Can you sense the smell of Azaleas and pimento cheese sandwiches in the air? Are the sweet melodic tunes of “Augusta” playing over and over in your head? Do you dream at night of Centaur Jim Nantz telling you “Hello Friend” as you hop onto his back and ride off into the sunset?
We are ever so close to the greatest golf tournament of the year. So it is fitting that before we reach golf nirvana, we have to sit through the worst one as a top heavy field gathers at TPC San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open.
If there ever was a tournament to gamble on golf, this one would be it. There is very little at stake in this tournament besides middling golfers looking at their last chance to qualify for The Masters or the better players in the field holding a few clinics for the local kids of San Antonio.
Here’s everything to know about the tournament before placing wagers on it:
Up until this year, the Houston Open resided as the final tournament on the schedule before the Masters. The tournament bounced around the Houston area for a few years before it landed at the Golf Club of Houston, which features bentgrass greens, fairways and rough similar to that of Augusta National. Though most big name golfers don’t like playing in a tournament the week before a major, the Masters-like conditions offered by Houston made it an ideal warm up before everyone headed down to Augusta.
Due to a lack of sponsorship, the Houston Open was shuttled off to the fall season, and the Valero Texas Open took it’s place. There is absolutely nothing at TPC San Antonio that will resemble anything close to what the players will see next week at Augusta National, and as such the field is woefully weak.
Highlighting the field this week is Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar (who likely will withdraw tomorrow or Tuesday after playing over 120 holes of golf at the WGC Match Play). But other than these four, it’s a really hard sell to the more casual golf fans to tune in. Luke List? Byeong Hun An? Billy Horschel? Sure those are household names for hardcore golf fans like myself. But god bless the marketing director at Golf Channel, NBC and at TPC San Antonio to properly promote this event.
The Golf Course
The Valero Texas Open is the sixth oldest professional golf tournament worldwide, but it’s continuously been treated like the red-headed stepchild on the schedule. The event has never been able to find stability in both it’s venue, it’s sponsorship or it’s place on the calendar. The tournament was first played in 1922 at Brackenridge Park, but since then it’s bounced around the San Antonio area to eight different golf courses before finally settling at the newly built TPC San Antonio in 2010.
TPC San Antonio boasts two 18 hole golf courses. One course, the Canyons Course, was designed by Pete Dye and is actually a very intriguing layout, which you would expect out of Pete Dye golf courses. There’s a lot of elevation changes up, down, and around the canyons of the property to create an interesting 18 hole track to keep a golfer on its toes. However, because of the terrain and the shortish length on the scorecard, it isn’t very conducive to set up the infrastructure needed to host 25,000 spectators or set up camera towers to capture the action.
Instead, the tournament is held on the Oaks Course, which is on the south side of the property. And this golf course is, um…not a strong offering.
Don’t take my word for it – the Greg Norman design is a popular pick by the pros as one of the worst golf courses they play on the PGA Tour:
There’s just nothing captivating about the layout of the golf course. The course slopes downhill from the front to the back side of the property, but that is the only elevation change offered at the Oaks Course. And most holes have the same strategy as the rest – hit a driver away and past the fairway bunker, and hit a high lofted iron into the green. Lather, rinse repeat. Hell, even the co-designer of the golf course, Sergio Garcia, avoided playing the golf course like the plague for years before enduring a forgettable missed cut at last year’s event.
When the most interesting hole on the golf course is the one with a bunker in the middle of the green, well…
…maybe it’s time to give Gil Hanse a few billable hours for some consultation.
At least with the Houston Open the golfers could take something out of it by getting used to the fast speeds on the bentgrass greens, or hitting out of the overseeded bentgrass rough to simulate tournament conditions at Augusta. But all this tournament serves is an obligation for anyone sponsored by AT&T to make an appearance or as a last gasp to make the Masters. Other than that, unless you’re a gambler this is an event to skip as a mandatory viewing experience.
But hey, the pool at the J.W. Mariott on the property is quite delightful.
With a weak field and the biggest names likely having their head in Augusta instead of San Antonio, this leaderboard should be packed with a smorgasbord of golfers of all walks of life – bombers, good putters, short game specialists, etc. When looking back at recent tournaments, there’s not a whole lot of consistency in traits of golfers that tend to play well at TPC San Antonio. If anything, longer hitters off the tee tend to have a bit of an advantage as they have the length to hit past any fairway hazards, as well as the ability to cut through the blustery conditions normally seen at the event. Players who have a strong history at windy golf courses also have a slight advantage.
If there was a particular angle to look at it would be towards those who need a win to qualify for the Masters. A few examples of golfers in the field outside the Top 50 who need to play their way into Augusta include Jim Furyk, Andrew Putnam, Luke List, Sungjae Im, Daniel Berger and Abraham Ancer. These golfers should have a chip on their shoulder to get their last chance to play in the greatest golf tournament in the world. Even golfers ranked 100+ in the world who have shown solid ball-striking of late and can only qualify for the Masters with a victory can also be targets as cheap options in DraftKings.