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BOB WEST — PNG trio facing vastly different 2021 scenarios

With the calendar flipping over to 2021, and COVID-19 still very much a factor in professional golf and its tournaments, two of the three Port Neches-Groves exes playing the sport for a living greet the new year with a high degree of uncertainty over their playing status.

Only Andrew Landry, whose victory 11 months ago in the American Express Championship locked him in through the 2022-23 PGA Tour season, has any degree of security. Landry kicks off the 2021 portion of his schedule next week at the Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Chris Stroud and Braden Bailey, meanwhile, have absolutely no guarantees.

Stroud, whose ongoing back woes forced him to take a medical leave from the PGA Tour in October, remains unsure when he will be able to return. Bailey, after a stellar collegiate career at Baylor, is just looking for a place to play after COVID wreaked havoc with lower-level tours.

For Stroud, 2020 was by far the worst year since he became a PGA Tour regular in 2007. It was directly traceable to a back issue that has plagued him for a couple of years. He played reasonably well at times but couldn’t practice enough to stay sharp and finally limped away in October.

The bottom line for the 2019-2020 season showed him with one top 25, six cuts made in 16 events and earnings of only $249,013. He missed the cut in all three starts during the fall portion of the 2020-21 slate. To top off the misery, he came down with COVID in early December. Fortunately, it was a mild case.

Rehab on his back has been somewhat frustrating with periods of progress followed by setbacks and tweaks. Stroud is fighting an almost daily battle in his mind on whether to attempt to return to the tour in late January or take an extended leave of absence and not play competitively again until September.

“I go back and forth,” he said. “I am trying to do whatever I can to avoid surgery. I can play at times without discomfort, but then I make a move that pushes the herniation toward the spinal cord, and it causes an unbelievable amount of pain. If you saw that time where Tiger hit a shot and his legs buckled, that’s what it’s like.

“If I go back out next month, I’m looking at having to deal with cold weather and not being able to practice. It makes sense to hold off until September with a full medical exemption and be able to come back and pick my spots. But that is so long to be away, and a lot of rust would build up.”

As for Bailey, he sort of falls into the category of being all dressed up with nowhere to go. He’s bulked up a bit from hitting the weights and been working hard on his game and had his equipment deal with Ping renewed. But he needs competition.

He’s hopeful the Canadian Tour, which shut down last year, relaunches this spring. He’ll make a run at Korn Ferry Tour events whenever possible. And he’ll probably play in quite a few tournaments on an APT Tour, which seems to have grown in stature after it reopened last summer.

Like so many aspiring, young golfers he’s just going to have to deal with being in a state of limbo until the golf world gets back to normal.