That Chris Stroud is even in the PGA Championship this week is nothing short of a pipe dream. He got the last spot at the last minute and as a result, he finds himself tied for second, one shot back of the lead going into Sunday’s final round with a realistic chance of changing his life even further. If that’s even possible.
Stroud, a 35-year-old PGA Tour veteran with not much to show for it, won the Barracuda Championship last week in Reno, Nev., for his first Tour victory. If that wasn’t enough to celebrate, the win meant he’d be in the field at Quail Hollow.
Getting from Reno to Charlotte wasn’t the easiest task. Stroud and his caddie drove two hours last Sunday night from Reno to Sacramento, Calif. They got on a flight to Atlanta and then to Charlotte, to bed about 2 a.m. Monday.
Meantime, Stroud’s phone was positively blowing up. At his count, he had 1,400 text messages, 55 voicemails and another 100 e-mails from friends and well-wishers. Unbelievably, he answered them all.
“I'm a big believer in that,” he said. “I told a few guys after golf is gone and done for me, all you have left is people and the relationships you have. I care more about people than I do about my golf. I was raised that way. I'm grateful.”
Stroud’s wife, Tiffany, brought extra clothes for Chris when she arrived in Charlotte, which was welcome because Stroud had been on Tour five straight weeks. And now, make it six. He’s running on fumes.
He started the PGA Championship with a 3-under 68 at Quail Hollow, one shot back of leader Kevin Kisner. He matched that with another 68 that was finished early Saturday morning.
And playing in the penultimate group, he played well enough to tie Kisner for the lead with two holes to play. But he took three putts from the fringe of the par-3 17th for bogey and made bogey at the 18th with another three-putt for a third-round 71. Kisner’s bogey at the final hole put Stroud one shot back and in the final pairing on Sunday.
“I've dreamed about this for years, so it’s in there,” Stroud said Saturday evening. “I know all these guys are going to be super nervous. I'm sure I will be, too. But like I said, last week just gave me an unbelievable sense of calm. I've never felt so relaxed on the golf course and I think it's a lot of reason why I'm playing so well.”
A while back, Stroud decided to quit putting pressure on himself to win on the PGA Tour.
“About six months ago I said ‘you know what, I've had 10 years of good run out here,’” he said. “I've played well. I don't care if I win anymore. I want to win but I can't let that be on my shoulders all the time. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to play the best I can and let's just ride this out. I don't know if I'm good enough. I don't know if I'm good enough to win or keep my card.
“And since I surrendered to that, it's like all the sudden things got ... the weight is off my shoulders. All these people have told me this for years. To actually do that, I had to get to the bottom to figure that out. I literally just 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.”
And no matter what happens Sunday, Stroud has has seen his life – and his career – transformed, never to be the same.
“Just going to keep living this foggy dream I'm in right now and ride it as long as I can,” he said.