Two hundred and ninety times, Chris Stroud teed it up in a PGA Tour event, and 290 times, he wondered what it would feel like to win. It was not until No. 290 this past Sunday that he finally found out. He discovered all of the life-changing facets of it, such as running out of clothes.
“Very difficult. I have been on the road for five weeks in a row,” said Stroud, 35, who had no intention of being here for the PGA Championship when he packed. “My plan was to go to Houston, where I live, see my baby girls and have this week off, then go to Greensboro.”
By winning the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada (in a three-way playoff, no less), he qualified for this major championship — and a laundry hardship. “My wife had to bring me extra clothes. But that’s a good problem to have, my man,” he said as he clasped a reporter on the shoulder.
“It’s at least a 20-year dream come true,” said Stroud, who celebrated at dinner with his parents Wednesday night and celebrated some more on the course Thursday, shooting 3-under-par 68 and finishing the first round one stroke out of the lead.
This is the point at which you would expect your dutiful narrator to say this was all a matter of never giving up. That’s what really makes Stroud’s story so interesting. He basically did just the opposite. He achieved what he always had wanted, he said, because he stopped telling himself he wanted it so much.
Going back to his days as an All-American golfer at Lamar University, the guy from Groves, Texas, had thought the way to reach first place was by stepping on the pedal, and hard. After all, that is what he had been telling himself since he decided at the age of 9 that he wanted to be on the PGA Tour. He reinforced it at 17, when he recognized he was good enough to do it.
He turned pro at 22, got his tour card at 25. All well and good, but no trophies.
“All these years, I kept telling myself, ‘You are going to win. You are great.’ Being super-positive to myself. Not that that’s a bad thing,” he said. “But it was putting a lot of pressure on myself.”
There was only one choice: “I gave up on it,” he said. “About six months ago, I said, ‘You know what? I’ve had 10 years of good run out here. I’ve played well. I don’t care anymore if I win. I want to win, but I can’t let that be on my shoulders all the time.’ And since I surrendered to that, it’s like all of a sudden, the weight is off my shoulders.”
Stroud chose to just do what he does and let the results take care of themselves, which is not terrible advice for anyone in any walk of life. He is so determined to play worry-free that he and caddie Casey Clendenon (another former Lamar star) have worked out a deal: No talking golf between shots. They discuss spirituality, science, the NFL, the Houston Astros — anything but the pressure of the tournament.
It sure worked Thursday. Stroud overcame what he called “a couple of squirrelly drives early” and had a round that seemed to come easily. That, despite having read 1,400 text messages, listened to 55 voicemails and pored over about 100 emails. “I have replied to every single one of them,” he said. “I’m a big believer in that. I told a few guys that after golf is gone and done for me, all you have left is people and the relationships you have.”
At the moment, though, he also has a two-year PGA Tour exemption and an invitation to play in Kapalua next January in a tournament only for winners of 2017 events. It is for people like Stroud, finally a champion.