PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem once told me that fans don't realize how much the pros factor in the amount of money a tournament raises for charity when figuring out their playing schedules.
These days I find his argument unconvincing. There used to be something on Tour called the Texas swing, during which three of the four events in the Lone Star State the Houston Open, the Byron Nelson and the Colonial were played in near succession. (The Texas Open was usually held later in the year.)
The proximity in dates and distance of the tournaments added to their appeal because a pro could stay in a single state, albeit a big one, for almost a month. The events also had long traditions and famous frontmen. Jack Burke Jr. remains Houston's Mr. Golf, an honorific bestowed in Dallas on the late Byron Nelson (who personally rounded up player commitments) and in Fort Worth (home of the Colonial) on the legendary Ben Hogan.
Further, all of the Texas tournaments have been good to charity. According to several tournament directors, in 2006 the Texas Open ranked first on Tour in charitable contributions with $7 million, while the Nelson was third ($6.3 million), Houston fifth ($4.5 million), and the Colonial kicked in $2.6 million. That's $20 million from Texas.
By Finchem's standard, that kind of generosity should have turned the players' heads. Then why are so many of the top-ranked pros taking a pass on the Texas swing?
Go back to last year, when with one hand the Tour was patting itself on the back for reaching $1 billion in charitable giving with a yearlong ad campaign called Drive to a Billion (which conveniently concluded at the Tour's own Tour Championship), while with the other it was reworking the 2007 schedule.
The Tour applauded itself for taking Texas's money but returned the favor with four lousy spots on the schedule.
The Houston Open, which has never been graced by Tiger Woods, was moved to the week before the Masters, always a dark period for the No. 1 player in the world. The Nelson, with its prime mid-May date reassigned to the Tour-owned Players Championship, was stuck in a late-April pit, and the results were predictable: Of the top 15 players only Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia showed up especially lamentable because this was the first Nelson since the death of its namesake.
This week's Colonial was cast into the late-May lull between the Players and Jack Nicklaus's Memorial, and at press time only one top 10 player had committed.
But these events are prime compared with the Texas Open, consigned to the worst fate of all: the irrelevance of the post-FedEx Cup fall season.
Maybe the commissioner really believes that what a tournament gives away matters, and that on the PGA Tour doing good is as important as doing well. No one in Texas does anymore.
SI contributor Art Stricklin lives in Plano, Texas.