For the sake ofargument, let's say you had to eliminate one of the four Texas tournaments onthe PGA Tour schedule. Which one would it be? The Shell Houston Open has hadthe same title sponsor for 18 years. The HP Byron Nelson Championship in Irvingmemorializes one of golf's most beloved figures. The Crowne Plaza Invitationalis played at Fort Worth's venerable Colonial Country Club, a.k.a. Hogan'sAlley. ¬∂ Your answer, then, would be d) the Valero Texas Open. ¬∂ But you wouldbe, if you'll pardon me for saying it, a King Ranch--sized idiot. The TexasOpen—the 79th edition of which was played last week in San Antonio—is theindispensable Texas tournament. If it were a critter, it would be an armadillo.If it were windblown vegetation, it would be a tumbleweed. If it were aprescient sculptural metaphor for the devolution of American automobilemanufacturing, it would be a Cadillac Ranch. ¬∂ Hold on, you say. What's sospecial about a tournament that A-list pros visit about as often as they havetheir tonsils out? And what's Texas-centric about the Resort course atLaCantera Golf Club, which is as slopey and tree-bound as a Colorado skivillage? ¬∂ Good points, both of them. This year's Texas Open was predictablyTigerless, Padraig-free and Philphobic; only three of the world's top 30golfers showed up. The field was so weak that Jesper Parnevik's 53-year-oldcaddie stepped in as a last-minute replacement for an injured player and scoredbetter than a third of the field, including his boss. As for the golfcourse—well, that same caddie, playing with borrowed clubs, shot 71--70 whilemissing only a few holes on Parnevik's bag. "LaCantera is a greatcourse," said a tactful Ted Purdy, who was tied for second after tworounds, "but it's not a championship course."
But that was lastweek. Let's pull back a bit and consider the last century. The Texas Open,first staged in 1922, is the third-oldest PGA Tour event and the oldest to beheld in the same city for its entire existence. The first winter Tour event, itwas also for a time the richest tournament in golf, paying its winner $1,500when the U.S. Open champ got only $500. Weak fields? Walter Hagen won in '23,and the Texas Open trophy has since adorned the mantels of Byron Nelson, SamSnead, Ben Hogan, Jackie Burke, Arnold Palmer (three in a row!), Ben Crenshaw,Lee Trevino and Nick Price.
And if you wantedto embalm a course and send it off to the Smithsonian, you couldn't do muchbetter than San Antonio's Brackenridge Park Golf Course, where 21 of the first31 Texas Opens were played. Designed by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast,Brackenridge played to only 6,185 yards and was so scruffy that the prossometimes had to tee off from rubber mats. At the 1955 Texas Open, Mike Souchakhumbled Brackenridge with an opening 60 and followed with rounds of 68-64-65for 257, a Tour record that held up until 2001.
So if you're overthe age of 60, you treat the Texas Open with respect. But there's no denyingthat the event has lost its swagger in recent years. Wedged into the autumnschedule—which in football-mad Texas is the Lone Star equivalent ofeuthanasia—the tournament had the dubious distinction of raising more money forcharity than most Tour events while attracting far fewer eyeballs. "Thedynamics of the PGA Tour [are] that you have these cycles tied to the TVschedule," says Tony Piazzi, president and CEO of Golf San Antonio, whichruns the tournament. "We were an 'opposite event.' We had to go up againstthe Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup." The Texas Open was further devaluedby its inclusion in the Fall Series, a post--FedEx Cup grind-a-thon for playerstrying to hold on to their Tour cards.
May 24, 2009
Sympathetic tothe Texas Open's plight—and grateful for a sponsorship extension that runsthrough 2012 by Valero Energy Corporation—the Tour promised that the Texas Openwould have the first option on a spring date if one came open. That happenedlast year, after AT&T hung up on its Atlanta Tour stop. "So we're thenew kid on the block," a happy Piazzi says, referring to his springneighbors, "the new kid who just happens to have been around since1922."
Make no mistake,spring is better. The Texas Open is now a FedEx Cup event. The tournamentescapes the media arroyo as well, attracting weekend coverage by CBS. Best ofall, the Tour has made San Antonio the start of its Texas Swing, a three-weekcattle drive that goes through Irving and ends in Fort Worth. To mark theoccasion, Golf San Antonio hired Lone Star headliners Jerry Jeff Walker, RobertEarl Keen and Clay Walker to perform at shirtsleeve galas (although the JerryJeff Walker concert was washed out by a Saturday storm). Next year, when thetournament moves to a Greg Norman--designed course at TPC San Antonio, theorganizers promise that the air will be redolent with Texas barbecue andTex-Mex specialties from local restaurants.
Piazzi, it mustbe said, is reserving judgment on the Texas Swing concept. "The Floridaevents are sequenced," he points out, "but I can't say there's been alot of cross-marketing there." Neither has he rushed to Dallas--Fort Worthto dance around the Maypole with his rival tournament directors. "We'recompetitors for players, sponsors and media attention, but"—and here hesmiles—"we're also part of a bigger picture, the PGA Tour. The strongereach of us is, the stronger we all are."
Translation:Texas is big enough for four tournaments. So that leaves just one nigglingproblem—the new date. It still sucks.
The Texas Opennow follows the Players, which is the PGA Tour's show pony and the month'sdestination tournament. Most of the European stars fly home after the Players,and the top-ranked American pros want a week or two off after four days offifth-major pressure. "Unfortunately, the date is between six events thatguys don't want to miss," said Tour veteran Paul Stankowski. "Butthat's enabled me to play, so it's good—for me."
The week was alsogood for former Masters champ Zach Johnson, who—having won the Texas Open lastOctober—saw no reason why he shouldn't win it again in May. Johnson shot thefifth 60 in tournament history on Saturday and then dispatched Sunday's hottestgolfer, James Driscoll, in a one-hole playoff. It was Johnson's second victoryof '09 and the sixth of his career.
But it was evenbetter for Lance Ten Broeck, the aforementioned caddie. Ten Broeck, aUniversity of Texas alum, played the PGA Tour from 1980 to '94, peaking as arunner-up at the 1991 Chattanooga Classic. He later became a pro looper, buthaving survived 162 Tour cuts, he retains sub-basement-level exempt status. Soon Thursday afternoon, having already carried Parnevik's bag for 18 holes in90° heat, Ten Broeck slipped into slacks from a nearby mall, put on a borrowedpair of shoes and stepped onto the 1st tee as a replacement for the injuredDavid Berganio.
"It'ssomething I always wanted to do," Ten Broeck said the next day, catchinghis breath after shooting a two-round total of 141, two swipes below the cutline. "I don't think anybody has ever caddied and played in the same PGATour event." The happy looper then changed back into his shorts and hurriedoff to catch Parnevik, who, with Ten Broeck's son Jonathan on his bag, was fiveholes into his afternoon round.
So really, howcould you not love the Texas Open? It's Wild Bill Mehlhorn winning twice in the'20s. It's Jug McSpaden shooting a practice-round 59 at Brackenridge. It'sNelson beating Hogan in sudden death for the 1940 title, and then Chick Harberttrimming Hogan in '42. And as Piazzi pointed out last week, "We are theTexas Open. We're the only tournament with Texas in the name."
Sports Illustrated BONUS SECTION / GOLF.COM
"We are the Texas Open," says Piazzi, "theonly tournament with Texas in the name."