WEST COLUMN: Stroud eagerly anticipates new PGA season

Published 10:43 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2015

His confidence soaring after an impressive tie for second at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, Chris Stroud kicks off the 2015-16 PGA Tour season next week at the Frys.com Championship with legitimate reason to believe a career-defining year awaits.
Little over a month after he bottomed out with a fourth consecutive missed cut in the opening tournament of the Fed Ex Cup playoffs, the 33-year-old Stroud has seemingly found a new lease on his golfing life. Key players in the transition are sports psychologist Dr. Morris Pickens, former Lamar golf coach Brian White and, in a manner of great timing, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.
Before looking at how they all contributed, it’s necessary to take a glance back at how Stroud’s game veered into the ditch last season. Coming off his most productive year on the PGA Tour with $1,826,399 in official winnings, the PN-G and Lamar ex struggled with consistency, missed cuts at an alarming rate and flirted with not compiling enough Fed Ex points to keep his playing card.
There were major contributing factors to a season in which his earnings plummeted by over a million dollars and all were self inflicted.
After several years of working with Pickens, who is based in Sea Island, Ga., Chris thought he had the mental aspect of the game figured out and severed ties. Big mistake. Without Pickens’ counsel and guidance when his struggles began, Stroud was like a ship adrift in stormy seas.
Complicating the situation was an early season rift with White, his long-time swing coach and confidant, over the belief he needed more distance off the tee. That led to getting with two other instructors, including Butch Harmon, and making numerous changes in equipment.
In Stroud’s own words, “I probably played with 15 different drivers, 15 different 3 woods and 10 different putters.”
It was a recipe for the rollercoaster ride that followed, with occasional weeks of reasonably good results negated by tournaments when little was going right. Somehow he managed to have enough good rounds to keep his head above water in the Fed Ex standings, but there was too little fun and way too much frustration.
“I steadily got more off track as the year went on,” Stroud said. “After securing my job at the John Deere Classic, I missed four cuts in a row. I just wanted to get home and spend every second with my wife and two daughters.”
For the first few days, all Stroud did outside family time was sleep, get massages and work on a list of what he needed to do to get back on track. He talked with wife Tiffany, his parents and his manager, Jimmy Johnston.
Ultimately, the names at the top of his go-to list were Pickens and White.
Fortunately, Pickens was agreeable to taking him back as a client. White never really went away.
“Dr. Mo gave me a few things to do and I was on it,” Stroud confides.
“Honestly, I immediately felt amazing after a 45-minute phone call we had. He later flew in for two days with me, just before I flew off with Whitey and Jim Crane on his private jet to the Dunhill Championship in Scotland.”
Between the phone call with Pickens and the departure for Scotland, Stroud sat down for intensive talks with White, and the mapping out of a game plan for the upcoming season. Many hours were spent on the practice tee, and playing serious rounds at Lochinvar Golf Club in Houston.
When Pickens arrived in Houston, the trio sat down, looked over Stroud’s stats and came to an agreement on the direction he needed to take. The conclusion, based on where his game was after all the work with White, was that no major changes were going to be needed.
The final piece to a jump start for 2015-16 was Crane’s invitation to accompany him to Scotland. Stroud had met the Houston Astros owner several years ago at Lochinvar and had spent time with him whenever Crane played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Beyond that, Crane’s contract lawyer, Giles Kibbe, is a Lamar ex with close ties to White and Stroud. When Crane bought the ultra-posh Floridan Golf Club, Kibbe gave Stroud an honorary membership. They all mix on a semi-regular basis at Lochinvar.
It was a natural, then, that Crane, who was entitled to bring two PGA Tour players with him to participate in the pro-am portion of the Dunhill Championship, would reach out to Stroud. His other pro invite went to Scott Piercy.
We will never know how Stroud’s 2015 season would have unfolded had he not be given the opportunity to play in Scotland. What we do know is that he played some of the best golf of his life over famed St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, finishing T2 and walking away $413,000 richer.
The money doesn’t count toward anything on the PGA Tour, but the residuals do. In addition to banking the second largest check of his professional career — he won $658,800 after tying for first in the 2013 Travelers — Stroud’s all important Official World Golf Ranking jumped from 188 to 124.
There is no way, of course, to directly measure what rounds of 68 (Carnousite), 66 (Kingsbarns) and 70 and 68 at St. Andrews have done for his confidence. But you don’t have to possess one of Dr. Pickens’ degrees to understand it’s a monumental boost, especially for someone coming off a down year.
With White along as his caddie, to provide local knowledge from his experiences in Scotland and to see that he didn’t get off track mechanically, Stroud played near flawless golf. He did it on courses he’d never seen, courses that required shots he seldom uses in America.
“It looks like our plan is working well,” said the rejuvenated Stroud. “No. 1 is that I won’t be changing a thing. That will be the motto for my golf game this year. No changes. I’m confident this will be my best year yet.”
If so, it won’t be hard for Chris to figure out who to thank.
Bob West is the golf writer for the Port Arthur News.

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