Tournament: Shell Houston Open
Course: Golf Club of Houston (Tournament Course), 7,441 yards, par 72
Defending Champion: Jim Herman. A journeyman who actually worked as a pro at Trump National Bedminster, he put it together for four rounds last year and shot a strong 68 on the last day to hold off Henrik Stenson, and for his first PGA Tour win and a trip to Augusta.
Fun Fact: There’s a reason they put this tournament, on this course, the week before The Masters. It very closely mimics the conditions pros will play at Augusta National - very slick greens (not quite as undulating), shaved areas around the greens, and collection areas. Oh, and if you win, you get the last invite to play The Masters.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 4-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (NBC). This is the last week for a while that you’ll have to cringe at the sound of Johnny Miller’s voice and needlessly harsh criticisms. CBS will pick up the coverage next week at The Masters and take us into the summer.
Former 'Dawgs in the Field (Three): Harris English, Russell Henley, Hudson Swafford.
This week’s storylines will be primarily about relating this week’s golf to next week’s golf. In other words, this tournament is merely a prelude to The Masters, so it’s all about who’s here prepping for Augusta, and who’s not here prepping for Augusta. Sorry Houston, that’s the deal.
With that said, it is a pretty good regular Tour stop on a fun course. You can go low, but not super low. The green speed is the great equalizer, and while these are not bikini-wax fast (guess who said that?), they are pretty close to bathtub or kitchen linoleum fast.
I’ll cut to the Masters chase. Currently invited to The Masters and formerly matriculating as a Bulldog in Athens are Bubba Watson, Kevin Kisner, and Hudson Swafford. Bubba is playing because he’s a past champion (twice). Kisner got an invite because he’s top 50 in the world. Swafford got his invite thanks to his PGA Tour win in January. But only Swafford is playing this week. Of the three entered this week, English and Henley are the ones looking to springboard this week into an invite. Unfortunately, they are far back enough in the rankings so that only a win on Sunday will guarantee they get priority landing at Augusta Regional Airport.
Harris English is 88th in the world, so even 2nd place this week wouldn’t jump him into the top 50. Close, but not enough. Henley is now down to 117th, so he too has only one avenue by which to drive down Magnolia Lane. Swafford, as I said above, is in like Flynn and hopefully sharpening up his game.
There isn’t too much to preview, so I’ll skip to a little info on the current UGA golf student-athletes. First to the Women’s Team. March wasn’t especially kind to Josh Brewer’s squad as they finished fifth in Hilton Head at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate (Jillian Hollis finishing top 10 individually, Bailey Tardy and Harang Lee finishing top 25); then fell to Ohio State in the Gifford Match Play tournament at Brentwood Country Club (which is the course O.J. Simpson belonged to, I believe). They have fallen to 9th in the country, from a high of 5th in January.
On the men’s side, they have fared slightly worse and now rank 20th from a January ranking of 8th. Earlier this month, they served as the host team at the Southern Intercollegiate (a tournament being the brainchild of one Harold Stegeman and has roots back to 1935) at Athens Country Club. The team finished 5th, but Bulldog senior Greyson Sigg was defending individual champ and came in 2nd this time. Then the Georgia squad moved south to Lake Oconee in the Linger Longer Invitational, where the team came in 3rd, mostly due to Sigg’s individual performance. He claimed medalist honors, and set a new career low at 16 under par (and 5 shots clear of 2nd place).
So there are bright spots, but the SEC’s will be on us before we know it and both teams have a chance to win as well as to advance to the NCAA championship in early summer. This is the time of year for golf and there’s plenty for us to keep an eye on and root for. Keep the comments coming (and I mean from all 3 of you), and I’ll do my best to keep the conversation going as we prep for a week unlike any other.
And as always...