In the weeks leading up to a PGA Tour event, a tournament director is kept up at night by two things — weather and strength of field. And they can’t really influence either one. Weather is an act of nature, and field strength is an act of human nature.
Most of the world’s best golfers will build their schedules to be on hand for prestige stops like Bay Hill or Memorial. A mid-level Tour event faces a little more uncertainty, especially in 2016 with the Summer Olympics crowding the schedule. Last week at the Valero Texas Open, hope gave way to reality.
Of the 156 players who played the first day, only three players were ranked in the top 20 in the World Golf Rankings or FedEx standings. Just 11 showed up in the FedEx top 50. More than one fifth of the field (37) ranked outside the FedEx top 200, and 10 players had no ranking whatsoever in the FedEx points. The only real face card in the deck was Phil Mickelson, and he missed the cut. Even CBS lead announcer, Jim Nantz, had the week off.
And still the Valero Texas Open made for a compelling tournament, with a good finish on Sunday. Charley Hoffman slew some demons with a birdie at the 72nd hole for the win. But a largely anonymous field does have consequences.
Walk-up ticket sales are usually modest at best. The number of eyeballs watching on television drops significantly with competition from other sports. Perhaps most importantly, the bar for corporate sales for the coming year is lowered by a weaker field.
Hoffman, playing in the penultimate group, put his second shot in the greenside bunker at the par-5 18th, put his third just on the green nine feet away and converted the birdie putt for a one-shot win. His closing 69 ended a streak dating back to last year of 10 straight tournaments in which he failed to break 70 on the final day. It was his fourth career win. And for observers of style, it was his first win since he abandoned his flowing blonde locks a year ago.
Patrick Reed, ranked #12 in the world, chased Hoffman to the finish, and he has his own frustrating streak to deal with. Reed now has nine top-10 finishes in the 2016 season without a win. He also has gone nearly two years without a win in a full-field event.
Coming off his first win in the U.S. a week earlier at the Heritage, South African Branden Grace shot 69-67, 8-under on the weekend. He finished in the top 10 with a ninth place tie.
The nameless nature of the field played out through most of the rest of the top 10 with Chad Collins, Martin Piller, Harold Varner, Tom Hoge and Jon Curran on the list.
While Texas lacked star power in the field at Valero, the Bahamas had plenty to brag about. A quartet of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman spent their time together at Bakers Bay enjoying the water and posting on Snapchat. With the Players Championship, Memorial and the U.S. Open at Oakmont grouped in a five-week period, look for other players to follow a similar vacation path. Rumor is Rory McIlroy declined an invitation to make it five in the Bahamas.
Field Strength II
There has been strong speculation in the last 10 days, mostly originating with Tim Rosaforte, that Tiger Woods is about to resurface on the PGA Tour. Woods has been out of action since two back surgeries last fall, but indications are that he has increased the intensity of his practices and plans to return to the Tour before the U.S. Open.
An early return would put him the field at Wells Fargo the first week of May. A challenging restart would be The Players Championship the following week. A delayed return would be at Memorial the first week in June.
Whether completely back, either physically or mentally, Woods still moves the needle when it comes to golf. When he showed up in the field in Phoenix during 2015 Super Bowl week, the tournament had to set up a second media facility, and ticket sales jumped more than 10,000 per day. Even though Tiger missed the cut on the weekend, the PGA Tour event outdrew the gate at Super Bowl XLIX on both Thursday and Friday.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.