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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Birthday boy Woods left lasting impression on Stroud

Like nearly every player who has reaped the financial benefits of Tiger Woods’ monumental impact on golf, Port Neches-Groves ex Chris Stroud has deep-rooted respect for the man who owns 79 PGA Tour titles.

Like former Beaumont tour star Bruce Lietzke, whose thoughts on Woods were documented in this space last week, he’ll watch today’s 5 p.m. Golf Channel special — “Tiger Turns 40” — with great interest.

Unlike the 64-year old Lietzke, who was well into the back nine of a highly successful career when Tiger took the tour by storm, Stroud was an impressionable kid. Chris watched from afar in amazement, while dominating junior golf and winning college tournaments with regularity at Lamar.

All the while he was taking mental notes on the fist-pumping beast nobody could beat, dreaming of the day he’d have the chance go head-to-head with Tiger, with a major championship on the line.

Unfortunately that never happened. Now it probably never will, considering
the back injuries clouding Woods’ future.

Stroud, in fact, never once got a chance to tee it up in a tournament round with Tiger. They played in the same event many times in recent years but somehow avoided being paired together. It’s been an ongoing disappointment for Stroud, and one of several reasons he’s hoping Tiger is able to make it all the way back from his latest surgery.

“I remember thinking many times when I was younger that I can’t wait to meet and play and beat this guy,” Stroud says. “Thus far, my experiences with him have been from a distance. I don’t have exciting stories about us even playing nine holes and me taking 300 bucks off him. I mostly have stories of me studying him, and learning from the difference of what I saw my first year on tour in 2007 and now.

“Tiger was a ghost my rookie year. I only saw him four times. I never got to say hello, much less ask to play nine holes in a practice round. I definitely didn’t get to play the back nine on Sunday coming down the stretch.

“I saw Tiger just like everybody else did — on the big screen. He was electrifying. He was exciting to watch. I remember thinking this guy never missed a putt when he needed to make it. And he never did for a long time. I was envious. The guy was winning every other event he played, hitting it 320 off the tee, chipping in.

“The entire tour was watching him hit balls, knowing they had little chance to beat him!”

Stroud, who will be 34 in February, is now in his 10th year on the PGA Tour. By any measure, other than the fact he’s still looking for that first victory, he’s been hugely successful. His official tour earnings are $9,175,097. He’s had 25 top 10s, including two thirds and a second that came after getting trumped by a birdie in a playoff. He’s been ranked as high as 81st in the world.

So where does the Woods influence play into all that?

“If there is anything I learned from Tiger, it is to be in a trance while playing,” he says. “It is to be playing with conviction. It is to play alongside fear and run through it. It is to be so convinced that your next shot is going to be the greatest shot of your life.

“Tiger changed the game forever for me. He taught me how a person can go beyond what’s believable by focusing every cell in the body on one goal. I thank Tiger all the time in my head for breaking down [mental] barriers that are only there because of me.”

Stroud’s lasting memory of Woods is of watching him win the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego while playing through the excruciating pain of a broken leg. Chris had qualified for that Open, but missed the cut. He’d hung around for the weekend with his dad and his grandfather. They watched the final round on TV from a hotel room overlooking the 18th fairway.

Woods needed a birdie on the 72nd hole to tie Rocco Mediate and force a playoff. When Tiger was forced to lay up on the par 5, 18th, with his second shot straying into heavy rough on the right of the fairway some 100 yards out, Chris turned to his dad and said “it’s over. You can’t get the ball anywhere near the hole from that rough.”

Tiger, though, somehow managed to gash a wedge to 15 feet and miraculously
stop the ball.

“I was shocked,” Stroud said. “But I told my dad, ‘well he just hit it where everyone has been walking onto the green all day — it’s trampled and there are spike marks everywhere. There is no chance of even hitting the hole.’ ”

Woods, of course, did what he seemingly always did — willed the ball into the cup. Then he limped to victory in an 18-hole playoff the next day. It was the perfect snapshot of who Tiger Woods was in his prime. And why he inspired Chris Stroud and thousands of kid golfers around world.

CHIP SHOTS

An exciting upgrade has been made in the winter tour schedule for area junior golfers ages 7 to 18.

Louisiana gems Grey Plantation and The National have been added to what will be a four-tournament schedule. The opener is set for Grey Plantation on Feb. 6, with tourneys to follow at Idylwild on Feb. 13, The National on Feb. 20 and Bayou Din on Feb. 27.

Entry fee is $20 per event. Anyone needing more information should call the Babe Zaharias golf shop at 722-8286 or contact Jerry Honza, Kurt Picard or Mitch Duncan. …

The team of Larry Johnson, Ivory Hatch, Bob Moore and Charlie Huckaby won the Babe Zaharias DogFight with 13 points. Second with 11 points was the foursome of Adam Noel, Thad Borne, Roger Koch and Ashley Choate.

Closest to the pin winners were Cap Hollier (No. 2) and Jim Cooper (No. 12). …

The Thursday Senior Game at The Babe was played in a 9/9 flighted format. There was a tie in First Flight at minus-4 between the team of Roddy Weatherly-Ed Hetzel and the duo of Hollier-Noel. In Second Flight, there as a tie at plus-2 between Alex Espinoza-John Ramsey and Larry Foster-Charlie Huckaby. Closest to the pin winners were Larry Thompson (No. 2), Noel (No. 7, No. 12) and Rick Pritchett (No. 15). …

The Super Saturday Game at The Babe was played in a best two-ball format. On the front, the temam of Gary Whitfill, Bob Wactor, Don MaNeil and John Williams won with minus-2. The back went to the foursome of Craig Fontenot, Brett Yellot, Harold Guidry and Mark Petry at minus-2. …

I’m sad to have to wrap up the final column of 2015 by mentioning the passing of dear friend and avid golfer Delbert Holstead. Among many of our shared golfing experiences, Delbert and I played Augusta National together the day after the 1978 Masters. The revered course was never the same.

Rest in peace, Del.

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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