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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Near miss leaves Stroud feeling mostly upbeat

Disappointing and costly as the final five holes of the Puerto Rico Open were for him, Chris Stroud is back in Houston with good vibes about where his game is headed.

“Obviously it hurts, it sucks to lose that way,” said the ex-Port Neches-Groves star and former Lamar All-American, who let a first PGA Tour win in 277 starts slip away late and finished tied for eighth. “The exemptions that went with winning would have been a huge bonus for me. But I came away with a lot of positives and good vibes. I’m excited about this week.”

This week, of course, is the Shell Houston Open. Stroud knew a few weeks ago he’d be playing the SHO, courtesy of a sponsor exemption from the Houston Golf Association’s Steve Timms. Turns out, he wouldn’t have needed the free pass, due to finishing in the top 10 in Puerto Rico.

“Knowing I was in Houston no matter what helped me in Puerto Rico,” Stroud said. “I can’t thank Steve Timms enough. When he called me and told me I was getting a sponsor exemption because I had been incredibly loyal to the tournament, I almost teared up.”

Stroud will no doubt be haunted from time to time by those final five holes in Puerto Rico, especially his drive on the 14th hole that plugged in a hazard. But he says changes that have been made the past few months give him plenty of reasons for optimistic.

“It’s a new outlook,” he said. “I fired everybody on Team Stroud and started over. The changes begin with a new swing coach, Jordan Dempsey, who is now working out of TPC Sawgrass.”

Dempsey replaces former Lamar golf coach Brian White, who had been with Stroud off and on throughout his 11 years on the PGA Tour. Former LU golfer Casey Clendenon is his new caddie, at least in the short term.

“I needed something different,” Stroud said. “It was just time to make some changes. This was the first tournament with Jordan’s stuff and it worked out pretty well. Basically, he’s trying to keep me more still with my swing. It’s not there yet, but I’m encouraged.”

Stroud insists the main reason he was in contention in Puerto Rico is because his short game is back to where it was a couple of years ago. He attributes that to going back to a Srixon ball he used to play.

“I really had short game problems with the new ball Srixon came out with,” he said. “I told them I wanted to go back to the old ball. Fortunately for me, they had 100 dozen of them left in Japan. I’m the only guy playing that ball. It has made a difference.”

In Sunday’s final round in Puerto Rico, Stroud withstood his good friend D.A. Points opening with five consecutive birdies to take his 54-hole lead away. He regained the top spot when Points made a bogey on six and Chris rolled in his third birdie of the round.

“I felt really good at that point,” he said. “I felt even better when I got through the 12th hole, which is really tough, with the lead. “I was struggling with my swing, but doing a great job scrambling. I was confident I was going to win.”

Then came the 14th. Stroud stuck with driver, while others were hitting a 3-wood off the tee on a medium-range par 4 playing downwind.

“I felt the wind pick up when I was over the ball and decided to go at it hard and carry the bunker on the right,” he said. “It was a mistake. I wound up pulling it and plugging in the hazard. It was my worst swing of the tournament. But I still thought I could make par and be tied for the lead.”

He opted to take his drop on the cart path and hit an 8-iron to the green looked really good. But the wind pushed it just enough to shove the ball into a bunker, where it buried under the lip, no more than 20 feet from the pin. He exploded to 15 feet then barely missed the putt.

Seemingly undaunted, Stroud rebounded with a birdie on the next hole and trailed by only a stroke. Points, through, was not catchable, as he birdied four of the final six holes. Poor shots into the greens on 17 and 18 resulted in Stroud sliding down the leaderboard to eighth place.

“I never gave up,” Stroud said. “I was about four decent swings down the stretch away from winning. I have something to build on. My time is coming. My short game is back and I’m putting well. I am still not super confident in my swing, but it is getting there.

“With limited status, it is a tough hill to climb, and it is about playing great when you get in a tournament. Golf has humbled me again and made me appreciate all those years when I was fortunate enough to play full time. But I am going to overcome. I am going to win.”

CHIP SHOTS

Andrew Landry held on to third place on the Web.com Tour money list, despite finishing 60th in the Chitimacha Louisiana Open last week. The PNG ex was in the middle of the pack after rounds of 66-72-68 but faded after a final round of 75. The next Web.com event is not until April 20-23 in Newburgh, Ind.

Landry, meanwhile, tried to Monday qualify his way into the Shell Houston Open but came up short after shooting a six-under-par 66 on the Tradition Course at Cypresswood. He finished tied for 13th in a field of 181 players. With four spots open, it took 64 to get in and only one of six players at 64 survived a playoff. There was a 62 and two 63s.

Two other players from Southeast Texas made respectable showings in the qualifer. West Orange-Stark ex Michael Arnaud finished T19 with a 67 and PNG ex Lonnie LaBove was T87 with a 71.

Karlei Hemler, Brynna Bailey and the PNG girls golf team continued to roll at last week’s West Brook Invitational at Bayou Din. Hemler claimed medalist honors with a 68, Bailey was second with a 79 and the Lady Indians won by 38
shots over Barbers Hill with a team total of 332.

Other PNG scores that counted were an 85 by Kassidei Hemler and a 100 by Rebecca Guy. Hemler and PNG will be heavily favored to win the District 21-5A championship next Monday and Tuesday at Henry Homberg Golf Club in Beaumont. …

Nederland ex Shelbi Vincent, now a senior at the University of Houston-Victoria, was named the Red River Athletic Conference Women’s Player of the week for March 13-19 after finishing tied for ninth in the Pinecrest Intercollegiate.

Vincent shot rounds of 79-79 to earn her third top 10 finish. She lowered her season scoring average to 81.3.

Minus-5 was a winner all the way around in the Monday Senior 50 Plus Two Ball game at Babe Zaharias. On the front, the team of James Musgrove, Richard
Briggs, Don MacNeil and Paul Duplantis matched the minus 5 posted by the foursome of Craig Fontenot, Rick Pritchett, Gary Fontenot and Larry Rogers.

The back was won in minus-5 by the team of Cap Hollier, Adam Noel, Gerald Huebel and a ghost player represented by Larry Rogers. …

Led by a sizzling round of 67 by Tom LeTourneau, his team that included Noel, Tony Trevino and Gene Hardy as a ghost player swept the Friday Senior
Two Ball game at Zaharias. They finished minus-5 on the front and minus-6 on the back.

The Thursday Senior 55 Plus Game at Zaharias was played in a Select Drive Format. Finishing first with 43 points was the foursome of Bob Byerly, Robert
Lynch, Ben Thornton and Paul Brown. Earl Richard’s team was second with 38 points.

Closest to the pin winners were Byerly (No. 2, No. 12), Ron Overstreet (No. 7) and Hollier (No. 15).

The Wednesday Zaharias DogFight was won with 17 points by the team of Larry Johnson, Bim Morrow, Troy Touchet and Ralph Childress. There was a three-way
tie for second at 16 points between teams captained by Pritchett, Bob West and LeTourneau.

Closest to the pin winners were Gary Whitfill (No. 2), Eddie Delk (No. 7), Hollier (No. 12) and Hardy (No. 15).

Golfers who play at Babe Zaharias, and that number seem to be steadily increasing due to improved conditions, need to be aware green aerification will
begin after lunch on Wednesday. Head pro Mitch Duncan is estimating the process to do all 18 greens will take six to seven days.
Plans are to have nine holes open at a time and to accommodate as many players as possible.


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