• 59°

BOB WEST ON GOLF: Stefani, Stroud going different directions

Thanks to Shawn Stefani’s heroics coming down the stretch, the two most compelling stories about saving/losing PGA Tour cards during the final regular season tournament involved him and one-time Lamar teammate Chris Stroud.
Baytown’s Stefani was celebrating through tears after a 6-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole put him over the top. Stefani had started the week No. 133 but wound up at 123 after tying for 12th place in the Wyndham Championship.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Stefani told Will Gray of the Golf Channel. “I’m not an All-America story like a lot of these kids getting a lot of sponsor exemptions out of college. I had to earn my way the hard way on mini-tours with 15-hour drives across the country.
“You know, it means more to me to keep my card than it does to some of the other guys who have won, because I’ve gone the hard road for the game.”
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, meanwhile, was Groves’ Stroud.
A collegiate All-America at Lamar while Stefani was plodding through a disappointing career, Stroud started the final week at No. 132, briefly got inside the top 125, then faded and wound up 134.
The stark reality could be life changing for Stroud. After 10 years as a solid PGA Tour regular, replete with all the perks involved, he is staring at golf’s equivalent of the baseball veteran demoted to the minor leagues. There are no guarantees he will make it back.
Immediately ahead is a series of four tournaments that make up the Web.com Tour finals. Stroud can regain PGA Tour playing privileges by finishing in the top 25 in money in those four tourneys. Even if he does that, however, he’ll
have a difficult time getting into some of the upper-tier events.
The Web.com finals are set for Sept. 8-11 in Cleveland, Sept. 15-18 in Boise, Idaho, Sept. 22-25 in Columbus, Ohio, and Oct. 6-9 in Ponte Vedra, Fla.
Joining Stroud in a bid to reclaim PGA Tour access will be Port Neches-Groves and Arkansas ex Andrew Landry (178 in FedEx points) and Lamar ex Dawie van der Walt (171).
What used to be PGA Tour school has been replaced by the Web.com finals.
Eligible to compete are PGA Tour players finishing No. 126-200 in FedEx points and the top 75 players on the Web.com 2016 money list.
PGA Tour cards go to the top 25 in the finals, as well as anyone who finished in the top 25 on the Web.com full season money list. Those who finished in the top 25 on the money list don’t have to play in the finals but most of them do. There is extra cash to be earned, as well as the chance to improve positioning on the PGA Tour.
Here’s how it works. Spots in non-invitational PGA Tour events go first to players who finished in the top 125 in FedEx points. After that, it alternates between the player who was No. 1 in Web.com season money, followed by the guy who won the most money in the Web.com finals. Then it alternates through 24 more spots.
Stroud, by winning the most money in the Web.com finals, would put himself in decent position for next year. He wouldn’t be able to get into every tournament he wanted, but he’d get in many of them. The farther down he finishers the fewer tournament doors will open.
It is, of course, the same for Landry and for Van der Walt. If you were handicapping at this point, Landry would seem to have the best chance of a high finish. Andrew been playing consistently well of late and his confidence should be soaring. He wound up earning $373,980 in official money, with one top 10, and an impressive showing in the U.S. Open.
Stroud, on the other hand, has been plagued by inconsistency, doomed by double and triple bogeys and seems to have lost the safety net of being a great up and down player. Two years after finishing No. 1 in the PGA Tour scrambling stat, he tumbled to 134. That’s a lot of lost shots.
The pressure on Chris in the Web.com Finals is going to be enormous. This, after all, is a guy who in the last 10 years has banked $9,617,542 in official PGA Tour money. Now, at age 34, he is faced with having the opportunity to earn a lucrative living snatched out from under him.
Yes, there will still be playing opportunities on the PGA Tour. Even if he doesn’t finish in the top 25 in the Web.com finals, Stroud has conditional status that goes with being No. 132 in FedEx points. But that puts him behind the top 125 on the PGA Tour and the 50 card winners from the Web.com when it comes to playing privileges.
Besides losing endorsement money, he’ll go from being able to map out a schedule months in advance to playing scattered tournaments that will ratchet up the odds for getting back into the top 125. It is a daunting task for someone his age who must also deal with the pipeline of talented, fearless younger players pouring out of college.
The silver lining here is that Stroud still has a PGA Tour-caliber game.
There were times this year when he was as good as he’s ever been. But lack of consistency and the inability to scramble drove home how cruel and unforgiving life can be on the PGA Tour.
Now he’s faced, both mentally and physically, with the greatest challenge of his golfing career.
As for Stefani, he moves into the FedEx Cup playoffs with another year of the good life awaiting, and a growing reputation of being one tough customer when he’s under the gun. His closing sprint to the finish line last Sunday, which included an eagle and a birdie in the final four holes, was reminiscent of how he saved his card in 2015.
After missing the latter part of the 2014 with a disk injury in his neck, Stefani was given a limited amount of tournaments the following year to make the money that would have gotten him into the top 125. His last chance was the Shell Houston Open. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, he need to win $84,000 — roughly a top 20 — to get over the hump.
Unfazed by the pressure of the moment, the former Barbers Hill star opened with a 68, backed it up with another 68, then shot 73-69 on the weekend for finish outright fifth. It won him $256,000 and led to a No. 54 showing in FedEx points and $1,757,803 in 2015 earnings.

CHIP SHOTS
Playing a two-ball format in the Monday Senior 50 Plus Game at Babe Zaharias, the team of Benny Sharpe, Rick Pritchett, Richard McClellan and Bob Luttrell won the front nine with a sizzling 8-under. On the back, the foursome of Bob Briggs, Bobby Wactor, John House and Bill Draughon won with minus-3. …

The Super Saturday Game at The Babe was also played in a two-ball format. There was a two-way tie on the front at minus 2 between the team of Mark Lawson, Pritchett and Bob West and the team of Adam Noel, Lee Bertrand, Dillard Darbonne and Jay Hampson. The back also ended in a tie, with the foursome of Javier Torres, Cap Hollier, Tom LeTourneau and Mike Tibbets matching the minus-4 posted by Craig Fontenot, Steve Picou, Harry Green and Charles Huckaby. …

The Friday two-ball game at Zaharias saw the team of Gary Whitfill, Lee Bertrand, Wactor and Dwain Morvant score a sweep, winning the front in minus-4 and the back in minus-1.

Golf news should be emailed to rdwest@usa.net