San Antonio Trip Dispatch: Golfing the ups and downs of the Texas Hill Country

By Brandon TuckerApril 8, 2013, 4:06 pm

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. -- What's a week on the 2013 PGA Tour schedule without a heavy downpour?

Thankfully, the heavy stuff came down in San Antonio mid-week, before first round action of the Valero Texas Open began. It caught me on Wednesday morning as I scurried off the front nine of the Golf Club of Texas at Briggs Ranch. That morning, as I played through fairways lined with a mix of moo-ing cattle and new residences sprouting up, a UFO-shaped cloud began forming to the west of me and grew larger and darker before I found myself smack dab under it as I made it to the 9th tee, thankfully just a hole's drive from the clubhouse.

It was a rude welcoming to a destination usually known as a sunny and hospitable one. A mix of rain and hail pelted my car as I made my way towards refuge: the Hyatt Hill Country Resort. Shortly after, the sun came out and revealed cool, sunny conditions ideal for taking in as much golf as we could, both watching the Texas Open and playing our own games.

San Antonio's golf resorts: Hyatt Hill Country and Westin La Cantera

Hill Country Golf Club

If you drive the green of a par 4, but then the ensuing putt rolls off the surface, is it a Green-in-Regulation?

Embarrassingly, that was the question as I lied three on the fringe of the par-4 hole of the 6th hole of the Creeks nine, one of a handful of drivable short par 4s at the Hill Country Golf Club. Like the TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks course's exciting drivable par-4 17th, the Hill Country Golf Club has its share of exciting shorties to go with a classic, gently rolling and often shady collection of fairways  -- not to mention some tough greens if you catch yourself in the wrong spot. The Arthur Hills design rewards aggressive play often, though the Oaks nine's doglegs and mature oak trees require a good bit of savvy.

As you head northeast from the Hyatt Hill Country resort, the hills get larger and when you arrive at the Palmer Course at Westin La Cantera Resort, you're face-to-face with one of the Hill Country's most ambitious canvases for golf. In addition to these mighty hills, the Palmer Course has its own lavish, stone clubhouse complete with a bell tower, valet parking and delicious fare in the restaurant overlooking the 18th. The signature hole is considered the 4th, a mellow, low-lying par-3, whose bridge to the green is a memorial to Palmer's late wife Winnie. But this hole's flat nature is a rare aside on a layout full of holes that play both severely up and downhill. The expansive views from many of the greens, particularly on the backside, steal the show. 

The combined number of guest rooms at both the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Westin La Cantera don't quite add up to the 1,002 rooms at the JW Marriott and TPC San Antonio - and that's exactly the point. What the mighty JW Marriott showcases in sheer awe and scale, guests at these two properties relish in a smaller, quieter vibe. And while the TPC earns accolades as being among the toughest venues on both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, the La Cantera and the Hyatt layouts dish up resort-style playability.

More golf in San Antonio

Tapatio Springs

Tapatio Springs in Boerne

While this particular trip to San Antonio was a brief one spent watching the Valero and playing golf at the resorts, here are a few other notable daily-fee courses in the area:

An A.W. Tillinghast-designed municipal course, Brackenridge Park Golf Course boasts history and convenience, especially if you're staying downtown (green fees: $40-70).

For eye-popping scenery, head to The Quarry Golf Club. After a traditional front nine, the back side plays through an old limestone quarry, complete with dramatic forced carries and elevated tee shots.

North of the city in Boerne, 27-hole Tapatio Springs Resort is short, but one of the area's more unique atmospheres, set in a remote valley walled with limestone cliffs. The course is part of a small resort and conference center that was recently purchased by George Strait, while Troon Golf assumed management duties (green fees:$30-60).

Near the TPC San Antonio and Westin La Cantera, Canyon Springs Golf Club is a top selection in the city's upper-middle tier of daily fees. It's resort-style ambiance features two live longhorns on display near the first tee plus a high waterfall behind No. 18 to go with a championship-caliber design over 7,000 yards (green fees: $60-90).

Canyon Springs

A proper Texas welcome at Canyon Springs Golf Club

Also, River Crossing Golf Club, north of town on Highway 281, features some of the best greens that I've played in the Hill Country. Semi-private, the green fees ($40-60) are a steal.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.