Stroud irons out frustration in John Deere Classic
By Bob West
The News Golf Columnist
All golfers know how fickle and frustrating the game can be. It’s all too often a non-stop mixture of peaks and valleys, pleasure and pain, hope and despair.
Chris Stroud, in one of his most trying seasons on the PGA Tour, has pretty much dealt with all the emotions. By late Friday afternoon at the John Deere Classic, frustration was about to win out. Despite a second round in which he salvaged a 68, Stroud was experiencing one of those downer moments.
He was exhausted from playing five of the previous six weeks and constantly grinding to keep his head above water. His seemed to have no control over iron shots of 175 yards and longer. He was discouraged to the point of calling his agent and telling him he wanted to pull out of this week’s Barbasol Classic in Alabama.
The Barbasol is a new event on the Bobby Jones Golf Trail that will be played in relative anonymity while Jordan Spieth goes after the third leg of golf’s grand slam at St. Andrews. Though Stroud knew he needed to pursue Fed Ex points anywhere he could get them, he just wanted to go home and rest.
His agent, however, thought Chris would be better served by playing. You never know when you are going to break through, he pointed out. Give it your best shot this weekend and see how you feel.
Shortly thereafter fate intervened.
“There was a guy I talked to for 10 minutes on Saturday morning, before we went out,” Stroud said. “He gave me a couple little tips to do, and I started hitting the ball really nicely, and gave myself a lot of opportunities, hit a lot of great iron shots.”
Forty-eight hours later, Stroud was headed to Alabama with renewed energy and a smile on his face. Thanks in part to the “little tips,” he shot a 67 on Saturday to stay in sight of a high finish, then backed it up Sunday with a scorching 63 that was the low round of the day and matched the lowest of his PGA career.
It added up to a season best T5, a check for $171,500 and enough Fed Ex points to boost the PN-G ex from No. 110 to 91. All of a sudden, the pressure and worry of not finishing in the top 125 and landing back on the Web.com Tour was gone. In the time it took to roll in nine birdies against one bogey, Stroud’s season had taken a major turn for the better.
Now, instead of sweating out being able to retain his PGA Tour card, he’ll look to climb higher on the Fed Ex points list. And he’ll probably reflect on the vagaries of the game he plays.
“It was so easy last year, last two years,” he said in an interview after the 63. “Golf is tough, and everybody knows that. And you just get a little bit off and it’s a slippery slope, and I started the year off not hitting it well, not putting it that well, and then I just kept working, working, working in the wrong direction.”
One would hope Stroud can ride the momentum and positive energy from the 63 to another high finish this week, maybe even that first tour victory against a Barbasol field that will be absent all of golf’s big names. What looked like it was going to be a down year could still prove to be memorable.
Getting the weekend monkey off his back should certainly help. Prior to the 67-63 finish at the John Deere, Chris had managed to shoot under 70 in only nine of 25 Saturday-Sunday rounds this season. He’d never gone lower than 67. Only once, with 69-69 at the Mayakoba Classic way back in November, had he closed with two rounds under 70.
For now, the arrow is pointing directly up.
CHIP SHOTS: Until Stroud’s big weekend, the lead to this column was going to be devoted to Braden Bailey. Little more than a month after his graduation from PN-G, Braden made his biggest golf statement to date by earning a spot in the U.S. Amateur in a qualifier last week on the Gary Player Course at The Woodlands Country Club. Competing in a 38-hole, one-day marathon that included a one-hour rain delay, and a final putt that hit the bottom of the cup at 8:18 p.m., Bailey shot a 144 (72-72) that left him a three-way tie for second. Since only a trio of spots were up for grabs, he needed to survive a three-man playoff for the final two places. He did that by going par-par, ironically eliminating Baylor teammate Andreas Grigsby who is projected to be the Bears No. 1 player this season. In a field that included 78 players, only Houstonian Matthew Dunn, with a 141, went lower than Bailey who had to overcome a triple bogey 7 on the 10th hole of his morning round. “I’m really excited,” said Baylor’s prize recruit, who 14 hours after putting out in Houston was sitting in his first class in Waco. He’s taking Introduction to Sociology and Business Speech during the first session of summer school. The U.S. Amateur will be played Aug. 17-23 at Olympia Fields in Chicago. The mpst prestigious event in amateur golf, which was won three consecutive times by Tiger Woods in the mid 1990s, opens with 36-holes of medal play that trims to the field to 64 for match play. It will be televised by Fox Sports . . . West Orange’s Michael Arnaud continues to make waves on the Web.com Tour. In a week that saw both PN-G ex Andrew Landry and former Lamar star Dawie van der Walt miss the cut despite being 5-under-par through 36 holes, Arnaud shot 66-66-66-67, closing with four consecutive birdies for a 72-hole total of 265 that was good for a T5 in the Boise Open. It earned Arnaud his largest professional paycheck of $30,400 and sent him soaring 39 places up the money list to No. 63. If he can stay in the top 75 over the remaining nine tournaments, Arnaud will qualify for the Web.com Tour Championship. Van der Walt is currently No. 12 and Landry No. 15 on the money list. This week’s event is in Hayward, Calif . . . Robert Hemler, father of PN-G sophomore Karlei Hemler, is offering raffle tickets on two items — a Crawfish Cooker and a Custom Fire Pit — to help cover family expenses for his daughter’s trip to Pebble Beach for the Nature Valley First Tee Open in which Karlei will partner with a Champions Tour player in September. The First Tee covers expenses for Karlei and a chaperone but family members are on their own. Anyone who would like to assist, or has questions should contact Robert Hemler at 409 293-5960. Proceeds raised beyond expenses will be donated to the programs of the First Tee of the Golden Triangle. Raffle tickets are being sold at Babe Zaharias Golf Course . . . The team of Earl Richard, Mark Petry, Jim Schexnider and Don Duplan won the Babe Zaharias DogFight with 20 points. Second with 17 points was the team or Rick Pritchett, Raymond Darbonne, Jim Cooper and Charlie Huckaby. Closest to the hole winners were Petry (No. 2), Ron Mistrot (No. 7), Darbonne (No. 12) and Gary Whitfill (No. 15) . . . The Senior Game at The Babe was played in a select drive (all points count) format. Finishing first with plus 33 was the team of Cap Hollier, Robert Lynch, Paul Duplantis, Charlie Huckaby and Larry Vicknair. Second with plus 21 was the foursome of Pritchett, Dwain Morrison, Stedman Tahaney and Bill Jones. Closest to the pin winners were Roddy Weatherly (No. 2), Stedman Tahaney (No. 7), Ed Hetzel (No. 12) and Hollier (No. 15) . . . The Super Saturday Game at The Babe was played in a 2 ball format. On the front, the team of Richard, Cody Metts, Ivory Hatch and Gene Hardy won with minus 6. On the back, Pritchett, Larry Stansbury, Tom LeTourneau and Wayne McBride won with minus 2 . . . The Senior 50 Plus Game at The Babe was played in a 2- ball format, with the team of Adam Noel, Ron LaSalle, Billy Thillet and Bob Moore winning the front in minus 5. On the back, minus 7 won for the team of Hollier, Larry Bertrand, Marc Petry and G. Anderson.
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