PGA tourcommissioner Tim Finchem once told me that fans don't realize how much the prosfactor in the amount of money a tournament raises for charity when figuring outtheir playing schedules. These days I find his argument unconvincing.
There used to besomething on Tour called the Texas swing, during which three of the four eventsin the Lone Star State--the Houston Open, the Byron Nelson and theColonial--were played in near succession. (The Texas Open was usually heldlater in the year.) The proximity in dates and distance of the tournamentsadded to their appeal because a pro could stay in a single state, albeit a bigone, for almost a month. The events also had long traditions and famousfrontmen. Jack Burke Jr. remains Houston's Mr. Golf, an honorific bestowed inDallas 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 ofthe Texas tournaments have been good to charity. According to severaltournament directors, in 2006 the Texas Open ranked first on Tour in charitablecontributions 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 shouldhave turned the players' heads.
Then why are somany of the top-ranked pros taking a pass on the Texas swing? Go back to lastyear, 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 aBillion (which conveniently concluded at the Tour's own Tour Championship),while with the other it was reworking the 2007 schedule. The Tour applaudeditself for taking Texas's money but returned the favor with four lousy spots onthe schedule.
The Houston Open,which has never been graced by Tiger Woods, was moved to the week before theMasters, 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 15players only Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Luke Donald and Sergio García showedup--especially lamentable because this was the first Nelson since the death ofits namesake. This week's Colonial was cast into the late-May lull between thePlayers and Jack Nicklaus's Memorial, and at press time only one top 10 playerhad 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 fallseason.
Maybe thecommissioner really believes that what a tournament gives away matters, andthat on the PGA Tour doing good is as important as doing well. No one in Texasdoes anymore.
SI contributor ArtStricklin lives in Plano, Texas.
by JIM GORANT
The pros are going to love Liberty National, site ofthe 2009 Barclays Classic.
Once-mighty Seve Ballesteros tied for last in hisChampions tour debut
FORMER CHAMP +
LM OTERO/AP (NELSON)
PATRON SAINT With Nelson (right) gone, both the Tour and the players are showing less respect for his namesake event.
GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (BALLESTEROS MASTERS)
DAVID WALBERG (CLOCK, RANGE)
JOHN SOMMERS II/GETTY IMAGES (BALLESTEROS)