With its population of 15,000 people, Groves, Texas, is one of those hardscrabble communities by the Gulf of Mexico right out of “Friday Night Lights.” High school football is the big game in the small town outside of Port Arthur, but not last week. That was when Andrew Landry -- who finished T-15 at the 116th U.S. Open -- brought international attention to the nine-holer officially known as Port Groves G.C.
Before it closed in 2013, the course was mostly called The Pea Patch, recognized as the second-oldest course in Texas. It was the center of Landry’s world as a boy growing up four houses away. When he was old enough to cover the bets in the Tuesday and Saturday games, Landry would write his name on the chalkboard for the “Dog Fights” that were the Pea Patch’s version of the Swat competition played a venerable Oakmont Country Club.
“Those money games are what made us,” said Adam Landry, Andrew’s older brother. “It helped mold us into the men we are today.”
The grass at The Pea Patch was gnarly St. Augustine. The fairway lies were often dirt. There was a sewage ditch running down the left side of the property, so it was not a place to battle a hook. Chris Stroud, the PGA Tour pro from Lamar who also played the course, described it as a goat track with a bar.
The Landry brothers get a little defensive at that reference. To them, it was their Oakmont. “Yes, it was rough around the edges,” Adam told me during the 24 hours early in the week that his 28-year-old brother, whose best previous finish in a PGA Tour event was a T-41, led the Open. “But it wasn’t like there were coffee cans for cups.”
Shooting 58 at The Pea Patch is one thing. Competing in the Open as a local and sectional qualifier is another. At Oakmont outside Pittsburgh, the city where Andy Warhol was born, Andrew Landry got a lot more than 15 minutes of fame. Because of the deluge that eventually shut down the opening round, he had to sleep on a 10-footer for birdie that would give him the lowest opening round in Oakmont-U.S. Open history. The next morning, he got up and made it for 66, then took the day off to do his laundry.
Earlier in the week, when the Texan evocative of Roy McAvoy couldn’t find a spot to putt on the massive practice putting green at the base of the Oakmont clubhouse porch, he did what came natural. Drawing from his days at The Pea Patch, he threw down his can of dip and putted to that.
On Saturday morning for his second round, Landry started out looking like the world’s 624th-ranked golfer playing in his first major. He shot four-over 39 on his first nine, and the Landry story seemed to be evaporating in the rising heat. Tied with Dustin Johnson, trying to hold off the likes of Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, it all seemed like too much.
But Landry hung on, the same way he did the mini-tours and the Web.com Tour before finally earning a tour card for 2016. Shooting 32 on his second nine with a birdie-birdie finish, he put himself one stroke back of Johnson at the halfway point. And then a third-round 70 put him in the final twosome for the final round.
It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that Landry finally dropped off the first page of the leader board, but that was understandable. After all, this wasn’t The Pea Patch -- it was a dogfight that Landry didn’t win. It was a good story while it lasted. And it lasted longer than expected.