This can’t be what Jim Crane and the Astros Foundation imagined when they resurrected the Houston Open that returns to the PGA Tour schedule this week after an 18-month absence.
The field includes exactly one player – No. 37 Henrik Stenson – ranked among the top 40 in the world.
Otherwise, it looks like one of the opposite-field events typically played during a World Golf Championship week.
It’s reassuring that golf means enough in Houston that Crane, the businessman who owns baseball’s Houston Astros, and his group made sure the tournament would survive despite the loss of its longtime title sponsor (Shell) and its traditional pre-Masters springtime date.
The timing of its return to the PGA Tour schedule, however, has left Houston with virtually no star power, a disappointment that may be tempered this year by the Astros’ potential run to another World Series.
Whether it was Houston or some other event, this week is a bad date because it falls after a comfortable two-week run from Napa, Calif., to Las Vegas and immediately before a three-week tour of Asia, where most of the game’s biggest names will show up for at least one event, and likely two.
The majors, the Players Championship and the WGC events eat up a big chunk of starts for the top players, most of whom don’t want to play more than 20 tournaments in a season.
Fall events, even if they come with the World Golf Championship tag as the tournament starting later this month in Shanghai does, struggle to attract the stars to play. Houston’s situation illustrates the increasing divide between top-tier events and the rest of the PGA Tour schedule.
The majors, the Players Championship and the WGC events eat up a big chunk of starts for the top players, most of whom don’t want to play more than 20 tournaments in a season. Throw in the particular favorites each player has and factor in trying to play themselves into form in advance of the majors, and the reality is top players skip more than half of the PGA Tour schedule.
With 49 tournaments on the schedule for the 2019-20 season, the good news is there are plenty of playing opportunities for the rank and file but the reality is many tournaments won’t have the star power they desire.
The tour’s three-week run through Asia will attract almost every top player at some point, including Tiger Woods, who will play in the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan in two weeks. The impact is diminished because the Asian tournaments don’t fit into the traditional U.S. television window but it will be the last time to see many of the top players until early next year.
That doesn’t help the Houston Open this week, and it may not get much better in the future.
• By winning in Las Vegas on Sunday, did Kevin Na play his way into Woods’ thought process regarding his four captain’s picks for the U.S. Presidents Cup team?
No doubt Woods took notice of Na, with whom he had fun earlier this year by mimicking Na’s quick-step routine of pulling short putts out of the hole, but Na still seems like a long shot to make the team.
That’s not being dismissive of Na, but the reality is Woods will have more deserving talent than he will have spots, particularly if he adds himself to the playing roster, which I expect he will.
For Na, it’s simple. Keep playing well. Woods will pick players who have shown him the most.
To offer some perspective on how well Na putted in setting a PGA Tour record last week by holing 558 feet of putts, look at it this way:
Over 72 holes, the average length of putts Na holed was 7.75 feet per green.
• Bryson DeChambeau is at it again.
He will take at least one month off as he goes to work on becoming a bigger version of himself, basically taking the opposite approach of Phil Mickelson, who has been busy shedding more than 30 pounds.
Naturally, DeChambeau is taking a scientific approach with the intention of maximizing his muscle mass and his length.
Here’s how he explains it:
“We make sure the neurological threshold is just as high as the mechanical threshold. In layman’s terms, pretty much whatever muscle potentially you have, how big and the muscle spindles you have, making sure you can recruit every single one of them to their full potential throughout the whole range, and training the whole range of motion …
“It’s revolutionary in the physical therapy world. We aren’t doing suction cup, anything like that. It’s literally I’ll be injured or hurt in some facet and I’ll go work out to heal it, to make it get better so I can hold that tolerance level.”
It makes DeChambeau’s switch to all graphite shafts two weeks ago seem almost quaint.
Henrik Stenson is the lone player in the top 40 to participate in the Houston Open. Photo: Stuart Franklin, Getty Images
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