a guy making a birdie on the last hole to beat me.”

Since Cowboys coach Jason Garrett can’t seem to get through, maybe Romo, who is a terrific amateur golfer, ought to have a chat with Stroud.

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