FORT WORTH, Texas – Less than a chip shot from Colonial’s 18th green looms an oversized statue of Ben Hogan, a bronze testament to what makes the club special that glares stoically across the property as only the “Hawk” could.
As Wednesday’s pro-am at this year’s Colonial inched its way around the tree-lined layout one could only imagine what the often aloof Hogan would make of the field assembled for his invitational.
If half the stories about Hogan are true, his reaction to this year’s tee sheet would likely be curt and largely unprintable.
It’s not as though Colonial officials are reaching for the “eject” lever. Truth is they like the field and cozy Colonial’s spot on the Tour dance card.
With two of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and six of the top 10 on the current FedEx Cup points list some tournaments would give up a full house of sponsor exemptions for that kind of problem. But Colonial isn’t just some tournament.
Hogan’s Alley dates to 1941 and the list of past champions is a Hall of Fame roll call – Hogan (five times), Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson are all etched into the Wall of Champions adjacent the first tee.
But somewhere along the way the tournament that is tied directly to Hogan, who lived his life in search of perfection, has lurched into inexplicable mediocrity. A middle-of-the-pack stop wedged between the Masters, U.S. Open and a May Players Championship that, along with the creation of the World Golf Championships, likely expedited Colonial’s fall from grace.
For decades there has been an unwritten Tour hierarchy, headlined always by the majors but altered in recent years with the advent of the WGC events.
“It was always the majors and then these events, Colonial, Memorial, Bay Hill, the (Byron) Nelson,” said 2004 Colonial champion Steve Flesch. “But now the WGCs are in the second tier and these have slipped.”
In many ways the Legend’s Slam, at least the two Texas legs, have become victims of a global game and crowded schedule.
The invention of the WGCs in 1999 supplanted many tournaments on Tour, but particularly previously considered must-stop events in Dallas, Orlando, Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Worth. Nor did it help that when The Players made the move to May it created scheduling issues for both the Colonial and Nelson.
“The Nelson had a great date and a big-time feel to it when it was the week of The Players,” said Harrison Frazar, referring to the post-May Players era when the Nelson was held in late April and early May. “Sandwiched between The Players and the Memorial it’s just going to struggle.”
Frazar is more than just a curious Tour bystander when it comes to the Texas two-step. The Dallas native hasn’t missed a Nelson, as either a spectator or competitor, since 1995 and began attending that event in 1985.
“Both of these tournaments have a real special place in my heart,” he said.
As the current chairman of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council bound for a spot on next year’s Policy Board, Frazar also is in a unique position to enact change, but in this case there is no quick fix.
Because of heat concerns it would be impossible to move the Texas swing later in the year and there is little, or no, room earlier in the season.
“That’s the age-old question around here, ‘What do we do?’” Frazar asked. “For some reason the young guys don’t want the shotmaker’s courses anymore (like Colonial). They want the bomber’s courses. I think that’s part of it.
“It’s not that anybody thinks they are bad tournaments or puts them on their schedule as a place they don’t want to go. When they started laying it out and you have the lead up to Augusta, the lead up to The Players and the lead up to the (U.S.) Open these two spots are in a ‘no-man’s land.’”
The Nelson and Colonial flipped dates this season, with the Dallas stop following The Players which seemed to help the field at TPC Four Seasons Resort, but when asked if a similar swap next year or beyond would help the Colonial tournament director Michael Tothe balked.
“Our title sponsor is a hotel and likes the Memorial Day slot,” Tothe said. “And if you flipped the dates I think it would just confuse the players.”
Compounding the Texas two-step’s field issues is this week’s BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event that virtually guarantees that neither event will ever woo the Continent’s best to the heart of Texas.
That Mickelson, a Colonial winner in ’00 and ’08, hasn’t played the Fort Worth stop since 2010 and Tiger Woods has been AWOL since 1997 also doesn’t help the event’s curb appeal.
In short, this leg of the Legend’s Slam has a problem without a ready fix, a reality that wouldn’t sit well with Hogan, a man who overcame a nasty hook and near-fatal car crash with hard work. But this time there may not be any answers, no matter how hard you look for them in the dirt.