Nelson, Hogan wouldn't be happy with lack of big names in field this week

Nelson, Hogan wouldn’t be happy with lack of big names in field this week

No. 10 Matt Kuchar is the highest-ranked player in the field at this week's Byron Nelson.
Fred Vuich/SI

IRVING, Texas — It’s time to pause and consider, WWBBS — What Would Ben and Byron Say?

Last week’s field at the Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial, a storied event that legendary Ben Hogan won five times, was a bit weak. Not even the lure of his legend could make up for a lousy date on the PGA Tour schedule. The Colonial was the week after The Players, which follows the popular Wells Fargo Championship. With the Memorial Tournament and the U.S. Open coming up, the last two weeks in May are apparently must-not-play zones for the top players.

The highest-ranked player in the field here at the HP Byron Nelson Championship is Matt Kuchar, No. 10 in the world. The European Tour, meanwhile, is holding one of its biggest events this week, the BMW PGA Championship, so there are no Europeans to bolster the field.

So what would Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson say about the state of the two Texas tour stops, which as recently as the late 1990s were fairly prestigious and popular tournaments? It wouldn’t be good.

At Colonial last week, Hogan’s black 1989 Cadillac (with a vinyl roof) was parked in a reserved spot. The sign read: “Ben Hogan 5-Time Champion.” It was a nice piece of history. Tour player Mark Wilson tweeted a picture of himself posing next to it. Colonial also has a larger-than-life bronze statue of Hogan that overlooks the 18th green, and a trophy room in the clubhouse with lots of Hogan memorabilia, including a display case of the Hogan Award, which is given annually to the best college golfer.

“I’ve got a beef with the trophy,” Wilson told me last weekend.

Wilson won the Hogan Award in 1996, but he just noticed last week that the trophy’s base is engraved, “Mark Wilson, University of North Texas.” Wilson played at the University of North Carolina. It’ll take more than Wite-Out to fix that error.

What would Ben say?

As a Texan, you’d have to think he and Nelson would be displeased by the lack of respect accorded this month’s back-to-back stops in Texas. There’s a reason the expression is, “Don’t mess with Texas,” instead of “Don’t mess with Wyoming.”

So the Nelson, as locals call this week’s tournament, features only five players among the world’s top 25. There’s Kuchar, plus No. 13 Dustin Johnson, No. 15 Nick Watney, No. 16 K.J. Choi and No. 23 Jason Day, the defending champ. Those missing include Phil Mickelson, who won here in 1996 and finished third in his last appearance here in 2007; 2008 champ Adam Scott, who is stiffing the Nelson for the second straight year; and area resident Hunter Mahan, who made some unwise remarks about the event in The Dallas Morning News last weekend.

Mahan told the paper that he didn’t like the course tee to green, that he doesn’t like the way the greens were redone and that in seven tries, 42nd place is his best finish. If he’d stopped there, he might have been all right. Of course, he didn’t stop there. “It doesn’t suit me, it’s a pain in the butt to play,” Mahan said. “I’m not Tiger Woods. I’m not bringing in the economic impact that he does, so I don’t feel like they’re losing a whole lot with me not being there.”

Mahan got the second half right. But “It’s a pain in the butt to play” is a comment that’s going to follow him around for a long time. Sorry for the inconvenience of having a PGA Tour stop a few miles from your home with a $6.5 million purse, pal. There’s no way anyone should have to play a home game on a course they don’t love for a couple of days, show up for a pro-am and make some amateur golfers feel good, and play a tournament for friends and fans in the area and to support the sponsor if he doesn’t enjoy every minute of it. Yeah, what a pain in the butt that must be.

What would Ben and Byron say?

Meanwhile, the biggest name in the Nelson field may be the player who stole the headlines last year: Dallas teen Jordan Spieth, the high school star who was given an exemption last year and electrified the fans by tying for 16th. He was an instant local hero and made everyone forget to ask why a tournament would give an exemption in a pro event to a high school kid (who was also the U.S. Junior Amateur champion). Spieth became a legend. Upon request, he even autographed a couple of girls’ foreheads with a Sharpie last year. That’s pretty cool for a 16-year-old. Since last year, he has played golf with Tony Romo and George W. Bush. He also added some 20 pounds to his slight frame and reports that he’s picked up 15 or 20 yards off the tee. The spotlight will definitely be on him this week.

What would Ben and Byron say?

Maybe, “Nice shot, kid.”

That old Kentucky home
The Champions Tour kicks off its first and most legitimate major championship this week, the Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky. The first Senior PGA Championship was played at Augusta National Golf Club, a remarkable bit of trivia.

Bernhard Langer, one of the tour’s best players, won’t be there. He’s still sidelined while recovering from a thumb injury that required surgery in March. Fred Couples also pulled out, citing a bad back and also more than a dozen skin cancer lesions that were surgically removed from his hands.

Kenny Perry, a native of Franklin, Ky., will no doubt be the fan favorite this week. The last time he played an event at Valhalla, he helped the Americans to a spirited victory over Europe in the Ryder Cup.

Other leading players figure to include Tom Lehman, who has won three times this year, and Kentucky native Russ Cochran.

Way South of the border
Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen can resume their showdown from last week’s Sybase Match Play Championship when the LPGA goes to Brazil this week for an unusual limited-field event. It’ll be 30 players, including the two of them, playing 36 holes of stroke play for a $720,000 purse. The tournament is the third HSBC Brazil Cup. And it’ll be played in Rio De Janeiro at the Itanhanga Golf Club. You’re probably thinking, hey, maybe that’s where they should play when the Olympics come to Brazil. At 6,339 yards, it’s a little on the short side for the men.

Meaghan Francella won this event last year, beating Mariajo Uribe in a six-hole playoff.

If you’d like to work on your language skills, check out the tournament’s non-English website.

The short game

Seven more players qualified for next month’s U.S. Open. Peter Hanson, Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero became Open-exempt because they solidified spots among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Rory Sabbatini, David Toms and Aaron Baddeley qualified because they were among the top 10 on the current PGA Tour money list. Anders Hansen qualified as one of the top five money leaders on the European Tour … Tiger Woods dropped to 12th in the world rankings, behind Matt Kuchar, No. 10, and Bubba Watson, No. 11 … Suzann Pettersen’s Sybase win bumped her up a spot to No. 2 in the Rolex World Rankings, behind Yani Tseng. Cristie Kerr, who lost the final to Pettersen, remained at No. 4 behind Jiyai Shin … Four of the top 10 players in the Rolex rankings are Korean … The Nationwide Tour has no event this week, which is why Sunghoon Kang and Garth Mulroy, who were in last week’s playoff at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, are both playing the Byron Nelson.