SI Vault
 
Is Texas Toast?
Jaime Diaz
October 02, 2000
To be successful these days, a PGA Tour event must have three things: a title sponsor who puts up a big purse, good dates and Tiger Woods. The venerable Texas Open has none of the above, which makes tournament organizers fearful that the 70th Open, won by Justin Leonard on Sunday, could be one of the last.
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October 02, 2000

Is Texas Toast?

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Numbers
Fleisher is trying to become the third man to win back-to-back Senior tour player of the year awards, but he's getting a run for his money from Irwin (the 1997 and '98 winner) and Nelson. Here's how they stack up.

Fleisher

Irwin

Nelson

Starts

26

20

26

Wins

4

3

5

Top 5s

14

10

15

Money (millions)

$2.17

$1.88

$2.27

Scoring

69.05

69.13

69.03

All-around Rank

1

4

2

To be successful these days, a PGA Tour event must have three things: a title sponsor who puts up a big purse, good dates and Tiger Woods. The venerable Texas Open has none of the above, which makes tournament organizers fearful that the 70th Open, won by Justin Leonard on Sunday, could be one of the last.

The Texas Open, first played in 1922 and the third-oldest non-major on Tour, counts Walter Hagen and Byron Nelson among its champions. But in the years following World War II it was eclipsed by three bigger events in Texas and by the late '80s was being played late in the season. In 1999 the Tour moved the Texas Open to the worst spot on the schedule—opposite the Ryder Cup. Officials at Golf San Antonio, the organization that has put on the tournament since 1938, had hoped to get better dates in 2001, but when next year's schedule was announced in April, the Texas Open was again opposite the biggest event in golf.

That was enough to cause the Westin Hotel Corporation, the Texas Open's title sponsor since 1998, to greatly reduce its role in '01. As for Woods, forgetaboutit. Tiger has teed it up in San Antonio only once, in his rookie year, 1996, when he finished third while making a late-season bid to play his way onto the Tour and avoid Q school.

Golf San Antonio has contracts with the Tour that run through the 2002 season, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the tournament will last that long. "The Tour has asked us to advise it on our ability to pull off the tournament over the next two years," says Reid Meyers, a member of the Golf San Antonio executive committee.

Tournament director Tony Piazzi says that when the '01 schedule was released, "we talked long, loud and frequently [to the Tour]. We certainly expressed our frustration and concern." Texas Open officials were particularly disappointed to see a new event run by the Tour, the SEI Pennsylvania Classic, receive unconnected dates while they did not.

In the end, the fate of the Texas Open will be determined by its financial viability. "We believe in history and tradition, and all things being equal, we would like to see this event continue," says Henry Hughes, the Tour's senior vice president and chief of operations. "But sound business must prevail. We're well aware of the troubles with West-in, and we're trying to assist the tournament in finding a new sponsor."

All of which sounds depressingly familiar to those who have seen such death spirals before. "When the Tour is looking to go somewhere else, you feel bad for tournaments like the Texas Open or the CVS Charity Classic," says Tour veteran Billy Andrade, who grew up in Rhode Island and saw the Classic, one of the region's Tour stops, shut down in 1998 after a 33-year run because of poor dates and the lack of a sponsor. "You read in the paper that the Tour wants to go to St. Louis or Philadelphia and that Seattle is in the wings, and you feel bad for the area that loses its tournament. I know how it feels from firsthand experience."

Piazzi says the Texas Open will fight to stay alive. "We're going to get a new title sponsor, get a good purse, get the TV time and go to the Tour and say, 'Now, what dates can you give us?' "

The answer may say more about the Tour's notion of "sound business" than the traditionalists at the Texas Open can bear to hear.
—Art Stricklin

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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