BOB WEST ON GOLF: Stroud feels blessed with new outlook on golf, life

Published 8:55 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chris Stroud spent perhaps a minute lamenting what could have been at the PGA Championship, quickly flipped the switch to the guy who says he’ll never take golf too seriously again and began reflecting on the transformation in his life that began roughly eight months ago.

“I am so blessed,” he reflected after finishing tied for ninth at the PGA. “I have a wonderful wife, two very special daughters, two great parents and I’m back in love with the game of golf. Honestly, even before I won the Barracuda, there had been a spiritual awakening.

“I am in such a good place and so thankful for how my outlook has changed in the past eight months.”

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To make a long story short, Stroud was in such a deep, dark hole late last year, he was ready to walk away from golf. He wasn’t having any fun, was putting too much pressure on himself, felt like a failure because he’d never won and had actually come to hate the game.

Then came a no-holds barred talk with Woodlands Country Club pro Kevin Kirk, some significant changes in the culture around him, bringing fellow Lamar golfer Casey Clendenon on board as his caddie and a partnership in what looks to be a lucrative business venture with Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

“I had felt like this massive ship drifting along in the ocean, and with no port where I could dock,” he said. “I was just getting beat up by all these storms. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to turn. Kevin, in two hours, really, helped get me turned around.”

It didn’t happen overnight, of course. Slowly but surely, though, things began to fall into place. The right people kept getting thrust into his path.

Clouds began to part. And, finally, two weeks ago in Reno putts began to fall.

He won that first tournament, leading to an invaluable two-year PGA Tour exemption. He made serious waves in the PGA Championship, threatening to become one of the all-time great underdog stories. When skeptics thought he would collapse, he kept climbing the leaderboard.

In the pressure cooker of one of golf’s four majors, he came across as a cool, calm, genuine, likable, out-of-nowhere contender. He morphed into a fan and media favorite, a guy whose story and style made him the player you wanted to see win, if you didn’t have a personal favorite.

Under all the stress and strain, Chris Stroud looked like a guy having the time of his life. And he was.

“It was a blast,” he said. “I’m not sure I ever had that much fun playing golf. When I said I had never been more calm, it was true. I was totally relaxed playing in the final group on Sunday.”

The fairy tale ending so many yearned for, especially those of us in the Golden Triangle, didn’t happen, but not because Stroud was suddenly overwhelmed. Despite putting problems, he was tied for the lead with nine holes to play. Ultimately, the putter brought him down.”

Through the first 15 holes, he missed five putts inside 10 feet. The killers were missed pars from 6 feet on 11 and 7 feet on 13, and a missed birdie from 7 feet on 15. At that point frustration and loss of patience set in and he made a mess of the brutal finishing stretch.

“A couple of things factored into the putting,” he said. “I had started using that longer putter in Reno and putted really well for six rounds. I made some good putts on Saturday, but I also started missing some. On Sunday, it became a problem.

“Part of it was the greens were about a foot and a half slower on Sunday. Also, I wasn’t able to make adjustments mechanically. If I hit a bad shot with any other club, I would be able to adjust. But I had not been using that putter long enough to figure out what was wrong.”

Even with the late slippage, Stroud’s ninth-place tie was far and away his best in a major. He’d only made two cuts in eight previous previous majors, with a high water mark of T47 in the 2010 U.S. Open.

To be in the final pairing on the final day, to be tied for the lead with nine holes left, to have earned legitimate respect from so many in the media, as well as CBS’ analysts, would have been pie-in-the sky stuff a year ago.

Among those who came away duly impressed with the “new” Stroud was CBS’ lead announcer, Jim Nantz.

“Chris just completed two weeks of self discovery that I believe will lead to more success,” Nantz said. “His composure at the PGA was beyond commendable — and even when he lost strokes down the stretch I never sensed that the moment was too big for him.

“Chris is a quality quy with a wonderful outlook, and now he knows he has the game to compete at the highest level.”

Meanwhile, from where Stroud was in golf’s all-important numbers, to where he is today, is pretty much mind boggling.

He’s jumped from No. 413 to 203 to 149 in the Official World Golf Ratings.

He’s climbed from No. 144, to 76 to 69 in FedEx Cup Points. His official money winnings for 2017 have soared from $504,445, to $1,108,445 to $1,348,445.

The bottom line figures to keep growing, what with at least three more tournaments ahead — this week’s Wyndham Classic and a minimum of playing the first two FedEx Cup playoff events.

That Chris is still going to participate in the Wyndham speaks volumes about why folks like Nantz label him a “quality guy.” In truth, the last thing he needs this week is to head to Greensboro, N.C. to play in the Wyndham.

After six consecutive tournaments, a week off is what he really needs.
It’s not in his makeup, though, to withdraw, because of the loyalty he feels he owes to Wyndham tournament director Mark Brazil.

Brazil, you see, gave a wet-behind-the-ears Lamar graduate a sponsor exemption into his first PGA Tour tourney — the 2004 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro.

“Yes, I am fatigued and taking it easy this week would be good for me,” he said. “I also have a sore knee. But Mark Brazil helped make my dream come true by giving me that sponsor exemption. I was nobody, just a kid out of college. I always told him you will never know how much this meant to be.

“Now that things are going good and I am a little bit of an attraction, it would not be right for me to withdraw. It would not say much for my loyalty. I will be at the Wyndham, trying my hardest to win another tournament.”

And feeling like the most blessed player in the field.

Bob West is the golf columnist for the Port Arthur News.