Chris Stroud travels from oblivion to major contention, all in a week

CHARLOTTE — So he has this putt uphill, against the grain, forever to the hole, and he has slapped it hard, and it’s on line, and he knows it’s good, tracking dead-center, and he’s talking to it, “Go in,” only it’s going too hard, and he’s still begging, “Gooo innnn,” and from way down there he sees the ball strike the back of the cup, “Ahhhh,” and it doesn’t drop out of sight, there’s too much speed, and it bounces out right, “Oooh,” causing him to whisper something into his hand, probably something, he won’t say what, that the grandson of a Baptist preacher ought not be saying out loud.

It was at the 16th hole, one of Quail Hollow’s most diabolical, a par 4, 506 yards, and the putt for a birdie would have been nice. But when you’re Chris Stroud, unknown, it’s a putt you are happy to have, a putt you loved seeing because it’s a putt that you never imagined hitting because, seriously, who bounces around the PGA Tour for 11 years, 0 for 289 in tournaments, and expects to roll in a 45-footer on national television to become, for even a moment, a star in the 99th PGA Championship?

Chris Stroud is a Texan, long and lean with a sun-baked face and a scruffy beard the color of whisky you wouldn’t want to waste. Put him under a black hat, give him a horse, he could pass as a ranch hand riding all day, all night. He’s been a tough, stubborn cuss. All those years on the PGA Tour, he kept trying to win. Never did it.

Then, early this year, he quit trying. Nothing else worked. He tried all the ways. So he tried a new way. He didn’t try at all. And he liked the way not trying felt. Lighter, more fun. The stars could burn with their famous fire and fury. Chris Stroud had been there. He let go of all that: “I literally said, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ I’m just going to do the best I can and have as much fun as I can. All of a sudden, it falls in my lap.”

God has such a sense of humor. Once Chris Stroud gave up, he won….

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