If you want to know how tough a PGA Tour course is going to play, don’t ask the players. That point was driven home at the Valero Texas Open, played at the new TPC San Antonio.
The new complex has two courses, with the tournament being played on the AT&T Oaks Course. Based on the pre-tournament buildup, you would have thought a more appropriate name for the course would be The Monster.
All we heard leading into the tournament was how severe the course was, how long it was, how extreme the greens were. It sounded like they were going to be lucky just to finish before dark, forget shooting under par. Even Sergio Garcia, who consulted with Greg Norman on the design, said it came out tougher than he envisioned.
So what happened? The winning score was 14-under, with champion Adam Scott finishing 66-67. It took a score of even-par just to make the cut for the 36-hole finish on Sunday (1-over for the standard low-70-and-ties cut to finish in the money). The average score was 72.353. That made it just a touch harder than average, instead of a horror show.
It was reminiscent of players sounding like they would be happy to break 80 at Whistling Straits, only to have a winning score of 8-under at the 2004 PGA Championship. Or Phil Mickelson predicting a winning score of over-par at the Masters two years ago when it turned out to be 8-under.
Memo to PGA Tour players: Read your promotional material. You guys are good.
To be fair, the players’ concerns weren’t completely baseless. The PGA Tour staff moved a couple of tees up permanently and varied the tee placements on other holes so that the course never played to its stated yardage of 7,522. That’s a credit to the staff in setting up the course so that it was a challenge but still would yield birdies to good play. It’s also a credit to the design that there was flexibility built in.
Also, the rain that washed out play on Friday softened the greens, and if you give the pros soft targets they will do well on almost any course. The greens were fairly slow by Tour standards, which made the slopes less fearsome. That’s something to keep an eye on in future years.
While the course turned out to be playable, it was certainly tough enough to represent a break in the Texas Open tradition. From Brackenridge Park to Oak Hills to La Cantera, the tournament has been a birdie-fest for much of its history. Mike Souchak set a PGA Tour 72-hole record of 257 at Brackenridge Park in 1957 that lasted for 46 years, challenged by a 259 by Corey Pavin in 1988 and a 258 by Donnie Hammond in 1989 at the Texas Open at Oak Hills. The record was lowered to 256 by Mark Calcavecchia in Phoenix in 2001, but it stayed away from Texas for only two years. Tommy Armour shot a 254 at La Cantera in 2003, a mark that still stands.
So, maybe the new course was a shock to the system for players used to coming to San Antonio and shooting the lights out. But tournament organizers are looking to create a new era for the Texas Open, with a move from the overlooked fall season to the heart of the PGA Tour schedule in May. An upgraded course is part of the package. So is an upgraded field, at least compared to the fall. Whether it can draw a truly strong field in a packed spring portion of the schedule is still an open question, but Ernie Els did play for the first time this year—and he gave TPC San Antonio a thumb’s up.
I’m generally an advocate of using television replays for golf rulings. I don’t buy the “selective enforcement” argument that it’s unfair to players who appear on television. If there is evidence of a rules infraction, whatever the source, officials are doing the right thing by investigating.
However, the situation at the Mallorca Open this past weekend gives me pause. A slow-motion replay there showed that Peter Hanson, co-leader at the time, double-hit a chip shot from the fringe on the 12th hole. The ball left the clubface for only an instant, stuck in the grass a bit, and then the club struck it for a second time.
The infraction wasn’t apparent looking at it at regular speed (maybe it looked a little funny, but that’s probably because when I saw it on video I already knew what happened). It happened so quickly that it’s understandable Hanson didn’t notice. Nor would any observers have been likely to notice in real time. Only with a super close-up and slow motion could you tell that the ball was hit twice. In those circumstances, I’m not sure it’s really fair to penalize a player.
On the other hand, the rules officials’ argument would be that it’s a point of fact whether the ball was struck twice or wasn’t—and that the replay showed it was. In a sense, there’s no gray area here. This is not one of those rules questions where the player’s intent was a factor.
But I have to wonder: Would this type of contact-brief separation-contact be not altogether uncommon on a delicate shot from the fringe if you slowed down the picture enough?
To his credit, Hanson deemed the ruling “fair,” a judgment that must have been easier to make considering that he rebounded and ended up winning in a playoff.
He might have been rattled when told about the one-stroke penalty while playing the 14th hole. He promptly hit his next shot under a bush and had to take an unplayable-ball penalty. But he recovered to hole a 25-foot putt for a bogey on that hole and birdies on 15 and 17 to make the playoff, where he beat Alejandro Canizares.
Fortunately, the ruling didn’t end up costing him anything—except maybe a few gray hairs.
It would have made sense for Jerry Rice to play in the Nationwide Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am as an amateur. The NFL Hall-of-Famer would have been a fine addition to the field as a celebrity in the event where amateurs are paired with pros for the first three rounds.
Unfortunately, Rice decided to turn pro when he played in the Fresh Express Classic, a Nationwide Tour event that he hosted in California last month. Getting a spot in that field was somewhat defensible—but still questionable—considering the publicity it generated for a tournament in his own area that he was involved in. Turning pro to do so, however, was a case of delusions of grandeur for the 47-year-old former wide receiver, who ended up shooting 83-76 there.
The BMW decided to give him a spot as a pro, but Rice played like an amateur, shooting a 92 in the first round and then being disqualified because his caddie used a range-finder. That’s something that’s permitted in everyday amateur play—which is exactly where Rice belongs, not taking a spot from a legitimate pro in a Nationwide field.