Longtime rivals Stroud, Stefani contending at Shell

By Will GrayApril 3, 2015, 9:30 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Chris Stroud remembers the first time he took note of Shawn Stefani’s ability.

It was at a junior event in Dallas, probably sometime in the summer of 1998, when a 16-year-old Stefani ripped a 2-iron into a par-5 that found the green from about 280 yards.

“He was a phenomenal golfer from the get-go,” Stroud recalled. “He hit the ball a mile when he was really young.”

While Stroud and Stefani may not be household names to casual golf fans, their paths have been linked for nearly 20 years. After growing up as junior golf rivals in East Texas and attending the same college, the Houston residents are both on the leaderboard through two rounds at the Shell Houston Open, hoping to get a breakthrough win at what is now their hometown event.

Stefani, 33, is two months older, but growing up Stroud was the more decorated player. He played four years at Lamar University in Beaumont, about an hour outside Houston, and became the first player from the school to earn all-conference honors all four years. He added first-team All-American honors in 2004, his senior year.

After a brief stint at the University of Houston, Stefani walked on at Lamar in 2002 and joined forces with Stroud to create a strong college team at a largely unheralded outpost.

“When he came out, we were the No. 1 team in the country,” Stroud said. “We had one of the best golf programs I had ever seen.”

Stefani continues to root for his former teammate, but he described their lengthy past as more of a “competitive friendship.”

“We had some good rivalries. There were a lot of good rivalries growing up in high school and even in college,” Stefani said. “It’s fun to have that. I think it’s good for both of us because we can kind of push each other.”

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Stefani has logged significant practice at the Golf Club of Houston in recent weeks, and for the second year in a row those efforts are paying off during tournament week. Last year he came here needing a solid showing to secure his card and left with both a fifth-place finish and full-time status.

This time around, he has made only one bogey through 36 holes and heads into the weekend at 9 under. After watching guys like Fred Couples play in this event when he was a teenager, Stefani is eager to capitalize on an opportunity this week to play in front of friends and family.

“Growing up as a kid, I always wanted to play in this thing,” he said. “It’s always good to be back and obviously playing well at home.”

While Stroud has been playing full-time on the PGA Tour since 2007, Stefani took longer to gain his footing as a professional, finally earning a card in 2013. Since then he has continually improved, just missing out on his first win in a playoff loss to Justin Rose last year at the Quicken Loans National.

Stroud was quick to point to his former teammate’s work off the tee as the reason for his recent success. Stefani ranked sixth last season on Tour in total driving, and he ranks 18th in the category this season.

“He turned a weakness into a strength,” Stroud said. “Any time you can do that in this game at this level, you’re going to see a big change in your game.”

Stroud’s best result came in 2013, a playoff loss at the Travelers Championship, and last season he racked up more than $1.8 million in earnings. The results have dried up this season, though, with only five made cuts in 12 prior starts.

Those struggles led him back to a familiar face: Brian White, who had served as an instructor and coach while Stroud and Stefani were at Lamar, and someone who has been a mentor for Stroud throughout his professional career.

After a six-month “leave of absence” that led him to other instructors, including a brief stop with Butch Harmon, Stroud found that he was “losing the scope of actually playing golf.” He sat down with White earlier this week, and his longtime coach straightened him out.

“He said, ‘Look, let’s get out there, let’s not try to work on your swing too much, let’s get you playing golf. Let’s hit golf shots,’” Stroud said. “Just keep to some simple stuff.”

The pep talk from White yielded immediate results. Stroud has carded matching rounds of 4-under 68, hitting 29 of 36 greens in regulation, and has no plans to change instructors anytime soon.

“To be honest, with all the circles I’ve been in with this game, he’s the answer for me,” Stroud said. “I won’t be leaving him again.”

Twenty years after first crossing paths as teens, Stroud and Stefani are now established on the PGA Tour and remain staunch advocates for each other. Flanked by partisan crowds, they’re playing well at the right time and now sit two rounds away from a potentially life-changing result: first win, first seven-figure check, and oh yeah – first trip to the Masters.

Not a bad scenario for a couple of former Cardinals.

“We’ve had a good relationship for a long time. I’ve really been rooting for him since I’ve been out here, and I know he roots on me,” Stefani said. “Hopefully we can have a Lamar alumni showdown come Sunday.”

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Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 9:33 am

Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.

Everything before that, however, was far from routine.

Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.

He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.

"I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.