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GOLF: Bailey seeking strong finish to Baylor career

Nobody knows better than Braden Bailey that his senior season at Baylor will determine whether he’s remembered as one of the school’s all-time best golfers or a really solid player who did a lot of special things but didn’t totally fulfill lofty expectations created during a strong freshman season.

With the Bears launching their fall schedule Friday at Olympia Fields in Chicago, Bailey’s name is already prominent in the school’s record book. He’s seventh in career stroke average (71.99), seventh in career top 10s (16) and seventh in career top fives (8).

In the ultra-competitive world of college golf, the PNG ex has won twice, had six top-three finishes and been in the top five a total of eight times. However, following a disappointing spring, in which his stroke average (72.56) was three strokes higher than in the fall (69.92), there’s a feel of needing to rebound.

“I have not played as well as I would have liked or expected,” he said. “I think I have had a good, solid career, but it hasn’t been what it could have. My driving has killed me the last two springs. I am working hard to get that straightened out.”

That expectations were soaring, after a freshman year in which Bailey notched two top fives and six top 10s, placed fifth in the NCAA Regional and 36th in the NCAA Championship, was reflected in quotes that spring from Baylor coach Mike McGraw.

“He is pound for pound the longest player off the tee I’ve seen in college golf,” said McGraw. “He’s comfortable being near the lead. I think he should walk out of here a first team All-America. If he doesn’t, something will have happened.”

Bailey would follow up with a strong sophomore year and an outstanding fall as a junior. He was soaring up the collegiate player rankings and was on the watch list for the Palmer Cup and the Ben Hogan Player of the Year Award.

Then came the problems with his driver that led to an uncharacteristic spring of logging only one top 10 in eight events. It culminated with an 89th-place finish in the NCAA. The summer wasn’t too much better until a tie for 16th in the Western Amateur.

“I just have to get the driver going again and I will be fine,” he said. “Ping came down and fitted me with a new one last week. We had qualifying Thursday and Friday and I started driving it much better. The rest of the game feels really good.”

What also feels good is being 15 hours away from a degree in finance in what has been a distinguished academic career.

Bailey’s name has been on the Baylor Dean’s list each of his first three years, he’s made the Big 12 Commissioner’s honor roll each spring and fall and was recently named a Srixon/Cleveland Golf All-America scholar.

To be able to devote as much time as possible to golf, and his future in that sport in his final spring, Bailey is taking 12 of the needed hours to graduate during the fall.

“I am really burned out with school,” he said. “I have been taking summer classes since high school. It has been school, school, school. I wanted to get into a position where it will be nearly all golf and working out in the spring.”

The direction of Bailey’s future in golf will depend on how his senior year plays out. If he has the kind of season that will merit Walker Cup consideration, he may retain his amateur status throughout the summer. Otherwise he’ll turn pro after the NCAA Championships.

His most likely option at that point will be to play the Adams Pro Tour throughout the summer as a tuneup for Web.Com Tour Q school in August. An outside possibility would be the Canadian PGA Tour.

No matter how it works out over the next nine months, both Bailey and Baylor will have ample reason to reflect on how good they were for each other. And Braden figures to have taken a significant step down the path toward joining PNG exes Chris Stroud and Andrew Landry at the next level.

Although he didn’t make it to the PGA Tour Championship, Landry went out with guns blazing in the final round of the BMW Championship. Landry birdied three of his final five holes Monday for a closing 68 that left him tied for 35th and earned a check for $46,350.

The Groves native finished the year 37th in Fed Ex Cup points with an official PGA Tour earnings bottom line of $2,595,829. It is the most money earned in a single season on the PGA Tour by a player from Southeast Texas. …

Lamar ex Shawn Stefani, who was in danger of losing his PGA Tour Card after a down season, needed only two tournaments in the Web.com Tour Finals to assure that won’t happen. Thanks to a fourth-place finish in the first event, Stefani is eighth on the Finals money list and already assured of finishing in the top 25 and regaining his card.

On the outside looking in, with only two tournaments left, is West Orange-Stark ex Michael Arnaud. Arnaud is in 80th place heading into this week’s Albertson Boise Open. The finals conclude next week in Atlantic Beach, Fla. …

Former Stephen F. Austin High School basketball coach Larry Reece authored the round of the week at Babe Zaharias. Despite hitting a ball out of bounds, the left-handed swinging Reece carded a best-ever round of 68. …

In the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Zaharias, the team of Kenny Robbins, Rick Pritchett, Larry Foster and Don MacNeil scored a sweep. They were minus-6 on the front and minus-2 on the back. …

The Saturday Super Senior 2 ball at Zaharias also resulted in a sweep with the team of Craig Fontenot, Pritchett, Gene Jones and Ron Hicks taking the front in minus-2 and the back at even. …

In Friday’s Senior 2 ball, the team of Pritchett, Larry Reece, Raymond Darbonne and Craig Castille took the front in minus 1. On the back, the foursome of Kenny Robbins, Danny Robbins, Pete Reobroi and Charles Perez won with minus-2. …

Format for the Thursday Senior Game was 2 ball. The team of Cap Hollier, Gary Fontenot and Paul Brown won the front at even and tied the back with even. Also finishing even on the back was the team of Earl Richard, Reece and Wes McGuire.

Closest to the pin winners were Lee Bertrand (No. 7) and Charles Leard (No. 12). …

Golf news should be emailed to rdwest@usa.net.