Where have all the Texas legends gone?


IRVING, Texas – They say everything is bigger in Texas, from the trucks to the cattle to the 4-inch stiletto heels preferred by many of the local females here in the Byron Nelson Championship gallery.

It’s a notion which extends beyond the usual reproduction of T-shirt phrases and bumper-sticker slogans. It shapes the collective attitude of the state’s inhabitants. The way of life 'round these parts is so common that it has even spawned an adjective, and it doesn’t take a real-life cowboy to understand the meaning of “Texas-sized.”

Professional golfers have always been bigger here, too. Bigger presences, bigger winners, bigger legends. The chain of champions from the Lone Star State reads like a chronology of the game’s history, from Byron Nelson to Ben Hogan to Jimmy Demaret to Lloyd Mangrum to Jackie Burke Jr. to Lee Trevino to Tom Kite to Ben Crenshaw. Each generation has enjoyed a Texas-sized superstar, with some throughout history overlapping in the same area.

Each one, that is, except the current one.

Check the roster of best golfers with a Texas address and you’ll find an amalgamation of worldly travelers who have transplanted to a place with sustainable roots in the game. The list covers Hunter Mahan, Jason Day, K.J. Choi, Rory Sabbatini, Y.E. Yang and many others who came for the golf and weather – and never left.

Photo gallery: Texas' greatest players

It’s not that the current era is completely devoid of talent. Justin Leonard is the current active PGA Tour victory leader from here with 12; Bob Estes, Harrison Frazar, Mark Brooks and Scott Verplank have enjoyed lengthy careers; Colt Knost, Bobby Gates and J.J. Killeen are amongst a bevy of up-and-comers; and young studs Jordan Spieth and Kelly Kraft provide hope for the future.

There’s some hope for the very immediate future, too. The No. 2 position on the leaderboard halfway through the Nelson is shared by, amongst others, a pair of Colleyville residents in Chad Campbell and Ryan Palmer, no strangers to such surroundings in PGA Tour events.

Between 'em, they own seven career titles – Campbell has four; Palmer three – putting each on the short list of most accomplished active players from the state. Living just 25 minutes from the TPC-Four Seasons course probably doesn’t hurt, either.

“It’s hard to say,” Campbell surmised. “Obviously, I know the course probably as well as anybody, so you definitely think you would play better.”

Campbell and Palmer know each other as well as anybody, too.

Even though Campbell is two years older, they grew up playing junior golf against each other – Palmer and Campbell’s caddie, Judd Burkett, were on the same high school team – and have now been neighbors for about five years.

“We live a 30-second walk away from each other,” Palmer said. “Right around the corner. Out my gate and to the left.”

Really? That close?

“You could probably fly a 5-iron from my backyard to his,” he continued with a laugh. “I haven’t tried it yet.”

To which Campbell countered, “It would probably take me a 3-iron. He’s a little bit longer than I am.”

Each player intimated that he would enjoy a Sunday afternoon pairing with the other – especially if that pairing just happened to be the last one of the day.

“That would be great,” Campbell said. “We play quite a few practice rounds together.”

“We all stayed together at Honda this year and I went to dinner over at their house twice last week at Players,” Palmer added. “It’s funny, we’re never home together. I see him more on the road than at home.”

They’re not only battling for supremacy in the community, but amongst Texas players, as well. Only one native of this state has captured the Nelson in the past two decades; that was Verplank a half-decade ago.

If motivation and home cooking aren’t enough to propel either to victory this week, then consider more tangible reasoning.

A healthy, consistent wind blew through the course on Friday and – as usual around here – is expected to persist throughout the week. Advantage goes to the Texans, who are accustomed to battling in such conditions.

“In my mind, it is. I played well in it last year,” said Palmer, who lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley. “To me, I wouldn’t say I’m a favorite, but in my mind I have a little bit of an advantage going forward because of last year.”

There haven’t been many favorites from this state in recent years. The days of Hogan and Nelson, and even Kite and Crenshaw, are either long gone or simply long dormant, waiting for a rebirth in the current era.

A win from Campbell or Palmer would hardly revive the prominence of Lone Star State golf, but around here it would certainly serve as a Texas-sized victory.