Texas Tour Stops Helped Define Professional Golf

By: Steve Habel

Texans are never shy, so the bold statement you are about to read from a native of the Lone Star State should, perhaps, have been expected: Professional golf would not be the same if not for the impetus of Texas businessmen, golfers and the tour stops hosted here.

A lot has been written in the past several weeks about the "Texas Three-Step" and the "Texas Swing," especially as the PGA Tour conducts its third straight event in the Lone Star State this week at Colonial Country Club, site of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. With the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio two weeks ago and the HP Byron Nelson Classic in Irving contested just last weekend, this trio of tourneys has grown into one of the strongest cogs in the PGA Tour machinery.

Straight out of the box, before it was even known as the Texas Swing, the best players in the game ruled the state. The Texas Open set the pattern for lucrative professional events around the world and the state of Texas played an important role in establishing the PGA, LPGA and Senior (now Champions) tours.

In 1922 the first Texas Open was held in San Antonio at Brackenridge Park. The $5,000 prize - the largest in pro golf to that time - attracted the best talent to Texas, and the tournament was the inspiration of two farsighted Texans: San Antonio newspaperman Jack O'Brien and pioneering golf architect John Bredemus.

In the 1940s and '50s, the Texas tour stops were dominated by the state's Hall of Fame professionals - namely Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, both of whom grew up in Fort Worth. Nelson won the first Dallas Open in 1944, Sam Snead the second and Ben Hogan the third. Hogan won the first Colonial tournament in Fort Worth in 1946 and repeated the next year, and would go on to serve as the tournament's unofficial host until his death.

At the Texas Open, Hogan beat Byrd by six shots in 1946 and then it was Sam Snead's turn in 1948 and 1950. Jack Burke Jr., yet another Texas golf legend, triumphed in 1952. And then there was Ben Crenshaw, fresh out of the University of Texas, capturing the 1973 event at Woodlake Golf Club. Native son Don January won the event two years later and Tex-Mex star Lee Trevino garnered his first Texas Open in 1980.

The Texans-winning-Texas-events tradition continued in 2000, '01 and '07 when Dallas' Justin Leonard won on the Resort Course at LaCantera in San Antonio.

Both stars in the making, or those already established, have made it a point to play the Texas tournaments. The Valero Texas Open had one player in the field entering the event in the top 25 in the rankings, and in the HP Byron Nelson Championship, formerly the Dallas Open, there were two top-10 players in the field.

Crenshaw grew up in Austin. His first PGA Tour victory was the 1973 Texas Open and he also won the Colonial twice as well as the Nelson. Crenshaw acknowledged there's been some slippage on the Texas Swing in the past, but that having the three tournaments in consecutive weeks helps add some appeal for professionals

"You used to love it - you didn't have to go all over creation to play," Crenshaw said. "The Nelson was always a must-play when Byron was alive and there is obviously a void there without Byron. It'll always be his place, though; the way Colonial is Hogan's place."

Now the Texas trio is in full swing thanks to an improved course at the Nelson (thanks to D.A. Weibring's redo of the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas) and the Valero Texas Open's break when it was shifted out of afterthought status as part of the Fall Series and moved to its current spot before the Nelson. Next year, the event will be conducted on a new Greg Norman-designed course that's almost ready for play.

Whatever else you want to say about the Texas tournaments, they've always been a good place to go low and make history. Of the 21 times a 60 has been carded in PGA Tour history, eight have come in Texas, including five at San Antonio. Tommy Armour III owns the PGA Tour record for lowest aggregate score, 254, which he set in San Antonio in 2003. The San Antonio event is the third-oldest on the PGA Tour, not counting the majors. The Nelson was the first official tour event named after a former player.

Of the four Texas events, including Houston, no one has won all of them, but nine have won three, including Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gene Littler and Crenshaw.

"There's more than a little bit of history here in Texas," said Tom Kite, who lives in Austin. "Texas tournaments have produced some great champions and also contributed huge amounts of money to charity. It's a great legacy." The amount that the San Antonio/Irving/Fort Worth events raise for local charities is usually one of the highest on the PGA Tour. Last year, their total was $21 million.

The Senior PGA, for golfers over 50 years old, was the outgrowth of the first Legends of Golf tournament in 1978, organized in Austin by colorful veteran Jimmie Demaret of Houston and promoter Fred Raphael.

As the third-oldest event on the PGA Tour, the Valero Texas Open also holds the distinction of being the longest-running event held in the same city. Another important professional milestone was when the 1927 National Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Championship was staged in Dallas. It was the first major golf event held in Texas and was the last of five PGA titles to be won by the flamboyant Walter Hagen.

Colonial, the longest-running event on the PGA Tour to be played at its original site, became the first Texas venue to host a U.S. Open (in 1941) and a U.S. Women's Open (1991). Northwood Country Club in Dallas hosted the U.S. Open in 1952.

When Annika Sorenstam teed it up at the Bank of America Invitational at Colonial Country Club in 2003, she became the first woman in nearly 50 years to play in a PGA Tour event. The four-month build-up after the Swede announced her intention to play created a media frenzy.

Members of the press and the majority of golf professionals are still gaga over Colonial and its 7,204-yard, par-70 layout. This week's Crowne Plaza Invitational will have the strongest overall field of the newest edition of the Texas Three Step and will host four of the top 10 golfers in the World Rankings, as well as eight of the top 15 and 15 of the top 29 players in the world.

Paul Casey, a winner at last weekend's BMW European PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, England and a first-time competitor at the Colonial, is the top-ranked player in the field at Fort Worth's annual PGA Tour stop.

Casey moved to No. 3 in the world golf rankings, up four places from last week, and past fellow Colonial competitor Geoff Ogilvy, who dropped from fifth to sixth in the updated rankings while skipping last week's HP Byron Nelson Championship.

Also in the field are 17 major winners and eight former Colonial champions, including Rory Sabbatini, who comes off a winning effort last week in the HP Byron Nelson Classic.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the media coordinator for Bechtol Golf Design, the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.