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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Landry defending at Valero then headed to Masters

Over the eight days, Andrew Landry will live the dream of every kid who has stood on a putting green or practice range and fantasized about what he could accomplish in golf.

First, at 7:50 a.m. Thursday, in the company of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, the Port Neches-Groves ex will be introduced as defending champion of a PGA Tour event — the Valero Texas Open. A few days later he will drive onto the hallowed ground of Augusta National Golf Club as a contestant in the Masters.

“It’s exciting, it’s a special time for me,” said Landry. “This is what I have worked for as long as I can remember. To be a defending champion, to get to play the Masters, it truly is the stuff of dreams.

“What makes it even better,” he continued, “is that my game is trending up. Things really started coming together two weeks ago in the final round of the Valspar. It is a similar feel to last year when I started playing well the tournament before the Valero. I am confident about this week and going forward.”

Landry, who banked $2.6 million in official earnings last year, will be the first to tell you his 2018-19 season has been disappointing. He’s No. 166 in Fed Ex Cup points and has won only $213,186. He’s missed five of 12 cuts and his highest finish in a full field event is T28.

Some of the problem, he admits, is a lack of the urgency that he had last year, because his victory in the Valero earned him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Another score wrecker has been being too aggressive, shooting at too many pins.

“My turnaround started at Bay Hill,” he said. “I shot 80-69 there. My caddie and I had a long talk about being more cautious where I need to be. I was firing at too many pins. You can’t play the PGA Tour that way. Things improved at the Players, but my final round at the Valspar was a definite turning point.

“I shot a solid 68 with a really stupid double bogey late in the round that lit a fire under me. I’ve worked hard on the range since then. Honestly, I am hitting the ball better than I have in a long time.”

Only two players this century — Justin Leonard (2000-01) and Zach Johnson (2008-09) have won in consecutive years at the Valero. Despite a strong field headed by Matt Kuchar and Fowler, Landry says he shouldn’t be counted out on a course — the AT&T Oaks at TPC San Antonio — he really likes.

Proof of that can be found in the rounds of 69-67-67-68 he fired in 2018. His 72-hole total of 273 set the tournament scoring record for the 10 years the event has been played on the Greg Norman-designed Oaks course.

“It is a demanding, ball striker’s course that is tailor made for me” he said. “I’m driving the ball very well right now, and my putting is starting to come around. I am looking forward to trying to repeat.”

Among the challenges for Landry this week is to stay focused and not let his mind drift toward Augusta. He’s been thinking about what that experience will be like from the moment he won in San Antonio last year.

“I can’t get ahead of myself,” he said. “But there is no denying I am kind of like a kid anticipating Christmas where the Masters is concerned. I was tempted to go play a practice round there last week, but I finally decided I needed to stay in Austin and keep working on my game.”

Landry quickly resolved one of the toughest tasks — allocating tickets — facing any first timer at the Masters. He decided early on who would get his allotment of eight grounds badges.

“As you would expect, there were a lot of requests,” he said. “I took care of the people who have mattered most in my life and my golf career. I wanted those who have been there from the beginning to be in Augusta supporting me.”

Landry is hopeful a lesson he learned from last year’s British Open will help him at the Masters.

“I was so excited to take in the whole experience of a British Open that I simply got too giddy and was not locked in the way you have to be at a major. I have to try and not get carried away at the Masters because I am so thrilled about just getting on the grounds, and doing what every first timer dreams about.

“Being realistic, it’s not the best of golf courses for my game. So I can’t afford to go there and get carried away with the surroundings. The greens, with the way they position pins, are going to be a huge challenge. There is just going to be so much to process.”

Ultimately, the results of processing a first Masters, and of being a defending champ, should cause the rekindled fire under Landry to burn even hotter going forward.

CHIP SHOTS: The team of Adam Noel, Cap Hollier, Tom LeTourneau and Charles Perez shot minus 4 on win the front in the Super Saturday Senior 2 ball at Babe Zaharias. On the back, the foursome of Thad Borne, Randy Monk, Cole Lee and Perez won with minus 1 . . .

In the Friday 2 ball at Zaharias, the team of Gene Jones, Joe Gongora, Rick Pritchett and a ghost player placed first at minus 3. There was a tie at minus 2 on the back between the team of Bob Byerly, LeTourneau, Larry Reece and Perez and the foursome of Bob West, Don MacNeil, Charles Leard and Larry Foster . . .

The Wednesday DogFight at Zaharias was won with 16 points by the team of Hollier, Butch Cross, Keith Marshall and a ghost player. Finishing second with 14 points was the team of Cricket Owen, Tom LeTourneau, Robert Stansbury and Roy Martinez.

Closest to the pin winners were Mike Rodgers (No. 2, No. 7, No. 12) and Harrell Guidry (No. 15) . . .

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