Texas Mess

Texas Mess

may22_singhnelson_299x331_0.jpg
With Nelson (right) gone, both the Tour and the players are showing less respect for his namesake event.
LM Otero/AP

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.


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