Colonial's fall from grace

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2012, 9:05 pm

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.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”

When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”

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Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:41 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.

With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.

“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”

Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.

As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”

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Even as youngest Euro, Rahm has no trouble fitting in

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:30 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Many times Ryder Cup rookies are seen but not heard, blending into the background while the veterans lead.

Jon Rahm is not one of those rookies.

The youngest player on the European Ryder Cup team – by three years – the gregarious 23-year-old has been particularly active in the team’s group chat.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Jon’s input into it,” said Rory McIlroy, who will likely be paired with Rahm at some point at Le Golf National.

“To see how much he wants this and how he cares about the Ryder Cup and how proud he is to be European and Spanish and to really be a part of this, it’s been really cool to see. I wasn’t quite as vocal in my first Ryder Cup as he’s been, but I wasn’t as good a player my first Ryder Cup as he is.”

Rahm seemed surprised that his healthy amount of input caught McIlroy’s attention – “I’m just being myself,” he said – but he quickly has learned how to fit in with the rest of his teammates.

By poking fun at himself.

After a Tuesday practice round with McIlroy during which he said he was outdriven by about 50 yards, Rahm retired to the physio table for some acupuncture treatment.

“Because of jetlag, I was completely asleep,” Rahm said. “So Rory, he decided it was a perfect time to take a picture of me in my underwear and post it in the chat and say I couldn’t handle him hitting it past me every single drive. Obviously you have to protect yourself and respond to something like that, and I said whatever came to mind.”

With Rahm’s passion and outgoing nature, he’s sure to be one of Europe’s most vocal players, even as the least experienced.

“At first I was a little bit hesitant on what to say,” he said. “I didn’t want to piss anybody off, but once I realized what the tone was going to be, within 30 seconds, OK, here we go, it’s pretty much freewheel to say what you want to anybody, which is obviously a great thing because we all have a lot of fun.”

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Slump over? Sergio had 'very positive week' in Portugal

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:14 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Sergio Garcia’s late commitment to the Portugal Masters may have given him the boost he needed for the Ryder Cup.

After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, Garcia told European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn that he’d add the European Tour event in Portugal if he were selected to the team as a wildcard pick.

Garcia made good on his promise, and last week he tied for seventh – his best worldwide finish since March.

“I was very pleased the way I played,” he said. “I think I played very, very nicely throughout the whole week, which was nice. It felt like it was a very positive week.”

There hadn’t been many positive weeks throughout the year for Garcia, who has slipped from 10th to 28th in the world rankings. The 2017 Masters champion missed the cut in all four majors and struggled with inconsistency.

Still, Garcia was selected to the European team, and Bjorn often cited Garcia’s intangibles – his familiarity with foursomes, his presence in the team room – in justifying his pick.

Even Garcia conceded Wednesday that his selection had more to do with experience than form.

“That’s probably, to be totally honest, one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team,” he said, “not only for what I can bring on the golf course, but what I can bring outside.”

Garcia may have found the spark that his game desperately needed. Six of his past eight rounds have been in the 60s, and he has shot a combined 27 under par during those two starts.