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BOB WEST ON GOLF — Landry set to hear magical words ‘Defending Champion’

Sometime Thursday in La Quinta, California, the announcer on No. 1 will say, “On the tee from Austin, Texas, the defending champion of the American Express Championship — Andrew Landry.”

Even though there will only be a handful of people around the tee, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, “defending champion” is certain to be among the sweetest words the Port Neches-Groves ex will ever hear. It will only be the second time for Landry to be announced that way in a PGA Tournament.

You can bet he will savor the moment.

The only more rewarding terminology would be to show up next year and be announced as the two-time defending champion. It’s a long shot – winning any tournament is a long shot, and successfully defending one is even longer, but if there is a place it could happen for Landry this golf mecca in the California desert is the most likely place.

Landry nearly broke through for his first PGA Tour win here in 2018, tying Jon Rahm with a birdie on the 72nd hole, then going four holes in a playoff with the world’s No. 2 ranked player before coming up short. He missed a very makeable birdie putt for the win on the second playoff hole.

The former Arkansas All-America seems to be a prime example of the golf saying “horses for courses.” His last three visits to the Coachella Valley have seen Landry has finish second, tied for 28th and won.

In the process, he’s been 63 under par, signed off on rounds in the 60s 11 of 12 times and banked $1,876,435.

History suggests it’s not a big deal that he’s coming in off a missed cut in the Sony Open and a lackluster finish in the Tournament of Champions. Landry has arrived at this event after missing the Sony cut three consecutive years. When he didn’t make it to the weekend at last year’s Sony, it was his fifth consecutive missed cut.

Then he turned around and authored rounds of 66-64-65-67 to win by two shots. Along the way he made 31 birdies, which was only one off the PGA Tour record for a 72-hole event.

Landry, in fact, is one of the toughest players to figure out based on momentum. When he won the Valero Texas Open in 2018, he’d missed four of the previous five cuts.

One factor that could work in his favor is that he’s been face to face with new putting coach Marcus Potter for the first time. He didn’t make many putts the last two weeks in Hawaii, a problem underscored by a failure to break 70 in six rounds.

In addition to no spectators being permitted, there are two other major difference at this year’s America Express.

Because of California’s strict COVID regulations, the usual format of a pro being paired with an amateur every round has been dropped. Also, only two courses – the PGA West Stadium and the Jack Nicklaus Private — are being used. Normally there are three.

CHIP SHOTS: In lieu of the first hole in one of 2021 being reported from Babe Zaharias, let’s allow slugging New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks to take a bow for an eye-opening ace.

Hicks, who two weeks ago launched a driver worthy of Bryson DeChambeau at a Top Golf facility, aced a 304-yard, par 4 at Silverleaf Golf Club in Scottsdale. He did it with a 3-wood. The witness was Tiger Woods’ niece and LPGA player Cheyenne Woods.

About that prodigious blast at Top Golf, Hicks cleared the back screen with a driver. The distance was listed at 330 yards. On the video I saw, it looked like the ball was still rising.

In the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Babe Zaharias, the team of Craig Geoffroy, John House, Larry Foster and a ghost player won the front with minus 3. On the back, minus 2 won for the foursome of Keith Mullins, Gary Fontenot, Bobby Wactor and Richard Menchaca.

The Super Saturday 2 ball at Zaharias saw the front end in a tie at plus 2 between the team of Mullins, Rick Pritchett, Charlie Perez and Everett Baker and the team of Ed Holley, Scott Bryant, Don MacNeal and Stuart Ellis. Mullins’ team won the back with plus 4.

Over-par-scores also won both sides in the Friday 2 ball at Zaharias. The team of Jim Cady, Foster, Tony Trevino and Bob Luttrell took the front with plus 3. Plus 2 was a winner for Kenny Robbins, Cap Hollier, Pritchett and Baker.

The Wednesday Babe Zaharias DogFight saw the fivesome of James Vercher, Rufus Reyes, Foster, Art Turner and Paul Brown win with 27 points. Placing second with 26 points was the foursome of Ronnie LaSalle, Wactor, Luttrell and Glen Knight.

Closest to the pin winners were Vercher (No. 2, 2 feet, 10 inches), House (No. 7, 18-2), Robbins (No. 12, 4-10) and Reyes (No. 15, 11-0).

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