PORT ARTHUR —
When he closed out the month of May by collecting $113,066.67 after finishing in a tie for 13th at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Chris Stroud seemed on the verge of a breakout season. He’d already banked $832,632 in official PGA Tour earnings, and was sitting on all time high rankings on the money list (55th) Fed Ex Cup points (67th) and world ranking (152nd).
In his sixth full-year on the PGA Tour, boosted by dramatic improvement in his putting, the former Port Neches-Groves and Lamar standout had done everything but win. After years of starting slow, then needing to play well late in the year, Chris reversed the script. He played so well in the season’s first five months, there would no sweating a return trip to Q school.
Then, almost inexplicably, the bottom fell out. In 10 starts since the Colonial, he’s missed the cut four times, withdrawn once and tied for 37th, 68th, 57th, 61st and 73rd. His earnings during that time have been a mere $60,598, dropping him to No. 98 on the money list, No. 110 in Fed Ex points and No. 184 in the World Ranking.
After appearing to be a lock to make it to the second round of the Fed Ex Playoffs, which required being in the top 100, he fell so far so fast he’s now on the outside looking in. After missing the cut in last week’s Barclay’s, Stroud won’t be able to play again until the PGA Tour’s Fall Series commences Oct. 4 in Las Vegas.
So what happened? Why the prolonged slump for a guy who seemed to be on top of his game, and on the verge of moving up from the anonymous second tier of guys who earn a lot of money but never quite make it into the select group of those who get ample TV time and are considered threats to win whenever they tee it up?
Probably the easiest answer takes only two words — that’s golf. Everybody goes through down periods, with Tiger Woods being the most famous example. David Duval not so long ago was world No. 1, now he rarely makes a cut. Matt Kuchar bottomed out, then rebounded to become one of the game’s most highly-regarded players.
The list goes on and on. Golf is a complex game, with a lot of moving parts and mental challenges unlike in any other sport.
Coming out of the University of Houston, Marty Fleckman was expected to be the next big thing in golf. He was the 54-hole leader in the 1967 U.S. Open as an amateur, become one of only four players to win his first PGA tournament and battled Julius Boros and Arnold Palmer to the wire in the 1968 PGA Championship. Not much later, his career slowly began to unravel. He never again finished higher than third and was off the tour by his mid 30s.
Stroud, then, isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last good player to be humbled by golf. And this is hardly the first time he’s struggled while on tour. As was noted earlier in this column, he typically has problems early in the year, then has been able to put things together late. Working in his favor has always been the kind of mental toughness that is an absolute must to survive in such a competitive environment.
With five weeks before his next tournament, Chris has plenty of time to rest, regroup, reassess and address the root of his problems. During his slump, he’s hit way too many loose shots with his driver that have led to double and triple bogeys, and he’s just lacked overall consistency.
At one time, he was No. 1 on tour in scrambling. Now he’s 18th. His putter has also cooled, leading to a drop to 59th in strokes gained putting.
It’s still way too early too panic, but there is legitimate reason for concern. With all the good, young players knocking on the door, and major changes coming to the tour card structure in 2013, Chris needs to regain his form. Ideally, he will get that done on the four Fall Series tourneys that start in Vegas and end in mid November at Disney World.
The last thing that he needs is to go into the off-season dealing with the seeds of doubt that creep into the mind of all players who go through a lengthy down period.
CHIP SHOTS: If you enjoy watching talented young players hit the ball out of sight and make lots of birdies, the Adams Tour Beaumont Open is set for next Wednesday through Saturday at Beaumont Country Club. There is no admission charge. You can take it to the bank that a handful of players in that event will be on the PGA Tour sooner or later. West Orange-Stark’s Michael Arnaud, who is No. 2 on the Adams Tour money list, heads up the local contingent. Arnaud will warm up by playing in the Pro Division of the 53rd annual Sunset Grove Labor Day Invitational . . . It’s always fun to report when somebody shoots their best ever score. I got to watch Nederland’s Mike Tarver do it Sunday at Belle Oaks. Tarver, a 12-handicap, shot an impressive 74 on a day when the course was playing extremely long because of all the recent rain . . . Ron Somerville finished plus 3 to win the Monday Seniors at Belle Oaks. Raymond Rice, Bill Worsham and Jim Brown all tied for second at plus 2. Mike Hebert (No. 8) and Barry Jackson (No. 15) were closest to the pin winners . . . The Senior 50 Plus game at The Patch was played in a two best ball format. On the front nine, the team of Wadsworth Thompson, Ron Theriot, Gerald Hubel and Mike Melancon won with minus 8. On the back, the team of J. Tompkins, Gary Fontenot, Vin Oliva and Charles Scott also won with minus 8 . . . The team of Tony Trevino, Glen Judice, Caylon Walker and Harold Wilkinson posted 19&2 to win the Babe Zaharias DogFight. There was a tie for second at 18&6 between the team of Cody Metts, Jess Lane, Bill Fears and Paul Brown and the foursome of Buddy Sepeda, Roy Martinez, Jim Cooper and Paul Duplantis. Closest to the pin winners were Steve Picou (No. 2), Dwayne Morvant (No. 7), and Jess Lane (No. 12, No. 15).
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