BOB WEST ON GOLF: Houston Open in tough spot without sponsor

Published 3:39 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Barring some good news on the title-sponsor front, next week’s PGA Tour event in Houston is going to be played under a cloud of concern.

Known for past 26 years as the Shell Houston Open, a tournament that dates back to 1946 has been searching for a new corporate partner for the past 18 months.

What that means in the short term is that the PGA Tour and the Houston Golf Association will be underwriting the cost of this year’s event at the Golf Club of Houston. It will not be the first time in golf’s modern era for a tournament to be sponsor-less and it probably won’t be the last.

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Continuing absence of a title sponsor, however, could leave the tournament’s future on shaky ground. Not helping Houston’s situation is the fact a major shakeup in the PGA Tour schedule for 2019 and beyond is taking away its favored calendar spot leading into the Masters.

A combination of the pre-Masters date, and creating some Augusta-like conditions at the Golf Club of Houston, has helped the event draw many of the game’s top players for several years. Without that lure, Houston is likely to become just another PGA Tour event scrambling to attract the game’s elite.

That new schedule, in case you haven’t heard, is moving the PGA Championship from August to May and the big ticket Players Championship from May to March.

Other tournaments are being shifted around, included some that will be pushed back to the fall lineup that is part of the following season.

High on the PGA Tour’s list of goals in the scheduling revamp is to get the FedEx Cup playoffs finished before college football and the NFL seasons kick off. Going up against football in late August and September has long been a ratings killer for golf’s playoffs.

Houston, quite obviously, is not going to have much leverage to lobby for a date if it doesn’t land a solid title sponsor soon. If you are interested, or know someone who has some big bucks to spread around, the reported bottom line on attaching your company’s name to a PGA Tour event is reportedly in the $8 million to $12 million range.

In the meantime, the tournament which boasts Russell Henley as its defending champ and Phil Mickelson in 2011 as its biggest name winner of recent years, is set for March 28-31. Mickeleson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose headline the early commitments in a field that at this point does have as many players ranked in the world top 20 as in the past.

With the entry deadline Friday, there is still time for that to change.

Nearly all of the world’s highest ranked players are in Austin this week for the match play championship, with several of them probably debating on whether to play Houston or proceed to Augusta a week early.


Doug LeBlanc of Groves continued the recent run on holes in one at Babe Zaharias when he sank a pitching wedge from 115 yards on No. 2. The ace was witnessed by Paul Duplantis and Lee Bertrand.

It was LeBlanc’s second hole in one.

PNG ex Braden Bailey shot a closing 75 Tuesday and finished tied for 55th in the Valspar Collegiate Invitational played at Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s spectacular Floridian in Palm City, Fla. Bailey had earlier carded rounds of 72-75. His Baylor team tied for fifth, 14 shots off the 12-under-par winning pace of Oklahoma State.

Lamar finished 16th out of 16 teams at the Valspar, shooting a team total of 74 over par. Eason Wang paced the Cardinals with a 219 that was good for a 38th-place tie in the 90-player field.

In the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2-ball game, the team of Benny Sharpe, Ron LaSalle, Larry Foster and Dwayne Benoit won the front with minus-3. On the back, the foursome of Adam Noe,l Rick Pritchett, Gary Fontenot and John LeBlanc placed first with minus-2.

The team of Ron Carlin, Ed Holley, Charles Leard and Dan Flood won the front nine at minus-2 in the Saturday Super Senior 2-ball at Zaharias. There was a four-way tie on the back at plus 1 between teams captained by Carlin, Brad Royer, Russ Gloede and Price Youngs.

In the Friday Senior 2-ball at Zaharias, the team of Benny Sharpe, Adam Noel and Pete Reobroi tied the from with the foursome of LeBlanc, Steve Wisenbaker, Dwayne Benoit and Gene Hardy at minus-2.

On the back, the team of Russ Gloede, Rick Pritchett, Harry Green and Nick Foshee won with minus-1.

The Thursday Senior Game at Zaharias was played in a 6-6-6 two-man format, with the team of Sharpe-Bim Morrow winning First Flight with 71. There was a two-way tie at 74 between Larry Thompson-Gary Fontenot and Noel-Cap Hollier.

In Second Flight, Bob Barnes-Flood finished on top with a 77, edging Larry Foster-Leard and Raymond Darbonne-Duplantis by one stroke.

Closest to the pin winners were Hollier (No. 2), Morrow (No. 7) and Thompson (No. 12).

The team of Ron Mistrot, Scott Welch and Dan Flood won the Wednesday Babe Zaharias DogFight with 17 points. Second with 16 points was the hole-in-one threesome of LeBlanc, Bertrand and Duplantis.

Closest to the pin winners were LeBlanc (No. 2, 12) and Mistrot (No. 7).

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